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Illustration by James St Findlay

He arrived in Venice as if in a dream, although this was less to do with the city’s fantasmic charms and more to do with the hour he’d had to get up to make his early-morning flight. Actually, most of the night he had lain there half-awake half-asleep, half-waiting for the alarm. He must have slept, though, as he had dreamt, although God knows what all that was about, and if She knows, She’s not telling. Perhaps it was the Rendang that he’d reheated.

He’d come to teach for a couple of days in one of those schools that cater for those who can afford it, although this was a distinction that was becoming increasingly moot; he was also going to propose reviewing the exhibitions that he was going to visit with the students, so getting paid twice over (or just the once, if his previous experience of Italian financial systems was anything to go by). He had lived here for a short while back in the mid-nineties, when his obsession with Ruskin was becoming increasingly unhealthy. It isthe place for unhealthy obsessions, though, and many were the times that he later regretted leaving, eventually spending sodden autumns considering Ruskin’s experimental land management in the Lake District rather than drinking light-sparkled Negronis by the water’s edge. He’d gotten some writing out of it that no-one now remembers—except Urs!—but had lost the little Italian that he had, and no doubt much else besides.

He was saving the route to Rosa Salva into Google Maps when the students arrived at Palazzo Franchetti for the exhibition of Memphis design. He had never liked it, and couldn’t help but be suspicious of those who did, but he also couldn’t help but think that it looked great in front of flecked silk walls and beneath obscene Murano chandeliers. Not understated, as such, but appropriately stated, you know, rightsimpatico. He decided to worry later about whether this was a good or bad thing—not actually worry, obviously, not himself, but worry some words, bother them, trouble them into meaning. 

Earlier they had crossed the Grand Canal and walked towards the Fondazione Prada which was hosting an exhibition on the huts—real or imagined—of Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Adorno. He’d not heard of some of the artists, but those he had were good, and it looked smart, and he had hoped it would make him look smart, too. The students had heard of the philosophers, at least, but knew little of their work, revelations both of which he greeted with a satisfaction he did well to mask. There were some small Richter photographs smeared with paint, and some fifteenth-century wooden drawers, and a Chinese screen around which were gathered a community of thoughts. There were also recreations of Heidegger’s and Wittgenstein’s huts, both rendered in MDF—mitteldichte Philosophie—he couldn’t help himself, help hating himself—and at a scale of 88%, often used by Mark Manders to give his works a sense of a diminished uncanny. (He had a work here too—great—Colin loved his work, and thought back to seeing it in the Dutch Pavilion, what, five years ago? Ah, yes, it must’ve been, because…) In Wittgenstein’s hut was his only known sculpture, Head of a Girl from the mid-late-Twenties, and his walking stick; in Heidegger’s hut were some beautiful bowls—which he considered stealing—and small black and white photographs taken of the philosopher in Todtnauberg, looking uncomfortable in his stupid black night cap, looking uncomfortable sitting at his desk pen in hand, looking uncomfortable at the water pump just outside, looking uncomfortable at the foot of his bed.

He woke in his room just after eight, having fallen asleep reading. His shirt had twisted, and stuck to his back. The evening sky had thickened in the window, though the swifts screeched arcs through it with no less ease. He’d not eaten, apart from the ice cream earlier—coffee and tiramisu—the taste of which he’d hoped might trick his body into waking, but this was clearly not going to offset the variety of spritzes—Aperol, Campari, Cynar—he’d sampled at Osteria Bancogiro in the late afternoon. Start sweet and become increasingly bitter. Good advice, he had thought; he would pass this on tomorrow. 

Memphis — Plastic Field, Fondazione Berengo – Palazzo Franchetti, Venice, 24 May - 25 November 2018

Machines à penser, Fondazione Prada, Venice, 26 May - 26 November 2018

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Jeremy Millar is an artist based in London. Recent and forthcoming exhibitions include Metaphoria III, Le centquatre–Paris; Machines à penser, Fondazione Prada, Venice; The Other Dark: Tacita Dean, Jeremy Millar, and Nashashibi/Skaer, Sirius Art Centre, Cobh; and material / rearranged / to / be, collaboration with Siobhan Davies Dance, Barbican Curve (touring to Tramway, Glasgow; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Bluecoat, Liverpool). He has also curated numerous exhibitions, and contributed to numerous publications internationally. He is Senior Tutor at the RCA, London, where he is Pathway Leader in Critical Practice.