“The Rape of Venice, or the Building of a Context”, critic text by Vittorio Urbani, 2015, eng

In the Doge’s Palace of Venice, the renowned and opulent painting (1745 circa) by Giambattista Tiepolo, Neptune Offers the Wealth of the Sea to Venice, affords the visitor a triumphant image of values implicit to a mercantile-based society – even if the city (unaware or pretending to be so) was already in political and economic decline. In this masterful representation, the God of the Sea proffers to the Serenissima city very earthly goods such as gold, gems, corals.

Two hundred and seventy years later, Andrea Morucchio conceives a multimedia installation, "The Rape of Venice", exhibited in the Palazzo Mocenigo, the long ago residence of one of the city’s Doges. Conversely, this contemporary artwork does not proffer wealth but rather, through a fragmented composition of different media and sensorial stimuli, it issues forth a parched and sorrowful reflection. Unlike Tiepolo, Morucchio’s vision is far from triumphal; instead, it is grounded in both a polemic and proactive analysis of the problems besetting Venice, coextensive with the city’s terminal stage of sufferance.

Two years ago, I curated "Play God", a multi-sensorial reflective installation by Morucchio, which was on display in the Oratorio of San Ludovico in Venice. The site is a small chapel that once belonged to a now forgotten private institution of charity in the old Republic of Venice. For that exhibition, I discussed at length with Morucchio about the need for artists to contribute to the improvement of Venice’s current situation. This imperative to assist is the result of the cultural, political, and perhaps social paralysis of Venice, and it can be addressed through artistic interventions; ones expressed, or even “screamed,” through symbolic and metaphorical reminiscences. Play God was the beginning of such a reflection between the artist and myself, and between the artist and the public. Morucchio perceived that particular contribution as a challenge – he even put into the play his own naked body – and accordingly avoided considering his artwork as a fully completed and closed enterprise; instead, he left the work open, lingering much like a lyric poem whose cadences continue beyond its meter and rhymes.

Since then, the preoccupation among the receptive members of Venetian society regarding the state of things in their city continues to grow. This growth has been fuelled by a series of scandals, the majority of which are not as yet fully resolved: the Moses project (specifically, the questionable activities of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova), the mismanagement and corruption regarding the executive power of Venice (specifically, the malfeasances of the Mayor, Giorgio Orsoni), and the abuses perpetrated by the politics and management of many of the city’s cultural institutions, not to mention the largesse of the financing enjoyed by these institutions. The powers-to-be involved in this state of affairs, are still, more or less, in office. Indeed, and not without a sad irony, what appears to be happening is a recreation, in modern form, of an oligarchy that in the past once ruled one of the most long lasting forms of city governance (albeit an efficient one). Now, under the veil of its public assuredness, we can only imagine its hidden agenda: regrettably, the cure of this malaise has not started yet, let alone its eventual healing.

The flood of Venice in 1966 is a date one and all remember with sadness. Exactly fifty years later, Venice was flooded with money – ironically, during the rapidly accelerating exodus of Venetians to the more liveable mainland that offered jobs and services. The forming of preservation committees, and the enactment of several special laws were coextensive to an endless series of contributions from the Region, the State, and Europe as a whole: basically, a plethora of gratuitous and substantial financing had descended on the city. Against this backdrop, the most important cultural institutions were initially the target of the majority of these funds that, at the time, were vital for the cultural sustainability of the city. Over the years, however, this system generated a hidden side, a sort of pecking order, established specifically to maintain certain privileged financing channels. A privileging that eventually blocked the growth in new and spontaneous productions within the cultural world of the city. Bluntly stated, in this system nothing was permitted that would challenge the establishment. Favouring, or even allowing any growth at all, would have, sooner or later, jeopardised the established pecking order. Moreover, Venice is a conservative city, in the sense that it is obsessively conservative about its façade. Indeed, it makes its façade the sole theme of cultural discussion: a clear example is the passive and static motto “as it was, where it was,” launched by the previous Mayor/philosopher, Massimo Cacciari, with respect to the reconstruction of the Fenice Theatre. This conservative bent of the city constituted the ideal ground for maintaining, untouched, certain well-established institutions without ever criticising their efficiency or productivity.

