With Marti Gras, or martedi grasso, or “Shrove Tuesday”, or “Fat Tuesday”, the Carnevale season winds down for a period of more restraint, austerity and reflection. Although Carnevale is expressed in many different cultures, it originated in the Venetian lagoon, with documentation of its events found as early as the tenth century. It stemmed from large, communities parties where families shared their reserves of fats and sugars and alcohol before the fasting period of lent in the Catholic tradition. However, in Venice, these parties quickly exploded and by the thirteenth century tens of thousands of visitors came to the city to witness its boat races, festivities, parties, parades and extravagant displays, which included circus acts and exotic animals in the Piazza San Marco.
In time, Carnevale became a mechanism for helping the Venetians cope with its long winters and with the insular nature of this small, island society. In a place where there was very little social privacy, masks and the social liberties which Carnevale allowed acted as a sort of social valve for the highly ruled and regimented society. At its height, Carnevale lasted for six months of the year, and it allowed a free interaction throughout the classes, as one could hid his or her identity and social status behind a mask. It allowed the poor to party with the nobles, sexes to take on different roles, and individuals the opportunity to leave behind their affiliations and explore alternate realities.
Presently, the Venetian Carnevale has become a bit of an odd time to be in the city because its visitors tend to go for one of two reasons; to see or to be seen, or more realistically, to photograph or to be a model. But for those who invest the money and efforts into elaborate costumes, the stage is perfectly set for any narcissism, however, it is certainly not a place for any agoraphobics. Carnevale always makes me wonder now how differently we would act if we weren’t associated with our projected actions. And as artists, when we have this opportunity to truly express our thoughts on our canvases and media, which act in some manner as our extended masks, how much we still hide behind social conventions and expectations of our works.
Would we take our works to its extremes and make our actual bodies and actions our art works, as in the case of Marina Abramović, whose most recent “The Artist is Present” Installation at MOMA, challenged all barriers that an artist could possibly create with his or her audience? Or would we use anonymity as a method for maintaining our true public expression, as with Bansky, who is able to project his ideas onto the walls and into public spaces of our lives without any physical attachment to his own face and body? Carnevale ultimately challenges artists with the following question: if you could truly say something to the world, with complete anonymity, what would it be?
Carnevale Images, © Sarah Pierroz, 2014