I discovered the work of Arcangelo Sassolino in 2008 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He was showing a nitrogen-powered sculpture that shot empty beer bottles against a wall at 600km/hr inside a zoo-like metal cage. 5 years later, i'm listening to the podcast of a presentation that the artist made at CCC Strozzina in Florence. the podcast gave me the opportunity to 1. get to know his work better 2. write a quick post about it and 3. advise you to check out Strozzina's archive of podcasts because, as i mentioned on twitter the other day, they contain real gems (quick selection at the end of this post.) Some are conversations between the artist and a moderator from Strozzina. Others are more akin to 'proper' lectures. Most are in italian though.
Here's the gist of Sassolino's talk:
At the time of this presentation, Sassolino was showing a new commissioned (and untitled) piece at CCC Strozzina for the exhibition Francis Bacon and the Existential Condition in Contemporary Art.
A heavy industrial piston is linked to an oil hydraulic system and set up following the longitudinal direction of the room. Another component of the work is a thick rope which traverses the entire length of the room at the height of the visitors' eyes. The rope passes through the piston and its ends are tied around two thick wooden beams anchored between the stone doorposts of the two entrances at opposite ends of the room.
Without warning and at irregular intervals the hydraulic system is activated and starts up the action of the piston that gradually pulls the rope taut. The traction is increased slowly until breaking point is reached, but just before the irreparable happens the piston eases the tension causing the entire system to return to a state of precarious calm.
That's the kind of work that Sassolino makes. It has danger, mechanical tension, darkness and makes the spectator vaguely uneasy ("Is this going to break? Will i be hurt? Shouldn't it take one step back?") In fact, Sassolino also explained that the beams vibrate but they hold the pressure. The system actually gets in motion when a visitor gets closer to the work. And that's when, as the artist puts it, a kind of Sadomasochistic moment emerges: the visitor would like to see some dramatic collapse of the wooden structure but doesn't dare to get too close to it.
In his talk, Sassolino explains that what he likes is to take a material 'by the neck' and torture it in order to make it scream and admit the truth.
A "variation on the same theme" --as he puts it-- is another work without title that made a piece of wood moan until it split.
As the video below demonstrates, sound is an important dimension of Sassolino's work:
The artist is generally less interested in bringing a completed art work in a gallery than in showing a material, be it a piece of wood or marble, that will gradually be stripped of its 'flesh' and maybe reach the point of collapse.
The most literal example of this would be Figurante.
The powerful jaw crushes a femur bone over 3 hours. The work references the sterilized war images we see on tv. They never include the sound of people suffering.
Another work discussed was Elisa, a sculpture assembled from four mechanical digger parts and hydraulically animated by a random generator. The digger arm moves with spasms like a big animal slowly dying.
A couple more image, mostly for my own pleasure:
Dilatazione pneumatica di una forza viva (Pneumatic Expansion of a Living Force) features a bullet-proof glass structure enclosing a glass bottle, which is set on a tube attached to nitrogen cylinders. The gas slowly fills the bottle, which explodes with a shatter of glass when its maximum capacity has been reached. After every explosion the glass bottle is replaced.
In case you're dying to see Sassolino speak about his work in english, here's his comment on Time Tomb, a sculpture he installed at Z33 back in 2010.
More podcasts i'm looking forward to listening to: Loris Cecchini talks about his work, Domenico Quaranta explores art and identity online, Gianfranco Pecchinenda discusses Video games and the production of the American imagination, Vito Campanelli talks Process flow and Web, Fabio Chiusi's lecture is about Transparency and freedom of expression after Wikileaks, Emiliano Ilardi imagines A modernity without catastrophe, etc.
American Dreamers, the exhibition currently on view at Strozzina, Center for Contemporary Culture at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, invites us to question what remains of the American dream in this age of weak economy, war on terror and housing crisis.
Does the American dream still exist? What is its future in an era in which the promise of happiness and economic prosperity seems to clash with an increasingly complex and difficult scenario?
America's sense of invulnerability is long gone and whether they live inside or outside the country, people are now struggling to hold on to the American dream. Recent reports even show that for first time since Depression, more Mexicans leave U.S. than enter.
