TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT February 2011

DARK ENERGY: THE ART OF MARCO FUSINATO

This week, the editors recall scholar Branden W. Joseph’s essay “Dark Energy: The Art of Marco Fusinato” from February 2011. Recently for artforum.com, Adam Jasper wrote about Fusinato’s two-hundred-day performance at the Australian pavilion as part of the 2022 Venice Biennale.

Joseph’s expansive essay introduced Artforum’s readers to Australian artist and noise musician Marco Fusinato, whose work engages and tests the bounds of radical political and aesthetic acts inside of capitalism. “Though allegorizing historical distance, commodification, even ‘failure,’” writes Joseph, “Fusinato’s work evokes neither cynicism nor nostalgia as its primary impression.” Rather, he asserts, it possesses a certain propulsion that keeps its momentum, its focus, on the future. In Fusinato’s own words: “I intend that the works are vital and have a certain energy. Certainly not the ‘end’ of anything—perhaps a re-evaluation. The works are contemplations, propositions, a playing with the associated ‘language’/meaning of each context/medium. I don’t intend to kill anything. I’d rather keep it open and search for possible freedoms.”

Marco Fusinato, Mass Black Implosion (ST/48-1, 240162, Iannis Xenakis), 2007, ink on archival facsimile of score, 20 7/8 x 25 1/4". From the series “Mass Black Implosions,” 2007–.

PROMINENTLY FEATURED on Marco Fusinato’s bookshelf is a section dedicated to the Red Brigades, the militant leftist organization infamous for the 1978 kidnapping and murder of former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro. Fusinato admits to having been intrigued, even a bit obsessed, not so much by the group’s actions or motives as by the memoirs of imprisoned former members—individuals who at some point early in their lives decided upon the most radical path, only to be compelled to contemplate the outcome of that decision for decades. Fusinato, born in 1964 and thus of a generation destined to come of age in the cultural and historical aftermath of such decisions, places viewers in a similarly deliberative position with regard to the artifacts of political and artistic radicalism appropriated and recontextualized in his work.

Case in point is Fusinato’s series “Noise & Capitalism,” 2010, exhibited last fall at the Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne. (Fusinato was born in Melbourne to Italian parents and maintains close ties with his family’s ancestral home north of Venice.) Drawing on his collection of insurrectionary leftist pamphlets, Fusinato selected a recent printing of Mikhail Bakunin’s The Capitalist System and four examples from the twenty-first century: the French theoretical collective Tiqqun’s Theses on the Imaginary Party; a feminist response to the post-Tiqqun offshoot the Invisible Committee, Why She Doesn’t Give a Fuck About Your Insurrection; a Greek pamphlet addressing the recent unrest in Athens; and a diatribe from the French anarchist journal Non Fides titled “Escapism Has Its Price The Artist Has His Income.” With a nod to the legacies of Pop art (visible in the serial treatment of an apocryphal photograph of Andy Warhol’s penis on “Escapism”) and the Pictures generation, Fusinato enlarged each pamphlet to over seven and a half by ten and a half feet. Simultaneously embracing a spectacular, even billboardlike presence and gesturing toward the original mode of production—specifically, of a bound print publication wherein each page is actually one quarter of a larger page that has been folded and cut—each piece is divided into four panels that mimic a typical printer’s layout: The upper left quadrant contains the front and back covers; the upper right, the inside covers; the lower left, all those inside pages that would have been folded facing down, superimposed one upon the other; the lower right, all those that would have been folded facing up, similarly superimposed. Whereas the covers, drained of color but otherwise unaltered, broadcast the visual aesthetics of political radicalism, the overprinted contents render the lengthier writings an unreadable black morass of text and image. (Given the anarchist associations, one is tempted to call them “black blocs.”)

