This Bitter Earth

by Bob Gelsthorpe


In the 4pm heat of the day, I go outside for a break. I am finding new routine in Venice: 9.19am vaporetto. 9.20am appreciate everything. 9.30am espresso on garibaldi 4pm cigarette break. 6.30pm spritz, et cetera.


A Canadian couple arrive and are welcomed to the exhibition. They sit, listen, view and linger before leaving in what I have come to recognise is the exact amount of time that can be read as: I would possibly like more.

Naturally as they say they are Canadian I ask them about Steve. They do not know him, but found the film difficult. I always find responses of that ilk interesting, and we have a conversation about some of the content.

Snakes milked for venom

the repeated, doctored image of a snake.

Dinah Washington, this bitter earth….

A rendered landscape, crash test dummies mowed down by vehicles

Feelings towards snakes.

The conversation around the work closes and they ask about myself and Mark, so we indulge them in the process of Invigilator Plus.

We begin talking about the difference between Collateral and National participation, and even though our visitor figures are lower than the Arsenale & Giardini, our engagement is considerably better, mainly down to logistics. The opportunity for conversation is much more consistent throughout the day, and with as such a complex and layered practice, a short conversation can make all the difference.

The couple agree.

I think about engagement, I think about the public funding that goes into the exhibition. I consider the £25,000 that has been cut from the budget for this round, and if it will be cut again. I think about how to best perform my role to contribute towards positive outcomes and feedback.

Advocacy on the brain, always.

Measuring engagement could be done through surveys, comments in a comments book, duration of visit, and so on, but perhaps something more holistic and true to form is the anecdotal evidence, that although most honest, is least valued, as it is reliant on the accuracy of representation, and descriptive powers of the individual recording it.


That evening we had dinner at the Court of Redonda. Thomas shared something enormous that knock, but I know that I am both grateful and privileged to have been witness to it.