THE STEAM OF OUR BREATH
Adrian Paci’s workshop, undertaken during his stay in Trivignano Udinese for Rave Residency, is difficult to describe in all its complexity. Although the experience was brief, to give an all-encompassing account of the outcomes is almost impossible, and not just from a methodological point of view.
On the one hand, it is in some way natural for the participating artists to draw inspiration from the farmhouse environment and the discussion of the subject of naturalness, which was the theme proposed by Paci. On the other hand it isn’t easy to assess the results of all this through an exhibition which brings together the work of such a mixed group of artists, each with their own artistic research. For this very reason it’s impossible to assess the effect of this brief workshop on the poetics of artist with their own well-established and characteristic personal research. It could be more interesting to consider how the reflections on naturalness have in some way stimulated a homogeneous vision and approach.
What is naturalness? The first thing that comes to mind is spontaneity, processes that occur with no apparent control, like they do in nature, with no obvious guiding hand. Naturalness rhymes with simplicity, well at least it does in the common perception. Paci started from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s thoughts: according to Pasolini, nature is never natural, quite the opposite, it is marvellous and extraordinary in its etymological meaning of “extra-ordinary”: beyond the “ordinary”. Paci invited the participants to overturn the idea that all which happens naturally is necessarily natural, spontaneous and good. Nature can be terrible, evil or mean, egotistical or animal-like: it can be cruel and attractive at the same time, a far cry from the characteristics of kalokagathia which are commonly, and simplistically, attributed to it.
The artist’s work moves fluidly between the opposing poles of the natural and the man-made. These are the elements that make the magic of the artwork possible, capable of drawing energy from thought as well as from the body. However it is precisely in this articulation of opposing approaches and emotional states (such as kindness/ cruelty or strength/ weakness, etc) that nature can become the magistra vitae for artists, an inexhaustible model from which to draw inspiration, not so much as a model to copy (the mimesys which has been the daily bread for generations of artists), but rather as an inspiring principle in the development of ones own work.
Indeed, the reflections that took place in the farmhouse of the Rave Residency were a careful examination of what making art means and of its underlying dynamics. During the workshop Paci talked with the artists about naturalness, but in actual fact he was talking about the profession of the artist and of the principles surrounding the daily development of the work. These principles are macro-vectors that are employed day after day in personal research, in the hard work undertaken to create those vessels of political, perceptive and conceptual meaning which are artworks. In the end, being an artist means never having to relinquish any of the liberties which are granted, looking for poetry in numbers or mechanical devices, as well as discovering the mechanics and the labour hidden in emotional processes. These are very diverse, real, practical or immaterial stimuli which naturally, like the steam of our breath, settle on the windows of our houses in winter.
Channel, 2011, perfume bottles, water, fish, algae, life-size
The essential oils that make up the perfumes we use to change our personal scent are mostly extracted from cultivated plants, although some essential oils used in perfumery are also of animal origin. A perfume is often worn to smell nicer or be more seductive, to hide one’s scent and take on a new olfactory identity.
With his installation Enrico Bernardis seeks to overturn not just the idea of that which is natural, but also of that which is desirable. The installation consists of an eau de toilette whose fragrance comes from the action of a tiny fish [*] and algae living in the bottle. Anybody using the perfume would take on all the force, the energy, but paradoxically, also the animal and vegetable odour of the two unwitting guests.
Effigie, 2011, synthetic plaster, mixed media, 100 x 100 x 25 cm
Rok Bogataj’s sculpture is formed out of natural and man-made elements. It is made up of small sections of blue plaster that look like chewed bubble gum; such as we might see stuck to the pavement, assembled into a geometrical rectangular block with a square base. The work is a kind of social sculpture where two completely heterogeneous parts (the formless component elements and the regular shaped external form) demonstrate their necessarily complementary nature: that is to say, one cannot exist without the other.
As such Effigie confounds the viewer, who cannot choose between interpreting the work as a complete and plastic form or the inextricable tangle of the rough surface. Unsure, the viewer might reach out a hand to touch and understand that which the eye cannot see.
Tema, 2011, projection on curtain, fan, sound system, dimensions according to exhibiting space
The installation Tema presents us with the voice of a woman reading, and the photograph of a girl projected on the curtain at the window, billowing gently in the breeze (in actual fact there is a well hidden fan). Rita Correddu involved her mother in making this installation, asking her to read out loud something the artist had written at school as a child. This work brings together biographical elements and an incisive narrative ability. The evocative nature of this work comes from the strong element of synaesthesia and the emotional crescendo whose tension is only released at the end of the reading.
Correddu’s work also draws attention to the tree under which she portrays herself sitting, a symbolic element referring to strength and the protection from harm and fromthe elements/ dangers of the world.
The day of domestication, 2011, wood, cement, plastic, battery and electric wire, dimensions according to exhibiting space.
A fence is a rather elementary device used to mark out ownership or rights over an area. It is more commonly used to protect those outside it, but often also those who are inside it. In The day of domestication Nicola Genovese creates a visual barrier between two areas which can be crossed. This is made with some short poles and an electrical wire running on top of them which will give a very low voltage electric shock if touched. In this case the fence is primarily a sculptural element drawing a polygonal chain on the floor.
The artist wants to draw attention to the idea of barriers and the dynamics of inclusion/exclusion, to the ambiguity of any system created to divide, break up or safeguard.
Pornografie, 2011, six drawings, ink and pastel/crayon on paper, 21.0 x 29.7 cm each
The subjects of Ryts Monet’s drawings are men and women seeking unlikely and imaginative sexual encounters with animals. Playfulness and transgressive erotica seem to be the themes in these relationships, but in fact the drawings point to the impossibility of a normal relationship beyond the seeking of pleasure by the dominant part. What is being portrayed here is a one way, abusive sexual relationship, in which the animal has no possibility to choose or refuse.