How do contemporary artists react and comment on the situation? While many of them have chosen to document the social and economic crisis, others are using it to build a refuge, an alternative world made of fantasy and illusions. This second reality might sometimes present a veneer of nostalgia and hedonism but it always comes with a dark undercurrent. In some cases, the imagined reality steps right into dystopia.
But have no illusions about American Dreamers. There's nothing 'exotic' and distant about it. It also (alas!) holds a mirror to a Europe where social welfare policies are at risk, economic unease is growing in households and market-wide, austerity measures spark protests and far right votes (this morning hit me with worrying stories about Greece and Verona.)
Eleven artists have been invited to show their vision of what is left of the American dream, here's a quick selection:
Soundsuits! Soundsuits! Nick Cave's wearable sculptures are made of beads, feather, sequins and fabrics found in thrift stores but also discarded fake fur, human hair, twigs, etc. Even children's toys. When worn by dancers during street or gallery performances, the Soundsuits take a life of their own, shifting volumes, producing different sounds depending on the materials they are made out of.
By physically sheltering the wearer from external gaze, the Soundsuits neutralize their gender, age, race and class. The soundsuits also act as carapaces where wearers can retreat from reality. Moreover, the spectacle they create during public performances projects spectators into an alternate reality.
Christy Rupp's skeletons of Extinct Birds Previously Consumed by Humans evoke the remains exhibited at museums of natural history, but they are actually made from bone fragments of chicken and turkey that she collected from rubbish bins outside fast-food restaurants and barbecues. The Strozzina shows a Dodo, a Great Auk and a Moa, three flightless birds that were erased from the surface of the earth because of reckless hunting. The bird species consumed in fast food joints might not be extinct but, raised in intensive factory farming, they are nevertheless the victims of man's greed and disregard for basic animal welfare.
Will Cotton's paintings also allude to hyper-consumption but in a cotton candy, cupcakes and all things syrupy way. Drawing inspiration from 18th century French Rococo painters, from Tiepolo and 1950s pinups, his works seem ethereal and insouciant but a closer inspection reveal underlying fears of decadence and over-indulgence. Consummation of Empire, for example, directly points to Thomas Cole's five-part series The Course of Empire, which even in the 1830s was sounding a warning bell about American imperial ambitions.
Cotton recently worked as Art Director for Katy Perry's California Gurls, transferring his saccharine painted universe into music video. He certainly has all my admiration for getting Snoop Dogg into that cupcake suit.
Richard Deon looks back at golden-era America with paintings that restage drawings from 1950s civics handbooks.
The main protagonist of the works is a dapper man in a suit. He's stern, he's standing tall and keeping his hands at his sides but the nostalgia for a more glorious time stops here. The figure in suit is also submitted to absurd juxtapositions and erroneous perspectives. He is surrounded by mysterious symbols and placed in inadequate settings and historical references.
Home is the center stone of middle-class American culture. They are bigger, more comfortable and immaculate than anywhere else in the world. But in Thomas Doyle's sinister settings, there is something worryingly precarious about the American home. Families tend to their garden, chat in the kitchen or come back from grocery shopping without realizing that the whole world around their home is about to crumble.
There's no clearer metaphor for the real estate bust that is hurting so many householders.
I took some photos, they are as awful as ever.
This is the second time this year that i've encountered the work of the design collective. I discovered their work in Spring when i was attending a press conference at CCCS - Strozzina in Florence. Sven Jonke, Christoph Katzler and Nikola Radeljkovic had wrapped transparent tape all over the courtyard of the venerable Palazzo Strozzi to shape a self-supporting cocoon for people to crawl inside. For Z33, they've left the gaffer tape in Vienna and Zagreb (where they are based) and used nets to turn the whole exhibition space into a giant playground that can be explored horizontally as well as vertically. The idea might look incredibly simple but the result evokes floating architecture and flexible, aerial "landscape" as much as jungle gym.
I was beyond happy when Nikola and Christoph accepted to discuss their work with me. The interview focuses mostly on the Net at Z33 and on the Tape walk-in installation i saw in Florence but the Numen/ For Use website will, i'm sure, give you many more reasons to admire their work.
