08.11.2014 - 15.01.2015
MUSEO (CAVALLI E CAVALLE, CAVALLI CAVALLI)
text by Dario Giovanni Alì and Sara De Chiara - portraits and drawings Sebastiano Impellizzeri - arduino and technical Giacomo Leonzi - sculptures Francesco Messina courtesy Studio Copernico- display setting Piergiorgio Robino - and with the collaboration of Lorenzo Scotto di Luzio
Europe has finally overcome the year 1000, the end of the world anxiety is gone for everyone, at least for now. The weather is bizarrely warm, the crop is abundant and the natality rate spikes. Economy is flowering, universities are being created and cities exude colours: red, green and yellow buildings, polychromatic houses and cathedrals, it feels like watching the world through a kaleidoscope. This world, previously covered in rust, is now - after a few centuries - re- discovering movement; squares are crowded with characters moving from town to town, seeking fortune: hawkers, jokers, all types of barkers; pilgrim routes to Rome or Santiago de Compostela are getting more and more crowded; universities welcome foreign students every day; artists and wandering poets seeking success and fame are invited as guests in foreign courts. Economic relationships among distant countries, between East and West, are being regulated by merchants - who are revitalised by this new, broadened geography. It’s a constant contact between social bodies, a system of encounters and relationships that enriches culture and diffuses styles and trends and beyond geopolitical borders. Steadiness isn’t trendy anymore. Some people change their food habits, the taste in clothes becomes more sophisticated, elegant and expensive objects become more and more attractive. In the cities, the seeds of future bourgeoisie are being planted. The world has not become a living heaven, clearly. Society is still torn between those who pray, those who fight and those who work - the last ones paying for all - but it’s now easier to find merchants who are wealthier than nobles. The new born bourgeoisie - owning the tools but not the titles - aspires to be something more; they buy big homes, beautiful fabrics, and start to read more and more books. Time goes by and this bourgeoisie becomes more educated, increasing the demand for culture. Their favourite stories are - guess what - about kind and valorous knights who fight all around the world and bring back victories, honour and fame. This class has a taste for travels, a hunger for adventure being satisfied by the protagonists of their favourite bestsellers. Since not long ago, becoming a knight meant creating occasions for a life change by modifying your destiny with a sword. In a noble family, inheritance lied with the first born, while the second born was meant to become an ecclesiastic. All the other siblings had no other choice than giving their life away to become servants of a rich feudatory or an emperor, hoping to get back - before or after - a piece of land to build their fortune. Social climbing was typical of many knights, some of them being nothing else but legitimate killers riding a horse. During these years, however, the Church steps in: an army is needed, now more than ever. It’s the time of Crusades, of fighting in the name of God. Ecclesiastics name the knights “Christ’s soldiers”, giving them the custody of the poor and the oppressed and the evangelisation - through a “necessary” death - of all non believers. Literature, the unaware complicit of this process of dignification, plays its part. In northern France, tales are being told about the heroic adventures of Charlemagne’s paladins, as well as the magic and sentimental tales of the characters reunited under King Arthur’s court. Very soon myth and reality blend with each other, and knights become the owner sof values which never really existed, but were certainly longed for. The chivalric ideal is being forged: women, knights, arms and loves are the subjects of the first, rough experiments of our future modern romance. These literary attempts, born in France, will spread rapidly across Europe, finding fertile ground in Italy. Italian culture will begin to own and master the chivalric epic and in 1532 - in the middle of Renaissance and in a society which is radically different from France in the year 1000 - will produce the most complex and charming romance ever written in this genre: Orlando Furioso (the Frenzy of Orlando).