Fusinato’s technique of appropriation and overlay in “Noise & Capitalism” calls to mind his “Mass Black Implosions,” 2007–, drawings in which he traces straight lines from each note on every page of an avant-garde musical score to a single, arbitrarily chosen coordinate. Experimental compositions from such figures as John Cage and Cornelius Cardew are thereby transformed into diagrams resembling collapsing galaxies. (He achieved the opposite effect in the photographs that compose the “Sun Series,” 2002, by shooting head-on into the radiating sun.) Deploying the conventions of one-point perspective to convert the diachrony of the musical score into the synchrony of a visual field, each “implosion” implies a new version of the score as a noise composition, all the notes melding into a simultaneous cacophony of indeterminate duration. The lengthier of the pamphlets Fusinato “blew up” for “Noise & Capitalism” (the invocation of explosives here far from incidental) are similarly rendered so much noise, “an illegible, ideological mass.”¹ The correlation between “Noise & Capitalism” and the “Mass Black Implosions” underscores the extent to which Fusinato’s engagements with left politics and with music parallel each other. Indeed, Fusinato cites the agitational lyrics and dense, uniform, black-and-white graphics of the anarchist punk band Crass as aesthetic touchstones for “Noise & Capitalism.”

Visitors to Fusinato’s exhibition may not have immediately recognized its reference to the 2009 anthology Noise & Capitalism (edited by Anthony Iles and Basque noise musician Mattin), a book that sits on Fusinato’s shelf between the Red Brigades literature and Tiqqun’s Introduction to Civil War.² Aspects of Tiqqun’s discourse, in particular, resonate with the anthologized authors’ discussions of the political implications of free noise improvisation. Elaboration of a community based on gesture, habit, and affect; free play within the margins of society and culture; “liquidation of commodity domination”; defeat of the spectacle’s “empire of separation”; even an embrace of emancipatory violence: All link Tiqqun’s Theses to the book’s discourse around noise, while Fusinato’s other pamphlets imply additional contextualization, historicization, and critique.³ According to Fusinato, some reactions to his exhibition (primarily from individuals outside the art world) approached accusations of heresy for transforming the cheap, intimate, and nearly clandestine pamphlets into large upmarket commodities, revealing how such leftist materials continue to carry a charge and even perhaps to function as one of the last redoubts of utopian aspirations long since absent from near-ubiquitous appropriations of consumer items and works of art. A similar anxiety—about the ongoing transformation of a radical experimental practice (noise) into an identifiable product (noise music)—runs throughout Iles and Mattin’s Noise & Capitalism. By foregrounding art’s cultural and commercial status, Fusinato heightens and allegorizes such anxieties. As he observed with typical understatement, “I’m essentially turning [the pamphlets] into art objects, which raises a number of questions in itself.”⁴

Marco Fusinato, Theses on the Imaginary Party, 2010, UV and ink on paper, 7' 7 3/8“ x 10' 7 1/2”. From the series “Noise & Capitalism,” 2010.

Questions about the limits of artistic and political radicalism are not new to Fusinato’s practice, which consistently entwines the issues of commercialization, improvisation, and revolution. In “A Dozen Roses,” 2006, Fusinato recontextualized one of Joseph Beuys’s most well-known multiples, Rose for Direct Democracy, 1973, a silk-screened graduated glass cylinder identical to the one Beuys used as a vase at Documenta 5, where, holding a single rose, it adorned the office of his Organization for Direct Democracy Through People’s Referendum. Fusinato took Beuys’s multiple and a bouquet of fresh roses to a commercial photographer who snapped each flower as though for an advertisement. The results, which undermine the lofty rhetoric surrounding Beuys’s political romanticism (and are, to contemporary eyes, a good deal less kitschy than Beuys’s own lithograph We Won’t Do It Without the Rose, 1972), accentuate the sterility of commercial “art” photography, not unlike the fashion photos of young models illustrating the Bernadette Corporation’s The Complete Poem, 2009. In “THIS IS NOT MY WORLD,” 2006–, Fusinato employs graphic design firms to update the 1976 banner of the same title by Croatian Conceptual photographer and Group of Six member Željko Jerman. The professional designers’ eye-catching, but somewhat arbitrary, font and dingbat manipulations inevitably transform Jerman’s statement into bunting fit for an outdoor advertisement or a parade, but hardly for a protest.

