Syria’s Venice Biennale Pavilion Confronts Global Warming’s Destruction
In the blue-green waters that surround, define, and now threaten to submerge the storied city of Venice, an unlikely sight awaits visitors: an iceberg. Made of stainless steel polished to a mirrored shine, it reflects the city and its watery environment. It also reflects the handiwork and artistic inquiry of Helidon Xhixha, who made it—together with a suite of three additional installations—for the Syrian Arab Republic pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale.
At anchor in Venice’s lagoon, Xhixha’s Iceberg (2015) bobs along with the motion of the currents and the wind. Such movement, together with the changing light and weather and the streaming by of boats and people, cause the iceberg’s reflective surface to shift as continuously as the world it mirrors. But while these visions delight the eye, this work also serves as a reminder and a warning. It was glacial melting, after all, that formed the patches of land in water upon which Venice was founded. And now, thanks to the rising temperatures wrought by our degradation of the environment, it is glacial melting (among other factors) that threatens to wipe the city and its artistic and historical treasures off the map.
Back on solid ground, with his three additional installations, Xhixha expands upon his themes of the forces of nature and geology, and the counterforce of humankind. Among these monumental, polished stainless steel works is Pillars of Light. Standing tall on the island of San Servolo, it is composed of seven vertical pillars of varying heights, each of which features a jagged, broken top. According to the artist, the pillars are meant to represent the world’s glaciers, as well as the origin of his iceberg. Their irregular surfaces represent the points at which hunks of ice broke off from their overall mass, becoming the free-floating forms we have come to know as icebergs. It is hard not to marvel at the majesty of these environmental processes, and at Xhixha’s elegant representation of them. Let’s just hope we don’t exacerbate these processes any more than we already have.