Marzia Migliora’s installations, delicate yet incisive, speak of exploitation, poaching and slavery while enabling us to discover the treasures of Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice.#BiennaleArte2017
Called on to probe the inner historical, moral and architectural heritage of one of the most famous palazzi in Venice for the 57th Venice Art Biennale, Marzia Migliora evokes and reinterprets elements of the past. She reveals the contradictions of human history and elicits its repeated exploitations, by exploring the implications of works kept in Ca’ Rezzonico, in dialogue and contrast with those she has created. “Velme” is a site-specific exhibition with five installations mounted in some of the rooms of the Museo del Settecento Veneziano.
Migliora explores themes such as the exploitation of natural resources, poaching, slavery, the status of women, and the abuses of domineering power. The title itself suggests the character of the exhibition, the way the artist reveals the secret and dredges up the submerged. Velme is a word in Venetian dialect for the shoals that form in the lagoon at low tide, putting the whole lagoon system at risk. The exhibition is laid out on three floors of the palace and is guided by a brochure, illustrated by the artist herself, which is handed to visitors. The public find themselves prompted to become active subjects, impelled to explore the rooms of the palazzo and discover the artist’s works, camouflaged amid Venetian treasures.
Her work Quis contra nos. starts from the crest of the Rezzonico family, blazoned in various rooms of the palace and bearing in gilded lettering the words Si Deus pro nobis. The quotation comes from Saint Paul (Letter to the Romans, 8, 31) and in its original form reads: SiDeus pro nobis, quis contra nos (“If God is for us, who can be against us?”). Throughout history, these words have been used on many occasions, distorted to justify crimes, wars, and massacres by great dictators and powerful men. Migliora reveals the part of the motto omitted from the arms and applies it to the monumental mirrors in the palace’s collection.
Pietro Longhi’s painting of The Rhinoceros becomes a source for two more installations: Taci, anzi parla (“Be silent – no, speak”) and Remains. The first is the reconstruction of a Moréta, made from cast of the artist’s face. This is a curious mask, like the one worn by the lady in the white dress portrayed in Longhi’s painting: a black oval with two holes for the eyes. To keep it on her face a woman had to clench her teeth on a button inside it, so rendering her mute. The work is suspended by illusionist wires at the centre of a boudoir. This term, the artist explains, comes from the French bouder, to sulk.
The second work associated with Longhi, Remains, is the reconstruction of a gilded rhinoceros horn that embodies the theme of his painting. An animal has become a harmless prey, a kind of circus attraction, its horn cut off and exhibited by its keeper as a trophy. In the great first-floor salon, from being slaves and objects chained to human presences, the subjects of the sculptural corpus of Andrea Brustolon’s Ethiopian Vase-Holders metaphorically take a step forward in their status by being rotated 180° from their usual position in the collection. Finally, The FactoryIlluminated is installed in the portego de mezzo (salon) of the palace. Here a set of five goldsmiths’ workbenches, lit by neon lights, each support a large block of rock salt. The work symbolises the “white gold”, salt, a key element in Venice’s commercial history, speaking of the exploitation of natural resources and the human labour essential to turn them into wealth.