In the series “Double Infinitives,” 2009, Fusinato enlarged pictures of anticapitalist violence to the scale of history painting or, to cite a precedent that hews closer in aesthetic and imagery, Warhol’s largest “Death and Disaster” canvases. Each blown-up image features an individual brandishing a rock against a backdrop of fire, a selection inspired by the artist’s noticing that newspaper editors persistently choose, out of all possible press photos, to depict uprisings in this manner. Stone and flame make for a highly primitive, even elemental iconography of revolt, one that effectively banishes political context in favor of archetypal (and ahistorical) rage. As captured in the press, each uprising becomes merely a trope, symbol, even advertisement for “revolt,” a means of fixing identities and the meaning of the protesters’ actions. Per Tiqqun: “Paradoxically, in this civilization that we can no longer claim as our own without consenting to self-liquidation, conjuring away forms-of-life most often appears as a desire for form: the search for an archetypal resemblance, an Idea of self placed before or in front of oneself.”⁵

Though allegorizing historical distance, commodification, even “failure,” Fusinato’s work evokes neither cynicism nor nostalgia as its primary impression; his is not the overwhelming melancholy of early postmodernism. Instead, the work’s multiple layers of mediation and its removal of references from their historical contexts speak to the starkness of a contemporary existence that has transformed us all into the type of perpetually impoverished subject that Tiqqun has designated under the figure of “Bloom.”⁶ Despite its often incendiary rhetoric, Tiqqun essentially proffers an examination of life after all traditional forms of lived experience have been liquidated, of existence within the exile and isolation of a world thoroughly and irrevocably suffused by spectacle and biopower. Yet Tiqqun offers no lament over the loss of authenticity or autonomy, but rather an inquiry into a way forward. The collective’s Bloom, in other words, is a properly “ambivalent” figure in Paolo Virno’s sense of the term: Bloom’s experiential impoverishment forms the historically necessary basis of future engagement, the possibility of accessing experience at a “second degree.”⁷

Something of the same ambivalence hovers about Fusinato’s production, which seems, despite its many mediations, to retain or reanimate aspects of his material’s initial promise. As he notes, “I intend that the works are vital and have a certain energy. Certainly not the ‘end’ of anything—perhaps a re-evaluation. The works are contemplations, propositions, a playing with the associated ‘language’/meaning of each context/medium. I don’t intend to kill anything. I’d rather keep it open and search for possible freedoms.” Fusinato’s desire, as Virno would put it, “to disentangle the question of emancipation even in what Brecht defined as the ‘bad new’” may be attributable to his formative reception of punk rock, if one may say so without seeming to trivialize his work’s careful criticality.⁸ “You can’t underestimate the importance of punk for a kid in the suburbs in the late ’70s/early ’80s,” explains Fusinato. “You could get the records—The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Ramones—anywhere. The lyrics were interesting, but what I really grabbed on to was the interviews. These guys didn’t speak about girls, fast cars. They spoke about social engagement and politics, which leads you on to further investigations.”⁹ In essence, Fusinato responded to what Dan Graham has characterized as punk’s propaganda function (hence Fusinato’s interest in Crass), the manner in which it “puts the spectator in direct contact with social practices outside the actual artwork.”¹⁰ For Graham, citing precisely the groups Fusinato mentions, punk evinces both a “representing [of] the representation”—an acceptance and foregrounding of the mediated and commercial nature of all popular music—and, via an ironic stance toward those very conditions of production, a means of (re)achieving the “direct connection to its audience” that the corporatization of rock music undermined.¹¹ Like the Italian terrorist memoir, then, the punk rock album serves Fusinato less as a thematic touchstone than as an underlying structure, a strategy for maintaining or igniting a charge amid the ubiquity of commercial mediation.

Marco Fusinato, Double Infinitive 1, 2009, white UV halftone ink on black aluminum, 98 3/8 x 98 3/8". From the series “Double Infinitives,” 2009.

Fusinato’s early work developed in the late ’80s and early ’90s, in the post-Conceptual scene surrounding Store 5, an artist-run space in Melbourne’s Prahran suburb that was founded toward the end of the international predominance of neo-expressionist painting. In contrast to neo-expressionism, Fusinato adopted the monotonous, expressionless strategy of the monochrome. In 1995, he chose Solver brand Signal Red as his signature color, and by 1996 he was filling the 200 Gertrude Street gallery with red enamel on Masonite or Alucobond panels, some properly hung, but most leaning against the walls, not unlike the glossy black monochromes of Steven Parrino. Fusinato deployed sets of the cheapest brushes, bread bags complete with crumbs and seeds, plastic detergent bottles, discarded Coke cans—anything capable of spreading paint without getting too much on the painter—and invariantly titled each piece with the (brief) time it took to complete: 1:09, 1:31, 3:39, etc. Whereas Parrino’s use of crowbars and circular saws led critics to such terms as “violence” and “distortion” and references to the artist’s interest in the self-destructive Germs singer Darby Crash, Fusinato’s unconventional techniques imply “process” and “improvisation” and find their analogues in the inventive guitar manipulations of Keith Rowe or Thurston Moore. Fusinato collaborated with Moore in the painting and video installation TM/MF, 2000, executing a Signal Red monochrome to each of ten guitar solos Moore performs in the video. With Fusinato’s roomful of near-identical, mute paintings facing down Moore’s noise guitar, the installation meditated on so-called de-skilled production and formed a metacommentary on the progression of spectacle: Where painting was, there music video will be, and vice versa.

