Chiesa San Moise, 2001
I’m so often telling people who want to take interesting pictures to look up that I sometimes forget to suggest that they also look down. I once did a series of pictures called “At My Feet” because they’d all been taken while looking down during my morning walk.
What prompts this memory is seeing something this morning that reminded me of when my wife and daughter and I were in Venice in the late spring of 2001, just before the Biennale art show opened. Most of the show’s action takes place in a park at the eastern end of San Marco and in galleries in warehouses in the nearby Arsenale, the old Venetian shipyard and naval base.
But as we wandered around Venice that week we enjoyed seeing art being installed in a variety of buildings and outdoor spaces. Galleries were being opened in the old German Warehouse near the Rialto. Sculptures were being placed in some of the public squares.
What caught our eye most, though, and not until we had been walking around for a few days, were pairs of eyes on the steps of just about every bridge we crossed. (If you’ve been to Venice you’ll recall that going just about anywhere involves crossing lots of bridges.) You can see what they looked like in the photograph below. They were illustrations of human eyes copied onto some kind of acetate that was in turn fastened by some kind of clear adhesive to the risers of the stone steps. They were all over Venice, and each day they turned up in more and more places.
The Whole World is Watching, 2001
Most of the Venetians we asked about “the eyes,” as we took to calling them, simply shrugged when we asked about them. Maybe everyday Venetians are weary of the international art crowd that comes to the Biennale. We didn’t know, though, whether the eyes were some kind of tourism promotion, something from the Biennale or a new twist on graffiti.
We finally learned that the eyes were the contribution of a British artist, I believe it was. I don’t know if I ever knew the artist’s name. But I knew that she was a woman and that she had entered the show without wanting a place in the garden or in one of the indoor galleries. The “eyes” were her artistic/political statement and she wanted them to be all over Venice to remind all who saw them—including what one assumes to be the local and visiting evildoers—that “the whole world is watching.”
You can be sure we toed the line after that.
[Chiesa San Moise, by the way, has nothing to do with looking down. It's just a picture from that same trip that I haven't look at in a while and like more each time I see it.]