Salt crystal art that wears away

A work-in-progress shot of artist Lynn Lu's performance art project titled, The Ocean's Refusal To Stop Kissing The Shore, which uses brine and chalk to inscribe names of submerged and submerging lands on the pathways of Venice.
A work-in-progress shot of artist Lynn Lu's performance art project titled, The Ocean's Refusal To Stop Kissing The Shore, which uses brine and chalk to inscribe names of submerged and submerging lands on the pathways of Venice.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LYNN LU

Venice is sinking.

The tourist destination famous for its charming gondolas and waterways is threatened by rising sea levels and could disappear under water within a century, say experts.

Which makes it an apt - if sobering - canvas for a performance art project by Lynn Lu, who will head to different parts of the city at dawn and use brine, a high concentration of salt in water, to inscribe the names of real and mythical lands that have vanished beneath the sea.

Early risers in the Piazza St Marco and other areas susceptible to especially high tides, as well as along the sinking eastern edge of Venice, may very well catch a glimpse of the Singaporean artist "painting" these names onto the city's cobblestones this week.

As the sun rises higher and the water evaporates, salt crystals will form, spelling the names of submerged lands: Zealandia, Atlantis, Hyperborea and more.

Near the water's edge in other areas, Lu will use chalk to form a giant outline of Atlantis across Venice, composed of a continuous litany of names of submerged and submerging lands.

The rising tide of pedestrians will efface her crystalline and chalk calligraphy.

  • VIEW IT / THE PALACE OF RITUAL

  • WHERE: Palazzo Dona Brusa, Campo San Polo, Venice

    WHEN: Thursday to Saturday, 2 to 6pm

    ADMISSION: Free, with optional donation

    INFO: Lynn Lu's performance art piece will be at various locations at different timings.

    The participatory event will take place on Friday, from 3.30 to 6pm at the Palazzo Dona Brusa; for more information, go to anniejaelkwan.com/2019/05/03/the-palace-of-ritual

"I wanted it to be an ephemeral work... something that almost magically appears in the city and gradually gets worn away," says the 44-year-old artist in a phone call from London, where she is based.

Her project, titled The Ocean's Refusal To Stop Kissing The Shore, considers - through the lens of Asian diasporic rituals - contemporary anxieties to do with climate change and coastal frontiers.

It is part of a wider programme, The Palace Of Ritual, that will see about a dozen international artists and four curators engage in immersive and intimate performances, screenings and workshops at the Palazzo Dona Brusa, a Gothic-style palace said to have once housed the aristocratic Dona family.

The Palace Of Ritual is devised by Arts Territory - a London-based non-profit organisation - and four other collectives, including Pasar (Post-Asian School Of Alternative Rites), a practice-based research project curated by Annie Jael Kwan, the London-based Singaporean curator who worked on the project with Lu.

The duo also collaborated during the 2017 Venice Biennale, when Lu presented a performance work responding to Venice's waterways.

"The ocean's refusal to stop kissing the shore" draws on a line from a spoken word poem by American poet Sarah Kay.

"Although this work (in Venice) considers the deep anxieties we hold regarding coastal frontiers, the ocean continues to sustain and nurture us every day," says Lu. "Our relationship to the ocean is both fraught and infused with tenderness."

She will run a "participatory performance" at the Palazzo Dona Brusa on Friday. Participants are invited to create a floating offering to the sea, using vulva and flower-shaped vessels fashioned from rice paper. They can add, if they wish, materials such as candles, joss paper, flowers and rice.The offerings will later be set afloat in a nocturnal ritual.

Kwan says The Palace Of Ritual is "a nod to how the palazzos used to be sites of power".

She adds: "Many of the pavilions are using the structural form of something that is quite palatial and then calling it a pavilion. There is something very nationalist about it.

"We are trying to co-opt that space and create a different kind of palace. We can think of different value systems, or find new ways of thinking about rituals."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'Salt crystal art that wears away'. Print Edition | Subscribe