On the 23rd. of September I opened my studio for a visit with breakfast, a very nice idea, part of a three day festival “l’eredità delle donne” focused on female artists
It had been a lot of work to clean and set up the studio for this visit, but as always very good for me to arrange my work, see it from different angles, review all the hidden spots of this beautiful place where I have been working for so many years.
Three rooms to set up, with quite a number of different work, but with the precious help of my friend and assistant Lilian Mattuschka I made it and was really happy about it all. It was a bit like seeing my own work from afar as a visitor to my own studio.
Lots of old things to discover anew, a fresh look, some wonder about how pieces from different periods can dialogue with each other.
and a much clearer view on what my work is really about. It is about the sensation of time, the time that is spent by working on it, the time that is intrinsic in most of the materials I use, enhanced by the glances of my ladies. Their presence, their size which is a kind of measure for the rest.
The idea of Bella per Forza 30×60 was born in Zagarise, in 2016, on the occasion of the second edition of the Giardini delle Esperidi Festival, an event that combines the revitalisation of the Southern Italian mountains and its villages with the value attributed to culture and perspectives in art (poetry, literature, music, figurative, performative arts) as tools to comprehend the intrinsic reality of the area and its cultural identity.
The basic idea of Bella per Forza, involves the use of “elementary” materials – the cotton fabric of Prato (Tuscany), the potato of the Sila area (Calabria), two iconic products of the respective realities. The materials immediately bring to mind, an exchange between different communities, locations and people who want to dialogue and who as they have already done symbolically, will constitute the stages of departure and arrival of the imagined path of Bella per Forza.
In detail, Bella per Forza – as a physical “object” of participated art, installation and performance – has developed around the following idea:
1) decorate single cotton patches of the size of 30 * 60 cm, in different occasions, by different people in complete freedom, using cut and engraved potatoes as stamps (a technique often used in creativity courses for children)
2) sew the decorated patches together by hand to obtain a bigger and bigger cloth;
3) “unroll” the cloth in particular occasions (with always different performative acts), the locations of the “unrolling” will be chosen and carried out by the members of the communities that have contributed to the decoration of the single patches;
4) use the cloth as an element which, through its symbolic and visual force, colours and temporarily transforms the space and its surroundings.
Therefore, a canvas-collage by definition in progress, which establishes connections, transforms and is continuously transformed.
Colours, drawings, motifs each with a strong “individual” specificity and which, added to each other, create a new formal and aesthetic entity, which changes scale and meaning. A union that “produces” beauty and where each single contribution is at the same time irreplaceable (no one is the same as the other) and interchangeable. There are no leaders because all are leaders.
The work, as a practice of participatory art, aims to obtain that different communities, more or less stable (whole localities in particular events but also the guests of a retirement home for the elderly or groups of students), acquire awareness about the beauty that arises from collective work, where everyone is contributing in a process, in respect of just some very simple rules (size of the canvas, choice of colours, sewing mode).
The operation, along a path started in Calabria last July, showed how collective doing and the sense of communion brought about by a shared manual work with the essential seriousness in children’s games concretize what is often considered only a utopia: produce beauty through a work done together without competition.
As expected, among other things, the collective work has become an object that, beyond the documentary path that is being realized, remains and can be used easily, in different ways and in different places, each time acquiring new form and new sense .
As an example: in Zagarise it has become a carpet spread on the steps of the splendid medieval Cathedral of the town, on which a theatrical performance took place, in Salerno it was the tapestry-showcase of the National Conference of clown-doctors held in the Hospital Civile della città, in Cannistrà (province of Messina), has colored the streets of the village where a project of urban regeneration is taking place.
The objectives that we believe have already been achieved (and which will be further extended) through “Bella per forza 30×60” have been:
-stimulate a choral and manual work that involved and put in dialogue people and collectives, “sets with variable composition”, even geographically distant;
-receiving / recalling the traditions of belonging (the use of fabrics, sewing, etc.) representing and ritualizing them in a simple and collective work;
– make visible the need for a link between people and between them and the urban scenarios, places, houses, that is all that constitutes the identity of each community, declining it not only to the past but also to the present and the future, as an ever-changing entity.
Ultimately a work that, in a time that has largely lost the sense of being together and solidarity (internal, as well as the other), indicates the usefulness of new paths, strategies aimed at recovering the profound reasons for living social, through the recognition (of beauty) of diversity.
Organization and coordination
The “transit” of Bella per Forza in a place is basically organized,in three phases:
1) small, individual and “itinerant” workshops at schools, associations, or within festivals and cultural events, where all the materials necessary for the realization of single panels (precisely the size of 30 * 60 cm) are provided. Each participant will decorate the panels in total creative freedom, using the potato as stamp.
2) assembly of the panels, into one drape, performance of sewing
3) “Exposure”, opening of the drape and its use to highlight / reread significant locations
Bella per Forza is now more than 50m long and about 5m wide and more than 600 people of all ages have contributed to its creation.
