Saturday, 7 November 2015


We sit in the cafe in the Arsenale, and talk about buying a brick. But not just any old brick.

   We've just seen a work by the Argentinian artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. It's a collection of hand-made bricks. 14,086 of them which is, apparently, the number of bricks used in the construction of the average Chinese house. Each one is stamped with Chinese characters which translate as "Do not work." A laudable sentiment to be sure, and one to be encouraged. And for just ten euros you can have a brick of your very own to take away, with the proceeds going towards an organisation for workers' rights in China.

   A limited edition work of art for just ten euros does seem like an unmissable opportunity, even if that limited edition is of 14,086. We're not quite sure exactly what we'd do with it, but Caroline suggests we could use it to wedge the balcony door open to let Mimi come and go.

   There's one problem, however. If we buy it now someone - let's call him "Philip" - is going to have to carry it around all afternoon. If we buy it at the end of the day we'll have to trog back through the entire length of the Arsenale in order to pick it up. And then someone - again, let's call him "Philip" - is going to have to carry it home.

   Caroline thinks it would be easier to buy it now. It'll save us the long walk back.

   I'm not convinced. I fold my arms and do my best to set my jaw in a firm line. I am not carrying a brick around all afternoon. No way. I'm not going to do it. And there is nothing - nothing - that is going to change my mind.

   Thirty minutes later, I find myself walking through the Arsenale. Carrying a brick.


The news of our acquisition starts to spread, and a number of friends express an interest in acquiring a brick of their own. Caroline wonders if she could go back to the Arsenale with a shopping trolley. Why, this might enable us to do all our Christmas shopping in one go!.

And then a week later, Peter and Lou, our Brilliant Australian Friends, come for dinner. We talk about our new work of art. They both agree that it is a very fine brick indeed.

- There's just one thing, says Pete. It's not fired is it?
- Eh?
- It's not fired. It'll slowly dissolve. Although that kind of makes it an interesting work of art in its own right.

We look at it more closely. There is, indeed, a fine layer of brick dust on the floor.

We've bought a brick. But it is not just a brick. It's a very special brick. A dissolving brick.

All in all it's just another brick in our hall...


  1. A lovely story and, like your friends, it makes me want one of those bricks, too.

    I bought your book last week, by the way, and I'm really enjoying reading it. Your adventures at the Anagrafe are as nail-biting as any John le Carre yarn.

    I'm in Venice several times a year for various reasons (including next week, as it happens) and reading The Venice Project has given me a fresh perspective.

    Thank you.

    Russell Norman

    1. Thanks Russell - I'm delighted you're enjoying it!!

  2. "Another brick in our hall." I liked that one! :D
    Are the characters on the brick mirrored as in the picture. It should read 别干了and is a really a phrase with many levels of depth, even with my limited knowledge of Chinese.
    Good luck with the dissolving! :)
    Thanks for a nice story and a very intrerestin blog. I'm dreaming of living in Venice myself, but that'll have to wait until me and the wife retires. Then I hope to live in Cannaregio, feasting on the wonderful food and drink of the Veneto and maybe smoke a pipe or two. :)

    All the best!

    1. Fantastic - thanks Andreas, I've adjusted the brick accordingly with minimal disruption to its structure. And good luck with that move to Venice!

    2. All in the fullness of time, Phil. :)
      Right now I'm looking for a small pied-a-terre in Venice to spend at least some weeks in Venice each year. My wife and I are lucky enough that, with some planning, we could work wherever there is a decent internet connection so we'll see what happens in the future.

  3. Could you get Giovanni Vio to fire it for you? He's a friend of Yvonne. Andrew H.

    1. I think that fireing it would take away some of the artist's point. It's supposed to dissolve slowly as a kind of memento mori and as a reminder that nothing will last forever, at least not in the shape we know it. Another meaning of the character 干 is dry or to dry so the text could be read "do not dry".


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