January 11 to February 10, 2007
Memory is not an instrument for exploring the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred. – Walter Benjamin
Text by Andria Hickey
The ground upon which Venice lies has become a worsening threat to a fragile and fading historical city. Meditating on the ephemeral nature of Venice, Montreal-based photographer, Ewa Monika Zebrowski is interested in exploring the ways in which memory is embedded in the landscape. Seduced by the mythic city, her images ruminate on the “lives lived on the watery firmament” and the current perilous existence of an endangered Venice.
The exhibition at Art Mûr is anchored with an elaborate and empty gold frame, accompanied by a fragment of conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan from Italo Calvino’s, Invisible Cities . Like much of Zebrowski’s work, her interest in Venice is deeply tied to literary texts. Her first exhibition of Venetian photographs, remembering brodsky , a visual translation of Joseph Brodsky’s book, Watermark, explored the relationship between the author’s experience of Venice, the photographic document and memory. In this incarnation, Zebrowski has returned to Venice to record the fragility of a city haunted by its own marked immortality.
Taking a cue from Benjamin’s notion that the camera reveals unconscious optics, Zebrowski has used her camera like a sketchpad, allowing it to capture images unfettered by the manipulation of the photographer’s hand. Shooting as much as possible from the vaporetto , nothing is staged and it is the camera lens itself that reacts to the movement of sea legs and the twilights of Venice and all its palazzi . The effect is haunting. Apparitions appear in the shadows distorted by light and movement. The past and the present merge together allowing the photograph to trace the imprint of time in a place that has become a living museum. With references to other inspired visitors, from eighteenth and nineteenth century landscape painters to contemporary tourists sipping coffee, Zebrowski has set up a dialogue of fragments and moments layered together in the reflections of mirrors, windows, picture frames, water.
The exhibition features a series of photographs printed as inkjet prints on etching paper, itself a testament to fragility. Accompanying the series of images, Zebrowski has produced an artist’s book in a limited edition of 50. Working in collaboration with an invited scholar, Zebrowski has combined her own photographs of the city with an essay by Princeton History Professor, Theodore Rabb. Like a travel document, the images become visual quotations and intuitive responses. As a conversation between Zebrowski and Rabb, both image and text work as incantations of Venice’s precarious and layered history that is profoundly altered with each season of rising water, or a cqua alta . Part of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Save Venice , an organization that has restored some 300 works of art and architecture since the flood of 1966.