Fino a prova contraria
Video Sound Art launches a podcast to offer a new insight into the often hidden relationships between contemporary art and our society.
How is artists’ research reconciled with the market? What relationships exist between the most popular themes and artistic creation? How important is the role of art today?
Fino a prova contraria will guide the listener to explore the world of artistic practices of our time through the voices of Laura Lamonea, artist director and curator of Video Sound Art, and Tommaso Santagostino, an anthropologist who has been collaborating with the festival for years. The music and audio production are by Vincenzo Risi.
From oil extraction to astrophysics, from natural history to architecture, the podcast will host contributions from experts in the field and protagonists who have taken part in the festival over the last 12 years, in an open and critical research on the role of art today.
Through the podcast we will try to discover how artists talk about the world around us and how their research interacts with the different areas of production that animate contemporaneity.
We have chosen to adopt a method of approach typical of anthropological research whose specificities today can make an important contribution to recomposing the existing fractures in our world between science, art, experience and imagination. Using anthropology to discover the world means first of all getting to know new and different ways of living starting from the encounter and confrontation with the people one meets on the path of research.
The guest of honour of the first episode is Daniel de Paula, an artist born in Boston in 1987 and raised in São Paulo, represented in Italy by the Francesca Minini gallery in Milan. Daniel’s research reflects on the system of production and its contradictions through strategies such as the displacement of everyday objects, the appropriation of public infrastructures and negotiation. The podcast focuses on the work circulação, whose images were obtained following negotiations that the artist conducted with companies working for large oil extraction giants such as Shell, British Petroleum or Exxon.
In dialogue with the artist, the interventions of gallerist Alessandra Minini and the students of the Liceo Volta who met him during the exhibition in Milan. The story moves dynamically between a reflection on the contemporary art system and an analysis of the power dynamics that govern our society, revealing through an anthropological approach unexpected points of connection.
Excerpts from the first episode
[Daniel de Paula] Humans endlessly transform and construct space in order to satisfy their necessities, specifically to exchange commodities within a capitalist society. A system of constraint establishes itself, not simply as class-domination, or the control of people by other people, but by the domination of all subjects by abstract social structures constituted by ourselves.
Under such system of constraint, in which, through the ubiquitousness of labor, and the production of value, we are condemned to transform thoughts into things, materiality is not neutral, on the contrary, it is the embodiment of control and the circulation of power.
[Laura Lamonea] Born in Boston in 1987 and raised in São Paulo, Daniel de Paula presented at the 12th edition of Video Sound Art Festival a complex installation in the basement of a historic theater in Milan, Teatro Carcano, a basement that is usually inaccessible. The work circulação was displayed on a decomposable LED screen in dialogue with newly produced sculptural and sound elements. The screen projected the whole video images, but parts of monitors were scattered throughout the corridors of the basement. Circulação is a collection of footage granted to the artist by companies conducting inspections for multinational corporations active in natural resource extraction and telecommunications. The images, which show the continuous mercification of the landscape, are hypnotic, interrupted by the animals, birds of prey, that live in these “industrial and infrastructural compounds”. The practice of negotiation used by the artist to obtain the footage is part of the work. The neutrality of the content is only assumed.
[Daniel de Paula] For circulação, I obtained these images by process of negotiation with the companies that are hired to create these footage, so I’m not necessarily dealing with the primary companies that are directly involved in the extraction of natural resources, for example oil refineries. This process is less of a hardship in order to obtain these images in contrast to for example trying to obtain these images from companies such as Shell or British Petroleum or Exxon and so forth.
In certain occasions companies that I have got in touch with have preferred not to supply any with the images and with such material understandably so because they feel that could harm their clients and and so forth, while in other occasions and more than one what’s expect companies are actually quite generous as long as I preserve, I maintain a the clients names a secret. Many times they also don’t necessarily tell me what specific client these images refer to but nonetheless one could suspect of course who these companies are because of the location of the services and also the countries where these footage are made and so forth.
[Alessandra Minini] I met him in Milan in 2018 during an exhibition at PAC – “Il coltello nella carne.” […] And then I casually ran into him in Turin, a few months later, during the Artissima fair, so let’s say that we initially had moments that were not immediately directed to a specific interest, a collaboration. After that experience I went to visit him in his studio, he was staying in Eindhoven at that time, and there I deepened his work. We started working together, then came the first exhibition together in 2019. […]His work focuses on power dynamics, including the financial, political and social aspect, thus dynamics that are reproduced in all kinds of relationships. He may start from specific elements of research, but his message takes on a universal value; so it can also be addressed to the art world, indeed it is addressed to the art world, which is not criticized, but it is unveiled. He has no ambition to offer a critical point of view or a solution because he claims, and I believe this is absolutely true, that art cannot offer a solution, but can simply open your eyes and reveal, like an epiphany. He brings to the surface patterns that are perhaps quite obvious, but which are hidden by a series of overstructures, which is why his work also has to do with archaeology in a way.