I have been invited to participate in an exhibition of artist books with the title doppio senso/ Dual meaning. We were asked to work with a book of our choice, a printed book and to with our intervention to amplify, enlarge or deconstruct the sense of the text it containes.
Thirst (Sete) di Jo Nesbo è il libro che ho scelto.
Per il modo che ho di lavorare, scegliere è in effetti un termine impreciso: le mie “scelte” sono sempre un misto di casualità e di deliberato intervento sul caso. Così è stato anche questa volta: all’invito di Simonetta mi sono guardata intorno e il libro di Nesbo, un autore che leggo quasi esclusivamente quando sono in viaggio, era lì, davanti a me. Pronto per essere “lavorato”.
In questo caso, il lavoro che ho subito immaginato era un doppio senso non come “senso sottostante” e “altro” ma come amplificazione del senso del libro.
Senza richiamare la trama del racconto, dirò solo che si tratta di un Nesbo, già di norma molto “gotico”, in piena deriva splatter, in cui ogni personaggio è portatore di una passione malata che contempla la morte come possibile via d’uscita.
Ecco, mi sono detta: farò un intervento col fuoco e con il filo. Col fuoco ho bruciato il libro in più parti, creando fori e lacerazioni , come le ossessioni portate alle loro estreme conseguenze lasciano nel racconto corpi feriti e anime devastate.
Col filo rosso il libro l’ho attraversato, “raddoppiandolo” come trama, pista di segni e, ovviamente, cucitura. Come fra i personaggi di Nesbo, che cercano inutilmente di ricucire le proprie ferite facendo esplodere le pulsioni più indicibili, i miei fili “legano” le pagine senza un ordine o un esito prestabiliti. E qualsiasi soluzione non può essere che provvisoria.
THIRST (SETE) by Jo Nesbo is the book I have chosen.
For the way I work, “to choose” is in fact an inaccurate term: my “choices” are always a mixture of randomness and deliberate intervention on the case.
So it was also this time: at the invitation of Simonetta I looked around and Nesbo’s book, an author that I read almost exclusively when I’m traveling, was there, in front of me. Ready to be “worked”.
In this case, the work I immediately imagined was a double meaning not as “underlying sense” and “other” but as an amplification of the meaning of the book.
Without recalling the plot, I will only say that it is a Nesbo, usually very “gothic”, in full drift splatter; Manipulation, violence, sick sex and “extreme” mental deviations. All in the background of a rich and environment-friendly Norway but teeming with toxic, alcoholic, marginal of all kinds. An environment in which every character of the plot is the bearer of a passion that contemplates death as possible (and sometimes inevitable) way out.
So I decided for an intervention with fire and with thread. With the fire of my fusion torch I burned the book in several parts, creating holes and lesions, as the obsessions carried to their extreme consequences leave wounded bodies and devastated souls in the story. I crossed the book with the red thread, “doubling it” as a plot, a trail of signs and, of course, a seam. As among the characters of Nesbo, who try in vain to sew up their wounds exploding the most unspeakable drives, my threads “bind” the pages without a pre-established order or an outcome of some use (and here the thought would go to the ontological uselessness of art, but this would take us too far..). The mystery of events, of each event at the end, can never be completely solved, we may arrive at temporary solutions that refer to other mysteries.
The conclusion of any investigation, even of those that lead to the affirmation of some truth in THIRST, therefore refers to new obscurities.
To other “holes” of understanding. Like those who are now in the body of a book, this book, inside the pages and in its interstices.
It must be said that the detective investigating the cases in question is called Harry HOLE (..).
So really the choice was almost obligatory.
Doris Maninger: Austrian Landscape
Text with Maurizio Alampi who transformed my ghosts into guests
The suggestions, all contained in the texts chosen to delimitate the concept of the event ‘Hostipitality’ immediately sounded familiar to me. More. It seemed to me that they concerned both my life and my work, summarising in a certain sense both of them.
The journey, the expectation and the surprise of the ‘Other’ and its diversities, the ambiguity of the relationships between those who welcome and those who are welcomed, the exercise of power, the giving and taking that are more or less constraining: these are the aspects which seem to have marked my days with more intensity, pushing me to make choices – not always conscious – both as a woman and as an artist.
What was asked of me was a reflection on my country of origin, Austria, a land I have been trying to “deal with” for many years, ever since I left at the age of twenty to move to Calabria: the South of Southern Italy, a beautiful and difficult region of migration where, in the course of another twenty years, I felt as a foreigner at first, then guest and at the end, also a little “Calabrian”, assimilating a migrant perspective (though on the contrary) that enriched and transformed me.
Austria: notoriously a strange country, that became a (small) Nation only 100 years ago,having previously been the private property of the longest and most powerful dynasty of European rulers (the Habsburgs). An empire in a certain sense “premodern” (in the Europe of nations) and, at the same time, an anticipation of all the problems of cohabitation between ethnic groups, cultures, languages, different economies under the same institutional “roof” (many consider it a sort of precedent of the current European Union). Perhaps, this being for so many centuries “guests” of a higher entity, of a monarchy whose symbol, the double-headed eagle, looked both east and west, has created in its citizens a certain indeterminacy about the rules of the house, or at least the possibility of never feeling completely responsible for it.