Sorry if i'm going to start on a very trivial note but one of the first questions that popped into my mind was "how about security?" I'm sure your installations are perfectly safe and sound but is 'health and safety' ever an issue? Are there any special measure you have to comply with and did they ever get in the way of your creativity?
Christoph: Security and safety is always the thing we fight with. Since we are educated as applied artists and since we do a lot of set design in theatre we are aware of all the problems concerning statics and security.
It is part of every daily reality. Especially when you make something in public space you have to fight with a lot of law issues. But often they are rather idiotic issues. It is bizarre to see how different countries and different organizers are putting weight and importance concerning law on totally different things and how they ignore others totally. But it is also interesting that in art institutions law is very often not seen so super strict like in other fields. This is one reason why I like to work there.
Up to now it was like this that either the ideas went without bigger problems into realization or they stopped very early due to some legal regulations.
How did you get to create The Net for Z33? Did they give you carte blanche or did you work on the idea together with the curator?
Christoph: We said, "we want to try something new." They said, "okay but we need the idea within two weeks", which was rather a short period for us to find something we really like. But the idea came actually easy and fast, which is rather rare, and we all were rather satisfied from the beginning.
In the video interview that you did for Z33, you explain that The Net is a testbed for a public version that could be installed between houses. Have you found a location already? Would you see it as a permanent structure or a nomadic one?
Christoph: YES, we are searching for a nice location in public to realize it there! In the opposite to our other walk-in installation (called Tape) it is much harder to find a location in the public space. Many of my friends would love to have it in there backyard to open the window and to jump inside for a sun-bath or whatever. But I do guess it would be difficult to find a location where all neighbors would give there permission to have "strangers" hanging around in front of there windows.
Another possibility would be to use one of those football-cages where kids are playing and to implant it there. It would be a different situation, but I think it still would work.
When i saw the Tape installation in the courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, it was morning, there was a press conference, and none of the journalists was climbing inside the structure. Actually, i had no idea anyone was allowed to or even that anyone would think of doing it. The public is usually not supposed to climb into sculptures/installations. But somehow, i found the work fascinating enough. What is most important to you, that the public will want to engage physically with your work or that they are visually compelling?
Christoph: For us it is 100% important that the public can go inside and experience these works. Nowadays we write it in our contracts that the public has to be able to go inside during normal opening hours. When people see the installations most of them are curious, they want to go inside. But since you have to take your shoes off and crawl an all four it makes the social borders falling. They are starting to enjoy it together in a very communicative way although they often do not even know each other. This is nice! That's why we like to see it in the public. Maybe it is somehow like in a different world and some rules do not count anymore for a while.
The Tape shapes are very organic (at least to me.) How do they form? Do you have to work on computer models first to explore the sturdiness and elegance? Or is there rather much space for improvisation?
Christoph: We make just a simple model to test somehow the basic shapes not to be totally wrong and the rest we do on spot rather following our intuition. So there is no computer involved at all! We also do not draw or design a lot. It is basically just working, working working, because what ever you do it will always shrink into forms which are geometrically perfect! On spot it is a real rush and chaos, everybody is doing something. So in the beginning we often think we made some mistakes. But now we know that it is just the usual phase. We just go on and it is fine at the end.
You trained as industrial designers, but what you do now seems to be miles away from industrial design. Would you agree with that statement? Or do you feel that your practice evolved in a logical way and that, no matter what you are doing today, you are still true to your roots as industrial designers?
Nikola: It seems but it is not. Industrial design implies a certain awareness of the needs and wishes of the user and we consider the visitors of our installations in that way. Designers are constantly trying to personalize products and production, to humanize mass produced items. On the other hand, we are at the moment seriously working on industrializing our installations, in the sense that we are developing a walk-in installation which can be set over and over again. Our working process and professional ethos are still strongly influenced by our design roots and I find it stimulating to exchange influences and experiences from one field to another. The strict border between art and design is, in my opinion, totally artificial and absurd. Both fields are about visual communication of abstract values, about media and society, both use creative potentials to articulate spatial relations and both constantly refer to one another. It was like this even before pop art and after...
Does For Use still find time to design chairs and other pieces of furniture or have the more artistic projects completely taken over your time and energy?