[Laura Lamonea] Video Sound Art’s visitors know that they will meet many young people, university students but mainly high school students, during the exhibition days. They participate in performances, give information about the works, about the venue. They are not the guided tour kids but they talk to the visitors.
Since March 2022, we have been collaborating with a group of students from the Liceo Volta in Milan, who joined our team during the festival in the production and creation phases of the exhibition. This experience allowed them to have a direct confrontation with the artists and us to ask new questions about the works. And so it was with Daniel.
[Caterina Zucchetti, Liceo Volta student] The opportunity to talk to Daniel de Paula as well as to the public who came to visit the exhibition was a chance to see two completely opposite worlds and to understand what different visions can be drawn from the same work. Reading a text or learning what a work is theoretically about will never be the same as having the artist in front of you telling you the curiosities, what he thought, what it was like for him to design that work.
[Leonardo Trifirò, Liceo Volta student] I asked Daniel if he thought that his work – which serves to expose certain messages of the work of multinationals and companies – was similar to the work of a journalist. The question came to my mind because the artist was talking about the fact that he tends to create these artworks in order to denounce certain behaviours, certain situations, and thinking back to TV news, it came to my mind that it was very similar to the investigative work of newspapers.
[Daniel de Paula] A practice that belongs to me is field research, and I think it is a mode that professional journalists or reporters also use within their areas of interest. I do believe it’s important to, besides this layer of negotiation that takes place usually by written email form or telephone calls or video meetings or even meetings and offices, I do believe it’s important to investigate the spaces or infrastructural spaces to which I produce critiques of.Sometimes these places are inaccessible due to their geographical locations and other cases they’re inaccessible because they are private areas through which I’m not granted access. Sometimes of course I’m able to get permission, but in other cases even just to circumnavigate the fences and walls that protect these areas is already something that generates fertile material for me as an artist. So I would say that is something that could have a common ground with the practice of a journalist or a reporter
[Tommaso Santagostino] In this continuous “field” work, the theme of negotiation, emblematic of the genesis of De Paula’s works, emerges insistently. It reminds us that access to the world must include the existing dynamics of power and control, and at the same time it must play its cards to show its most inaccessible or repressed aspects. Through his works, he plays negotiation on several levels, just as the anthropologist does with his “informants”, those who act as intermediaries between the researcher and the social context studied, with patience, generosity and care for relationships. Even the surveillance cameras of the large and inaccessible mining sites around the world play the role of informants of the reality they record day after day. Cameras are an instrument of control and unveiling at the same time, thanks to which De Paula is able to show everyone what no one, but very few, are allowed to see.
The protagonist of the second episode is Letia Cariello, represented by the Massimo Minini Gallery in Brescia.
Her research is aimed at intercepting the material consistency of time and collecting its traces, making them visible in the writing of calendars or in the red thread links of objects, matter and spaces. From her studio to the Canottieri swimming pool in Milan, the podcast focuses on the complex installation Hallenbad, created in 2003 and realised in the spaces of three different swimming pools – Milan, Pontresina and Sacca Fisola.
The work was presented during the 9th edition of the Video Sound Art Festival in the girls’ locker rooms of the Volta High School in Milan as a sound installation, introducing the public to a floating mental space within which the echo of the artist’s arm movements and breathing can be perceived.
Excerpts from the second episode
[Letia Cariello] My name is LETIA Cariello and my work is about the body. I draw, I photograph, I build, basically I construct. If I had to summarise with one word what I do is construct, I put together pieces through the exercise of my hands; although mine cannot be defined as traditional work, in the sense of the use of painting rather than figuration, and in any case does not fall into any category exclusively, it is the use of the body and the hands that is the reason for my work. Perhaps, as it really is for all human beings, it is a need to relate to things, so yes of course I started by drawing, I continue to draw, I write a lot, I write in the sense of making calendars. I have been working for several years now and these are the conclusions I have come to, observing the way I work, the way I observe objects.
