Tuesday 10 April 2018
Pale hands I loved beside the Sagredo – Michelle Lovric
My title messes with ‘Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar’, the celebrated first line of ‘Kashmiri Song’, a poem by Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Nicholson) published in her collection The Garden of Kama, 1901. As a special treat, here is Rudolph Valentino vamping his way through the song adaptation written by Amy Woodforde-Finden in 1902. Apparently, it was his favourite.
No wonder Sheikish Rudolf loved this poem. It’s as sexy as hell, with a nice little throb of sadomasochism in the final lines.
Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell?
Whom do you lead on Rapture's roadway, far,
Before you agonise them in farewell?
Oh, pale dispensers of my Joys and Pains,
Holding the doors of Heaven and of Hell,
How the hot blood rushed wildly through the veins,
Beneath your touch, until you waved farewell.
Pale hands, pink tipped, like Lotus buds that float
On those cool waters where we used to dwell,
I would have rather felt you round my throat,
Crushing out life, than waving me farewell!
Before I noticed the title ‘Support’, my reaction to the hands varied according to my state of mind whenever I saw it. Sometimes they seem benign; other times sinister and grasping. They’re close to my home and I pass them at least twice a day, witnessing the way they transform by dawn and evening light, and in the dark. I have discussed them with friends and with strangers on the vaporetto. Once, when I was hungry, I imagined some monstrously greedy Hansel had decided that Ca’ Sagredo was built of tear-and-share gingerbread, and he was reaching out to snap off a corner for a snack. Another time, when I was worrying about a sick friend, the hands conjured those of an expert but tender nurse reaching out to re-set a broken bone. One fiery sunset, they seemed to cup the flames of hell. At night, they are always ghost hands, questing after souls to drag into the black water. And of course, whenever I see them, the ear-worm wriggles in my head, chanting, ‘Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar …’
According the Halcyon Gallery, which represents Quinn, ‘At once, the sculpture has both a noble air as well as an alarming one – the gesture being both gallant in appearing to hold up the building whilst also creating a sense of fear in highlighting the fragility of the building surrounded by water and the ebbing tide.’
So in fact, the threats barely veiled in the poem do have some resonance here. Nor was I so far out with my idea of Hansel as these are supposed to be gigantic child hands, modelled on those of the artist’s son. The boy’s mother and grandmother are Venetian: Quinn identifies warmly with the city.
Quinn fashioned the hands from polyurethane foam coated with resin, using an ancient technique known as ‘lost-wax casting’. I so wish I’d been there to see the day they were installed. Fortunately, this lovely film records the event.
The 30-foot hands first surged out of the water in May 2017, originally part of the Biennale of Art. They have captured the imagination of the city and been allowed to stay on beyond the Biennale’s closing last November. In an interview with the Telegraph last year, Quinn explained, ‘There’s a saying in Italian: “Non metter le mani sulla città” (Don’t put your hands on the city), and I went and did it. But they love it!’
Nearly everyone I know in Venice will be sad when the hands finally leave. But they still have environmental crusading to do. Their next destination will also point accusing fingers at the human authors of climate change. Lorenzo Quinn plans to install them on an Arctic glacier. He will shoot a time-lapse video as the ice melts. As he told the Telegraph, ‘In a few months they’ll be gripping thin air and people will see this is real, this is happening.’
Lorenzo Quinn is represented by the Halcyon Gallery
Michelle Lovric’s website