Christoph: I am at the moment mostly into the experimental projects because I feel much more freedom and I see much more joyful feedback from the audience. But we still deal with design and I do guess we will approach different to that profession in the future and open up our borders.
Nikola: Since Christoph is avoiding design completely, I am probably dealing with design more that ever!-)
Thanks Christoph and Nikola!
You have until October 2nd to jump in the NET at the House for Contemporary Art Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium.
Last week i came back from Florence completely gutted because i hadn't seen Snooki. As much as i like the alluring little lady, i was in town for an entirely different reason: the opening of the exhibition Virtual Identities at the Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina.
CCCS is part of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi which has the mission to give the city of Florence an international contemporary culture varnish. As far as i'm concerned, the initiative works like a charm. I now find myself taking the train to see exhibitions in Florence far more often than to, say, Milan. Each year, CCCS produces a series of thematic exhibitions which blend together recent scientific researches, current societal issues and the big as well as the emerging names of contemporary art.
The new exhibition, titled Virtual Identities enquires how digital culture is redefining the characteristics and boundaries of our identity, both personal and collective.
Franziska Nori, director of the Centre and curator of the exhibition, has been investigating new media culture for over a decade. You might remember I love you computer virus, the seminal exhibition she curated when she was digitalcraft's Project Director. Nori started thinking about the Virtual Identities show 8 years ago. 8 years is such a long time in the history of the 'network culture' that it compels you to have a look back at what online life was a few years ago. So much has changed. Second Life doesn't make the headlines of newspapers anymore, and when MySpace does, it never brings any cheerful news for the social networking website. On the other hand, 8 years is not a long enough lapse of time to allow for the temporal distance necessary for a serious critical assessment.
Virtual Identities is therefore a snapshot of the relationship of man with digital technologies. The crucial role that virtual life takes in our society is naturally embedded into the work of young artists who grew up using the internet on a daily basis but it has also spread into the work of some of the most widely recognised names of contemporary art. That's why the exhibition will take you from Michael Wolf's amazing Paris Street View prints to the facebook suicides offered by the young duo Les Liens Invisibles.
One of the first works you encounter as you enter the show is Immersion, a video in which Robbie Cooper captures the powerful emotions that are manifested on the faces of children and young people interacting with a screen as they play computer games. The camera was incorporated into the monitor displaying the images that captivate the young players. The observer is thus face to face with children who ignore them, enwrapped as they are in the action that takes place on the monitor. We never get to see what they see, only the sounds of the game reaches our ears here and there.
Cooper's work creates a dual feedback: the players react intensely to the images they see on the screen, whereas we - the observers - react with our own feelings to their powerfully emotional facial expressions that to us, in turn, are just another image on a screen.
Evan Baden's The Illuminati is another example of one-sided exchange. The series focuses on the facial expression of young people whose attention is entirely focused on their digital devices. Their face is bathed in the light emanating from their device, the effect evokes the way light hits the face of the subjects of Georges de La Tour's paintings. The luminous halo strengthens the impression of an intimacy between the piece of electronics and the teenager holding it, leaving viewers in the position of outsiders.
Although it was not part of the exhibition, i'd like to mention another series in Baden's portfolio because it shows in a striking way how much the internet has overthrown the boundaries of the personal sphere. For Technically Intimate, Baden tracked the young girls who had posted on the internet intimate photos of themselves. The photographer re-staged the scene, and the encounter between the sexually explicit images and the girly teenage rooms is quite unsettling. In a charming way.
The TAMATAR installation brought me back to more familiar territories. TAMATAR is part of MISSION ETERNITY, a long-term project by etoy.CORPORATION that involves a mobile cemetery tank which allows for the archiving and re-location of the massive body of digital information that up to 1000 M∞ PILOTS leave behind them throughout their life.
TAMATAR (a contraction of the Japanese term * TAMA that refers to spirit or soul and of the word 'avatar') are spherical carriers created for the resurrection of dead MISSION ETERNITY PILOTS.
Previously recorded memories of the M∞PILOT are used to detect characteristic elements and to derive behavioural pattern for the TAMATAR. This code is combined with voice recordings and ca. 16 giga bites of data collected by the PILOT, his friends/family and etoy.AGENTS to generate 16 TAMAS*.
