On my recent trip to Venice in late July I stumbled upon an art gallery as a friend and I were waiting in the rain to gain entrance into the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We had not brought umbrellas and thought the wait to enter the museum would be short. It wasn’t. We were wet.
My friend held our places as I went to peek into the gallery across the way as the wait was expected to continue another 30 minutes.
I was dumbstruck as I entered and saw the first “Traveler.” She seemed to float in the air and had a sort of empty, dreamlike gaze. She was suspended in the air and seemed to move with parts of herself totally removed and vacant. I felt I could relate to her on a somewhat subconscious level. Her artist is Bruno Catalano and he is a French man born in Morocco. These incredible sculptures are known in his native French as “Les Voyageurs.”
As I went to go take a picture of the statue, the gallery manager said something to me in Italian. I panicked. “No photo?” I asked. “No,” he reassured me. “A photo is fine. You need a mask.”
I was soaking wet and my mask was damp, but I hadn’t even realized I was holding it until the manager said that. I put it on and made my way around the gallery. It was the Ravagnan Gallery and as you can see, both the sculptures and the gallery were breathtaking.
Moving Sculptures by Bruno Catalano
These bronze sculptures by Bruno Catalano were so haunting and ethereal that it’s hard to describe the feelings they invoked in me, but I’ll try. But first look at them closely. Zoom in if you can. How do they make you feel? Is it loss? Is it fear? I felt a little of both.
What You Leave Behind
What I love about art is all of these feelings it can inspire in you. Even the painful ones. Like loss and sadness. These haunting sculptures seemed so real and life-like, but they were missing something. Missing a big portion of their physical presence as they traveled onward in a purposeful and serious, almost somber manner. Their loss was visible in its invisibleness.
I read that Catalano always felt loss when he traveled, and while travel is truly inspiring and motivating for me, I can relate to the pain of what I’ll call “what you leave behind.” You have to be willing to give up a part of yourself to travel, to leave, especially if you are moving away and not sure when you will return. You are always leaving a part of yourself behind — your friends, your family, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers. These people are an integral part of your existence like your arms, your legs, your heart. And when they are not present, you feel pain, loss.
You are leaving with the purpose of returning, but it’s possible you won’t, isn’t it? You must trust the people you love will be there when you return, but it’s always possible they won’t be. They may even be there physically when you return, but will the distance and time leave big gaps in your relationship that are hard to overcome? You hope not. But it’s uncertain.
So parts of you are already “missing” before you even catch that bus, that plane, that train. The loss is palpable and you must feel this emptiness if you are to move forward with your plans, your dreams, your destiny perhaps.
It’s a difficult feeling and I have never before seen it represented so well as in these breathtaking sculptures.
A Novel Loss from the Novel Coronavirus
Covid-19 has made the losses associated with travel all the more palpable. Many people had moved forward with their travels before the coronavirus only to be stuck in the places they thought were transient, separating them from their lovers, families, and friends. I have two friends that went to places expecting it just to be a short time before they were reunited with their loved ones. Both got stuck where they were and were separated from their husbands for many, many months. Actually both are still on different sides of the oceans at this time due to restrictions on travel for Covid-19. I see them when I look at the sculptures, trying to move forward with parts of their hearts missing.
Some have had their loved ones taken from them by death, by divorce, or by simply the long road of distance. Either way, the pain is raw and like these sculptures they carry it with them with feelings of emptiness.
But I do see a glimpse of hope when I see such beauty in art. It is apparent in Catalano’s art as well. It is the hope of tomorrow, the way the sculptures move forward purposely and without looking back. Their determination and resolve are hopeful to me.
And so I went back to my place in line at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a whole separate realm of artistic inspiration. As the time ticked on, my friend and I were wet and tired of waiting. The line reached back pretty far against the canal and even in the rain people were waiting up to an hour to enter to be inspired by the art in the collection.
In time we heard something unexpected and hopeful and full of joy. Standing in the rain without raincoats or umbrellas, a group of young students began to sing in harmony as they waited, lighting up the walkway with song and music. An elderly Venetian woman glanced out of her window and watched. It was a gift.
The travelers had arrived.
Here is a video I took of the young students singing: