A city at the mirror

From all over the world, participants have found inspiration in Venice to create their artworks in the Personal Structures exhibition, offering different reflections and views on the same magical city

In Venice, some alleys are so narrow that shop windows reflect one another. Along the canals, lights and windows mirrored on the wake look hypnotic, almost psychedelic. As our vaporetto ploughs through the water, we acknowledge the wavy impressions of the beautiful palazzos printed on this surface. With the highest of tides, half of Venice ends upside down in an otherworldly, mysterious specular image. After all, reflections are an integral part of Venice's charm and contribute to making it an eternal and inexhaustible source of stimuli for creatives and artists. It must be for this reason that those who decide to make it the subject of their works are rarely trivial, having at their disposal plenty of references and a multitude of food for thought on the lagoon city.

It is hardly surprising, then, that contemporary art can also be fascinated by Venice, the protagonist of unprecedented and multidisciplinary works as in the exhibition Personal Structures, promoted and curated by the European Cultural Centre, which invited international artists to tell their stories around the theme “reflections”, a concept that alludes to both the image created by a reflective surface and the act of reflection. At Palazzo Mora, Palazzo Bembo and the Marinaressa Gardens, the three exhibition venues, you can witness some of the artists’ works and 'their very personal Venice'.

Photo credits: Clelia Cadamuro

Deanna Sirlin was inspired by the rays of the sun reflected on the surface of the canals that move and disappear under the bridges as boats pass by. This phenomenon, in Venetians known as gibigiana, triggered her recent work Borders of Light and Water, an installation that like most in her practice, focuses on the potential of colour. Imitating the effect of a prism struck by light, she brought the rainbow into a room of Palazzo Bembo, thanks to the translucent plastic material applied to the windows. Even as Sirlin references this extraordinary perceptual experience that is only found in Venice, she simultaneously draws attention to the global crisis of climate change, whose impact in Venice is manifest in dangerously rising water levels. Sirlin’s installation is a geometric composition of reflected light that provokes a radical investigation of reality. The observer who engages with both the beauty of the environment and the threats to it through Sirlin’s dynamic compositions and intense colour finds that their viewpoint has been transformed.

'Borders of Light and Water' by Deanna Sirlin | Photo credits: Federico Vespignani

Daniel Ibbotson, who for years has been collecting scraps of wood, wallpaper and other objects to give life to his works, this time chooses to repurpose them for what he has called his 'personal reflections'. The result, Studio 54 exhibited at Palazzo Mora, is a work that seems to reflect the gentle decadence of Venice. Over three metres wide and almost two metres high, it was created in the space of just over three weeks in the insides of a small flat near the Rialto Bridge. The use of recovered materials, amalgamated with emotive recollections of Ibbotson’s immersion in the landscape, provides him with unlimited opportunities to create textural layers in his art which in turn reflect the artist’s gathering and collecting inspiring elements of his own life experiences while living in the Venetian city.

'Studio 54' by Daniel Ibbotson | Photo credits: Federico Vespignani

Michael Rich's monumental work La serenata at Palazzo Bembo is also an abstract reinterpretation of the lagoon landscape, another work in which colour and movement are essential. Inspired by the waves and reflections on the waters of Venice, it offers the viewer a moment of respite and old-fashioned romanticism amidst the chaos of the present day. With this work, Rich pays homage to artists who, throughout history, have portrayed the watery reflection of the city including JMW Turner, Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent. Rich sees these artists not only as painters of beautiful landscapes but chroniclers of a period of social change and transformation, reminding us about the resilience of a city that has stood high against many challenges thanks to the triumph of the human spirit in these most unsettling times.

'La serenata' by Michael Rich | Photo credits: Federico Vespignani

And also from another era are the views of Diana Stelin, who immortalises the most striking reflections of the Venetian canals, showing centuries of secrets, intrigue and endless inspiration. Her works are simultaneously descriptive and abstract. They are rooted in direct observation but dissolve boundaries between representation and abstraction. They demonstrate the challenges and adventures every season presents and offer not only mystical views of nature, but a commentary on how deep colour goes into our soul, how line collaborates, and how texture creates lasting effects. As Stelin shows us at Palazzo Mora, Venice is, indeed, a city whose water runs deep, whose colours impregnate our eyes, and whose sights are never forgotten. 

Diana Stelin | Photo credits: Federico Vespignani

Other artists, on the other hand, have imprinted the details of Venice in paintings that exaggerate its boundaries. In Kristin Moore's hyper-realistic paintings, these boundaries are geographical; her series exhibited at Palazzo Mora depicts the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. Overall, this series pays homage to a destination in the middle of the Nevada desert that does a visually pleasing job of transporting one to Venice, even if it’s just for a moment. Even though the version from Las Vegas is only a stand-in for the real one, it does offer a small escape from reality and a brief connection with the beautiful historical Italian destination of Venice.

From left to right: Olivier Lamboray and Kristin Moore’s paintings | Photo credits: Federico Vespignani

Meanwhile, in the same venue, Olivier Lamboray, with his series Surrealism, has combined sky, lagoon and historical buildings by decorating these landscapes with absurd elements, sometimes even reflective objects. The result? More natural than we would probably have expected, after all, it is almost impossible to overcome the amiable absurdity of a city like Venice, which from a certain perspective resembles a magical house of mirrors.

Venice continues to be a city that allows for many tales to be told. Each visitor makes this city its own, with a uniquely personal interpretation and memory of it. What is for sure, is that this city will continue to amaze creative minds and trigger works, projects and discussions throughout as long as the reflections that inspire these remain only half of the reality and do not cover it entirely.


Credits: expanded article based on original piece written by Silvia Baldereschi from VeneziaNews accessible here.

You can visit the artists’ installations at Palazzo Mora and Palazzo Bembo until the 27th of November or discover their works by exploring the virtual tours online, or by visiting their profiles online.

A city at the mirror

From all over the world, participants have found inspiration in Venice to create their artworks in the Personal Structures exhibition, offering different reflections and views on the same magical city

  • Published: 26.10.2022
  • Category: In Focus
  • Subject: Exhibition
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