A POSSIBLE INTRODUCTION TO THE SÅM RESIDENCY AND THE VISUAL EXPLORATION OF THE LESSINIA MOUNTAINS.
BY STEVE BISSON
The SÅM artistic residency is a great opportunity to explore the dense microcosm of Lessinia. An area that collects a rich geography of values witnessed by the creation of the homonymous Regional Park, in Italy, at the end of the last century. As the curator of the first edition of this program I felt the responsibility of giving significance to the design cycle that opened up, while orchestrating the artistic production.
The work “A Line Made by Walking” by Richard Long, 1967, is a cornerstone for the subsequent development of Land Art, and more generally the environmental consciousness. During one of his hitchhiker itineraries from the Bristol house to the St. Martin school in London he stops in a field in Wiltshire. Here he begins to walk back and forth, almost an insistent march, until the grass crushed to the ground and began to reflect the light while drawing a straight path, an invisible linear sculpture. The episode testifies to the potential role of photography in recording “actionism”, recalls the dialectical presence/absence dear to Walter Benjamin, and influences subsequent generations and practices of performative art. Designing in space as the result of a gradual merge with earth, a real discovery of signs, colors, stories and messages. This is a lesson by the British artist. The practice of walking as a necessary ingredient is synonymous of a slow and curious proceed.
In the furrow traced by Long moves intentionally Davide Galandini who brings to the surface the presence of columnar basalts in Lessinia. He ideally recovers a disused path, once traveled by locals, thus raising an environmental awareness, and a cognitive space built upon the memories of past generations who were used to bath at the bottom of the Lago Tondo, close to this magnificent geological structures. His outdoor installation is an invitation not to be overwhelmed by indifference. He marks his territory with his own goodwill well before that with a stone. Ana Blagojevic takes a similar path but rather more personal. Her journey “to the center of the earth”, among the typical karst cavities of Lessinia, is a tense and difficult path in the dark soul of the mountain. A chance for Ana to measure her own limits, fears, hopes. Her personal hidden territory, just as in nature there is always a dark side.
The experience of Joseph Beuys, in the early eighties of the last century, is a significant manifesto on the relationship with nature, though the production of the German artist should not be reduce to an ecological perspective. With the Fluxus, Beuys has shared the idea of art as an instrument for conscience. Art is everywhere and it is for everyone. The friendship with the spouses Lucrezia De Domizio and Buby Durini, often takes him to Italy, to Bolognano, where he realizes some concepts that still invest contemporary criticism. The defense of nature, as De Domizio writes, is a rich operational and spiritual path that employs Beuys in the last fifteen years of his life in defense of man, human values and creativity. The “battle” of Beuys in reality has never ceased as in the case of the 7,000 simulated oaks in Kassel. An imagined wood that makes a mockery of the art market, as an example for the future, a seed for change, and an alert to human possibilities. Going beyond aesthetic vanity, sterile speculations on the medium, conceptual bricolage, the need for self-esteem. Any residence that aims to a real impact in a territory should start from ethical assumptions. This is Beuys’ legacy. I find it difficult to read a visual exploration released from an environmental awareness. Self-referencing is not a crime but it is no longer useful. Nicolò Lucchi recognizes in the natural element of water the strength and ability to transform and transform itself, to generate a geological landscape. With his imagination, with his desire to simulate natural processes in order to de-contextualize them and make them truly visible, he returns the slow dimension of time that endlessly molds the earth regardless of the needs of its inhabitants. A time barely perceptible and that escapes the impatient look of man.
In the photographic series ‘Diaframma 11, 1/125, luce naturale’ (1970-1979) Luigi Ghirri portrays people from behind, in the act of observing either a map, a picture or something else. This creates a different depth and puts the accent on the role of the photographer in the staging. The artist is part of the scene, and his/her gaze will never be omnipotent. Basically the artist is betrayed by his/her own personality/filter. This raises questions about the ultimate ability to restore through photography the identity of a place. Identity does not exist by itself, it is the result of a social relationship. Therefore human relationships must be deepened, and this requires time and patience. The latest being a quality hardly grown by photographers moved by anxiety. Lessinia is not a map, but an archipelago of small communities, each with their stories that go back in time and recall ancient beliefs, gestures and rituals. Among the mountains, these stories still retained a pagan aftertaste, as peoples who lived in the woods respected their secrets and properties. The stories were transmitted orally, each one with a different accent. Thanks to these stories, listening, rhythm and music were practiced. Today, however, the stories are made with few images that obstruct the sight, often with the arrogance of objectivity. Emanuele Brutti has chosen to tell the legends and fables typical of the oral tradition of the Lessini mountains. During the long winter these stories were told in the stable because it was warmer there. Close to the animals. And their contents were mingled with beliefs and “village” facts. Today these words still feed new fantasies and artistic interpretations.
Another topic involves the so called “faith” in images. The work of Joan Fontcuberta calls into question this sort of axiom in the history of photography. Let’s be clear, he is not the only one. Advances in technology and digital manipulation have long weaned the most radical believers. Surrealism has won. If once photography could unmask reality today, the opposite is more likely to happen. Well, it was said of the Catalan photographer, his book ‘The Photography of Nature / The Nature of Photography’ from the title plays with the theme of photography as a means of representation and reveals the ambiguity of fiction. The latter is now more than a veiled attempt, it is almost a resignation to contradiction. For Hegel, opposition is the spring of reality. To distinguish between good and evil we must relate to one another. Thus, we can say that art like that of Fontcuberta contributes to the dialectic between reality and fiction in the quest to produce a synthesis. Reality is full of contradictions, whatever it may be said. Heraclitus cites the example of the sea water that can be impure to humans and pure to fish. Photographically speaking, therefore, there is no absolute truth to be claimed, nor even the need to drown in the logic of the opposites. Rather we can objectively explore the assumptions of truthfulness of legends, traditions and specificity. So does Chiara Bandino when evoking a local story of archaeological falsification that she puts on stage through historical fragments, artifacts, archival images and visual notes. The viewer is invited to question the nature of the flints, to grasp the subtle distinction between objects out of time and artifacts out of place, to reflect on the common fascination for antiquities and past findings.
The landscape, even that of Lessinia, is above all memory, and memory is often associated with images. More than anything, it’s by seeing that we recognize something. And what is the value of this memory? This leads us to consider the authenticity of the gaze that is also measured in the ability to distinguish what is significant from what is not. In many territories there are aspects that go unnoticed, that are forgotten by the community or that are silent. The task for the explorer is to discover them, to interpret them and bring them to light if necessary. With sincerity and less arrogance. Paola Fiorini opens herself to that ‘lived space’ dear to the geographer Armand Frémont. In her journey she chose to meet with few “guardians” of ancient crafts and knowledge. Their faces, hands, signs define and reveal an intimate reality and, together, the need for an active memory. Francesco Biasi instead decides to exhume memories fixed in old family photo albums depicting jaunty, easy, funny, casual moments in the snow. He then cuts out the secondary figures, the “extras”, to bring them all back to the foreground. And with them the meanings of preserving photography, along with that need to see and feel oneself in the images of others.
The SÅM residence opens with a first collection of works that demonstrates the potential of Lessinia when compared to visual arts. The organizers have the merit of supporting this healthy and different contamination. Administrators have a duty to facilitate the progress of such practices. The community has the pleasure of participation as long as it is careful. This initiative, like any plant, needs the right lighting to grow.