Tuesday, November 22, 2011

WEAK MEMORIES AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS. I'VE NEVER ACTED WANTONLY, I PROMISE.


June 2001.
Yes, I’m sure it was June, it was the end of the school’s year and we were all panicking, since in less than one month we will have had to face the final high school exam. Nervous adolescent voices were echoing in the classroom, all of us were there, it was the last art history’s test and not even the most tragic excuse in the world would have been enough not to attend it.
The teacher was smiling at us, she perfectly knew we were anxious and she was devilishly walking from one side of the room to the another, keeping in her hands the papers containing our test, as they were unique example of precious declarations.
A stunning view of my high school
She was very proud of her self, announcing she have personalized each painting’s analysis (this was what the exam was about) referring to her knowledge of us. It had been five years we knew each other and she was sure to have grasped our interests and passions, digging in the very deep of us. We were supposed to describe and critique one piece of art we had discussed in class during the year. She looked very satisfied about her job and she started to distribute the papers.
Just to let you know, the professor was a good one, very prepared and demanding, but at the same time always there for a laud laugh.
With my maximum astonishment, the equivalent of my self in the art world was, from my teacher’s point of view, the Death of Sardanapalus.
Well guys, I don’t know if you have in mind the painting.
It’s an orgy, of violence more than anything else, but still. (with all respect for Delacroix’s genius).
We had just half an hour to analyze the piece of art and I remember that I fought against my self very hardly in order not to explode in a big laugh that would have probably lasted the exam long.
Maybe for this eccentric situation, but The Death of Sardanapalus will always be among my favourite paintings of all times.
Death of Sardanapalus. Delacroix

Delacroix exposed it in 1827 in Paris, where is still at Louvre Museum. (how admirable is France’s skill of keeping its art’s piece in their locus of origin and how miserable is the Italian one of loosing pieces of art and history on the way, letting somebody else collecting them all around the world. Anyway…).
The French artist was inspired by Byron’s play Sardanapalus. Considering the derivation too, it’s easy to note the extreme romanticism of the canvas.
The colours are dense and full-bodied, gold and Bordeaux match perfectly with the jewellery and swordsman. While purple and the warm pink of naked bodies express an excess of richness that will be soon eliminated by a general massacre.
The story is about the last Assyrian king who, realizing his end would have been very close since rebellions were all around his reign, decided to die with all his goods. Taking in consideration the lexicon of that time, he intended to kill all his wife and servants, who were his goods, his possessions.
Delacroix created a masterpiece of turbulence and astonishing chaos. The canvas is an orgy of bodies, most all the time contracted in extreme tension.
For this marvellous composition the painter chose to use a particular technique, known nowadays as vignette. It consists in softening shapes and colours at the edges of the drawing, in order to make the viewer more concentrated on what is going on in the very middle.
Here the vignette was used for the top and for the left side, that’s to accentuate the two scenes both of the centre and the right part.
It’s so easy for the viewer to feel the impotence of the woman who is caught by the men’s violence and not capable of free her self. And as well, the eyes of the beholder can’t help but going to Sardanapalus’s extremely romantic calmness, the stereotypic one of the tantalized man who wisely decided to put an end to his miserable life.
I’m wondering about the stoical attitude shown by a king who is about to give all his possessions and life up.
I remember when I was a teenager I used to be amazed by the romantic myth of sufferance and existential destruction.
It doesn’t have a huge power on my self anymore. Right now I prefer to look at the world through categories such as action and engaged dynamism. Nevertheless, I bet each of us has passed through the glamorous beauty of solitude, where decisions were possible only because taken in our lonely teenager days.
I love this painting, it tells me about how all the luxury can suddenly vanish into nothingness. It describes how the world equilibrium is extremely precarious. One day you are a king, the next one you have nothing.
Delacroix’s choice does belong to the trend of that moment, for which artists were showing their knowledge in term of exoticism. It would have been too daring to choose a national reference but still, the “other” exotic very far was a significant symbolic representation for the national (not too long to come) next chaos. Just a matter of time and  another revolution will have been there. These rebel actions, which were trying to break the power, could be seen as an anticipation of the future that will have changed the world’s stability.
I never thought about analyzing the painting in this way, maybe my art teacher did and I couldn’t see her point. I was trying to find a plausible explanation for her seeing me involved in an orgy…..
I have never acted wantonly....well, from what I remember.





Friday, November 18, 2011

ROBERSPIERRE






I thought it deserved a translation.
Here’s my attempt.
Roberspierre by the Italian band Offlaga Disco Pax.



