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AVF '87 Linea di Fuoco

Dennis Del Favero
31 August 1987 4 October 1987

The Australian Video Festival, 1987.


Geoffrey Batchen

State terrorism is an issue which many artists might consider to be too hot to handle. Nevertheless this is the theme explored in Linea di Fuoco, a large and ambitious installation being shown in the Art Gallery of NSW as part of Carnivale '87.

Put together by Sydney artist Dennis Del Favero and FILEF (a federation of Italian migrant workers and their families also based in Sydney), Linea di Fuoco or (Line of Fire) combines photographs, written texts, sculpture, slides and sound in a single, powerful ensemble. Other contributors include Eamon D'Arcy and Matthew Lorrimer (designers), Paul Charlier and Claudia Taranto (sound and music designers) and Katie Woo (sculptor).

Our experience of this ensemble is necessarily a gradual, exploratory one. At first all we see are four walls covered in a grid of dramatic black and white photographs. Aerial landscapes, faces, eyes, hands, segments of a mannequin, streetscapes, a solitary jet overhead each image is an enticing fragment from the shared lives of two imaginary visitors to Australia, Laura the Italian tourist and David the American naval reconnaissance pilot.

Their story begins to become a little clearer when we enter the interior space these walls of images surround. Inside we are faced with the shrouded remains of four human figures, each apparently in the process of being excavated from the wall surface. To get to them we are asked to step around a table covered in the familiar instruments of organised surveillance - files, tape recorders, speakers, reports, photographs. This then is the source of many of the photographic images we have already seen. It would seem that Laura and David have unwittingly been caught within a network of systematic observation, with every moment of their time together recorded, analysed and classified for purposes as yet unknown.

Even as we stand there we are ourselves enveloped in a field of sound and image, our minds and bodies subjected to the emotional dynamics of an engrossing audio-visual novella. Thus do we find ourselves eavesdropping on Laura and David's most intimate and painful moments and witnessing the moving narrative of their past, present and future.

And what a narrative it is! Protests, arrests and a shooting in Florence, bombing raids in Vietnam, an unhappy love affair in Sydney, interrogation and incarceration in the United States and common to all these, paranoiac terrorist imperative of the modern State. By means of this highly charged piece of art-theatre Linea di Fuoco seeks to reveal to us the way the world now operates as a single organism and an all-encompassing and voracious War Machine. No individual, no matter how innocent or unimportant, would seem to be safe from its machinations. The only possible resistance is to take a stand, or raise our consciousness, become an activated citizen. This is what, by implication, Linea di Fuoco exhorts us to do.

Linea di Fuoco follows on from two other acclaimed audio-visual installations by Dennis Del Favero and FILEF The first Quegli Ultimi Momenti (Those Final Moments) traced the history of one family from the struggle against Fascism in 1940's Italy to contemporary anti-nuclear protests here in Australia. Originally shown in 1984 in the Australian Centre for Photography it was later also included in Australian Perspecta '85 at the Art Gallery of NSW. In 1985 this same team produced an impressive slide and tape show for the A.C.P. called Scenario No 5 about a case of sexual assault against a young Italian migrant woman.

All these works have been outstanding in their sophistication and sensitive exploration of the immigrant experience in Australia. What is being increasingly recognised is that many aspects of these experiences are common to us all. Indeed the strength of this multidimensional kind of ad-production is that it is able to give a public voice to the depth and complexity of Australian life and culture in the 1980's.


Linea di Fuoco is being shown in the entrance Court Gallery from August 31 until October 4.


Geoffry Batchen is a Sydney critic and occasional curator.