High water, words coming in like a tide. The moon and the sun pulling on my vocal cords, tickling my throat with words like syzygy and neap.

This is a walk in Venice because in Venice you walk. A heavy walk from having dinner in San Marco, where I improvised a path around the puddles that bubbled up from the sewers of the piazza, and decided to start this recording on my phone. I walked along the Riva degli Schiavoni, the promenade by the water, to the couch I crashed on in Castello. Which is around the corner of the Arsenale, the shipyard of Venice when it was still an empire that dominated most of the east side of the Mediterranean. Lying strategically all the way up the Adriatic Sea, its surrounding waters sheltered the city from any invasion. And so from the Arsenale they shipped out their naval vessels, producing at times one a day, to trade, conquer and exploit, concentrating wealth in a location perfectly isolated from the outside world. Notice isolated contains the word isola, being an island. However, as once water was its protection from threats, now it is the threat itself, with sea levels rising and the city sinking deeper and deeper, and winds, like the Sirocco or the Bora blowing harder up the Adriatic sea, pushing the sea into the lagoon, the high waters occurring more frequently and with ever worsening impact, as tides are unable to pull out through the few escape routes and consequently overlap with incoming ones.

A flood barrier was built at the three natural inlets of the lagoon, called MOSE, it was 8 years and a billion euros over schedule — due to corruption — and people are still wondering if it will really do the trick. And if it does, then what the consequences are for Venice’s marshy surroundings. Some say the floodgates block the natural and (for the local water creatures necessary) flows between Venice and the sea, turning the lagoon into a stinking cesspool. In handling the threat of its environment, the city has come to pose a threat to it herself.

I came to Venice with Maria Thereza Alves, to commemorate the death of her partner, Jimmie Durham, who passed away in October and whose spirit will live on in the many trees dedicated to him, one being in the Giardini Reali. I am also here to visit the other Giardini, you know, those of the Biennale, another reason for gallerists, curators, collectors, artists and their entourage (I belong to the latter class) to take planes again, put on their best dresses and loiter around in modernist pavilions until it’s spritz time. As a beginning artist it is hard not to become too cynical at these events. For some reason the art doesn’t affect me, I am mostly watching people, wondering how loaded they are, or how loaded they themselves think they look. Venice is a kind of Disney land, right, but I didn’t know they hosted their own fashion week as well. When I walked out of the Giardini someone came up to and asked if I knew the journal Arts of the Working Class, holding in their hand an issue specifically on fashion. I said I’d heard of it and gladly paid the 3 euros as an act of educational resistance, only to hurry onwards to the dinner I had to be at as entourage. Making my way through the stream of art aficionados, I wondered if the well-designed journal under my arm looked like yet another flashy accessory to one’s look.

I am reading a lot of Jimmies writings recently and admire the way he talks, waiting to be interrupted, by a passing thought, a memory, a short venting of frustration. It makes him unapologetic about the way his mind structures and struggles with language, as if he knows the dangers of being pinned down on what you’ve said in print.

I wonder how many interruptions are needed, how many times the sea has to swallow up all hope for this ongoing spectacle to stop. Like many other people probably, I’ve had it up to here, imagine raising a flat hand above the eyes, as if to indicate a water level. Though I guess that there will always be ways through the water. Just have a curator make a theme out of it, hang the paintings a little higher, have the vaporetti double their runs, the lucky few can take a water taxi to their piani rialzati, a couple steps higher than other houses, where they don’t even have to pull up their skirts anymore, mama mia, I imagine them posing in the sunset before a swollen seascape. A porcelain plate floats by and bumps against their Balenciaga’s. On it lies sarde saur and bacala mantecato, the only thing is that it’s really fresco dal mare: they have to prepare it themselves and it smells like a sewer.

I am a tourist too and I smell like a sewer, because I walk fast, the water makes me spring forth. I feel my keys slapping against my ties as they always do, rhythmically, like the waves slapping the sides of the yachts as if they were tight butt cheeks, their buoys squeezing against each other, thick rubber filled with salty air, the sea is calling, or reaching out, ready to drag down all the riches.

The city is drowning and tourists are coming to watch it die. Meanwhile I heard the working class left this island already, most probably were gentrified away, to parts like Mestre, on the mainland. Which Is probably a better place to be, given climate change. Whoever could afford to stay on a sinking ship anyway, only the decadent?

On Murano there are glass-blowers, sweaty maestri from a sexist tradition, but they do their work well and more non-men are starting to take the local sand for a spin. They turn the molten colours round and round to keep them centred, hot blazing candy on a stick, a hollow pole to puff their cheeks to. After work they go to a bar together and drink one prosecco, to cool down, and go home, to snore. Yesterday we mudlarked the shores of the island and picked up beautiful pieces of discarded glass. Besides found wood, stone and bone, Jimmie also used to work with some of these pieces. They are beautiful in colour and opacity, so he used them to make lamps and chandeliers. I laid my glasses out on the rocks so they would get dry and glimmer in the sun. I like it when they’re smooth like pebbles, eroded by the waves, and imagine what Venice would look like as a future Atlantis. The many bridges of the city all eroded, their squared steps rounded off after having been submerged for years, archeologists will wonder why the city had so many arches. Dedicated to what victory, one for every flood?

Tomorrow I’m going to Murano again, past that squared cemetery with the high cypresses that peak above the walls, a floating patch of land reserved for the buried.

Acqua Alta

An audio piece made after a visit to the Venice Biennale, walking along the bank of a sinking city.

Broadcast on the Open Radio of the Piet Zwart Institute’s Open Studios 2022.