Michel Blazy‘s Aqua Alta was displayed at the 2017 Venice Biennale. At first sight the work looks like a neat stack of pristine books. On closer inspection they better resemble catalogues or fashion magazines. In actual fact they are anonymous leaflets, featuring scenes which appear to relate to Venice. Looking even closer one can see ridges and channels cut into the paper, like a small landscape of canyons and valleys.
The edges of the pages are blackened and warped. Drops of water fall from height, gouging the paper with each impact and breaking it down. It’s not clear how long these papers have been subjected to the drops of water, but the cumulative result is surprising. There is something unsettling in the contrast between the vibrant scenes of Venice and the soiled, slowly decaying paper, as if these are two spheres of life that shouldn’t really meet.
Initially I supposed the title Aqua Alta, referred to the way that way the water altered the paper. In fact the term aqua alta refers to the periodic peaks in tide that can submerge parts of Venice – the temporary flooding that the islands see from time-to-time. This gives the work a particular site-specificity, making the the visible effects of the water’s destruction all the more personal.
Even without the site-specificity, Blazy’s work would still be engaging, as there is something uncomfortable about the sight of paper transforming before our eyes. And if those objects were books I suspect the result would be just as potent, as books and can often have personal connotations for each of us. This work reminds us that books are as susceptible to the weather and aging as we are ourselves and seen in this light Blazy’s work becomes an hour glass, a reminder of that ticking clock.