I have taken my second year school’s exam in 1975.
Socialism was like the universe, in expansion.
The teacher asked me about Maximilian Roberspierre.
I answered that Jacobins were right and, Terror or not, French revolution had been something good.
The teacher didn’t find necessary to ask me any other question.
But we have a lot of memories also of that little antique world Fogazzaro: Space Invaders three hundred point’s spaceship- Enrico Berlinguer on the telly- Alberto Juantorena Olympic victories in the name of Cuban Revolution- Sandinists on power in Nicaragua- the catechist who used to vote for Pannella-pitch’s friends who directly passed from Marlboro to heroin, cheers to soft drugs!- the porno vampire Zora’s comics and the Prinz without return- the referendum on divorce and we weren’t understanding why, if No had won the divorce would have happened, while if Yes had triumphed the divorce wouldn’t have been accepted.
Anna Oxa at Sanremo dressed up as a London punk- the Van Halen-the first wank-the lady next door, a transgender known to most people as Lola, that my mum used to call Antonio, with our maximum astonishment- Jarmila Kratochivilova. The Toblerone, does anybody know why?- something written by Reggiana’s hooligans after the areal American raid on Tripoli in the eighties. It said: “thank you Regan, bomb Parma for us- and then our wonderful toponymy
Karl Marx street, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Dolores Ibarruri street, Stalingrado, marshal Tito street and Lenin square in Cavriago.
And the big bank, not local anymore, based in October Revolution street
And then my neighbourhood, where the Communist party used to take the 74% and the Christian Democracy- the Catholic Party- the 6%.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I SEND YOU A POSTCARD FROM THE WEB AND YOU CAN KEEP IT IN YOUR DRAWER


A chest is a familiar object, it talks about your house.
A chest is your chest. Its drawers can be messy with a lot of things scattered in them or they can be extremely organized. A drawer is in fact the order and structure of somebody’s personality or reflects the extreme chaos of it.
A chest is just a piece of furniture. It can be found on the street, thrown away by its previous possessor. 
A chest is replaceable, you will always find a new one.
A chest is a sentimental object, it symbolizes your family’s history or your relationship with someone.
A chest is just another thing you are scared to get rid of.
A chest is fashion and design, you can contemplate it in order to find an aesthetic pleasure.
A chest is just a chest when it fits horribly with the rest of the room.
But can actually a chest contain the virtual world?
Yes, it can when it comes to Patricia Martín-Sánchez work.  
She participated to the “Siesta Pinwheel” project that took place last Wednesday at CO2 (Edinburgh College of Art). Like the other artists, she had a drawer’s space where to locate her work.
She chose for a "postcard" from the web and decided to title it About 6,700 results for "Siesta pinwheel", 4/11/11, Edinburgh UK.


The print is the Google research's aftermath. She went on internet, typed “Siesta pinwheel” and obtained 983 images out of 6700 results.
They were downloaded, organized in a grid, printed on a A0 size paper and located in one of the chest’s drawer.
The title is the perfect explanation of how she decided to act. It’s very precise in expressing the exact time and location of the performance. In so doing, we know the contingent moment in which she was on line and did her research.
This project would have turned out different if done on another time, probably the pictures wouldn’t have been the same. The here and now makes it possible, tomorrow it might not be like this.
One of the images shows us a woman taking a nap, another one the costellation Pinwheel. They are linked to each other apparentely just by the title of the Google searching.
Analyzing them from a rational prospective, the viewer has got the feeling to have missed something. The association between the pictures can be even perturbing, in terms of unfamiliarity.
As Patricia states “metaphorically, the piece can be thought of as a jungian drawer for Siesta Pinwheel's collective on-line-unconscious”.
In Jungian words, a collective unconscious is not a personal acquisition but it deals with something we inherited from our history and it’s essentially related to the concept of archetypes. Faithful with their etymology, they stand for pre-definite forms present in our psyche since the beginning. They are obviously not neutral because the do affect our decisions and behaviour, in a not always visible way though.
It’s very clear to me how the artist is playing with what Bruno Latour (and more in general people with a psychoanalytical background) defines as repressed. Unfortunately the point is not so linear and what is repressed “returns and with a vengeange”. For this installation, Patricia has worked with an oxymoron, something very strong and fragile at the same time, like the collective unconscious could be. She digs deep into our psyche to find out what was lost and she kind of suggests us to keep together things and images (of mind as well) that apparently don’t have a linear and superficial common sense. The artist does this through the simple gesture of sticking pictures all together in a grid.
The grid is often a representative symbol for something that has to be compact due to its erratic and unpredictable nature. I think about Rosalind Krauss book for example (The originality of the avant garde) where the author uses a grid in order to describe something changeable and in progress like the avant garde.
Patricia installation implies a very unusual process of familiarization with images and things and I believe it is perfectly linked with the overall project of Siesta Pinwheel.
Here the chest becomes an objet trouvé, de-contextualized from its usual position and offered to the viewer with a new functionality.
I like to think about Patricia's installation as a postcard which reflects the idea of a journey you have done and you like to remember, collecting pieces of it that otherwise could get lost somewhere in your mind.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

DAVID GOLDBLATT. JOHANNESBURG AS A WINDOW ON THE REST OF THE WORLD




I do see a connection with the idea of humanity I was talking about in the other post and the artwork of David Goldblatt, a photographer from South Africa who has exhibited at the Biennale this year. His works are located at the Illumination Pavillon, a sort of para-pavillon, the only one at the Giardini where the artists are not selected by their nationalities. Goldblatt was born in 1930 in Johannesburg and since the beginning of his activity he has been focused on how the man kind is connected with its territory. He is interested in how people are related to the environment they live in. Especially he worked on the themes of apartheid and AIDS which affects people in their everyday life.
For this Biennale’s edition he has exposed a series of photos located in two rooms in front of each other, both parts of a successful star-shape architecture. They are portraits of people who committed a crime, from a kind of “harmless” rubbery to an extremely violent murder. Each photo is linked to a text where the artist explains who is the man or woman in the picture and what he or she did in the past. For example, one of them is a woman who strangled her son after years of being robbed by him, probably due to his drug’s addiction. (The presence of both, the photo and the text, brings up once again the question of the status of photography: why do we need words to better explain what a photo is trying to say?)


