Red Regatta was a 2019 Venice Biennale event and at the same time, an independent public art dream fulfilled by visual artist Melissa McGill in early May. A fleet of traditional vela al terzo, wooden boats hoisted with sails hand-painted in different shades of red, floated and glided in unison across Venetian lagoons and canals for four days during the celebration. Additional events featuring smaller-scale regatta of vela al terzo boats will also launch in historic locations through November 2019.
Red being the color that represents the spirit of Venice, complemented the city’s terra cotta roofs, brick-red covered buildings, as well as invoked the city’s opulent maritime history and artworks of famous Venetian painter thru the rich red pigment of the city’s flag. Melissa McGill’s ‘”Red Regatta” is a visual art about the wind and waters and how they play in a rich sailing culture that must retain its environmentally friendly tradition, via the sustainable features of the vela al terzo,
A Closer Look at Venice’s Vela al Terzo Boats
A vela al terzo is a flat-bottomed wooden boat with removable masts designed specifically for navigating the Venetian canals. Traditionally, the masts of a vela al terzo were painted with identifying symbols in differently earthly colors to represent the family of the boat owner.
Although the canals of Venice are best known for the gondolas, vela al terzo boats are unique because of their 3-part lug masts. Melissa was so enamoured by the vela al terzo boats that have been with the city for more than a thousand years, carefully and lovingly preserved by their owners for the next generations to whom the boats will be handed down.
How Melissa McGill’s “Red Regatta” Visual Art Took Form
Actually, the vela al terzo boats used for the Venice Biennale were custom made for Melissa’s “Red Regatta” project. The project was made possible through the collaboration of the Magazzino Italian Art and Associazione Vela al Terzo, a private club founded by vela al terzo sailors.
Local members of the Venetian community, sailors, artisans, and art students came together to work toward creating the performative art. Fifty-two (52) members, comprising forty-eight (48) men and four (4) women, of the Associazione quickly volunteered to lend their boats for the “Red Regatta”.
Melissa took photographs of each participating owner, using the red sail as backdrop. The crimson sails created for the occasion were given as souvenir for each owner. Moreover, Melissa intends to use their portraits and related stories of vela terzo sailors as contents of her forthcoming book.