[Laura Lamonea] I think it was 2017 just before the Christmas holidays. I had visited an old art book print factory that had been converted into an exhibition space. On one wall there were nine photographic portraits of a person in a swimming costume with goggles and a cap covering not only his head but also his throat. On the head was something that resembled a camera but looked like a rocket. It was impossible to recognise the face because it was like armour. I had this mask of resistance stuck in my eyes. I was about to curate an exhibition in Palermo and I had tried to borrow the portraits but there had been some difficulties also because I had moved to Sicily. In the meantime I had made enquiries. I had recovered the documentation of an exhibition at Pecci in Prato in 2003 by the artist I discovered was Letizia Cariello and those portraits were part of a larger project and I wanted to know more. We met a year later and talked about Hallenbad. It is a project that is still very mysterious to me. I have come to realise over the past four years that there are endless ramifications to all Letia’s works and that they always push our understanding a little further, moving from the plane of corporeity to another that I am still unable to define.
[Letia Cariello] it is a project based on swimming, on my daily practice of swimming, which is a method for entering inner space through the use of the body – with a repeated and continuous exercise, such as going back and forth along a swimming lane – that opens up scenarios, they are scenarios of inner visions that I retrieve but above all sew the performative aspect of my work with the use of my hands.
[Laura Lamonea] Hallenbad is a complex installation created in 2003, closely connected to Letia’s daily practice, which is swimming. She constructed in the spaces of three different swimming pools – Milan, Pontresina and Sacca Fisola – a performance about the body in relation to the time of the heartbeat and the rhythm of its breathing. Equipped with a camera and laryngophone fixed on her head and throat, she dived into the water to film from her point of view the freedom of movement produced while swimming, while from the side of the pool those same movements were captured by a camera crew. Every detail was studied down to the smallest detail: the preparatory drawings and the costume she designed, the white bandages and the heavy equipment she wore on her body in the water for the audio and video shoots, the Renaissance notes by Gesualdo da Venosa that accompanied her as she walked along the lanes. The photographic portraits document the moments before she enters the water, giving us an image of physical constriction, but at the same time of solemnity, and placed in relation to the ambient sounds gathered in the pool they enrich the final video work with further levels of meaning.
[Letia Cariello] When they bandaged me, they put this camera on my head, I had it under the bandage, but I had to swim so that it would frame me. They miked me up and put a laryngophone that had to film my breathing. Poor guys were doing what I told them to do. To make a seven-minute sequence plan, I swam four hours.
[Letia Cariello] Water only works for me as water with chlorine, water in an enclosed pool, because it is a condition of freedom from gravity that allows me to balance breathing with movement and gives me the opportunity to enter into a condition of inner reading, but achieved through movement and thus opens up visions. I swim in Milan, I actually swim at Canottieri Milano.
[Tommaso Santagostino] ‘the city of Milan has an immense hunger for water,’ says Francesco Fumagalli, head of the Canottieri, ‘in fact, there are so many active swimming pools in the city and so many bodies that dive every day for the most varied reasons and needs. Milan is a city of water, and it really was urbanistically speaking, at least until the mid-20th century when its water network was buried, made up of rivers and canals that connected it more or less directly to the lakes of the north and to the sea across the Po Valley.
[Tommaso Santagostino] Letizia Cariello’s practice highlights the relationship between multiple spaces, such as the space of each person’s interiority and the physical space in which people act. At the same time, she highlights how a physical place such as a swimming pool can actually open itself up to a diversity of uses and intentions, which are evidently dense with the historical, social and cultural stratifications that are continually being formed and informed in the swimming bodies.
[Lea Vergine] Only step by step we realise (and hear) how acute and strategic is the technique of evasion, of deflection; the continuous shifting of attention that leads to the tasty echoes and noises, and sounds that are both banal and meaningful, that are Hallenbad. A master of digression, she lies knowing she is lying about the real subject matter. It shies away from grasping it and expelling it directly: that would be ordinary.
Only if the viewer bends not to see and not to know – but only to intuit – the central theme, the punctum dolens (of all of us, moreover), only if he allows himself to be deceived by the ambiguous itineraries of his little story, will he be able to access that limited but burning part of existence that Cariello has decided to offer. Which is, arguably, the very essence of language.
That is all. But there is still much to be said about Cariello, I think; and also about Hallenbad.
The third episode is dedicated to the Franco-Chilean artist Enrique Ramírez, selected for the 2017 Venice Biennale curated by Christine Macel. He was the finalist for the Duchamp Prize 2020 and he is represented in France by the Michel Rein Gallery.
In his research, the artist creates narrative spaces that traverse themes such as travel and memory, and in which the sea is a liberating metaphor for fantasies, but also the physical site of a current political reality. The podcast examines the video work Océan, 33°02’47 “S / 51°04’00 “N (2013) filmed with a moving camera during a twenty-four-day voyage from Valparaiso (Chile) to Dunkirk (France), on a ship loaded with perishable foodstuffs. The work was presented during the 10th edition of Video Sound Art Festival at the Romano Swimming Pool in Milan on the occasion of Ramírez’s first solo exhibition in Italy, a prelude to the exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. In dialogue with the artist, interventions by French gallerist Michel Rein shed light on the birth of their collaboration and the poetic nature of the investigation with which Enrique explores the contemporary world.
