HyperVenezia is the title of a photographic exhibition arranged at Palazzo Grassi in Venice till January 2022 to commemorate the legendary 1600th birthday of the city. The exhibition features photos of Venice by Mario Peliti chosen among the 12,000 already shot, starting in 2006. Peliti’s project will proceed till 2030 and has been described as a modern version of Jacopo de’ Barbari’s view of Venice, dating back to 500 years ago. The map of Venice by De’ Barbari is indeed still today admired for the accuracy of the details, its large size and its bird’s viewpoint, faithfully witnessing what Venice looked like at that time, in its architecture and urban form.
Peliti’s project shares the same ambitious and demanding effort of mapping Venice visually as in De’ Barbari’s project. However, intentions and results differ a lot.
The map of Venice by Jacopo de’ Barbari
No-one really knows why Anton Kolb, a publisher from Nürnberg, supported Jacopo de’ Barbari’s masterpiece. It took three years to prepare the huge woodcuts, from 1498 till 1500, covering a total surface of 1,35 meter per 2,82 meters. Extremely expensive. Extremely difficult to carve and to print.
You cannot miss a visit to the Correr Museum in St. Mark’s square where the woodcuts are preserved. You can see different printed versions all over the world. Not just in Venice, but in London, Paris, Berlin and more.
Anton Kolb declared his publishing project with Jacopo de’ Barbari was “mainly made for the fame of this “excelsa” city of Venice”. Venice was extraordinary and this visual representation of Venice was a duty. Representing Venice at its political and cultural heights meant to reproduce its architecture and urban shape, possibly scientifically. Venice in de’ Barbari’s work is the cradle of modernity. No ancient ruins emerge in this city of liquid frontiers.
The Rialto bridge and the Jewish ghetto and more of unknown Venice
The map of Venice by Jacopo de’ Barbari shows us some monuments of Venice as they were and as they are no longer. Check these out… First, the Rialto bridge as it was a wooden drawbridge:
Second, the Jewish ghetto before it became in 1516 the area assigned to Jews:
or what there used to be before the Marciana national library was erected:
HyperVenezia and its scientific representation of modern Venice
Mario Peliti’s photos of Venice are shot with a systematic approach. All in black and white, no human presence, except for the washing hanging outside some window, no shadows, a homogeneous light. As if they had been taken all on the same day. The lack of humans is quite striking if one thinks the photos were shot before COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, during which time Venice looked abandoned.
In Palazzo Grassi the exhibition arranged by Matthieu Humery presents three installations with three different approaches. One is a linear path of 400 photos, step by step as if we were walking across the city from one point to the other, a tour of Venice. Another one is a video featuring over 3000 photos, lasting more than three hours where you are taken into a tour of Venice, with an extremely slow pace. And a third one is the nearly 900 geo-localised photos displayed on the map of Venice.
In none of these photos though we find an emotional acknowledgement of the magic of Venice. Whether you know Venice or not, Venice in these photos is “hyper” and in the end you will leave with the feeling you no longer know Venice as you did before.
It’s as if you repeated the word Venice 3000 times and then that name sounds no longer familiar.
The widest archive of images of Venice ever collected
Peliti (born in Rome, in 1958) is at the same time an architect, a graphic designer, a publisher and a gallery director. He has directed the Galleria del Cembalo in Rome since 2013 together with Paola Stacchini Cavazza with a strong focus on photography. He has worked for 14 years with his friend and mentor Gianni Berengo Gardin and he misses another great photographer, Gabriele Basilico. Interviewed by Manuela De Leonardis in 2016 he said “Venice is the journey (…) I love walking in a city. I am an urban walker”.
HyperVenezia is an ambitious project as it tries to create a temporary order in the representation of the urban space of Venice with a camera. The problem is that Venice is a city without a square angle and strongly “anti-perspective”, in its Renaissance concept.
Venice is an obsession for Peliti, who, in the same interview I mentioned above, states his project on Venice is an absurd attempt to represent the whole city. Or rather how you cannot photograph the whole.
This possibly aseptic representation of Venice aims at showing us also what we don’t want to see of Venice. In Peliti’s approach modern spaces and suburban areas get as important as the “iconic” ones, which have been photographed billions of times.
The urban shape of Venice as private space
Mapping Venice in both these works focuses on modernity and shows us Venice as we do not know it or in an alienating perspective. However, while de’ Barbari’s Venice was the third most populated city in Europe, after Naples and Paris, what will this city be like in 2030 when Peliti plans to end with this obsession?
Nowadays Venice faces major challenges, which Peliti’s silent work strongly evokes. Climate change, of course. But also, as Paola Somma in her recent work “Privati di Venezia” points out, the problem is that Venice’s urban space has been privatised. The city is no longer left in the hands of a community, but it’s been transformed in investments occasions, “a factory of events and real estate exploitation”.
So while de’ Barbari’s view would soon change with the construction of the Rialto bridge, or the National library or the creation of a city for the Jews (with its lights and shadows), how will our Venice change in a few years and who will decide?
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy
Paola Somma, Privati di Venezia, la città di tutti per il profitto di pochi, Castelvecchi, 2021.