2019 British Pavilion fellow, Sandra Kempele writes on her experience of meeting with Jana da Mosto founder of We Are Here Venice, an activist platform and think tank in Venice.
Two weeks after our arrival in Venice as we slowly got used to the pace of Venetian life, we met with Jane da Mosto to learn more about the city and activist work of her platform We Are Here Venice. We talked about how to spend our time here feeling less like a tourist and more like a local, from occasional grocery shopping at De Spar supermarket housed in a restored cinema with incredible frescoes to tackling such modern-day problems as plastic waste management.
Jane has called Venice a ‘microcosm of many of the most important global challenges’ and it is apparent everywhere you look.  Before entering her studio, we stop by a narrow canal to observe the fast running currents. Typical for rivers but unusual for the fragile Venetian lagoon, change in water flow is just one of the many indicators pointing to new environmental challenges posed by human intervention. The lagoon system that Venice depends on is currently being eroded by ship traffic spearheaded by massive cruise ships. Their imposing presence in the canal is definitely a sight to behold and to question. We also got to experience first-hand the threatening rise in water levels when the sound of ‘acqua alta’ (high waters) siren swept across the city and warned residents of flooding on a Saturday night, not long before out meeting with Jane. It was not quite what we had expected or had packed for May, reminding us once again of the unpredictable weather.
For a city known for its rich cultural heritage and a home to the first biennale, it may be no surprise that for We Are Here Venice art is one of the means to raise awareness around future sustainability and development of Venice. Their Laguna Viva project at V-A-C Foundation in Zattere is a joint collaboration with the British-based Assemble collective and is a garden installation of the salt marsh habitat of Venetian lagoon. It is a chance to see the unusual ecosystem that Venice is built on while enjoying a cup of Italian espresso in V-A-C’s outdoor café.
During our meeting with Jane, it was also interesting to learn about the first ever residency project at Accademia Gallery where artist Claudio Beorchia had dressed up as an invigilator to gather visitor thoughts on paintings and combine them into an audio guide ‘Aurale: Brusii per Audioguide’. Having conversations with visitors at the biennale or simply hearing people talk about Cathy Wilkes’ work has been central to our stewarding work in British Pavilion and a unique position to find myself in. Observing responses artworks can trigger has been useful for my research project too and I can’t wait to be able to dive deeper into the research aspect of this fellowship in-between gelato breaks and after-work Spritz.