Bill Fontana's Primal Sonic Visions exhibition at Ca' Foscari


Opening at Ca' Foscari University of Venice on May 26th within the framework of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, PRIMAL SONIC VISIONS is an exhibition of high-definition multimedia artworks by the renowned American sound artist Bill Fontana commissioned by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Exploring the major systems of renewable energy production in various parts of the world, it seeks to arouse a sense of wonder in the public at the sheer power of the energy generated by wind, solar, water and geothermal sources. IRENA is a global intergovernmental organisation which supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future.

Sponsored by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates and the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, the exhibition is a production of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in collaboration with Ca' Foscari University of Venice and Science Gallery Venice and it’s organized by Arthemisia.

“Primal Sonic Visions prompts deep reflection on the power and effectiveness of energy capable of ensuring the future of our planet and triggers an emotional response to the environment, now under violent attack from the effects of climate change and atmospheric agents” said artist Bill Fontana. “As people enter the space, they are met with an emotional experience that at first instills a sense of wonder, and later transforms into a deep reflection of the potential and power of these energy sources to be used in securing a future for our planet.”

The exhibition includes reflection on the MOSE project to protect Venice against flooding and the associated debate.


An intriguing sound welcomes visitors in the courtyard of Ca' Foscari, where the exhibition begins with the hum of a rotating wind turbine. Two windows offer a stunning view of the Grand Canal and the accompanying underwater sound of two hydrophones offer the visitor real-time experience of the lagoon's sonority. The centerpiece of the installation is a video collage featuring Portuguese wind turbines naturally mixed with hydrophonic sounds, the geothermal landscape of Italy and Iceland, hydroelectric plants in California, Iceland and Portugal, a solar plant in the United Arab Emirates and a wastewater treatment plant in Austria: all places where the union of man, nature and energy is almost perfect.  

These locations were selected as inspiring examples of renewable energy. In addition to the renewable energy artworks, a gallery is also devoted to media studies about the MOSE flood barrier system called Floating Echoes, which will eventually be a living work of media art exploring and showcasing the system’s auditory and visual properties through sound and video.

The exhibition will be held from May 26th to September 16th at the Ca' Foscari Exhibition Space.


A two day accompanying workshop entitled Acoustic Phenomenology, directed by Bill Fontana and promoted by Science Gallery Venice on 13 and 14 September at Ca' Foscari, will aim at revealing the hidden architecture of sound in Venice. These events, each with a duration of three hours, harness the latest technologies of acoustic measurement, with small, high-resolution vibration sensors and underwater microphones, to investigate the hidden world that inhabits the structures and moves the waters of Venice.

THE ARTIST - Bill Fontana (born USA 1947) is an American composer and media artist who has developed an international reputation for his pioneering experiments in sound. Since the early 70’s Fontana has used sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of visual and architectural spaces. He has realized sound sculptures and media projects for museums and broadcast organizations around the world. His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, the Post Museum in Frankfurt, the Art History and Natural History Museums in Vienna, both Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, the 48th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, MAXXI in Rome and MAAT in Lisbon.