A two-part installation by the ceramic artist and writer Edmund de Waal, author of the book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes,” opens next week in Venice, highlighting Jewish heritage in the lagoon city and its historic ghetto, as well as the works of writers in exile and translation.
Called Psalm, it will run from May 8 (coinciding with the opening of the 58th Venice Biennale arts festival) to September 29 — Sunday-Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and be displayed in two locations. The first is in what de Waal describes as “the spaces surrounding” the 16th-century Scuola Canton, one of the five synagogues in the Ghetto area. The second is in a pavilion based at the Ateneo Veneto, a 15th/17th-century palazzo near the Fenice Opera House.
Events and performances at the sites will complement the installations and focus on “the cultures of Jewish Venice, on the Psalms, on contemporary poetry and on publishing.” Click HERE to see the program of events.
The exhibit at the the Scuola Canton will include installation of porcelain, marble and gold. The intention, a project statement says, “is to animate spaces that are little known and little understood by visitors to the Biennale and to bring new audiences into the Ghetto.”
New installations of porcelain, marble and gold will reflect the literary and musical heritage of this extraordinary place, and a new text piece will celebrate the languages spoken here. For the first time the Women’s Gallery within the synagogue will hold contemporary art.”
In an article in The Guardian, de Waal described the installation, called Tehillim — the Hebrew word for Psalm — in more detail:
[It] consists of 11 vitrines, each one holding a thin sheet of gilded porcelain of almost unimaginable fragility and a piece of translucent white marble. It is a call-and-response between materials. It is made to catch the reflected light from within the dense and dark goldenness of the synagogue itself. Higher up is a table I’ve made for the Jewish poet Sarra Copia Sullam, who lived and wrote here in the ghetto in the 17th century and whose work is being wonderfully brought back to life…
At the Ateneo Veneto, de Waal is constructing a small building within the main space that will house 2,000 books by exiled writers, from Ovid to the present day — the Library of Exile.
All the books will be in translation, reflecting the idea of language as migration. Four vitrines of porcelain vessels, based on Daniel Bomberg’s famous Renaissance printing of the Talmud, will hang on the walls amongst the books. The structure itself will have an exterior coated with porcelain, laid over gold leaf, into which de Waal will inscribe the names of the lost libraries of the world. Inside there will be spaces to sit and read. It will be a place of contemplation and a place of dialogue.
In a statement on his web site de Waal says:
“This is the project I have always dreamed of doing. It is about exile – what it means to have to move to another country, to speak another language. It brings new installations based on the Psalms, the poetry of exile, into some of the most beautiful spaces of the Ghetto, the first time some of these spaces have been used for contemporary art. And my library for the Ateneo – two thousand books within a porcelain-covered pavilion – will be the most significant sculpture of my life. It will be a new library reflecting Venice’s thousand years as a place of translation, a space to sit and read and be.”