Excerpts from the third episode
[Enrique Ramírez] I boarded the Pacific Breeze, a ship transporting apples and other fruits from Chile, from the port of Valparaiso to St. Petersburg with a stop in Dunkirk. On the first day, I witnessed operations that caught my attention, because the first day is not dedicated to the voyage but to the loading of the ship, and I was able to observe aspects of the work that had a lot to do with the purpose of my trip, to talk about the world, to think about the land as seen from the water and to think about all the exchanges that exist in the world from the perspective of the boat.
[Laura Lamonea] Video Sound Art dedicated a solo exhibition to Enrique in the spaces of the Romano Swimming Pool, a pool inaugurated in 1929 and open for the first time to contemporary art. The exhibition path was not limited to the pool but extended into the changing rooms, into the ticket office; we chose to set up Océan right in the dressing room, a grid made of metal tubing, a storage area for the objects of people about to enter the pool. In the dressing room it was possible to have a view of the single video but also to see all 24 screens at the same time. One had the feeling of going first-hand on that ship carrying perishable foodstuffs bound for northern European countries.
[Enrique Ramírez] Océan was born from an idea back in 2009. I had in mind to make a journey contrary to that of the conquistadors, that is, to go and conquer Europe starting from South America. We crossed the Panama Canal, arrived in Dunkirk, left in summer and arrived in winter. In this sense the journey was very special for me because I really felt the time. Unlike the plane where the dimension of the journey is missing and you just move around, on the boat you travel. It was one of the most beautiful journeys I have made, a journey where you realise how small we are as human beings and how wonderful nature is, how powerful it is. Just the fact of travelling and not moving makes you realise that the world is full of things that we don’t normally see, that they are small things but they take on great importance in a journey that is basically very lonely. I don’t know, for example I watched the birds fly between the ships, something I never imagined could exist, I saw the trees floating in the sea in the middle of nowhere and I wondered: how did they get there?
[Michel Rein] Our gallery has been in existence for 30 years, I am passionate about topics that touch on politics, politics in the broadest sense of the word, and I am also passionate about poetry, and I have always looked for artists who are in line with my leanings, I am not necessarily talking about an artistic direction, let’s say in line with what I am interested in. When I opened Enrique’s file I thought it was absolutely wonderful, he seemed like someone who was interested in the political theme to which he combined immense poetry, it was 2014, the year in which a few weeks later he would receive the Friends of the Palais de Tokyo award. And so, immediately I fell in love with Enrique’s work. We met and very quickly a few months later we had an exhibition here at the gallery. That’s how the story started.
[Enrique Ramírez] I was born in the outskirts of Santiago de Chile in a boat-sail making workshop, so for me sailing was something that was part of everyday life. Only very late did I realize that it was a very important element for me. I am not a studio artist like my father for example. I basically don’t have a studio, my studio is the places I go, the places I want to go and see, my studio could be the Océan ship, my studio is the street or the airport or the person I meet. The studio is the journey, let’s say, or the world. This also has a lot to do with sailing, because sailing is among other things, a representation of the journey or the search for other places, it is also a flag, a way of going far away, of abstraction from reality.
[Laura Lamonea] The ship is a floating fragment of space, a place without a place, living for itself, self-delineating and abandoned, at the same time, to the infinity of the sea […] the ship has been for our civilization, from the 16th century to the present day, not only the greatest instrument of economic development […] but also the greatest reservoir of imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without ships, dreams wither, espionage replaces adventure and the police the privateers.
[Enrique Ramírez] Honestly, I don’t feel part of any place, and this, not feeling part of any place, has been very difficult to accept: I don’t live in Chile, when I go to Chile I’m just another foreigner, every time I cross the Andes it’s like my heart is ripped out, and every time I come back here I say I’m not from here, my accent will never let me, but I’ve lived in both places, in South America and here in France. France somehow welcomed me and gave me the opportunity to pursue art, which I didn’t think was possible before I came here. My artistic career perhaps I owe it in large part to my father’s workshop, to my mother because she always believed in me and France, and to a couple of friends, but let’s say that being in France has been very important for me because today I can say that I have the opportunity, the luck and the luxury to live off my work.
