A couple of us from The Flaming Lips and our girlfriends recently flew to Venice, Italy, to see Damien Hirst’s giant art show. The trip was part vacation, part adventure and part because we’re friends with Damien and very curious about his new work. Plus, how often do you have a good excuse to go to Venice?
Venice is like most incredible adventures: All the beauty and bizarreness of it overwhelms the strange inconveniences. For instance, almost everywhere else in the world you can get an Uber and you can get Postmates, a service that delivers whatever you need—duct tape, French fries. When you travel a lot, you get used to it, but none of those services are available in Venice. You’re suddenly just thrown into this other world: there are no cars—either you’re on a boat or you’re walking.
When we first got there, we had a lot of luggage and there are no cabs. So you’re dropped off at the edge of the water and make your way into the city. It’s just an incomprehensible bunch of alleys and streets and steps, which makes it beautiful and utterly out of the ordinary, but when you haven’t slept in 30 hours and you have a lot of luggage and some hungry, hungover people, it’s a challenge.
I think the way most people handle that—the way we do—you keep thinking, “It’s just five more minutes, and it’ll all work out.” That can go on for two or three hours. We were walking around at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. Anywhere else in the world there would have been street fights and insanity. In Venice, it was absolutely dead quiet—not a dog barking, not a song playing out of anybody’s car. There was a moment when we were like, “What is this?” And then we thought, “Oh, this is why you come here. It’s absolutely different than what you’re used to.”
The next day, we encountered Damien’s show. I don’t think we were prepared for just how insane it was. The whole concept is about [the art pieces] that they’ve discovered from a sunken ship from the 1920s—they’ve unearthed all this buried treasure and have brought all these things [artifacts and coral-covered sculptures] to the surface. But all that’s just made up—he’s built statues, some of them broken as if they’ve been on the bottom of the ocean for almost 100 years. It’s great, because you’re always kind of confused—was this really from a shipwreck or is this just him making it up?
And that parallels the experience of travel in general. Being in Venice is sometimes frustrating, but it’s also unique and beautiful. You have to navigate how you feel about that. Damien’s work is the same way.
If you go into it believing one part to be good or bad or true, all that gets thrown upside down. As for Venice, I think once you’re not so hungry and tired, you laugh at your ridiculous self from the previous day and go “Pffft, isn’t it great that Venice doesn’t have any cars? It’s amazing!” You find yourself in a new dimension, which I think is wonderful. That’s what traveling, if you’re lucky, shows you.
The Flaming Lips are on tour all summer, promoting their latest album Oczy Mlody.