Hence, a country that has gone through the tragedies of the last century, with the direct involvement in the Nazi Reich, an involvement never fully assumed as a “national” responsibility, but on the contrary represented from the position and perspective of the “victim”. A country that in a world divided in two by the cold war has subsequently applied a successful model of equidistance at an international level, driven by an economic system with some moderate elements of “socialism” and has finalised the construction of a postcard-like tourist image; an image that today, after an initial (apparently) successful and serene integration in the European Union, has to deal with the imposition of a political leadership that receives its consent thanks to explicit anti-migrant messages and psychotic affirmations of a new (quite uncertain) national identity.
The installation took shape – I always work this way – starting from my favorite material: textile. More precisely, a brown knitted jacket from the 1930s, worn out, moth-eaten and full of holes, which I have mended in different colours over a long time. Inside of it is thick white cotton, to give structure and enhance the visibility of the holes. Finally, an intricate embroidery that suggests, at a close observation, landscapes, pastures, baroque bell towers, the dominant imaginary of the Austrian nation, all left in a field of indeterminacy (as undetermined its identity remains).
A dress without a body and without a head but with a structure capable of sustaining itself, which still contains the signs of past grandeur and care that generations of “guests”, halfway between subjects and citizens, have dedicated to its construction. Basically a ghost, and like most ghosts, headless.
The colours I chose are the brown of the earth and the green of the forests (which were also the colours of the first Nazi uniforms), the red of peasant clothes (and of blood), the white of innocence (and of the self-proclaimed superior “race”): all that evokes, with its load of ambiguity, the “Heimat”, this great word of German romanticism, which can express a sentiment of poignant love for one’s own land but also the selfish closure of that same land towards every supposed “invasion”. A word that refers to the nightmares of a recent past but at the same time to the nostalgia for the homeland left behind, in this sense also the word of migrants. A word, whose initial ‘H’ is legible in the intricate patterns of the embroidery, as if ready to reoccupy a larger space of the scene.
To support the “bust” on its top, like the columns in many Biedermaier houses, a dark table of an austerity only slightly softened by three legs with a lion’s paw.
A typical piece of furniture, part of the country´s history and still present in the values of a certain Catholic bourgeoisie, is performing solidity, the conviction of the superiority of its moral principles, with few concessions to decoration.
And then, under the table and the bust, is a carpet.
A rug made of socks of various origins, more or less from the same period of the jacket, repeatedly mended with infinite care, an expression not only of a necessity but also of an ethics of “conservation” (peasant, petty bourgeois, catholic). It´s a reuse of clothing between generations that speaks of the value attributed to things of use. It speaks of how the symbols of the powerful always rest on daily life, on the trust, and the devotion of the many.
The darning, stitched together and changing scale, have multiplied their visual strength and their “beauty” as I created this internal plot holding them together and I obtained an external perimeter that almost took on the form of a heart.
I like to think that it can be a metaphor of what Austria, defined in countless slogans “the heart of Europe”, certainly has been, that Austria is no longer, if not in a merely geographical sense, and that Austria might return to being it, if finally it would confront itself with this past (even with its “honorable” parts).
Because I think it is inevitable that the carpet will remember the images that most of all Austria would like to remove from memory (its own and that of others), that of the heaps of objects belonging to deportees in concentration camps, perhaps the most indelible image of the Nazi nightmare .
But the carpet is also the landscape trampled by many feet, the feet of the countless individuals who have crossed it over the centuries, different in culture, languages, religion, who with their lives have left an important legacy to modernity: the dream of the possibility of accepting unity in diversity, of living together and managing to make of difference an inestimable wealth.
This is a “legacy” that has fascinated artists and intellectuals alike and which does not register the same interest in contemporary political elites (starting with the Austrian ones).
To complete, in the strict sense of the term, Austrian Landscapes, there is a thoughtful woman in porcelain, standing as a unit of measurement of “everything” that I tried to express. An observer inside the installation but also, visibly, outside of it, sitting on the only piece of cloth that is not a sock but a “grip” from the kitchen. A glove – very old and “used” too – which serves to protect your hands from burning, a carpet in the carpet that isolates her from all the rest, a small area, a bit like a sacred home.
I would like that the woman, beyond any possible reading, could turn out to be the three-dimensional epitome of the concept and of the questions I wanted to make “visible”: can one be without history by having a long history? Can one remain without a true idea of the future by having such a heavy past?
A feminine look at the world, capable of going beyond apparent differences and not projecting one’s own desires and fears onto others, could help to indicate new paths of thought and action?
A nation whose key to success has historically been “marriage diplomacy” (Tu felix Austria nube *), should be particularly sensitive to the topic.