"Marriage of the Sea (The Rape of Venice)” is the new project created by Austin Young/Fallen Fruita at Palazzo Cesari Marchesi during the 60th edition of the Venice Biennale, and on display until November 24th, 2024. Curated by The Pool NYC, it is an immersive large-scale wall covering created specifically for Venice, a contemporary fresco printed on fabric, whose design is never repeated. I met the artist and The Pool NYC and asked them some questions.

Marriage of the Sea (The Rape of Venice) is the project installed at Palazzo Cesari Marchesi in Venice. How did the idea for this project start, and how long have you been working on it?

First off, I love Italy. Italy has been a continuing inspiration for me since David Allen Burns and I made artwork for Manifesta 12 in Palermo in 2017. I had met Viola in Rome, and then Luigi gave me a tour of the Palazzo in October 2023. I returned for a longer residency on January 2, 2024, with the idea of creating an artwork in Venice, and I threw myself into exploring the city.

I reached out to everyone I know in Italy for help and contacts before I arrived. Andrew Falcone I had initial conversations and took a trip to St. Erasmo Island with local food artist Lorenzo Barbasetti di Prun of prometheus_lab. I met with Toto at the Venetian Heritage Society and stayed in different neighborhoods to learn about the island. I received expert advice from passionate locals, guides, and historians, including Helene Salvaroi and Marialaura Bidrini. I visited churches, museums, and palazzos, remaining open to inspiration. I really wanted to answer the question: What is it like to be a local Venetian? Is the Venetian community and culture still thriving?

Luigi, Viola, and I officially agreed to do this project at the end of January. I created the artwork and produced it. Installing the work at the Palazzo took three weeks, and it opened to the public on April 18. The whole experience was like an endurance performance. Projects like this could take me a year or more, but my visual language and ability to produce large-scale works have been refined by years of experience.

In this artwork we can see Venice submerged by tourism. Do you think that art and tourism can still create a balanced relationship or that relationship has deteriorated so much that it doesn’t allow us to go back?

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I’m obsessed with it and never want to see it change. I love the food, rich history, and culture. Unrestricted short-term rentals make housing prices rise and rents unaffordable for most, pushing out locals (Venice is losing 1,000 residents or more per year) and creating outrageous gentrification. This is not just an issue in Venice; it’s a worldwide issue, happening where I live in Mexico too.

I'm not an expert, but I think there could be responsible, sustainable tourism. The new access fee to enter Venice doesn’t seem like it will do anything. Some US cities have done a great job of protecting local communities by limiting Airbnb. For example, New Orleans restricted all short-term rentals in the French Quarter, and it worked; rental prices went down, and residents moved back. Palm Springs has capped Airbnb rentals, not allowing any more. Without restrictions, cities could become like empty shells or ghost towns.

The industrial age spurred the rapid destruction of the environment, and now the information age threatens to destroy culture.

A very important feature of your practice is the theme of sharing. What does this theme represent for you?

This new artwork in Venice is my solo project, but I have collaborated with David Allen Burns for 20 years on Fallen Fruit, and our work has always engaged and created community around the idea of fruit and sharing. We have permanent public art installations in several cities, using real fruit trees as our art making material where visitors are encouraged to “take some and leave some for others.” We are also well known for our installation artworks in museums like the V&A and the NGV. Currently, we both have upcoming solo projects as well as artworks we are making together, including a permanent artwork in Reno at the Nevada Museum of Art opening in 2024 and a solo exhibition at The Parrish in The Hamptons scheduled for 2025.

Your wall coverings take the audience into another dimension, into a magical but also frightening world, that is, inclined to make us reflect. How did your artistic practice begin, and when did it take the form we know it today?

I have always seen my work as a balance of light and dark. For me, making artwork becomes a meditation to create balance and harmony. The entry point is often beauty. But there is always darkness or the insertion of problems or questions. I am a multi-disciplinary artist. I began studying painting and then started a long term portraiture, video, collaborative, and socially engaged art practice looking at queer culture and subcultures. Whether it’s my work with Fallen Fruit or my idealized portraits of trans men that I recently showed at OPC in Mexico and Scripps in Los Angeles, there is a dualism that co-exists. I always want to seduce the viewer with a great beauty and yet make art that is thought provoking or confrontational at the same time. Beauty makes us feel like there is always hope and connects us with a kind of eternal truth.

Fallen Fruit is an art collaboration originally conceived in 2004 by David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young. Since 2013, David and Austin have continued the collaborative work.

The Pool NYC started in 2009 without an official gallery space, and in 2017, it chose Milan as its permanent exhibition space. What has changed in this period of time, and what led you to choose Milan?

The Pool NYC: Our strategy was to be in the main art events in order to get visibility. After a while, gaining the attention of collectors and artists, we needed a permanent exhibition space to schedule our exhibitions and receive clients. Milan is a booming city, and we wanted to be part of this contemporary renaissance.

Where does the name of your gallery come from, and which market and cultural segment does it fit into?

The Pool NYC: Our first exhibition was in an abandoned pool in New York. We are a contemporary and modern art gallery, and we belong to this cultural side.

Where and how did your interest in Murano glass come from?

The Pool NYC: Luigi, one of THE POOL NYC founders, is from Venice, and one of his collectors, Francesco Carraro, introduced him to glass. Fascinated by his collection, began to follow modern and contemporary glass. This is why the gallery has organized the first solo show by Lino Tagliapietra in Milan, and we work close to other artists such as Maria Grazia Rosin, whose work was included in “The Marriage of the Sea.”