Diego Marcon, Monelle, 2017, digital video transferred from 35 mm, CGI animation, color, sound, 13 minutes 53 seconds.

Diego Marcon, Monelle, 2017, digital video transferred from 35 mm, CGI animation, color, sound, 13 minutes 53 seconds.

Diego Marcon

Diego Marcon’s Monelle, 2017, is a violent work. Not in its visual content—there is no gore or physical abuse—but in the way it cultivates somatic unease. The nearly fourteen-minute film is made up of just thirty individual shots, each lasting no more than a second, with the screen going dark for several moments between them. We spend the majority of the film engulfed in darkness, our only sensory input the flickers of unexposed celluloid on the screen and ambient shuffling noises. In the sharp, abrupt flashes of imagery—each accompanied by a loud metallic pop—we move through the Casa del Fascio, the former headquarters of the National Fascist Party in Como, Italy, encountering several young girls sleeping or hunched over and a possibly dead older woman being dragged around. Tension repeatedly builds in the darkness before dissipating with the pictorial flash like a jump scare. With each successive burst, the afterimage of these often horrifyingly banal scenes lingers in the dark projection. The experience recalls the visual and aural effects of early flash photography—the shocked faces of Jacob Riis’s squalid subjects, or the frozen expressions in Weegee’s crime-scene photographs. Marcon returns the violence of the camera back to us, actualizing the unadulterated fear that emerges from the experience of total exposure.

At its core, Monelle is a hybrid, combining the clinical rigor of structuralist cinema with the psychological intensity of a horror movie, and the analog authenticity of 35-mm film with the artifice of computer-generated imagery. As ever with Marcon, the sense of trepidation in Monelle takes on deeply personal valences—for an American like me, the loud pops, paired with imagery of young adults in an institutional environment, conjured associations with mass shootings. The first time I visited Sadie Coles to see the film I was unable to spend more than a few minutes with it, my relief at living in a country with stringent gun restrictions overshadowed by memories of lying on the floor during school-shooter drills or—as happened once at my high school—SWAT team raids. For an Italian, I imagine, the film’s cold light reflecting off an immaculately preserved relic of Mussolini’s regime, a building designed with the singular goal of espousing Fascist rhetoric, would reveal a traumatic connection to a past that many would rather forget. Curiously, Marcon himself advocates the preservation of Fascist architecture, writing that “removal always underlines an ennobling of the object of removal,” a “perverse veneration” of that which it seeks to scrub clean. Monelle wounds, even triggers, viewers, not by subjecting us to traumatic images but by withholding them, drawing out the far more terrifying horrors of history or experience that are held within our psyches.

The vestiges of this violence latched onto me as I moved up the gallery’s stairs to an empty exhibition space on the second floor. Rarely does a gallery feel haunted—indeed, its neutral white walls and bright lights ordinarily exorcise any trace of the past. With the bangs still audible in the background and a dark black wall to the right, the film continued to haunt me. After a time immersed in the sparse darkness of Monelle, I found the gallery’s barrenness unsettling in its own right: Should I be here? Is it coming?