Venice and Liu Bolin

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Venice and Liu Bolin: Disappearing in Venice

By Tiziana Maggio

I was recently in Venice and as soon as I landed and hoped off the water shuttle something struck me. It wasn’t the beautiful symmetry of the Doge Palace’s herringbone walls or the shadowy twin domes of the Basilica of Saint Mary.

It was something more humble: the maxi advertising scaffolding wrap of Santa Maria della Pietà church’s façade. Why, oh why? Well, for multiple reasons.

Every art, architecture and history lover knows that sinking feeling of seeing a beautiful landmark hidden away under a tarpaulin for what seems like interminable restoration. Sometimes, the building becomes like ghost, enveloped in a bland white plastic flapping endlessly in the wind or, worse still, daubed in some dreary ad for some new washing powder or super fast car.

Not so for our Santa Maria ’s wrap I saw. The church, built between 1745 and 1760, sits on the atmospheric promenade along the waterfront few minutes from Saint Mark's Square, and since 2014 it is been undergoing a complex restoration intervention. The church is managed by a private organisation, Instituto della Pieta’, that did not have the means to cover the cost of a needed EUR1.5m restoration. This is where our advertising wrap comes in as the revenue is fully financing the costs. But not only that, they’ve complimented this necessary wrap with the exceptionally beautiful photographic work by Liu Bolin and Annie Liebovitz’s ‘Iceberg’ campaign for Moncler.

The invisible man ‘has disappeared’ for the Italian apparel manufacturer and lifestyle brand in the surrounding glacial nature under Leibovitz’s lenses. The Chinese performer, who since 2005 has been an undetectable human canvas, has created another memorable work of camouflage where his silhouette quietly disappears, becoming part of the Icelandic backdrop.

Of course the wrap in question has a very clear impact on the Venetian river walk, visible from almost everywhere you are on the city’s front, however I believe that we need to be unconventionally practical and accept the best amongst the worst in the name of the restoration’s urgency, in particularly when the temporary maxi advert is sponsoring a long term and needed restoration.

Also, I believe that this last creation circles back to ‘Hiding in the City: Lagoon City of Venice’ (2010) where Liu Bolin blended in Venice’s famous spots like St. Mark Square or Rialto’s bridge to draw the public attention to the precarious state of this unique city.

“Venice is a very beautiful place, near the ocean and the view of it is unique. What’s more is that with the melting of the polar ice caps, there’s a prediction that such a beautiful city will disappear,” Bolin says.

It shows how the ad I encountered in Venice is not just a wrap nor an aesthetically beautiful work of art embodied by the invisible man, it is also a subtly wise reminder for all tourists of Venice, the so called slowly disappearing city, and a needed call for action.