[Michel Rein] He is deeply Chilean. Well, first of all, his mother lives in Chile. I think he loves his country deeply and all his work revolves around that. Love for his country, whether it’s political issues or when he photographs Patagonia, you can see that he is a great lover of his country, and at the same time, he came to France, he chose to come and study in Paris. I think he chose Paris and Paris chose him in turn. Now he has a studio, he has a lot of support from French private collectors, a lot of institutional support because he did the Venice Biennale curated by Christine Macel, who is Parisian, so Paris adopted him.
[Tommaso Santagostino] In Spanish, the word “cosmovisión” is used to refer to the perspective through which a social group, community or individual views, imagines and experiences its reality. To assume the existence of multiple worldviews is to affirm, from an anthropological perspective, that none of them should become hegemonic over the others. Enrique Ramírez’s personal and artistic story takes us into a transcultural dimension in which the artist is forced to constantly renegotiate his identity by coming to terms with his dual belonging, to his state of origin, Chile, and to his adopted state, France. This, too, is a cosmovision that is embodied in Ramírez’s works and particularly in Océan, as we have recounted: the ship as an emblem of heterotopia and imagination at once disturbing and generative because it is completely open to the world and its possibilities.
The protagonist of the fourth episode is Driant Zeneli, an Albanian artist who has chosen to live and work in Italy since 2001 and is represented by Galleria Giorgio Persano in Turin. His research starts from the redefinition of the concepts of failure, utopia and dream. His videos narrate stories of the world set in infinite, borderless spaces, in which characters wander around with their gaze always turned upwards, tending towards the attempt of the elsewhere and the exploration of the unknown.
The podcast focuses on trilogy The Animals. Once upon a time… in the present time (2019-2022) which includes the work The firefly keeps falling and the snake keeps growing presented in 2022 at the Manifesta 14 Biennale. In the trilogy we find three buildings of Brutalist origin from the Balkan peninsula – the National Library in Prishtina (Republic of Kosovo), the Pyramid in Tirana (Albania) and the Post Office in Skopje (North Macedonia) – inside of which Driant brings to life robotic animals, flying fish and mechanical insects that interact with the architectural bodies made of reinforced concrete. Through the narrative structure that takes up the model of the contemporary fairy tale, the artist focuses on human feelings such as fear, failure, isolation and envy. Co-authorship in the construction of the films is the premise for looking in new directions, and this is even more evident when the protagonists are a group of children in relation to an architecture that is deeply linked to the history of their country.
Excerpts from the fourth episode
[Driant Zeneli] How can we narrate an architecture? An architecture, as we know, is made by those who create it, by those who live it from the inside, who work in it, but also by those who live it from the outside, who perceive it.
[Laura Lamonea] In the trilogy we find three buildings of brutalist origin from the Balkan peninsula inside which Driant has robot animals, flying fish, mechanical insects interacting with reinforced concrete bodies. The narrative structure takes up the model of the contemporary fairy tale through which Driant focuses on human feelings such as fear, failure, isolation and envy. The three architectural spaces of Brutalist origin can be found in the three capitals of the Balkan peninsula: The National Library of Pristina in Kosovo, The Pyramid of Tirana in Albania and the Post Office of Skopje in Northern Macedonia.
[Driant Zeneli] I was attracted by the National Library of Pristina in Kosovo, which incorporates not only the Brutalist aesthetic but also the popular culture of Byzantium, the Ottoman culture and all the stratifications that exist in the Balkans. I decided to work with a group of 10-year-old children to build a fable around this building. I gave them the first input: a game called fly fly fly, when I said fly fly fish no one raised their hand. I said yes, there are fish that fly, it is possible, I showed them a fish that flies – it moves for I don’t know how many metres – and they saw it and said ‘wow, we didn’t know that’. From here we started reflecting on the fact that there are things that we perceive as impossible, but instead nature teaches us every day that it exceeds its limits and we know less and less about it. I also showed them how to build a film, how important sound is, the children built a story, and on the other we documented the body of an architecture that already contains many layers of history.
[Laura Lamonea] It is through the pursuit that we observe the structure from outside and inside. History is an abstract background, imagination becomes a collective tool. Electronics and robotics are an integral part of the game played to enhance imagination. Co-authorship is the premise for exploring, twisting, looking in new directions, and this is even more evident when the protagonists are a group of children who enter into a relationship with an architecture that is deeply linked to the history of their country.
Zeneli’s filmic tales arise from chance encounters and the solution to questions, which seem to have no answer, is part of the process of collective creation that runs through the entire trilogy. What counts is the encounter.
