In Venice, a “library of exile” reflects on displacement and language — The Economist

Read more at The Economist

— The Ateneo Veneto, a grand 16th-century palace near the Fenice Opera House, once hosted a fraternal order which cared for convicted prisoners in their final days. For the past 200 years, however, the site has been a forum for discussion, drawing together people from the city’s many communities to contemplate art, literature, science and politics. Now it is home to a different set of noisy and troubled souls. In the Aula Magna room—where scenes of conflagration adorn the ceiling—stands a porcelain box filled with 2,000 books by exiled writers, from Ovid, through Dante, Voltaire and Victor Hugo, to the present day. 

At the heart of this piece by Edmund de Waal, a British ceramicist and writer, is a lost library. In 1938, weeks after the Nazi invasion of Austria, his great-grandfather’s home on the Ringstrasse in Vienna was stormed and the library was seized and Aryanised. The story of the tragic dispersal of that household formed the basis of Mr de Waal’s bestselling family memoir, “The Hare with Amber Eyes” (2010). “This is a project that I have always dreamed of doing,” he says of the Venice show. “It is about exile—what it means to move to another country, to speak another language.” He reckons it will be “the most significant sculpture of [his] life”…

Image courtesy of Edmund de Waal

May 15, 2019


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