Prior to the field trip to Venice we undertook various studies into the function of the Venetian Carnival within its chosen setting, taking into account its history and the key theoretical structures that have been established and developed. The key theorist regarding our specific topic is Mikhail Bahktin and his main concept of the ‘Carnivalesque’ and ‘The Grotesque Body’. Other key theorists that have much relevance to the project are: Guy Debord, Victor Turner, Chris Rojek, Henri Lefebvre and Pierre Bourdieu, it is the concepts and notions of these theorists that will be influencing our understanding. Alongside the theoretical structure we have built and the historical studies we have done regarding the city and event, as well as the various representations of Venice and the Carnival that we have considered and reviewed, this will provide a strong base for our field study.
Venice Field Trip Overview
I, Ryan and Aivaras spent 5 full days in Mestre, Italy which is a short train ride from Venice, this meant that we could travel back and forth daily, removing ourselves from the destination which was ideal and allowed us to reflect on each daily experience.
The work of Chris Rojek has proved to be of much relevance to our field trip as we found we had to be very aware of our surrounding and to not get sucked into the typical tourist options that we are guided toward by the city itself. In this quote taken from ‘Decentring Leisure’ Rojek highlights the commonality of tourists travelling around and being taken in by the comfort of familiar typical tourist attractions;
“Many tourists travel through entire continents without wandering very far from their tour bus and pre-arranged hotel room” (Pemble 1987: Urry 1990a: Rojek 1993a)
Our time in Venice had to be much more informed to ensure that we made the most of the experience and got to put theorists notions and concepts into a real life situation, ensuring that the project could gain from the trip and well as would be highly influenced and informed.
The ‘derive’ methodology taken from the situationist movement was implemented into our study as it provided a chance to ensure that our experience not influenced or guided by signposts.
On our first day in Venice, we needed to get to Dorsoduro and in order to do this we decided, as a group, to randomly decide how to get there. Whilst on the derive we took photographs of the things that we found intriguing and out of the ordinary, we of course could not escape the amount of tourist attractions that we came across on our travels from the point of arrival at the train stations to the end of the day heading back to the station waiters and people working in bars would speak to you and try to get your attentions to get you inside. There were loads of people with markets stalls selling cheap manufactured Venetian masks, on the other hand there were loads of stores in which original Venetian masks were for sale and in progress, some very welcoming to tourists and reasonably priced allowing people to take photos and try mask on, opposed to the others that were original and up markets and did not appear to want to attract a large commercial tourist crowd.
The experience of the first derive really highlighted the amount of tourists that Venice attracts, underlining the amount of dominance the tourist market has over the city, and it was clear that this was not necessarily a good thing as the area felt quite overpowering, and commercialized. It was almost saddening to see how much the area was built around tourist and travellers there didn’t seem to be many original landmarks to allow visitors to get a real idea of what the city of Venice was about and its history.
Whilst walking through the city the work of David Harvey became very relevant in terms of the commercialism of the city, the book ‘The Condition of Post modernity’ has a chapter in which the notion of space and place is explored. Harvey goes into great depth highlighting the way in which time and space is used in order to simply create capital which in effect causes the place to lose any originality. In Venice the way in which the streets and open areas are dominated by small restaurants, bars, and stores aimed at tourists underlines the issue that the experience in Venice is majorly influenced.
On the other hand whilst on the random direction derive it was very clear that Venice is not the cleanest of cities, aside from the water pollution that we were already aware of from the documentary of Encounters: Death in Venice which went in to much depth on the reasons for the water pollution in Venice historically. The building in Venice were very decrepit and old, which although builds its own original character many buildings has stains and graffiti was very dominant in almost all streets we ventured down, and consistent throughout the rest of the areas as we would later discover. The graffiti in Venice was quite striking as it was very politically informed, adding to the unique experience that the derive allowed us to take part in.
The second derive that we did was a classic derive we wanted to get from the Fondamenta Nuove through Castello to the Arsenale which is where the first Jewish ghetto was situated.
As a group we felt that by splitting up and doing the ‘derive’ separately we could get the most from the experience and also compare our findings. Aivarius started from the Fondamenta Nuove, his derive being conducting later on in the afternoon meant that he could easily get a feel of Venice at night. Myself and Ryan decided to do the ‘derive’ in the daytime, for the simple reason that we did not feel safe especially with this part of Venice being completely new to us.
Whilst on the derive the first main thing we noticed was the fact that the Castello area was a lot more cleaner, compared to the main areas in Venice such as St Marks which was full of visitors producing litter and noise etc. Castello was a lot more of a living space in the sense that there were all the essential stores such as hardware shops, cafes and supermarkets, people in the area were also a lot more relaxed and welcoming towards us as we were separate from the tourist driven areas in which the carnival was situated.
In reflection the theoretical works that influenced out experience in Venice were Mikhail Bakhtin his studies on the concept of ‘Carnivalesque’ provided a more in depth understanding and insight to the way in which the carnival can be perceived and the various gratifications that can be attached to it: “One might say that the carnival celebrates temporary liberation from the prevailing truth of the established order; it marks the suspension of all hierarchal rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions.” (Bakhtin 1968: 109)
The way in which the carnival is endorsed within Venice made it clear that although the celebration was a excellent tourist attraction, some factors from the original functions of the carnivalesque’s as Bakhtin has highlighted are very much still relevant. The way in which some participants captured the attentions of their audience with their original Venezian masks and their elaborate garments made it clear that it was not simply an excuse to dress up and some of the original influences of the Carnival are still present.
David Harvey (1989) and his analysis on ‘Place and Space and Capitalism’ also has much relevance, the way in which the carnival is endorsed so broadly across the city if Venice and the dominance highlighted to us that the Carnival although having some original historical influence is becoming a major tourist attraction and as a result is losing its true values. The way in which as a visitor in Venice you are targeted by street sellers and pounce upon by shop owners in stores makes it feel as though the Carnival is viewed by the people of Venice itself as simply a way in which to exploit the celebration for economic benefit. Whilst in St Marks Square speaking to a shop owner she had no real explanation for the reasoning for all the hundreds of elaborate masks that filled her store she simply laughed and clearly though the question was invalid, for us as visitors with background knowledge into the historical background of the Carnival that seemed quite strange.
The other theorists that have had much influence over the experience in Venice are: Victor Turner, Henry Lefebvre and Chris Rojek, as well as the media representation that have been analysed in relation to Venice and Carnival.