[Driant Zeneli] [Driant Zeneli] Suddenly I was watching the news on TV and I saw an Albanian boy who had just been released from prison, convicted of murder, but what was interesting was that for these 21 years in prison Rilond Risto to survive also mentally, to express his passion for art and engineering had started to build robotic butterflies with all the mechanisms he found in prison – razors, all the little machines he found in secret. I commissioned him a dragonfly and he gladly accepted this challenge. I was going round and round, thinking about which architecture to tell this story about, and then I remembered that there is another important Brutalist architecture that contains so many layers of history, the Pyramid of Tirana. With Rilond, we went to the pyramid with this story of the dragonfly in mind, and we asked ourselves how to tell Rilond’s story inside this building, which he called a labyrinth; and it was perfect, there was the story of this dragonfly that ended up in a labyrinth, in an ocean – as he defines the twenty-one years he lived in prison, under the ocean.
[Mathilde Roman] The making of his films is a journey in which Driant shares, with all the people involved, his desire to look at the sky, take the energy from it and produce something on Earth. His sceneries draw imaginary trajectories departing from reality to reach new worlds. Old friends, new encounters, children and adults, those who participate in his films, are all active contributors. In a process built over time, a fairy tale is written, based on the necessary and shared inputs of the contributors, bringing with it personal stories and desires.
[Driant Zeneli] How to conclude the trilogy? In 2021 I was invited by the National Gallery of North Macedonia, in Skopje, to do a solo exhibition there; I went to visit Skopje, I had already been, but I hadn’t had a close look and I see in the centre this magnificent brutalist architecture – the Skopje Post Office – half burnt down and abandoned and half in operation. That is where I got the idea to build the third story with the cooperation of the National Gallery and with the students of the Skopje University of Mechatronic Engineering I built the story of the firefly trying to escape from the snake. Unlike the other two fables, this one is an existing medieval fable whose author we do not know, which tells the story of the firefly’s escape from the snake that chases it in order to eat it.
[Laura Lamonea] The experience of the set allowed me to observe aspects of his way of working that I had not caught during the exhibitions. The set is a place of creation but also of relationship tension, burek and baklava in North Macedonia. I saw Driant in the flow of work knowing how to wait for solutions, how to find solutions, how to listen to the group.
[Tommaso Santagostino] From an anthropological point of view, the city is experienced and interpreted in its ‘continuous making’, it does not exist in itself. That is to say, the urban form depends exclusively on those who fill it with meaning, its inhabitants and the relational possibilities that the spaces of the city offer. And it is precisely the informal relations that take place in the interstices of the city that represent real movements of resistance and re-appropriation of physical and imaginary public space. Which is precisely what Driant highlights.
The fifth episode is dedicated to the Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte and the artist Oli Bonzanigo.
In dialogue with the director of the complex Valter Luca De Bartolomeis and master ceramists Gennaro Cavaliere, Armando Del Giudice and Antonio Viscusi, the artist recounts the phases of conception and production of the sculptural work I was a nervous heat, retracing his experience and the intricacies of working with porcelain.
The work – a porcelain spine divided into sections, 33 vertebrae and 2 cranei – is the result of a study carried out by the artist on the mimesis relationships between sacred architectural forms and human anatomy, and reflects on the actions of man and the movements of matter as a vehicle for cultural and geographical contaminations.
The sculptures were created during the artistic residency organised by Video Sound Art in collaboration with the Real Fabbrica della Porcellana di Capodimonte and presented during the 8th edition of the Festival at the former Albergo Diurno Venezia in Milan.
Excerpts from the fifth episode
[Oli Bonzanigo] I was invited by Video Sound Art to do this residency project at the Istituto Caselli in Capodimonte with great masters. I suggested to develop a theme I had already been working on for a while, which was a hypothesis of mimesis between sacred architecture and human anatomy. It is very difficult to do the vertebrae, it is an incredible interlocking, they are perfect spaces. In a context that is sacred because at the Caselli Institute, gestures are truly a spiritual dance: the methods, the timing of the material, the care, the technical precision, the sensitivity… it is moving and so I had this opportunity to work with the artisans, so many days, to enter into the everyday life of their productions of their ideas, their games with this material that is truly difficult to work with.
[Laura Lamonea] Among us, we called it the white gold, certainly because Capodimonte porcelain refers to the collections housed in the palace, today’s Capodimonte Museum, and also because the Real Fabbrica building in the middle of the woods is a very white place, with the masters wearing white coats.
[Valter Luca De Bartolomeis] Contact with us projects people towards an almost lost dimension, which we are still able to recount with all our soul and with all the poetry that, by the way, I believe a place like this – the Capodimonte forest – only enhances. The synergy that is created between the masters, the artist and the designer is also very beautiful, a moment of exchange of dialogue in which doing is combined with ideas.