Fusinato’s own noise-guitar improvisations formed the basis of FREE, 1998–2004, a series of guerrilla performances in unsuspecting music stores. Feigning the intention of testing a distortion pedal, which requires the use of a guitar and amplifier, Fusinato launched into full-blown (and often full-volume) improvisations until asked, politely or not, to turn it down or leave: “It’s always awkward at the end of that action, giving equipment back and saying, ‘No thanks.’”¹² Results depended on context. In Copenhagen, where the amp was next to a counter manned by somewhat intimidating employees, the performance was relatively restrained, whereas on the open floor of the Sam Ash Music Store in Manhattan, the result proved audibly different. Beyond referencing the genre of free noise improvisation, FREE points to the requisition of costly materials, a momentary act of everyday communism that transforms commercial space and merchandise into a spontaneous public concert and “ready-made music studio.”¹³ (The FREE recorded in Auckland—where Fusinato erroneously thought he had been left in a soundproof booth—also benefited from free access to video equipment and a cameraman afforded by a residency at the Elam School of Fine Arts.)

Capturing each performance with a hidden recorder, Fusinato reinserted them into the (subcultural) commercial realm as lathe-cut seven-inch singles released on Circle Records, a label founded by the late New Zealand Conceptual artist Julian Dashper and Australian abstract painter John Nixon. Before the label’s 2002 demise, Fusinato released twenty-three records and became close to Nixon, who, in addition to being one of Australia’s preeminent high modernists, established the lo-fi, collective acoustic genre he called Anti-Music in the late ’70s. Publicized through Nixon’s occasional one-page fanzine, Pneumatic Drill, the movement’s various groups (most of which included Nixon) recorded some four hundred cassettes by December 1982.¹⁴ Fusinato and Nixon would later cofound Axe: A Specialised Rock Music Journal (1998–99), the record label Freewaysound (1999–2002), and the noise duo Solver. Solver extends certain principles of Anti-Music as a collaborative “unskilled” or “de-skilled” acoustic practice. (Neither Nixon nor Fusinato is musically trained or plays instruments in a conventional manner.) Yet whereas Anti-Music embraced the full acoustic spectrum from “harsh” to “poetic,” its willfully ad hoc minimalism often yielded results of an intimate, off-kilter charm. By contrast, Solver’s never rehearsed, punk-influenced sonic experimentalism always strives for the greatest possible impact: “Guitars and amplifiers are driven at maximum with no regard to the tuning or quality of instruments.”¹⁵

Fusinato also performs solo guitar and electronics in live sets that, in the words of the Dead C guitarist Bruce Russell (with whom he has also played), “combine extreme sonic assault with complete aesthetic control and an implacable will towards conceptual totality.”¹⁶ Examples of Fusinato’s “awesome, all-encompassing, real-time guitar noise-concrète,” to quote guitarist and dark metal band Sunn 0))) collaborator Oren Ambarchi, have recently been issued as two apparently authorless black-label LPs: Ripping Skies (No Fun Productions, 2009) and Ambianxe (The Spring Press, 2010).¹⁷ While much of Fusinato’s visual art, so distanced from his hand as to appear authorless, casts a retrospective glance at moments of radical history, his earsplitting noise performances—which can sound as though one is swimming through amplified radio static, only more deliberate and unyielding—manifest aesthetic radicality as real-time perceptual experience.

