Pellestrina – The Craft – Erica Zelante

Pellestrina – The Craft’ is part of a wider and ongoing work, about the islands, the environment and the peculiarities in the Venetian lagoon. The work was born a month after an exceptional tide struck the so-called island and all Venice lagoon on 12th November 2019. The topic was covered widely by the national and international press.

Although a great number of publications spoke about it, a profound amount of disinformation was generated – as often happens in these cases. The lagoon, Venice and its islands are uncommon places due to their morphology and have extremely specific characteristics. The risk of falling into error when mentioning them is high, and only those who have studied this environment’s characteristics for years or those who have been living in the lagoon can fully recognise the subject’s delicacy. 

When speaking about the lagoon, in the case of these events, it is fundamental to deal with who lives there and specially look closely at this reality, trying to immerse in what, for Venetians, is common and part of a daily routine. 

Venice Lagoon is used to high tides. It is a phenomenon that happens every year, mostly during the month of November. On the night of 12th November 2019, the tide reached 187cm above sea level with gusts of wind at 100km/h. This was an exceptional event.

Pellestrina remained flooded for twenty-four hours. Water came from the lagoon, bypassing the small walls and rising from underneath the ground. This has never happened since the lagoon’s most recent protections were built. Many inhabitants saw water enter their houses and cause damage to their belongings. Some of them have lost a lot, others have lost everything.

Many Pellestrinotti work as fishermen as is the tradition of the island. Due to new and strict regulations in the world of fishing, many of them now devote themselves to the cultivation of peoci – mussels. In addition, the lagoon is losing its original flora and fauna which is another reason as to why many fishermen are quitting their traditional fishing work.

In fact, the lagoon ecosystem has been seriously impacted over the years by pollution, unhelpful policies, the transit of large ships, the excavation of deep canals and the construction of the MOSE. MOSE is an hydraulic engineering work placed on the inlets of Venice’s lagoon which is supposed to protect the lagoon from high tides. It worked for the first time in October 2020, after seventeen years of works that caused huge environmental impact.

It is also significant to remember that on 4th June 2014, a police raid led to thirty-five arrests of entrepreneurs, managers, public officials and politicians involved in bribery linked to the MOSE project’s funding. The charges brought against them included corruption, bribery and illegal financing.

The people who paid the consequences were, of course, the inhabitants of the lagoon. 

This work intends to educate and to reveal a path that can be a starting point to experiencing this reality. This project, with the simplicity of a narration, prompts you to empathise with the uniqueness of the lagoon ecosystem, trying to clarify some points that are often overlooked because of negligence or because they might be taken for granted.

An everyday job, that belongs to the island, is the greatest expression of what it means to live in an ecosystem – additionally, try to detach from the concept that Venice is only a city. That would be an understatement. The lagoon inhabitants grow up trying to find a balance with the nature that surrounds them. Even when they learn to drive a boat, and this often happens at a very young age, they have to take the elements into account: the waves have their own strength, the boat slips and they have to get used to the fact that their force is not the only one that moves the boat. It is a continuous game of balance, in which each person must learn to dialogue with nature and find harmony.

My work tries to be a staple in the midst of the chaos that occurs when speaking about Venice, a place that people too often speak about with excessive pretension. There is nothing more precious than to try and be silent, stop for a moment and just listen; listen to the waves crashing on the boat’s bow and the sound of seagulls on a foggy December morning. Pellestrina is an informational project with the purpose of narrating transparently how the island does not feel isolated as being an island, but as being abandoned by public authorities, often as a result of large-scale disinformation, and how this feeling is intrinsic for those who choose to lead a life in the lagoon. 

I am a photographer and visual artist interested in the environment and exploration of the dynamics of the landscape, including the effects that the human presence has on it. My works use photography as a form of evocative narration and I am currently studying an MA in photojournalism and documentary photography at the London College of Communication. 

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