The same system, on the other hand, generated an informal and un-organised resistance among the population; a resistance that, from its inception, was already auto-suppressed by a justifiable feeling of impotence and disenchantment, rather than by any sense of apathy. This resistance was expressed through sincere and well motivated initiatives, sometimes naïve but, however, truly participated in by citizens such as, for instance: the associative movement for the public management of the island of Poveglia; the protests against motor cruisers passing through Venice (and in front of San Marco’s square); the protests against the increasing Mafia-like criminal involvement in the ballooning tourist activities; and protests against the underpaid and sometimes even non-paid work by forever-temporary employees in the main cultural institutions of the city, a matter we particularly care about.

Within this contemporary scenario, created against a backdrop of disappointing decay alloyed to fresh impulses of resistance, Morucchio installs his work in the Palazzo Mocenigo. His exhibition is – naturally – an exhibition; yet it is also a protest.

Finally a protest!

Speaking of which, most people usually associate the concept of protest with love: protesting against something or somebody threatening or damaging some beloved person or thing. Of course, there is love in the artwork by this Venetian artist because his protest is generated by a concern for his beloved city; however, accompanying this emotion there is also an explosive fury.

The energy released by anger embodies also a strange happiness.

Saying that things could not be worse often generates the bitter consolation of, “I said so;” yet at the same time it gives us a strange trust in the possibility of making real changes.

We have reached the bottom.
We have ideas.

Anger leads to desire, activates the imagination, and leads to the creation of a new status to things.

All these factors constitute the concept of a shareable us, and the generation of a possible context.

Thus, here, today, we say no, this is not good; this is not good for us. Let us shake Venice up, this Sleeping Beauty, and let us slap-down those who comatose “her” with psychoactive drugs for the purpose of keeping “her” in such a somnolent state. Venice is a well-oiled money machine, a cash cow, constantly exploited for the purpose of gaining founding by blackmailing the whole world with its preservation problems. It goes without saying that preserving Venice is an important issue, however, this insatiable machine has made the concept of conservation (too often passed off as preservation) into a perfect mechanism specifically created to block any new growth, any new cultural and artistic enterprises and entities that might challenge the status quo.

Morucchio and I believe in the intrinsic value of an exhibition: an exhibition is an autonomous statement regarding expressive, aesthetic, and political values and priorities. In presenting different visual materials (with meanings that are both confluent and autonomous) Morucchio’s installation, The Rape of Venice, becomes the ideal coalescence of diverse meanings. This coalescence of non-homogeneous materials generates both energy and ambiguity; it highlights values, critical points, problems, and it affords them energy and direction.

If not properly interpreted, facts would just lie limp and lifeless; it is what we think about them that generates their meaning. After all, the world exists because we think it. However, an unstructured thought that does not give sense to the world denies and makes useless existence itself. Only by observing facts in a critical way and within their context are we able to give them value, as well as creating the conditions for positive change. The context is also a possible shared place, a starting point.

An artist as Morucchio is essential to this cause. For, he merges the different elements of his installation with great attention and with respect to the expressive value of each of them. Similar to a conductor, he gives value to the different potentialities of his “instruments,” and also brings forth their overall harmony.

Far from being defined a something similar to a Poet Laureate, or alternatively described as a “committed artist,” what in fact is the position of an artist today? Morucchio does not seem to be worried by this question. Instead, tall and impatient, he moves with a sense of ease, with an athletic and rapid stride through the corridors that house his The Rape of Venice: this air of nonchalance speaks ironically to his dedication to the project and it subsumes, wins over everything, in its wake.

The Rape of Venice is a well thought out and balanced orchestration of different expressive media. The most appealing element, the quotes, in large lettering, from foreign news-services on the state of Venice are projected in a loop along the walls of the exhibition space – as if they were shouted by paperboys and with a speed that creates a certain lightly-felt awkwardness in the mind of the visitor. A sound barely tolerable is broadcasted: it is the modified rumour of the propellers of marine motors, which play an important role in the problems facing Venice. The floor remembers the mosaic in the San Marco Basilica: it is a modified photographic reconstruction of the different details and patterns of the original design. It is a mosaic of a mosaic. The surrounding atmosphere is enriched with an aroma that was specifically formulated by the creative team of Mavive (the world renowned Venetian perfume company). The essence is reminiscent of the smell of frozen seaweed. This aromatic element of Venice was the source of particular delight to the late, Russian-American poet and essayist, Joseph Brodsky: the aroma of seaweed welcomed him at the train station.

