In the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is a memento mori by Jacopo Ligozzi bearing the inscription quae prius tangere nolebat anima mea nunc prae angustia cibi mei sunt (Job 6:7). This could be translated as ‘That which I refused to touch, that is my nourishment, however disgusting it may be’. I had intended to write about the labor in pain of the artist Marco Fusinato—who performed in the space each day for the entire duration of the Biennale (200 days)—as a critique of the art world. However, on being afflicted with the work itself, the pain emerges as redoubled in the viewer/listener/writer/body such that words fail to accommodate it. Words fail to describe one’s subject position vis-a-vis the work and fail to conform to the format of critique even in its broadest flight. The work is an impossible limit that forces one to confront the repulsive meat that the aesthetic platitudes of the Enlightenment, cleansed of the pathological, commands we autonomously divest. At the same time, it explodes the limits of art criticism. I cannot write of it without censoring an infinity of expletives. Without censoring the want to vomit. Without censoring the pain of the ineluctable solitude of being.
Words fail. That is their job. The symbolic is a hole that does not add up, that cannot be calculated. Even in its primal form of the scream, a signifier is always already a binary opposition; a cry can be addressed or rejected. But even in its address, it is semblance. Any gift that manifests is merely a substitutive satisfaction for the love called out for. Such is the fundamentally disappointing character of the symbolic, the radical negativity of the human being, the hole perpetually stitched up, until it reappears in anguish, in pain. The only word that emerges from DESASTRES is smisurato. It resists translation. It is incommensurable. It bores a hole in knowledge, in any world picture given to the eyes to see. It is incapable of being contained in any closed set that would name it. On the side of the not-all, it is a state of decomposition like the maggoty skull of Ligozzi’s painting; a visceral assault on the economy of the viscera and any economy which would biopolitically incorporate them: ‘viscerum nomine hi qui spiritualibus, sacramentis in Ecclesia deserviunt designantur quid enirn aliud sanctae ecclesiae viscera debemus accipere nisi eorum mentes, qui ejus quaedam in se mysteria continent’.1 A score that is as decisive as it is incisive.
I am failing, against my best intentions, to conform to anything associated with art criticism.
Hors du champ, not without a plough. I refuse to describe the work. A quick search on the internet will enable that almost instantaneously. Instead, I pass judgment. A judgment that is not on the side of the cognitive but one that eludes my own cognitarian labor and puts the body in motion in confrontation with the impossible. In his book the Labour of Job, Antoni Negri states,
This is precisely what the book of Job refuses: revolution is not something which is realized in one’s mind; it is realized first in being, and minds will be modified on this basis.2
Fusinato’s work is on the side of this revolution, a Desastre with the effect of a Desêtre, a deserted, destituted being iconically imagined in Pasolini’s Teorema, when the father sheds his clothes at the train station after handing his factory over to the workers, running screaming into the wasteland. Insisting on getting off the train of progress and consumerism requires a decision. As Spacemen 3 reminded us over thirty years ago now, it takes only five seconds to start thinking about revolution. No one decided, however, as they got the lyrics wrong: it’s not time to start thinking about revolution, it’s time to do it. Passionately. Pathologically.
Am I going too far? Probably. Afterall, I am in Venice and everyone is busy having a lovely time. Images when they become fixed, are a coercive force in keeping us still. Not everyone will be moved by Fusinato’s work. But the nature of the image itself is movement, between absence and presence,
The specificity of the image is therefore to move. The power of images is therefore to be understood in two totally opposite ways. Either it is about the freedom that they give and their power is none other than that which they offer us to exercise our speech and our judgement by imposing nothing on us, or it is about the power that we leave to those who show and who leave none in the image and therefore the image disappears, and our freedom of judgement with it. Pictures don't say anything, they make people say.3
Fusinato blasts images with sound that renders them resistant to any representation, to any fixity in a place. My shoes are covered and prematurely worn with Venetian lime and I remember one of the analogies Fusinato made about his labour was that it was like being a concreter. It's work. Each day in his experimental studio of the Pavilion he stumbles across something of the unpredictable in the behavior of the images that he orchestrates only up to a certain limit of contingency. During the night, I hear the same drone of Fusinato’s guitar reverberate from the engines of the vaporettos passing the steaming windows of my studio on the lagoon. Homophonically resonating with the very material of my being, well beyond communication and the folly of its presumed communicability. I am from the same city as Marco, Melbourne (and also southern European, for better or for worse, much further south than him). Perhaps it is from here that something, the pure shock of language on the body beyond meaning, is sedimented in a place; caught as a collective residue of the sonorous shards of homophony. As Negri says:
‘Ontology is a net, an ensemble of echoing voices, a world of profound resonances.’4
We live a time when deserting being is not as straightforward as handing over the keys of the factory to the workers and running off into the wasteland. The wasteland is now immanent, the relations between the proletariat and capitalist blurred with the unbridled mastication of capital. Value itself has become immeasurable, at the same time that all measure fails.
Without a yardstick, labour works without an end. Ceaseless productivity will be responsible for imminent planetary annihilation. This is the chorus of the instrumentality of reason that does not stop singing itself into oblivion. But for Job, labour is revealed as absolutely heteronomous and at the moment God appears to him in the whirlwind, Job passes a judgment to no longer believe in the sham semblance of Being and to take up the trowel and do it himself. Job’s revolt defies both heroism and transgression, instead it demonstrates an ontological resistance, a refusal as profound as the pain that one has endured: ‘an ontological refusal that follows an ontological pain’.5 Pain is neither marketable nor measurable; it is not communicable, it is not representable nor representative, but it insists. It is perhaps the only way, a via dolorosa, to subtract from the far too much than is in productivity; to construct something unthinkable, but materially resonant:
The product of labor is no longer simply surplus labor and surplus value but the collective creation of a new world.6
Falling asleep to the drone of the vaporetto guitars, I dream I have a heated argument with Marco. It’s not a struggle to the death, but one that is on the side of life—of the refusal of annihilation. But the struggle remains immanent, dialectical in a manner that is always already there in the homophonic alluvium that remains to take up with others and that no injunction, autonomous or otherwise, from a moral law can wash away. This refuse is the place of a non-representational politics that is an authoritative for those who wish to hear it, and allow the spectacle to dance. Well, ‘dance’ on the proviso that it is in the unchoreographed, unsanitary and dangerous manner of Melbourne mosh pits, if anyone dares to remember. They were quite disgusting and very, bleep, loud.
Filthy has been generously donated to Art + Australia by the author