A fishing vessel that sank off the Libyan coast in April 2015, trapping hundreds of migrants in its hull, is the centerpiece of a new art project by the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel at the 58th Biennale di Venezia, which opens this week.
The wreck will be exhibited in the Arsenale, the former shipyards and armories that provided the Venetian Republic with its formidable naval power for centuries. Areas of the Arsenale have lately been turned into an exhibition space for the Biennale.
Mr. Büchel declined to be interviewed ahead of the project’s presentation on Monday, but a news release for “Barca Nostra,” which means “Our Ship” in Italian, describes the vessel as “a relic of a human tragedy but also a monument to contemporary migration, engaging real and symbolic borders and the (im)possibility of freedom of movement of information and people.” The relic underscores “our mutual responsibility representing the collective policies and politics that create such wrecks,” the statement added.
At least 800 people are believed to have died in the capsizing of the vessel on April 18, 2015, when the boat, crammed with migrants, collided with a Portuguese freighter ship that had been called to its aid. Only 28 people survived the accident, one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in living memory. The disaster accounted for nearly a fifth of the estimated 3,665 migrant deaths in the sea that year, as tallied by the International Organization for Migration.
But Cettina Saraceno, a spokeswoman for the Comitato 18 Aprile, an association established to preserve the memory of the tragedy, said that Mr. Büchel had been the first artist to ask to use the vessel.
“It seemed to us like a valid project,” Ms. Saraceno said in a telephone interview. The wreck has been entrusted to the Sicilian city of Augusta, which is working with the committee to find a space for it at the heart of what Ms. Saraceno said would be a “garden of memory.” The vessel will return to Augusta after the Biennale.
“It is the right moment” for the Biennale project and for the garden, Ms. Saraceno said.