Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

Isaac Julien in collaboration with Mark Nash, Das Kapital Oratorio, 2015. Performance view, Arena, Central Pavilion, Venice, May 8. Photo: Andrea Avezzù.

THE EMBATTLED FORTRESS and the sinking ship: These are the two predominant metaphors used to describe Europe’s current situation—a predicament defined by the crisis of the Continent’s former, or just possibly still operative, aspirations for political and economic union. What better place to confront the universal conditions of fracture and crisis that gave rise to these metaphors than Venice, where millions of global tourists are carefully shielded from the reality of the thousands of Middle Eastern refugees and African migrants washing up onto Italy’s shores daily, dead or alive. When these heterogeneous figures meet in the streets of the City of Masks, they perform an eerie public, almost theatrical, fusion of the key dramatis personae of contemporaneity: African vendors hawking fake Gucci (the real Gucci vendor being the grandest Venetian Maecenas, with his Punta della

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