ON THE EXHIBITION
What’s the audience of a piece of work that re-proposes stories, reasons and characters of a consolidated tradition? Throughout the whole Middle Age and up until Renaissance, the epic-chivalric genre is broadly diffused and loved by both uneducated and educated audiences. The first category would listen to such stories in the streets, the second category would rather read them in the books. The over-production of such texts (actual spin-offs of the ancient world) causes a rapid decrease in quality. The new chivalric stories start resembling the old ones, the genre soon becomes repetitive and it looks like there’s nothing new to say anymore. The point is now: how much can we care about a dull historical recovery that does not talk to (and about) us, in the contemporary world? Most of these stories written between the year 1000 and the year 1500 did not survive because once the interest of their very first readers started to decrease, they were not able to communicate anything to the following ages. The value of a piece of work like the Orlando furioso is that being a classic, meant as the historical produce of a specific culture that goes through - and beyond - the concept of time, it is always able to speak to contemporary audiences. The credit of re-vitalising the epic-chivalric genre belongs to Ludovico Ariosto, who dragged it out of its stagnant condition. How did he do that? Ariosto did not just describe and represent a world in which no-one - in full Renaissance - believed in. The society he represented, despite being populated by outdated characters, is extremely contemporary. Behind the canonic masks of the main characters we recognise all typical behaviours of a contemporary society portrayed as arriviste, mean and sometimes even ridiculous. The description is always up-to-date: by combining past and present, Ariosto creates an ironic shot circuit that unveils, in the blink of an eye, characters who were first presented as stereotypes of the tradition. On the chivalric scenery, made of battles and extraordinary loves, the constantly sneering eye of the author highlights the most authentic and sometimes even grotesque traits of its characters: we see ungrateful women who are just not worth the pain, dumb knights who are easily mislead, and characters who enjoy corruption when in fact they should be examples of morality. Orlando, the main character, is a renown and respected warrior who suddenly loses his mind for love and - all naked in a wood - starts uprooting oaks and pines like crazy. Ariosto does not want to diminish or ridicule the antique chivalric virtues. his purpose is rather to examine them critically in a new society that now perceives the world as more complex, fragmented and unpredictable than it was during Middle Age. In other words, Orlando furioso witnesses the irreversible end of a historical era (the Middle Age), therefore announcing the start of the modern age. This historical transition is sustained by the very structure of the romance. Rather than a linear narration of episodes who start and end, one after the other, Ariosto prefers to use a more tangled construction, which he believes is more able to represent simultaneous events: just like in a series of cinematographic sequences, synchronic stories and adventures of the main characters are constantly started and interrupted. Ariosto indeed recalls themes and characters of the past, but to include them in a wider perspective that includes contemporaneity. Still unanswered is the initial question: what is, in fact, the audience of Orlando furioso? The stories of these ancient knights and ladies are told by a man who wishes to talk to the living people of each era. Such an operation of historical recovery has no reactionary origins: looking at the past, at tradition, is nothing like complaining about the good old times, or just showing off academic abilities. It is all about discovering - and recovering - the historical and cultural substratum of our civilisation with the eyes of those who come after, of those who live the present, of those who want to safeguard it - and pass it on. Orlando furioso is a museum-work, a container of values and ideals belonging to different periods coming together, stratified, in our contemporary age. Every historical recovery - unless empty or nostalgic - is a recovery of one’s own conscience. The already-said can be repeated forever, waste must be searched in the modalities in which it is expressed: it is right here that an old story can suddenly reveal itself with the power of an unexpected epiphany.
A POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION OF THE WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION
Of loves and ladies, knights and arms, I sing, Of courtesies, and many a daring feat;
Starting is as important as ending. In these two verses at the beginning of his work, Ludovico Ariosto synthesises the whole plot of his romance. The topics are the typical ones: Love (women, loves, courtesies) and Death (knights, arms, daring feats). But the way these terms wedge in each other suggests something:
Of loves, ladies, knights and arms I sing, Of courtesies and many a daring feat;
This is movement: reading is a zig zag experience of galloping between the semantic areas of love, fight and death. Loves-ladies, knights-arms, courtesies-daring feats. The text - the horse - gallops between one image and the other to suddenly stop: I sing. Subject and verb crash and fall, together, to the end of the sentence to interrupt - at least for now - the frenetic race. It only takes two verses, the first two verses, to create a quintessential image valid for the whole romance. In Orlando furioso Love and Death run after each other from the start to the end, love and military adventures concatenate making us lose the sense of direction. The connection is not only thematic and historical, but also textual and grammatical, involving the structure of the sentence and of the whole work. Orlando furioso is the romance of movement, a never ending race generated by a specific cause: women (it is not by chance that this is the first word of the romance). Women make the romantic plot possible. The progress of the historical background - the war between Christians and Saracens - is constantly interrupted by love hunts and other adventures dominated by the presence of women. The escape of a specific woman, in the first chapter, starts the narration: princess Angelica escapes in a wood close by Paris, followed by a crowd of admirers she does not care of. Orlando, paladin of Charlemagne and main character, decides to leave the war to find her. All adventures in the romance start from these pursuits. Angelica, who should be the main female character, is in fact only a rapid draft of a character who escapes even the overall look of the reader. She only says a few words, her appearances in the romance are rare and very short. She is constantly on the move, someone on which one’s attention cannot stop. When she escapes, she exists because she is wanted, but as soon as her image becomes steady (when she marries a common soldier and goes back to Catai) she fades away, forgotten by everyone, as if she died. This happens because Angelica is not the exclusive main character of Orlando furioso, just as all the other women within the romance. The main character of the is not a woman, but the woman, conceived as a heterogeneous product of different personalities who, one by one, take the name of Angelica, Bradamante, Marfisa, Fiordiligi, Olimpia, Isabella, Origille, Gabrina, Doralice... Good or bad, faithful or unfaithful, women in Orlando furioso represent the start and the end of every adventure.