[Oli Bonzanigo] They allowed me to work the material, as I have always worked clay in the foundry, which is actually a bit dangerous for porcelain because there has been numerous times during firing the risk of explosion, because it has a particular behaviour that I have never found in any other material, which is that porcelain has memory, so the moment you make the shape, if you then go to re-mould it, it comes back in the oven and reveals the error. And it’s also a very jewellery-like work, because the final skin, so the crystalline, is made with these baths, they look like baptismal baths.
[Antonio Viscusi] One of the difficulties with this dough is apart from the whole process, especially the baking. Baking is always a fascinating thing because it’s what determines the quality of all the work you do; so the challenge with the fire, the temperature control is always something that is relatively controllable apart from the new technologies, so a whole computer system that can give you certain baking parameters, at the end you always go to see the result if it’s the good one; otherwise you do it all over again.
[Laura Lamonea]The work I was a nervous heat is a spinal column divided into sections – 33 vertebrae, 2 cranei – through which Oli Bonzanigo continues his investigation into the relationship between human and matter, into actions and movements as a vehicle for cultural and geographical contamination. The sections, created during the residency at Capodimonte from clay models, on a slightly larger scale than the human body, were first presented in Milan at the former Albergo Diurno Venezia, a space from the 1920s designed for travellers by the architect Portaluppi in which the body is continually evoked between the bathrooms and the artisans’ rooms – hairdresser, barber, manicurist.
[Tommaso Santagostino] Here too, social and anthropological tensions are set in motion by artistic forms, as in the work of Oli Bonzanigo, who offers different perspectives on bodies, materials, their processing and the spaces chosen to give them public fruition. Once again, therefore, we are faced with a dense web of movements, which are precisely those of the hands of the Capodimonte masters, of the vertebrae that form the spines, of the works that pass from the Real Fabbrica to the Bosco di Capodimonte and are inserted into the now disused 1920s rooms in the underground of the city of Milan. This movement, as Oli reminds us, is mimetic, representing not only the transit of people and objects, but also of concepts and the language that explains the world. In this transit, much closer to a spiral than to a straight, continuous line, everything changes and becomes available to new perspectives and interpretations.
The podcast dedicates the sixth episode to Cecilia Mentasti, guest of the Festival in two different editions: – Il resto at the Liceo Volta in Milan in 2019 and RYTHMÓS at the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale in 2021. The intent of his research is to bring to light the silent work of all the actors in the art system, from restorers to assistants to transporters, who take care of works over time.
The artist, in dialogue with museum conservator Mami Azuma, recounts the birth of the performance Safari (not the exception but the rule), presented at the 11th edition of the Festival involving a group of students from Milan.
The high school performers, transformed into museum guides and fitters, during public visits to the halls of the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, staged performative actions of disruption and interruption, transporting escape plans and works created by the artist for the occasion – transport crates of exotic animals, display cases.
The starting point of the work is a reflection on a specific object – the gloves worn by personnel transporting works of art – emphasising the importance and value of what is being handled. Using this element, the artist highlights those museum elements that are constantly in front of the public’s eyes, unnoticed.
Excerpts from the sixth episode
[Laura Lamonea] For the Video Sound Art exhibition at the Liceo Volta in Milan in 2019 Cecilia Mentasti, one of the guest artists, had for days repaired all the cracks and imperfections on one floor of the school with white putty. In a way she had chosen to take care of the building but also to point out often unnoticed spots on the walls, and those holes. once filled with stucco, had become white and attractive. She had also made wooden wedges, objects that restorers use to hold statues upright during work, and had placed them at first in places that seemed hidden and somewhat random to me. I had asked her why she had chosen the least lit corner of the gymnasium, and she had replied that it was interesting to her that those supports were where they would not be, where we would not imagine them, and where people would be surprised to find them. That answer had allowed me to delve deeper into her practice and to understand that that positioning did not marginalise the work but relocated it, giving it a new context.
[Mami Azuma] I am Mami Azuma, conservator of the Botany section of the Natural History Museum in Milan. As a background I am not a pure botanist, I am a forester, so I certainly have a much more direct and operational outlook, because this is a bit like the work a forester does in a forest.
The Museum has a very ancient history, in the sense that we are the first Civic Museum founded by the Municipality of Milan, and this originated from the private collection of Giuseppe De Cristoforis and Giorgio Ian, who were two naturalists, let’s say not professionals, but great enthusiasts who donated their collection to form the Natural History Museum of Milan in 1838, the year the Museum was founded. Then, when the time was ripe from the point of view of both planning and funds, especially for the construction, the current building of Natural History Museum of Milan was designed.
