Given that this is the season on sparkly lights, it seems timely to remind myself about Joana Vasconcelos’s Trafaria Praia, the Pavilion of Portugal at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Part art installation, part ferry, this was an unusual space even for Venice. Vasconcelos transformed a Lisbon ferry into an installation that made regular tours of the lagoon. The boat was moored close to the exit of the Giardini – one of the two main Biennale sites and home to many national pavilions – but those who timed their visits right could take a short trip around the lagoon on the Trafaria Praia.
Given more time, I suspect I’d have enjoyed the trip well enough but the pressure of trying to see everything I want to at biennale is such that time based works are inevitably tricky and this is a city where being on land is the novelty so my visit to Trafaria Praia was restricted to visiting the boat at its mooring point. Until I boarded the boat I’d kind of forgotten about the excess of Vasconcelos’s work but, even if it’d been really fresh in my mind, nothing of hers I’ve seen before would have quite prepared me for this.
To a greater or lesser extent, the destruction of the past is an on-going, universal project. Whether it’s demolishing old buildings to make space for new ones or cutting down woodland to accommodate agriculture on an industrial scale, we can’t ever really let things be. If we never destroyed anything, the world would be an even more weird, uncomfortable and overcrowded place but nonetheless there’s often more to our reluctance to let things go than simple nostalgia. In the last half century or thereabouts, China has witnessed wholesale destruction of its history in the name of both ideology – the Cultural Revolution – and, more recently, progress, as the past is razed to make room for the future. Nonetheless, Ai Weiwei’s destruction of ancient ceramics in the name of art might seem in some respects excessive. It certainly has the power to shock though perhaps one of the most surprising aspects is that the value of what one might assume to be priceless ancient artefacts such as a Neolithic urn dating from 5000-3000BC can be increased by the addition of a Coca-Cola logo.