Hungary’s largest-scale photography show, the BUDAPEST PHOTO FESTIVAL 2020, celebrates photographic art for the fourth time with its series of events to run in the MŰCSARNOK from 28 February. This time the Festival opens with an exhibition where visitors can enter a magical pictorial world on the borderline of fine art and photography, fiction and reality.
Paolo Ventura’s Venice is at once familiar and unknown. The photographs create the impression as if it only existed in our fantasy, even though all its elements are so real. Akin to history, humanity’s shared past. We often wish to imagine that strange, oppressive and fearful memories only exist in nightmares. That those who suffered the past were only tiny figurines in an imaginary puppet theatre and not flesh-and-blood people.
This is how the creator, Ventura described his project: “Each photo was taken in an imaginary Venice, of which I built a model in miniature. The only part of the story that happened in reality was the Nazis and the Italian police entering the ghetto of Venice in December 1943.”
The Automaton takes place in Venice during WWII, at a time when the Nazis entered North Italy to stop their former allies from falling away. It was created based on a story that Ventura was told in his childhood by his father, an author of children’s books. The protagonist is an elderly Jewish watchmaker, who tried to survive in the ghetto of Venice in 1943, during what was perhaps the darkest period of Nazi occupation in Italian history. The story unfolds in the deserted, enclosed part of town filled with terror. The old Jew builds an automaton (a robot boy), who keeps him company in this time of darkness and lives with him as a family member.
Automatons have long captured artists’ imagination. Think of the dancing doll created by the watchmaker protagonist of the popular ballet, Coppélia, and the singing automaton of Offenbach’s famous opera, The Tales of Hoffmann. And of course there is Pinocchio, the puppet that is brought to life. Although people who created automatons were admired, they were at the same time feared and ridiculed. What is more, they were often excluded from the wider community. Automatons – whether admirable or fearsome – made people wonder if humanity would be able to survive in the world it created itself.
It was exactly in Venice more than five hundred years ago, in 1516, that a group of people were first forced to live in a ghetto because of their religion: the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo was founded by the Doge Loredan and its walls dismantled by the symbolic hero of modern Europe, Napoleon. The word ‘ghetto’ itself comes from Venice, the city where Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is also set. Over the many centuries various Jewish cultures intermingled and shaped one another in Venice’s crowded alleyways and its five synagogues. During the Nazi occupation hundreds of Jews were deported from the by then decimated Jewish community and only some of them survived the camps in Trieste and Auschwitz.
Curator: Klára Szarka