Dario Giovanni Alì
When suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he’s being surrounded by horses, horses, horses, horses coming in in all directions white shining silver studs with their nose in flames, He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses
The project of the exhibition Museo (cavalli e cavalle, cavalli cavalli) by Renato Leotta rises from the willingness to give life again to those themes that have always been part of the history of art and that have survived to new artistic trends through the centuries, since they have a deep and intimate relationship with both the culture and the human history. These themes are represented in paintings and sculptures, but they emerge often only superficially. For this reason, it is hard to capture their essence, their intimate content, their poetics and the imaginative power that they are able to inspire. The exhibition deals with the way of making art in the contemporary age with a critical approach. This happens when the figurative art seems to have given the way to a new kind of realism which denies the representation in favor of the description of the world as it appears. Is it possible that themes and traditional genres talk us about the present? Is it possible to actualize the traditional representation?
The exhibition develops these reflections, focusing on the drawing and the sculpture, in relation to the concept of display. In fact, the way in which the works, belonging to traditional artistic genres, are outfitted may expand their potentiality, thanks to the manipulation of the relationship between the works and the space in which they are displayed. The display is of considerable importance because it reveals the poetical choices of the age to which a work belongs: the presence or the absence of the frame for a painting or the type of the base for a sculpture are decisive almost as the represented subject. The history of art is full of similar examples that have changed the way of making art. The display is not to be considered only from a formal perspective, but it should be conceived as an essential part of the work, since it is involved in the process of creating new narrative strategies. It is realized beginning from the way in which the work occupies the space, by giving it a meaning. The works of the exhibition change the essence of space and the way in which we perceive it: their presence becomes almost immanence. Museo (cavalli e cavalle, cavalli cavalli) is focused on two different series of works: one series is constituted of female portraits, committed by Renato Leotta to Sebastiano Impellizzeri, and the other one is constituted of sculpture realized by Francesco Messina. As it often happens during the ages of intense linguistic experimentation, the protagonists of the exhibition are traditional subjects, two classics of the history of art: on one hand, we have portraits of female nudes, and, on the other hand, we have sculptures of horses. The unifying principle of the exhibition is the movement: the works act directly on the space, creating an immersive feeling, thanks to their dynamism. The portraits are placed on a movable structure that makes the space dynamic, like in a theatrical scene. Following a principle akin to that that guided Robert Breer in realizing his well-known Floating sculptures, the drawings run along the wall of the space slowly and moving horizontally, thanks to a small engine, astonishing and hypnotizing the viewer with their unexpected dynamism. The external change creates a semantic slippage, that blurs the boundaries between the space of the representation and the real space, albeit the drawings renounce to mimicry and hyperrealism. The drawings are realized with charcoal, the concise lines fray so as to evoke the contortion of the bodies and to echo into the space the vibrations of a body in motion. The works are astonishing thanks to their new kinetic action and create a magic and enchanted dimension. Their elementary and intuitive mechanical translation of the desire to reproduce the real world reminds the optical experiments typical of the early ages of cinema. The framed and shifting drawings are strictly connected to the fascinating and sinister literary tradition that speaks about moving paintings and painted women, who create a tricky game with a reciprocity of gazes. This happens for example in Nabokov’s short story La Veneziana, in which the real life is compared to the inaccessible dimension of art and beauty. Besides the portraits, the equestrian sculptures by Francesco Messina give a perception of movement, thanks to both their shapes and the reflections of the bronze. Francesco Messina was a realist artist and loved the sensual side of the life. Thus, he was able to reveal the alive essence of the world and to evoke the impetus lying underneath the appearance, by showing the visible beauty. Thanks to the realism, Messina links the elegance of the ancient and mediterranean art - that reminds Sicily (where he was born) - with the modernity. This happens thanks to the passionate commitment of those who “capture, in the reality, the symbols of the rhythm of life and of the harmonic order of spiritual energy that animates the physical world” (F. Russoli). This will is achieved thanks to the equestrian sculptures. When Messina dealt with the horse theme, he had already faced the question about the display. As it happened with Degas’ sculptures - artist loved by Messina -, the base of the sculpture narrows, becomes a diaphragm, overstepped by the horses, and leaves behind the pose and the solemn walk of the horses of the equestrian monument and enters into the life, in the real world. This stirs up its wild and instinctual energy. The price of freedom is paid with the fallibility: the horse runs, but it also falls down, it’s dying, as the famous horse of the RAI, here reproduced thanks to Lorenzo Scotto Di Luzio, giving a metaphysical and surreal atmosphere to the space. In the modern age many artists have used the horse as subject to reproduce the essence of the movement. In fact, in 1878, Muybridge used the horse for his experiments of chronophotography. In particular, he was capable to show the real gait of the horse, after studying its gallop. Some years later, Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscop, which is a primitive motion picture device, through which he reproduced the horse in motion.
Sara De Chiara