In a ritualistic art performance, the TAMAS (software) are uploaded into the 16 TAMATAR (hardware: the spheres acting as the transport layer for digital content). The TAMA-SOFTWARE starts to posses the new bodies. The physical carrier is able to move (roll), to talk with the original voice of the dead person and to make use of telepathy (wireless communication). The simple set of possibilities of expression is the base for complex physical, emotional, intellectual and poetic interaction with living human beings, other TAMATAR (the dead) and technical components (on- and offline).
In 2005 Nicholas Felton started to record and document facts and figures regarding his everyday life: how many miles he has flown on planes, how often he visits a museum, how many birthday parties he attends, how often he has been sick, etc. At the end of each year, the navel-gazing data he as collected is turned into a series of statistical diagrams and charts that quantifies his lifestyle. He then publishes the result in a corporation-style report.
This conceptual work of infographics has met with so much attention that Felton has teamed up with Ryan Case to develop Daytum, which allow the aggregation, and visualization of their data. Felton's work has much in common with the practice of data mining, a strategy used by companies to predict the buying behavior of potential clients. That's probably the reason why facebook has recently hired Case and Felton.
For Virtual Identities, German-Iranian photojournalist Diana Djeddi was commissioned a new work that traces the tortuous online path that lead from an anonymous video of the murder of a young woman to a global story where all control over content and identity gets lost.
As somebody in the video can be heard shouting the girl's name, albeit indistinctly, the search to establish her identity led to a tragic error where a basically apolitical and very alive English literature teacher named Neda Soltani was mistakenly identified as the murdered woman via her Facebook profile. Her photo was published by the international media and used as a rallying cry for the revolt against the regime. The Iranian government pressured Neda Soltani to admit that she was an actor and collaborator, forcing the young woman flee the country and travel to Germany where she currently lives as a political refugee.
Neda Soltani's story is representative of the logic of online communication, based on the rapid sharing of fragments of information that are not always verified causing misinterpretation. Her loss of control over the content that she herself had uploaded to the internet and therefore over her public image reveals the principle of flows of information, images and news that acquire autonomous dynamics that can no longer be controlled as soon as they are made available to the online public. In other words, with a certain degree of public exposure, the individual loses control over the right to the privacy of his or her own image, and with it a part of his or her personal identity.
Virtual identities is on view at CCCS-Strozzina in Florence until July 17, 2011.
The Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina in Florence is hosting the second edition of Emerging Talents - Young Italian Art, a prize and exhibition aimed at bringing closer together young Italian contemporary artists, art critics and the broad public. I missed the first edition and didn't feel the smarter for it. As some of you know, i spend most of my time in Italy and no matter how much i look and inquire, i find it hard to get a broad picture of the young contemporary art scene in a country that tends to be blindsided by big names. A problem i don't encounter so acutely elsewhere. Cultural institutions in countries such as Germany, France, The Netherlands, England or Belgium, for example, might be far from holding the key to cultural felicity but i often find that they take more pride in showcasing the talent of their young artists (though how long this is going to be the case after the recent drastic cuts in public funding for education and culture is another story.)
I'm sure that the brave statement that Franziska Nori and Riccardo Lami wrote in their text for the exhibition catalogue will resonate with many young Italians (or Europeans) interested in culture:
We believe that working on a project with the aim of showcasing the excellence of young creativity is fundamental at a moment in history - and in a social climate - like that of Italy in recent years. The ability to invest in education, culture and research is crucial, representing a moment of truth for the very future of a national community that is facing the need to make the most effective decisions possible in order to keep up with other nations and avoid the progressive decline of its competitiveness with respect to the world and the global market. This problem is not merely Italian, but extends to Europe in general. Nevertheless, we must also note a specific Italian weakness and lack of far-sightedness in managing such a critical transition. Entire generations of young people have no possibilities for a future on what has become an international job market, due to an education that is unable to compete with that of their peers from other countries, as well as the dearth of professional growth opportunities in their homeland.
Four established Italian curators were called to select the candidates for the prize. Each of the curators could select four artists. They had to be Italians and aged 25 to 35. The winner of the Emerging Talents 2011 prize was then selected by an international jury. This year the prize was awarded to Luigi Presicce.
