Lorenzo Quinn’s Hands: the meaning of willpower

Two large hands emerging from Grand Canal, right in front of Ca’ Sagredo: an artwork by Lorenzo Quinn, an Italian artist, for the Venice Art Biennale 2017, and unveiled on May 13 last year.

These giant hands present us with the idea of power: a force that can destroy but, at the same time, create and sustain, as the artist himself declared. The work of art highlights the fragility of the city threatened by the rising of the sea-levels because of global warming. It makes the spectator face a world issue, whose concrete future effects get intensified in a city like Venice, in which history and beauty seem constantly at risk. How powerful are two hands which can destroy? Did progress and technical development go way too far if they can mean harm for mankind? When asking ourselves these questions, the two enormous white hands seem to crumble the palace, squeeze it, on the verge of reducing it into pieces.

However, caring hands can also support, as we are told by the title of the sculpture. They can sustain a falling building as giving a hand – literally – to a falling friend. That’s how Lorenzo Quinn’s Hands try to handle a delicate and fragile Venice, holding it up. Giant hands raising all of a sudden out of the canal are an awakening for us and represent a call to action. They are a direct message to the viewer: you can play a role in global issues, it’s not just a drop in the ocean, instead all of this is up to you.

Hands represent, on earth, the almighty force of the creator: the power of giving life, building and sustaining, but also of damaging, destroying, bringing to death. That’s how “Support” shows two different sides of power: power to make and take, reminding us that willpower – humankind’s most unique characteristic – when uncontrolled, can easily draw to violence. The same force and will that marked every new step in science, technology and progress can easily degenerate into an anthropocentric view of the world, into a blind lust for power, oblivious of other creatures. In this sense, a piece of art raising awareness of the possible unexpected outcomes of our strength and our way of behaving is definitely not vane; it is a first way to point the problem out.

More personally, Lorenzo Quinn’s Hands also remind me of how I have learned, day by day, to love Venice, just because of its weakness. Living the whole year in Venice means to get used to its beauty but at the same time never get tired of it; learning that its cracks and its crumbling walls are part of the city and make it unique. It was hands that built Venice treasures, which people from all over the world come to admire, but once again human hands can stand for a power that is threatening the city.

I learned to see Venice in danger when enormous cruise ships invade the Giudecca Canal, I discovered that the breath-taking burned sunsets I admire from San Servolo are due to pollution, I started to look with melancholy at the empty calli at night, which materialises the struggle of the city with depopulation. Venice taught me every day that in this wonderful city, as well as in life, beauty and danger are two sides of the same coin.

That’s how Lorenzo Quinn’s hand told me something more than expected, revealing details of a Venice I got used to live in and that I now consider my new house. They quietly reminded me of the power we have in life to build our own personal world and work for it, without forgetting the connected risk of seeing it float away.

Hands can construct and ruin, give and take, hold and let go.


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