Two medieval figures look up desperately from a vat of boiling oil; a man shakes his head at the sight of soldiers’ clothes scattered behind a tank; an owl, a duck and a few songbirds gather around a musical score. For years, Marco Fusinato has collected what he calls “failed images”, images full of “ambiguity, contradiction and tension”. These images are now the centerpiece of the artist-musician’s experimental noise project in the Australian pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.
Evoking in its title “Disasters of War” (1810-20) by Francisco Goya and a Japanese doom metal band that writes its lyrics in Spanish, “Desastres” synchronizes sound and image in a solo “performance as installation” by Fusinato. He plays daily, improvising blocks of noise on an electric guitar – the noise, in turn, sending images (at speeds of up to 60 seconds) to a floor-to-ceiling self-contained LED screen.
Visiting the pavilion in April, I had the impression of being plunged into a war zone: some visitors fled; others sat petrified, fingers in their ears. In Fusinato’s harrowing mix of jarring sounds and high-speed imagery, the war in Ukraine immediately came to mind. Six weeks later, when I revisit it, the noise is still deafening, but a more nuanced delivery of sound and image seemed to speak of a war with no end in sight.
For Fusinato, work is about conflict in general. “Destruction by humans is eternal,” he says, as we settle down to talk in his green room under the pavilion. “But I’m interested in keeping the meaning open, so anyone who walks in will see something in these images that the person next to them might not.”
The starting point of the project was the idea that video walls are the backdrop Nowadays for stadium gigs but as bands evolve they tend to outsource the visuals to a third party. “I said to myself: wouldn’t it be interesting to focus on the background, with the musician responsible for what is happening on the screen? said Fusinato.
“The sound refers to very particular underground subcultures: noise music, industrial music, doom and death metal, grindcore. These are particular aesthetics with which I work and the images come from everywhere: art history, natural history, ancient history, press. The only thing I can see is that the violence is perennial. Many of these images from art history are incredibly violent and hundreds of years old. It’s something that has been – and will be – with us forever.
There is a certain poetry in Fusinato representing Australia in Venice. Born in Melbourne in 1964, he is the child of small farmers from the Veneto region who emigrated to Australia in 1960. The family still has a home in the province of Belluno, in the foothills of the Dolomites, a region ravaged by the first World War. During World War II, his father was drafted into the Alpini Mountain Infantry and fought on the Russian front until he was wounded. His unit was wiped out, but he walked home from Yugoslavia. Fusinato’s own roots are at the heart of his raucous meditation on conflict, war, loss and death in the Australian pavilion.
The artist often visited Veneto. The contadini the culture of his parents, from the philosophical meanders to the gray woolen jerseys of the men, remains alive for him and he considers Bellunese, an endangered local dialect, as his first language. As a child, having grown up in the working-class district of Noble Park, southeast of Melbourne, he sometimes had to resort to “good Italian” to communicate with his Neapolitan or Sicilian friends, but it always seemed wrong to him: he hilariously mimics the putting on your best Sunday as if “to talk to the Pope”.
His discovery of punk bands such as Crass and the Clash as a teenager, as well as their Italian counterparts Negazione and Wretched, set him on the path to a career as a self-taught and eclectic noise musician, releasing his first recordings on vinyl in 1996. Earlier in the decade he became involved in an artist-run initiative called Store 5 and, through photographic reproduction, design, installation and performance, began to construct a monochrome aesthetic as a visual artist.
Visitors to the pavilion (averaging 1,800 a day) come and go, grabbing a seat on an equipment case or leaning against the wall. With his back to the audience, Fusinato sits apart, next to a formidable stack of amplifiers. He can shape the flow of images, but the images that appear depend on the machine, the creation of his collaborating “digital magician”, Nick Roux.
When he arrived in Venice, Fusinato had contracted the Covid, so came the opening, he was still testing the system. “I just went there, the volume was at maximum — Alexie [Glass-Kantor, the pavilion curator] said it was like giving the keys to a Lamborghini to a 17-year-old. The high volume is there for a purpose: to physically impact the audience. Over the years, he has become adept at tilting the sound to save his ears, although he sometimes uses earplugs. He doesn’t make art he expects you to like.
While playing, he watches the screen, but also keeps an eye on the control unit near his feet. It is impossible to predict what form the images will take. They can appear as single images, double exposures, negatives, or eccentrically cropped details, which is how a headless parrot that had intrigued me entered the mix. “I probably caught five parrots in one frame – and the system goes voomph and zooms in on that piece,” Fusinato laughs, leaning over the image on my phone.
Fusinato’s projects are underpinned by a radical sensibility and a keen political awareness. “From the horde to the bee”, commissioned for a previous Venice Biennale, was a sort of Robin Hood adventure that explored the mechanisms of capitalism by raising funds for the Archivio Primo Moroni, housed in an anarchist squat in Milano. Fusinato had produced a DIY anthology of leftist writing and invited biennial visitors to pick up a copy and leave payment on the table. At the end of the festival, he arrived with the anarchists to take away bags of money – before the biennial organizers could insist they pay tax on them.
Ultimately, however, he is an artist, not an activist. Returning to Venice this year, he “sculpts radiant light and vibrations to create an experience”. He wants us to see and hear – and feel with our whole body – as he watches. “I’m like a crow on the power lines or a cockroach under the barbecue cover,” he says. “Watching.”
As of November 27, labiennale.org
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