The majority of the images talks about man who killed somebody or, at its “best”case, robbed a place to find the money necessary to buy some drugs.
What I find very interesting is the fact that David Goldblatt was a victim of crime himself.  Through this artwork he exposes himself as well as his viewer not only to the risk of remembering something unpleasant, but also to a situation of shared connection where the murder and the victim stand next to each other. It’s like he gives people who were “wrong” in the past a new chance and through this he doesn’t seem scared of being at their same level but actually pleased to cohabit the same piece of world.
His artwork stimulates a new prospective, while the one that sees the distinction between “the good” and “the bad” represents an obsolete idea.
The photos show a documentary’s style but at the same time they express a peculiar lyric character: all in black and white, as Goldblatt says because they represent a reality too difficult to be shown by colours, a reality where details are so countless that it’s better to decide for a two colours choice, instead of helplessly looking for the perfect mimesis.
In the photos these ex-convicted people stand where they committed the crime: they are all back where they acted “against somebody”, in different times and after a particular existential path.
I have heard a work of art can be called in this way if it works for the viewer, I guess this means that it works when it does make sense to you and help your mind in focusing on something, although it could be unclear and uncertain.
David Goldblatt photos work very well: his people’s eyes look at you so deeply that a strong link is immediately formed between you and the object of the image. The latter become the subject of your thoughts and create a bond made by similarities and differences.
His work makes me think more in general to the terrible situation in Italian prisons and how superficially the majority of people doesn’t believe in the power of a real rehabilitation. But this is something else.


IT'S EASY TO GET DISTRACTED IN VENICE


Campo Manin or San Luca. It’s hard to remember all the names of places when you are a tourist and you are in Venice. Anyway, I’m sure it was somewhere in between Campo Santo Stefano and Rialto, cos that was the way I used to walk everyday during my three days in this melancholic mysterious and wonderful city that is Venice.
I stopped in the middle of the campo talking on the phone with a friend and, as I always do when I’m using the mobile, I looked all around trying to make the point of what surrounded me. The place was full of kids all dressed up for Halloween, running everywhere followed by their parents, in some ways even more excited than the children at the idea of the party.
Suddenly my attention was all for a girl in her 40ies talking loudly to some friends standing a bit far from her. She was at the ATM machine waiting for some cash (unstable euros?!). Long blonde hair left all down her back, a shining tanned face-probably a fake one since it’s fall right now-a Louis Vitton bag, a Moncler coat, a pair of jeans, I didn’t see the brand but I’m sure they would have been a famous one and, last but not least, these terrible shoes, called Hoogan, very expensive and so well-known among Italians that we can be recognized all around the world for possessing at least one pair of them. As I said, this girl was talking to some friends who looked pretty much similar to her. They obviously must have the same tastes for fashion. Their conversation was possibly listened by all the people in the Campo. That’s very Italian, we like everybody to participate to our discussions.
I stopped what I was doing to look at her and I couldn’t help to ask my self some questions: what does this girl think about the world wide economical crisis? Does she care about the gap created by capitalism between poor people and rich ones? Does she actually know that there is a huge crisis going on and involving everybody’s life?
I would like to point out that what impressed me the most in a negative way was not the girl’s way of dressing up-everybody has got the right to prefer some clothes in comparison to others. What I disliked was their noisy attitude as only they “possess” the place. This behaviour implies a completely disrespect for a public space that should be everybody’s place. Everything looked clear: it’s like she was saying “look at me, I’m all well dressed, I have friends like me that prove my successful social status and I have a presumably big sum of money in my back account”.
Sometimes I think there are people who are not touched at all by what surrounds us, but at the same time, I realize this is a very naïve thought and I try to go on further, believing there must be a deeper level through which to considerate the situation. Maybe they just don’t care, maybe they have reached a sort of stoic “atarassia”, a place where they are not anymore affected by anything and live happy in their non-awareness. Or even better, they own the only weapon left to all of us, a solid irony which helps in taking everything with a clever smile.
Who knows?
I like to believe in some kind of equality principle for which what affects me, affects you as well, in other ways though.
It’s obvious that after the ideology collapsed all has become more relativistic and extremely based on individual desires. To trust an idea of social equality set up by us in a collective way could seem a mere chimera. Nevertheless thinking in these terms is the only possible escape from a society that is dramatically closed to any new-proposing theory.