Venezia 1968, photo © Archivio Alberto D'Amico /Silvestro Lodi foto.
P A R T I C O L A R E
Art That Sparks Unrest
a cura di Andrzej Turowski e Grzegorz Musiał
3.06.- 26.11. 2011
vernissage: venerdģ, 3 giugno 2011, 19:00 – 24:00
saranno presenti gli artisti
Anteprima per la stampa: giovedģ, 2 giugno, 2011, 10:00 – 18:00
Campo San Polo 2177
Giovanni Anselmo, Mirosław Bałka, Elżbieta Jabłońska, Zuzanna Janin, Jerzy Janiszewski, Katarzyna Kozyra, Zofia Kulik, Goshka Macuga, Angelika Markul, Gioia Meller Marcovicz, Anna Molska, Ewa Partum, Józef Robakowski, Jonasz Stern, Mladen Stilinović, Marek Szczęsny, Stefan i Franciszka Themerson, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Andrzej Wróblewski, Gilberto Zorio, Artur Żmijewski
Archivio Alberto D'Amico/Silvestro Lodi, Radio 3 Rai, Il Gazzettino, Marsilio, Associated Press /Fotolink
The exhibition "PARTICOLARE. Art That Sparks Unrest" deals with the complex relations between contemporary art and politics, and poses the difficult question of the place of radical art in contemporary democracies. It consists of two main parts: the first historical, and the second covering the present time. Shown alongside them, the film and photographic works of Stefan Themerson, a member of the 20th century Polish nonconformist and political avant-garde, provides an overarching leitmotif for the whole exhibition.
The first element of the show's title, "Particolare", is derived from the work of the Italian artist Giovanni Anselmo, - Particolare - "detail" – or "singularity", or, as an adjective, "specific" - signifies what is individual, separate and exceptional. "In a society governed by a minority," according to the hero in one of Stefan Themerson's stories, "Democracy (means) the defence of the rights of the majority. But in a society governed by the majority, Democracy is Democracy only if it means the defence of the rights of the minority.". Anselmo, who began his career in the late 1960s, was closely linked to the oppositional movements and was a cofounder of the "arte povera" ("poor art") style. Another Italian artist represented in the exhibition, Gilberto Zorio, comes from the same artistic background. They constitute the political and artistic context for all works presented at the exhibition.
"PARTICOLARE" presents works by artists who, within democratic systems, position themselves critically at the centre of social conflicts and provoke proliferating doubts and question false answers, intervene into social space. It is "art that sparks unrest." The processes of democratization of today's societies constantly come up against political struggle and ideological divisions among the powers that be, as well as dangerous manipulations by those in authority who exploit populist, xenophobic and nationalist sentiments. The fundamental mode of operation of radical art in the democracy of contestation is critique, and its method is "civil disobedience".
Two watershed dates define the history of contemporary democracy in the exhibition: 1968 and 1989. The year 1968 and the revolts that took place in various parts of the world at that time collectively created a great wave of protest movements directed against an increasingly autonomized authority and alienating culture. In 1989 the world was swept by a wave of revolution and liberation. Notably, in Central and Eastern Europe countries stood up against mono-party system and Communist governments, building new, grassroot democracies: Poland saw the rise of "Solidarity" (1980) and in Germany the Berlin Wall came down (1989). Rising period of economical and political transformation has been, still is, diffitult in social terms.
The exhibition opens with an installation by Mirosław Bałka, a metaphor of haunting memory and sinister emptiness. The grim history of humanism in the 20th century and the gravest crisis of the concepts of freedom and justice overshadowing democracy today.
It is a first warning and a crucial message, providing an introduction to the whole exhibition. Its ambience is shaped by documentary photographs from a 1968 revolt in Venice, as well as posters of Lotta Continua, reprints of the pages from Venetian daily Il Gazzettino from the same time. Further on there are also journals, books and a radio broadcast of Tre colori, remixed archival materials of Rai 3 – documents relating to events of March '68 in Rome and Venice. On the other side of the room a video collage projection of clips from the 1977 film, "Una giornata particolare" ("A Special Day"), directed by Ettore Scola, relating to the history of fascism, echoing in seventies, a time of recurrent terrorist attacks. Still further there are materials telling about the history of Polish "Solidarity": logo of the movement designed by Jerzy Janiszewski (represented at the exhibition by the first printed copy of the logo signed by Lech Wałęsa), and an homage – a documentation of the performance by Ewa Partum (1982). In connection to above mentioned stands film story by Anna Molska, "The Weavers" ("Tkacze", 2009) and two works by Andrzej Wróblewski from the cycle "Chaired Woman" ("Ukrzesłowiona", 1957) – poignant reminder of alienated society under communist rule.
