Mara Sartore: The Rape of Venice project speaks about the situation in Venice, its decline, its devastation, its transformation into a city resembling a game park, but it does so in a way that is anything but pedagogic. Can you tell us about it?
Andrea Morucchio: The Rape of Venice is a multi-sensorial, synaesthetic installation that draws the viewer into a strange psychological dimension: I have seen some very different reactions. There are those who cannot stand more than 2 or 3 minutes and those who are almost hypnotised by these elements that are so diverse, such as the reconstruction of the floor of Saint Mark’s Basilica, philologically reproduced by deconstructing the photographic images of the entire surface. For Venetians, Saint Mark’s represents “Venetianness”, our culture and our tradition and spirituality.
MS: It also represents the splendour of Venice, a splendour that in some respects today seems no longer to exist…
AM: In my installation that splendour is deconstructed. I have reduced the floor to an informal heap, with all the geometric patterns completely disassembled. The aesthetic sensation is pleasant but also imparts a sense of disorientation since the random association of these pieces can be visually perceived as a series of concavities. The international magazine titles (which are perhaps those that deal most with the theme of Venice) contribute all the more to this sense of bewilderment and loss of balance. These are projected on the walls and slide past in an anxiety-inducing manner. These same titles are also clickable on the blog and link directly to the periodicals with the original article.
MS: Have you also produced a blog on The Rape of Venice, to document what is happening in Venice?
AM: Yes, there is an up-to-the-minute blog and a Facebook page that is a work in progress. On top of the general design of the installation, there is also a conceptual element. You can study more on the subject by reading the articles that are projected. The annoying and also distressing sound of the propellers and devices resulting from underwater recordings near large ships, vaporetti and taxis itself represents the decline of Venice caused by an excessive presence of tourists. There is, however, a positive element: the fragrance, which is not that of Venice in summer but that of Venice in winter.
MS: So fragrance is the positive element.
AM: That’s right, it is the “scent of frozen seaweed”, the smell of the lagoon in winter. This is a quotation from Watermark by Joseph Brodsky, who stated that the feeling this scent gave him was a positive one. This fragrance is almost an escape route we want to give the visitors: they can cling to the essence that can be interpreted in two ways: as the essence itself but also as the spirit of the city that was born from the lagoon. The combination of all these things constitutes The Rape of Venice installation.
MS: So according to your view Venice today is a decayed and decomposed city, but it must be recognised that there is also a positive and successful Venice. The Art Biennale grows every year and is now considered as the most important international exhibition of art. As a Venetian artist yourself, how do you live this dualism?
AM: The themes of my installation are in line with this year’s Biennale which, as many have pointed out, is very political. And Gabriella Belli has herself coordinated a series of exhibitions within the Civic Museums of Venice that tie in closely to current issues. The fact is that during the Biennale Venice is used as a stage; it is exploited for the six months of the event without any real interaction with the citizens. So we come back to the question of the Venetian artist opposed to the hit and run exploitation of the city (despite all its splendour) as well as to the negative aspects of overexploitation that the Biennale brings. The Rape of Venice brings issues concerning the city to the attention of the general Biennale public; exactly because there is this splendour, this wealth of content, these beautiful palazzi that you can visit… probably many people do not even realise it. This installation is therefore not in opposition to the Biennale, but is a form of complementary addition to its message.
MS: Do you think you’d like to work and maybe have more options somewhere else, or in the end is Venice so stimulating that you prefer to work here?
AM: Venice is certainly very stimulating, but at the same time it is also a cage: if you stay too long, it becomes increasingly difficult to get out. Right from my first exhibitions with the Civic Museums, I have always found myself to be a part of Venetian events, but this does not stop me from criticising the cultural policies that this city implements.
MS: You have defined The Rape of Venice as a political installation; given that we are in a time of recente political changes, what would you say as an artist if you could give some advice to the new mayor, or if you could express a wish about the city’s future cultural policies?
AM: In the first place, I would advise the new mayor to get some help, choosing a good head of culture and a team of people who are really well-trained; these posts are normally assigned for political reasons and never give priority to the actual skills of the people involved.