All these elements required the overall project to be shared by the artist, both curators, and the technicians and operators in different production and service companies such as Fallani, the renowned graphic producer that created the floor. Morucchio dealt with the difficulties of actually arranging the different elements and organising the labyrinth composition, along with conferring unity and coherence to the finished work.

Coherence, its presence or absence, is a well-established criterion for judging an artwork. If the world is fragmented, artworks do not necessarily have to be coherent. However, Morucchio’s work is coherent: regarding both the orchestration of the different elements and the exhibition space.

However, let us investigate more fully the artwork of an artist who deals with such different media with the courage of one used to diving into frozen water. A composition of different media, Rape becomes alive in the diverse feelings of affinity and sharing that the visitors will experience: only they will finally determine the synaesthesia.

Even in its heterogeneity, The Rape of Venice maintains its own expressive unity. The unusual idea by the artist of having two curators (who did not even knew each other before being engaged in this event) is a clear sign of Morucchio’s desire to create a context of discussion and dialogue within his creative moment. The three of us discussed for months before realising the artwork. As the word says: context (Latin: con-texere, contextus, a weaving together) means a shared text, a text built together. Morucchio’s project does not fill an empty space as if the latter were a neutral container, but rather is customised itself in accordance with its hosted space.

Because of my particular background in the arts, it is easier therefore for me to consider the visual elements among the different components of this installation – specifically, the floor. Morucchio selected hundreds of photographs of different details that comprise the floor in the San Marco Basilica; he then recomposed them in accordance with his own artistic aims. The original majestic mosaic has been compared by Marcel Proust to a sea, the waves of which were frozen by time. The original floor is a rich composition of various allegoric, geometric, and animal patterns made homogeneous by a Medieval liveliness. In the “new” floor, such liveliness becomes a cold re-composition of disjointed elements that, however, finds its own balance of colours, full/empty, black/white. The new floor has certain recognisable fragments (of the original floor) that act as an ideal counterpart to the sense of anxiety that may arise in the viewer by such fragmentation. The message is: if what once was a unit is now broken and will never be recomposed, nonetheless, new mental and visual systems can recreate a different unity and aesthetic sensibility. This is a new contemporary serenity.

The construction and deconstruction by the artist while working on this floor, and his constant walking up and down to choose the right photographic tiles (as in a bizarre loom where different fabrics are wowen contemporarily) are very significant for the intrinsic concept of trust in the process of construction. Deconstruction is not disruption; it helps to better examine the elements to be used, to avoid considering only their formal value, to go beyond their beauty – deconstruction as a rational analysis, construction as an emotion. Proust’s metaphor (the floor as a frozen sea) suggests a complexity of contents hidden underneath the surface, suggests an energy derived from flowing, ever-changing masses, and calls attention to the sea’s own vitality.

The fragments of the floor bring another advantage to the installation: they offer multiplicity.

In ancient times art also investigated multiplicity: sculptures such as the Riace Bronzes, or the Runners in the Villa of the Papyri from Herculaneum confuse the viewer by the slight difference in their postures. While the eye constantly moves incredulously between one form and the other, it realises that they are not totally identical. This unusual sculptural technique suggests the movement of a figure captured in sequence, moment by moment, as in the frames of a film. However, these figures offer unity within multiplicity in a profoundly different way compared to the unity created by thousand of images that comprise a film. Namely, in ancient multiplicity the viewer contemplates the different moments of the movements, the eye recognises them and the mind recomposes the overall sense of unity. In the same manner, the fragmentation offered by Morucchio generates a (new) unity from the set multiplicity, and in so doing generates a convincing and serene effect.

Is Morucchio’s art naturalistic? Is it an imitation of Nature according to the ancient meaning of the term? I would say no. This installation and others of his works have the same mediated relationship with Nature that, for instance, literature has: it is a theatrical representation of ideas that emerges from the way we humans react to the information given to us by the natural world. It is also worth noting that, differing from his other artworks, on this occasion the artist’s body is not physically present in the work, however, his presence at the work is energising and significant.

Is this dangerous art? I sincerely hope so because it calls into question the politics, news media, and cultural management of Venice, all of which are interconnected and, in turn, condition the experience of life and the production of art in this city.

Indeed, Rape points the finger at who is responsible