In democratic society, the presence of the Other is the basis of human rights, which guarantee a sense of people's dignity and worth. Manifestations of intolerance and oppression regarding choices of lifestyle and sexual identity, no matter where they arise and whatever their motivation, are always a grievous threat to democratic freedom. About the human right to freedom speak works in further rooms. Film by Józef Robakowski in form of a gay love ballad; then "Majka from the Movie", a TV story by Zuzanna Janin about a girl rebel who, in the quest to define herself, sets off on a journey and immerses herself in a simultaneist and virtual world of film images (found footage), documentation of a workshop by Elżbieta Jabłońska, organized for jobless men, whom the artist asked to make paper tulips on which their desires and dreams about work, their families and a better life were printed. Here we also find "The powwow democratic sculpture table for 12" by Gioia Meller Marcovicz, and the ironic inscription on the wall by Mladen Stilinović "An artist who cannot speak English is no artist".
Next room is devoted, i.a., to presentation of 20 films by Artur Żmijewski, from the series "Democracies". The artist documents here public protests, demonstrations and gatherings in support of rights and demands, community festivals, religious ceremonies, political parades, sporting events, mass theatrical stagings and celebrations of anniversaries. Żmijewski's shorties are confronted with graphic works by Jonasz Stern, the evidences of the war, the tragedy of the ghetto, the era of extermination. On the opposite wall we can see three large paper assemblages by Marek Szczęsny, selected from a series of portraits titled "Immigrants". From assemblage forms emerge tense faces, marked by alien features, lost identity, screaming resignation. In the middle of the room, is a work by Gilberto Zorio, "Star of Javelins" ("Stella di giavellotti", 1974). In its symbolism star touches upon sources of revolutions, signifies action and transmutation – lens focusing hottest, most heated disputes. And then, at the end of the room is "The Alien Mouthpiece" ("Porte-parole", 1994) by Krzysztof Wodiczko from his series "Instruments", a device in which an image and voice from a screen, that covers the mouth like a mask, speak of alienation and, beneath the hubbub of false voices, seek words of truth and identity, words unique and particular.
The next room presents the work of three women whose art can be associated with the idea of political anthropology. Here presented are works by Katarzyna Kozyra's "Blood Ties" ("Więzy krwi", 1995/2011), Zofia Kulik's photo collage installation, "From Siberia to Cyberia" ("Od Syberii do Cyberii", 1999) and "Snake Society", by Goshka Macuga (originally a fragment of the installation, "I Am Become Death", 2009). All three artist deal with the dependencies and relations of power in the field of cultures and civilizations in the broadest meaning of these terms. Their themes are the conflicts that arise at the intersection of national and ethnic cultures and issues of sexuality and gender, religious wars and fanaticism, the place of minorities and of exclusions, the meaning of memory and crises, and the rites and ceremonies of the contemporary world.
The exhibition ends with an installation by Angelika Markul ("Confessione", 2011). It is a kind of minimal form recalling modernist elementary structures. Here, however, it assumes the shape of a real walk-through body scanner of the kind used to screen people at airports or at the entrance to museums or large concert halls, except for one telling feature – it leads nowhere.
Walking around the expositon space we come couple of times upon "Particolare", by Giovanni Anselmo, work from which the exhibition took its title. It is a continuous project started by the artist in 1972 and still evolving. Newest rendition of "Particolare. Mentre la luce focalizza............" (1972-2011) installed in Palazzo Dona consists of three projectors and three slides. This most recent version has been located by the author in the courtyard and in the Gothic Room, while the idea of this ongoing project as a whole is to make us aware that reality can be seen as the sum of its individual components, as a multiplicity of details, gaps and exceptions, but will never be grasped in all its infiniteness. The world, man, things and life, as Anselmo adds elsewhere, are all forces in action. The important thing is that they should not petrify into an immobile form fixed once and for all.
Political art in democracy makes the obvious uncertain, it takes doubt as its raison d'źtre and makes crisis its habitat. The radicalism of such art has no limits: its participation extends to the whole of the public sphere, its testimony reaches even what is most deeply hidden, its criticism does not fear any truth, its disobedience knows no law. If democracy is a means of improving collective life (rather than a political utopia), and politics ensures a socially desired order (rather than political power), then radical art sparks that unrest without which democracy as a form of critical participation in the collective project would be unthinkable.
The exhibition "PARTICOLARE" is a second presentation of works from the collection of the Signum Foundation and those by artists closely connected to the Signum Foundation – the first one, "Awake and Dream", organized in 2009, marked the inauguration of the foundation presence in Venice. "PARTICOLARE" shows another, but equally important facet of the collection and its meaning. When the notion of desire determined the choice of works for the previous exhibition, the crucial problem of the present one is participation of artist in community, a place of art object in democracy. Shift in emphasis is also an apposition, a venture to voice different aspects of the same stance. In social space ethics of desire means equality, justice and freedom or desire of democracy, of responsible participation in the public life. Both concepts are paralel with two main fields of social activity of the Signum Foundation, which through emotions (desires and needs of concrete and particular individual) and through fair causes (human rights and critique of actual threats) is open onto the Other and Mutuality Community.
The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue in English and Italian (with a text inset in Polish), published in collaboration with the Marsilio Editori. Texts by: Giorgio Agamben, Federica Barozzi, Germano Celant, Cesare De Michelis, Grzegorz Musiał, Elisa Prete, Kacper Przyborowski, Andrzej Turowski, Andrzej Wirth.