However engaged with musical performance, the conceptual diversity of Fusinato’s artistic practice (like that of Mike Kelley, Rodney Graham, or Stephen Prina) never resolves into a mere translation or illustration of musical concerns. Nevertheless, it would not be inaccurate to describe the larger question around which Fusinato’s oeuvre revolves as one that has been central to rock ’n’ roll since its inception: whether representations of revolt initiate or stifle its actual eruption. It is a question that delves deep into the history of the avant-garde and continues to resonate through all facets of radical art, music, theory, and action. Everything else, we might say, is just pop.

Branden W. Joseph is Frank Gallipoli Professor of modern and contemporary art at Columbia University.

Marco Fusinato performing in the music showcase “Everybody Talks About the Weather,” Corner Hotel, Melbourne, August 26, 2009.

NOTES

1. Marco Fusinato, quoted in Dan Rule, “Marco Fusinato,” Artist Profile 13 (2010), 64.

2. Mattin and Anthony Iles, eds., Noise & Capitalism (Donostia–San Sebastián, Spain: Arteleku/Kritika, 2009), online at www.arteleku.net/noise_capitalism/ (last consulted December 6, 2010).

3. Tiqqun, Theses on the Imaginary Party, n.p., online at zinelibrary.info/files/imaginary%20party_0.pdf (last consulted December 6, 2010). Quotations from theses 17 and 20.

4. Fusinato, in Rule, “Marco Fusinato,” 64.

5. Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, trans. Alexander R. Galloway and Jason E. Smith (New York: Semiotext[e], 2010), 21.

6. Bloom is mentioned in Tiqqun, Theses on the Imaginary Party, thesis 23, but most fully developed in Tiqqun, Théorie du Bloom (Paris: La Fabrique Éditions, 2000); English translation available at zinelibrary.info/files/newer%20Bloom%20II.pdf (last consulted December 6, 2010). (As the English translation is unpaginated, all subsequent references are to the French.)

7. Tiqqun, Théorie du Bloom, 136; see also 54, where they note, “The loss of experience has finally attained the degree of generality where it can, in its turn, be interpreted to be original experience, to be experience of the experience as such.” On ambivalence, see Paolo Virno, “The Ambivalence of Disenchantment,” in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 13–34. “We need to understand,” writes Virno about “the ethos that emerged from the 1980s,” “beyond the ubiquity of their manifestations, the ambivalence of these modes of being and feeling, to discern in them a ‘degree zero’ or neutral kernel from which may arise both cheerful resignation, inexhaustible renunciation, and social assimilation on the one hand and new demands for the radical transformation of the status quo on the other” (13). Tiqqun cites Virno explicitly in Théorie du Bloom, 64 and 147. On ambivalence within contemporary art, see my “Angela Bulloch: Ambivalent Objects,” in theanyspacewhatever (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2008), 30–38.

8. Paolo Virno, in Branden W. Joseph, “Interview with Paolo Virno,” Grey Room 21 (Fall 2005), 30. Tiqqun references punk in Civil War, 197–99.

9. Marco Fusinato, in Dominic Kirkwood, “Marco Fusinato,” Mountain Fold Music Journal 1, no. 4 (2010), n.p.

10. Dan Graham, “Punk as Propaganda,” in Rock/Music Writings (New York: Primary Information, 2009), 73.

11. Dan Graham, “The End of Liberalism,” in Rock/Music Writings, 56–57.

12. Fusinato in Kirkwood, “Marco Fusinato,” n.p.

13. Fusinato in Kirkwood, “Marco Fusinato,” n.p.

14. John Nixon’s Pneumatic Drill was reissued in book format with CD by David Pestorius Projects/IMA on the occasion of the exhibition “The Brisbane Sound” at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2008. Subsequent quotations about Anti-Music derive from this source.

15. Freewaysound press release accompanying Solver’s XYZ compact disc (Freewaysound, 1999).

16. Fusinato’s collaboration with Russell appears on Bruce Russell’s LP Antikythera Mechanism (The Spring Press, 2010).

17. In 2008, Fusinato, Ambarchi, Emily Cormack, and Alexie Glass co-curated 21:100:100: One Hundred Sound Works by One Hundred Artists from the 21st Century at the Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Fusinato has also produced a series of records, collectively entitled the _0Trilogy (2003–2005), by lathe cutting different patterns—some systematic, others arbitrarily hand-drawn—onto vinyl. The results, either conceived for gallery exhibition or released on the Australian label Synaesthesia, were used by DJs whose sets became virtuoso performances of silence (which, since Cage, we know does not exist).