The humans’ love becomes a smothering act of power, a pornography of affection, in which pleasure is the representation of the lack of communication, it becomes a one way act of violence, establishing no communication.
Blessed Birds, 2011, wax from votive candles, paper, installation
The work arises from an event that happened near the artist’s house a few months before, but the same phenomenon also occurred in different parts of the world: the finding of entire flocks of birds dead on the ground. The scientific community is divided over the causes of the event; here it is commemorated by displaying birds made out of white wax from votive candles on the floor. These small but detailed sculptures of dead birds, the legs and plumage clearly visible, invite us to think about disasters beyond human control and also the constant abuse of the environment we live in.
The suffering of those birds snatched from the sky embarrasses us, calls for our compassion, and asks us to consider the fleeting nature of our lives.
Anatraia, Wallpaper with ducks, 2011, video, 3′13”
Cute, colourful, nice and merry, Massimo Premuda’s ducks belong to a world of animals which brings us back to fairy tales and our childhood, where animals not only can speak and think, but also have a life and adventures much like those of men. The rhythm of the images and the actual environment in which the animals live, tell us something about ourselves: they aren’t mere animated objects, but complex creatures mirroring our emotions, fears and desires. Premuda’s video ultimately recalls the fables by the Roman writer Phaedrus from two thousand years ago. Although we wouldn’t like to admit it, these cute, webbed-footed creatures talk about us.
Patent: oppression, 2011, installation, video and drawings (each 42.0 x 29.7 cm)
Nada Prlja’s work arises from industrial patents used in animal farming. During her research the artist found the patents for the industrial handling of farm animals in a production line, such as poultry for human consumption. However the rigorous and scientific approach, primarily intended to reduce times and increase profit, has no respect for the animals. No care is taken to reduce animal suffering: each action is part of an infernal ordeal in which machines rip wings and beaks off, and inflict all sort of cruelty on the animal. These are genuine assembly lines of death and suffering, where everything is regulated by patented machines, devices that people know nothing about when they purchase their meat in neat supermarket trays. Prlja’s drawings and videos are a caution and a warning to make more responsible and moral choices.
Tu puoi non, 2011, pencil writing on wall, dimensions according to exhibiting space
Marc Schmitz’s nonsensical writing on a wall unites two opposing concepts. The verb “potere” (“can”) and the negative ”non” (“not”) are brought together and made to explode in a statement which is both hinted at and obscure. The style is as concise as the responses from an oracle, where a degree of truth eludes the viewer and the interpretation always rests on events. Schmitz takes meaning away from words: the viewer cannot tell if the sentence is an unfinished attempt to say something or a powerful warning about the value of words.
Uomo quercia, 2011, photographic print, 100 x 70 cm
The man that Lara Trevisan portrays blends into the rocks and the trunk of a tree. It is a mysterious, somehow unsettling figure, and makes the viewer wonder what secret reason he has for wanting to camouflage himself. Is it a way to withdraw from the world, to appear – hiding his face – in a moment of existential solitude.
Is the man protecting himself from the invasiveness of our gaze? Perhaps he is inviting us to look elsewhere, not to look for features or details, but to pay attention to that which we cannot see, to imagine and project onto his image imaginary identities, worlds and feelings.
From zero to one, 2011, mixed media, dimensions according to exhibiting space
Leonardo Ulian’s installation delicately and carefully brings together artificial elements and simple naturalness. The artist created delicate bird shaped origami which is moved by an assembly of computer fans. Nature is thus recreated through the use of technological artefacts and materials. The work invites us to consider the conventional and philosophical value of the concept of naturalness, which belongs to a sphere of thought in which very different and distant element can co-exist. Therefore the idea of naturalness is a convention, a space in which- to our amazement- the simplest things can coexist with the most complex. Observing the birds dance, the viewer is unwittingly playing with philosophy.
Filip Van Dingenen
Souvenir of a Donkey, 2011, Grappa Nonino, ceremony, wooden box, screen printing, 18.0 x 19.5 x 26.7 cm (copy I /7)
Lady Chatterley, the female donkey that lives in the farmhouse (rescued by Tiziana Pers, co-founder of Rave Residency) is of Macedonian origin. This animal somehow migrated from the Balkans all the way to Friuli Venezia-Giulia.
Filip Van Dingenen’s work sends one of the world-famous symbols of Friuli, a bottle of Grappa Nonino, on a journey in the opposite direction. The Belgian artist created a specially printed bottle of Grappa that was given to the Macedonian Consul on the inauguration day, as a gift to the county where the animal was born. Van Dingenen becomes the driving force in a process of indemnification and appreciation for that distant country and demonstrates that this heart warming liquor can work to promote cross border relationships.
Brownie Queen, 2011, oil on canvas, 200 x 160 cm
Pornography often represents sexual intercourse in which power dominates over erotica. This is what consumers who arouse themselves with cheap internet images are looking for. We might consider that every action implies the manipulation of power, and here Velišček uses a style of painting which is powerful and violent even in the brushstrokes. The painting shows an image of actors in Nazi uniforms sadistically whipping a defenceless woman on a sofa with her thighs spread open. Both the woman and the men in Nazi uniforms are symbols (not even particularly shocking ones nowadays) of a degradation where the images which surround us no longer have any meaning other than being erotic and manipulative. The power lies in the hands of the viewer, who is quite unaware of it, but who could easily look away.