In a short video interview Presicce expresses his astonishment that an independent artist like him, who isn't even represented by any art gallery could have won the prize. He's probably the only person who sees the recognition as a surprise. His performances are little tableaux vivants in which he casts himself as a motionless and mysterious figure. He hides his face behind masks and heavy makeup, surrounds himself with mystical objects and compose scenes evocative of ancient paintings, civilizations or dark figures of modern history. Presicce usually performs in front of a very limited number of spectators. The video presented at Strozzina documents La benedizione dei pavoni (the Benediction of the Peacocks), a performance he made for two children.
Strozzina is showing only that one work and the video only was worth the trip to Florence. I can't see why i shouldn't paste below a few images from some of his other works:
The rest of the show contained more gems.
Alessandro Ceresoli has covered a wall of the main exhibition room with aluminium plates that narrate the story of Alice Auma, a spirit-medium who led a rebellion against the Ugandan government forces of President Yoweri Museveni from August 1986 until November 1987. The narrative starts as an introduction text of the wikipedia entry about Alice Auma and then takes a more allegorical tone.
It is hard not to see Loredana Di Lillo's Black & White Italian Flag as a pungent comment on the political situation. This year sees the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. The celebration was contested by the Lega Nord, the powerful Northern League which is part of the coalition currently governing the country. The Lega is pushing forward its a separatist agenda and some of its members are known for walking out when the national anthem is played in public. Any display of the green white and red flag is bound to irk them.
Valentino Diego's radios are perfectly silent until you enter the room and unleash a cacophony. Grabbing the antennas with the hands allows you to modulate the sound.
The members of Invernomuto have filled a room with the Bobs. The first Bob is entirely fictional but he's also the only who is actually called Bob, the second is Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard, the third is musician Glenn Danzig.
Previously: E13 000625, the sound that hits you in the stomach.
Yesterday i spent a few hours in Florence to see Emerging Talents at Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina (CCCS). The exhibition brings the spotlight on 16 artists nominated to the 2011 Emerging Talents award, created by CCCS to identify, promote and support young Italian art.
The selected artists, aged between 25 and 35 years, are talented Italians whose work has found its way into galleries but has not yet won broad public recognition. I can't applaud enough the initiative, there are plenty of young Italian contemporary artists and most of them don't get half of the support they deserve.
The works on show are radically different from each other and i've discovered a few artists whose career i'm going to follow with much attention from now on. More about them soon. Today, i'm going to introduce the show with an artist many of you probably know.
A few years ago, Alberto Tadiello's work started touring the blogs. The dysfunctional and elegant music boxes of his EPROM piece proved popular with both the media art and the contemporary art world. Quite an achievement in itself.
The piece currently on view in Florence is directly inspired by early prototypes of sound weapons. As the artist explained to Italian mag arte e critica: I found a series of very suggestive images of some real "sound armies" set up by the Japanese army during the Second World War. They were like guns pointing to the sky, conceived for shooting down planes by using particular airwaves. Unlike current acoustic weapons, which are real weapons, those first prototypes have never been activated. Those images fascinated me a lot. This work probably still recalls these suggestions. It is a structure that juts out a lot from the wall, overhanging and conveying a sort of dangerousness. It produces a deep guttural sound and can be "exhibited" in every sense, both from a spatial and a sound viewpoint. It is fixed to and hanging on the wall and sound becomes a physical presence in movement able to sculpt the space.
Tadiello's version of the weapon looks down, it is dark, sleek, mysterious and looks like a commercial device (its name actually refers to an identification code for car horns.)
The "deep guttural sound is triggered by visitors as they draw near the sculpture. Just like the disconcerting noise of the Japanese weapons was engineered to unsettle the enemy, the sound of Tadiello's sculpture hits the visitor in the stomach, becoming a physical presence that shapes the space. Unfortunately or fortunately for me, the installation had been turned off yesterday afternoon which tells you how troubling the sound must have been for the employees who spend the whole day surveying the gallery.
Credit image on the homepage: Alberto Tadiello, E13 000625, 2010. Electric horns, pipes, cables, transformers, metal brackets, steel tie-rods, 60 x 150 x 110 cm. Courtesy T293, Naples.