Every day, we experience the impossibility of capturing the world by a single standard. In the present age when politics, economics, religion and culture create such diverse values, it seems that the world is increasingly uncertain. However, there was never a time when the future was certain and the attempts to govern the world under a single value are coming to an end. It can be said that the ability to continue to be conscious of the multiple possibilities that exist and overlap is an important task for the future of this planet.
At the 21st Biennale of Sydney, where I served as Artistic Director, I used the term “Superposition” from quantum theory as a metaphor for the multilayered and interdependent values as well as the uncertainty of the modern world. Here the non-hierarchical, variable and complementary nature of things is projected through the ancient Chinese natural philosophy, Wu Xing, which expounds on the conflicting and symbiotic relationships of the Five Phases of the universe. The connection between Wu Xing and quantum theory relates to the Danish physicist Niels Henrik David Bohr (1885 – 1962), who contributed to the development of quantum theory and who emphasized the complementary nature between quantum theory and eastern thought.
In this context, of the seventy invited artists, it was quite natural to exhibit Luciano Fabro’s Every Order is Contemporaneous of Every Other Order: Four Ways of Examining the Façade of the SS. Redentore in Venice (1972 – 73). In this work, Fabro proposes several possibilities for the façade design of a church in Venice. The fact that it was created around the same time as when the Biennale of Sydney was founded in 1973 is also significant. The founder of the Biennale of Sydney, Franco Belgiorno-Nettis was born in Italy in 1915 and after experiencing defeat of WWII, he traveled to Australia looking for new ground. Having seen the festivities and the magnetism of the Venice Biennale, he hoped that Australia, where the physical distance from the rest of the world is still a big concern today, will strengthen its connection to Asia and the Pacific. By bringing together Belgiorno-Nettis’s thinking of Venice and of Fabro—who at the same time was suggesting possibilities using a church in Venice—I was hoping that it made it possible to expand people’s consciousness as far back as the establishment of the Biennale itself.
The exhibition space chosen for Fabro’s work was the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has been a partner of the Biennale of Sydney since 1976. Built at the end of the 19th century, the façade of the museum is supported by six Ionic columns to reflect the thought at the time, which was to hope for the museum’s role to be “a temple to art and civilizing values.” On the other hand, the SS. Redentore church—the basis of Fabro’s work—was designed by Andrea Palladio in the 16th century and it also has columns that bring to mind the Parthenon. Fabro studied the façade in varying proportions and put together a portfolio consisting of fifty-one silkscreened prints. In the preface, he proposed different possibilities for the façade in ways that are parallel to what Dante wrote in Convivio (1304 – 07) as the four interpretations of artworks: the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. It is said that the façade of the church which is a masterpiece by Palladio is determined by strict mathematical proportions and that the overall height is five-fourths of the width and the width of the central section is six-fifths of the height. In contrast to this, Fabro proposes novel possibilities to things such as the height of the columns and the pediment. To adorn the façade, he suggests statues of Adam and Eve by Van Eyke to be arranged on the lower left and right sides at a distance from one another, Canova’s Venus in the middle niche on the left, a man holding a plow on the right side and a statue of Christ by El Greco on the very top right and a female statue drawn by Michelangelo on the top left. In the center is the ancient Greek fabulist and poet Aesop drawn by Velasquez.
As expressed by Fabro “An abuse of the philological method in this interpretation of the façade of the Church of the Redentore” and that “No genuine love of order is possible without the denial of that order,” by replacing sculptures with figures by prominent painters and sculptors in the history of art, Fabro’s work denies orders and hierarchies in the understanding of history and religion. By placing Aesop—the fabulist whose very existence is unclear—at the very top of the façade, Fabro poetically suggests a change to the social hierarchy and reminds us of the political climate of the late 1960s to the 1970s.
Although reference to history and art history in this way is frequently seen in Fabro’s practices, in terms of its spatial consideration and intervention of architectural space, this work can bring to mind Nude Descending a Staircase (1988) which he exhibited at the 9th Biennale of Sydney in 1988. It is a 180cm x 45cm x 9.5cm marble board placed at the slope of the stairs of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the marble’s proximity to the size of a human body is a nod to the Duchampian intervention of architectural space. Also, the attempt at drawing on the relationships between the columns, the adorning sculptures and the overall proportions by using the SS. Rendetore church as a subject, is deeply involved with his continuous questioning of the definition of sculpture. This is particularly noticeable in the relationships between the ambiguity of the functions, the gravitational forces and the equilibrium within the space of such things as columns, sculptures and pedestals that were given to each part in his Piede (Foot) series which was produced from 1968 – 71.
Every Order is Contemporaneous of Every Other Order: Four Ways of Examining the Facade of the SS. Redentore in Venice is perhaps an unusual piece among Fabro’s oeuvre but it occupies a highly important position as a starting point in considering the essence of Fabro’s works and from there, in becoming aware of the challenges presented to us in contemporary society.
Translated by Aiko Masubuchi