[Cecilia Mentasti] The white glove, the nitrile restoration technician’s glove, tells us that what we have in our hands is a work, an artefact. I made these groups of students wear the gloves. They moved around the museum space carrying various objects. I made these ceramic objects in the shape of all those elements underneath the exhibits, to display the negatives of what the exhibits are, and then I created these ceramic giraffes. I enjoyed the idea of thinking about transporting a giraffe.
[Thomas Ba] At first, the spectator was probably a bit puzzled, because he clearly did not expect to see this kind of movement when he visited the museum in the evening, but gradually he began to realise that these people were actually carrying not exactly escape plans, but works that were made as escape plans.
[…] Working with spaces that are not often dedicated to contemporary art, there is an all-round need for mediation work. There was a time when the conservative. Mami Azuma witnessed part of Cecilia Mentasti’s performance and was not completely convinced by the result. She wanted clarification on some points, she also wanted to understand where the work emerged. For her it was important that Cecilia’s work also emerged clearly.
[Mami Azuma] It was certainly very interesting for me to see that they partly accepted my comments, they didn’t have to. The fact that they had a chance to repeat this performance several times in my opinion was definitely interesting, certainly not for the audience, because the audience couldn’t repeat the experience, but certainly for those who participated in the project yes, both for the person who conceived it, Cecilia, and for the students who participated.
[Cecilia Mentasti] The students would give me their feedback on how the performance went at that moment and so it really became a collective work, a relationship, almost a hand to hand between them and the guided tour, a presence that became stronger and stronger. The performance became almost a way of interacting with the space.
[Tommaso Santagostino] Cecilia’s work and in particular this focus on marginality brought me back to a 2016 text by Enrico Nivolo entitled Anthropology of Clowns. Through the key figures of the clown and the trickster (the mystifier, the trickster, rascal) present in various cultural systems, the importance of clumsiness, the unexpected and failure in evoking doubt and stumbling is highlighted. Cultural systems often delegate to these figures a break from the existing and this happens because every culture that acts and realises is also a meta-culture that reflects on itself, its own limitations and what it could be and is not. Metacultural action in Cecilia’s case means using the museum as a container for the work and at the same time making it an object of reflection and deconstruction. The philosopher Gilles Deleuze called the lines of flight those that open up in the metacultural spaces of the Western capitalist system, which has the special characteristic of presenting itself as the only possible signification, as the only possible cultural system.
There is thus more than a resemblance between Cecilia Mentasti’s escape plans and Gilles Deleuze’s escape lines, between the clown’s clumsiness and performative interruptions to museum tours. In all cases, these are devices that enable human beings to reflect on themselves and their built-in habits. It may also happen that in this way cultural systems are destroyed and rebuilt, but in general these meta-cultural levels always have as much to do with criticism as with self-mockery and humour and are fundamental to guaranteeing vitality, movement and oxygen to cultural universes.
The seventh episode is dedicated to musician and composer Luca Maria Baldini and the performance L’Occhio e i Pianeti presented at the Planetarium Ulrico Hoepli in Milan during the 11th edition of Video Sound Art Festival.
The soundscape, inspired by Calvino’s literary suggestions and contemporary observations of the sky from a philosophical and scientific perspective, accompanied an itinerary of discovery of the celestial vault. With the participation of astrophysicist and Planetarium curator Fabio Peri, the episode traces the construction of the performance, focusing on the relationship between man and the night sky.
Observing the sky, by day and by night, is a game of perspectives and hypotheses that deeply involves humanity and its history. A game that was interrupted by the lights of the electric revolution. The planetarium remains one of the last forms of resistance that allows us to admire the sky and is able to turn off the lights of the city, coping with the lack of stars.
L’Occhio e i Pianeti is a project created in collaboration with Luca Maria Baldini, the Le Cannibale collective, dramaturgy by the Video Sound Art curatorial team, direction by Tommaso Santagostino and with the participation of astrophysicist Fabio Peri.
The episodes of Fino a prova contraria will be published monthly on Spreaker and the main distribution platforms (Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts etc.).
The protagonists of the upcoming episodes include: Letizia Cariello (LETIA), Enrique Ramirez, Driant Zeneli, Cecilia Mentasti, Mika Rottenberg, Haig Aivazian, Ludovica Carbotta and Ali Kazma.
Video Sound Art
written and conducted by:
Laura Lamonea and Tommaso Santagostino
music and audio production
Ep. 1 | Daniel De Paula
Ep. 2 | Letia Cariello
Ep. 3 | Enrique Ramírez
Ep. 4 | Driant Zeneli
Ep. 5 | Oli Bonzanigo
Ep. 6 | Cecilia Mentasti
Listen on Spotify