A Relic of Anguish

Christoph Büchel’s Barca Nostra, Arsenale. Getty Images

Kelly Grovier, culture critic with the BBC, “trawled through the artworks on display at the 2019 Venice Biennale” to pick out highlights including this wreck of a cargo vessel. This is what caught my attention:

The most haunting work in this year’s Biennale is also the one that’s causing the greatest stir. In a bold move that has divided opinion, the Swiss Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel has transported to Venice’s ancient shipyard, the Arsenale, the salvaged wreck of a cargo vessel that sank in the Mediterranean in 2015. The tragedy claimed the lives of around 800 migrants who were trapped in the ship’s hold. The rusting and lacerated hulk, which Büchel has christened “Barca Nostra” (or “Our Boat”), was recovered from the bottom of the sea along with the remains of many who perished. Others were lost without a trace.

The battered boat wedges its way, like a static glacier of unending suffering, into the psyche of everyone who passes it, admonishing us, as if from another world. So raw and unflinching is the work’s intolerable power, some visitors may feel blindsided by its un-metaphorical frankness (this is after all, not an artistic interpretation of anguish but a real relic of it) and object to the repurposing of the doomed vessel as a fleeting installation in an ephemeral art festival famous for its gewgaws of glamour and glitz.


There is something about the distant plight of modern day refugees that would cause us to pause. For millennia people have been nudged, moved, pushed, or otherwise displaced by the bullies of force. Has there ever been a time when we have not been part of going with or receiving a diaspora?

Kyrie, eleison.


For more go to “A Prayer for Refugees.”

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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