Pablo Chiereghin, Aldo Giannotti, and Massimo Vitali
curated by Marcello Farabegoli
28 April – 30 June 2017, Italian Embassy, Vienna – Palais Metternich
For the third major site-specific show I curated and produced on behalf of the Italian ambassador Giorgio Marrapodi for an exhibition cycle devoted to contemporary art at Palais Metternich, I decided to concentrate less on the history, architecture, or aesthetics of the palace this time, but rather on the embassy’s function of representing Italy in Austria. The special focus is on Sunday, la domenica in Italy, as a day which is (still) a work-free holiday in both countries, with all its rituals and distinct rhythm of life. Associations with a particular religion are of minor importance in this context.
As before, the show has partly been compiled in collaboration with a renowned Viennese gallery, namely Galerie Ernst Hilger, which has made works by Massimo Vitali available for the exhibition.
Going to the seaside and sunbathing on the beach continue to be among the fixed rituals for Italians and are part of the typical image of ‘bella Italia’.
Massimo Vitali, born in Como in 1944, has been a globally celebrated photo artist since the 1990s. A number of large-format Italian views from his famous Beach Series are now on display at Palais Metternich. Due to their ethereal or even surreal exquisiteness, Due Sorelle Motor Boat (2013) and Bassa Trinità Blue Ball (2013) fit in very well with the elegant atmosphere of the Garland Salon. On the other hand, Rosignano Night (1995), packed with a crowd of people, and the somewhat unwieldy Livorno Calafuria (2002) have been installed in the Battle Salon, named after a monumental painting attributed to Nicola Mario Rossi that shows Vienna’s liberation from the Turks in 1683.
‘Due Sorelle’ refers to the two large, white cliffs on the coast of the Marche region, with the turquoise sea in the photograph reflecting beautifully in one of the Garland Salon’s mirrored couch tables. A decorative ashtray in the form of a scallop placed on the small table marvellously blends in with Vitali’s sparkling waters. A large painting by Luca Giordano installed in its immediate vicinity depicts a scene from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Jerusalem Delivered taking place on Armida’s magic island: the amorous Rinaldo reclines dreamily in the arms of the witch while holding up a mirror to her face. The scene in Vitali’s photograph gives an equally enchanted and dreamy impression. The composition is so perfect that one might suspect it to have been orchestrated. Taking a closer look, one seems to be able to feel the luxurious relaxation of the people dozing off in boats softly rocked by the waves of the sea. A soft breeze probably makes the heat more bearable, with the crystal-clear water inviting bathers to take a refreshing swim.‘Spiaggia di Bassa Trinità’ is the name of a beach on La Maddalena, a small island northeast of Sardinia. The photograph conveys most of all a mood of merrymaking, which Vitali seems to see symbolised in a small blue beach ball. Whether this boisterous atmosphere spills over to the adjacent painting from Luca Giordano’s workshop showing Ariadne left behind by Theseus on the island of Naxos remains unresolved.
Rosignano Night, on the other hand, indeed seems to be a scenic continuation of the above-mentioned large-sized painting of the Battle Salon. Having emerged victorious from their battle, the boyars of the Polish king Jan Sobieski, mingling with the imperial troops, seem to have entered Vitali’s magnificent photograph in order to throw a wild party. In fact, they are present-day youngsters celebrating their ‘victory‘ over the working week near Livorno. In the distance, however, one can see the testimonials of a real and cruel victory: industrialisation’s triumph over nature. The radiant campaniles do not represent the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant – Italy is fortunately a non-nuclear country – but, badly enough, those of the Rosignano Solvay soda factory, which, until a few years ago, discharged altogether 500 tons of mercury into the sea, thus producing the famous, albeit toxic Spiagge Bianche [white beaches] of Vada. Yet the young people seem to be entirely unimpressed by this backdrop, which due to the device of overexposure resembles Dante Alighieri’s inferno, nor are they irritated by the bleached sand, which was still highly contaminated at the time the photograph was shot. The scene is also vaguely reminiscent of the crowded compositions of Hieronymus Bosch, although the activities in which the youngsters are engaged appear to be entirely harmless: they take walks, talk, dance, drink, and kiss… Only a strong, seemingly alien light in the foreground – undoubtedly produced by Vitali – forces its course through the crowd unperturbedly, seeking to elucidate the secret of the colourful scene.
In the embassy’s entrance lobby, Vitali’s works San Vito lo Capo (2010) and Torre Fiat (2007) are on view.
When looked at superficially, Vitali’s photographs might pass as snapshots that anyone could have taken. However, the specific choice of the vantage point on a three-metre-tall platform in the far distance, the great wealth of details, and a more or less strong overexposure endow Vitali’s beaches with a special melange of sober documentation and empathy. Oscillating between landscape and portraiture, his photographs capture both the existence of the individual and the vibrant life of crowds. As beautiful as Vitali’s beaches may appear at first sight, they are just as much subtly critical descriptions of the human condition in general and of the commercialisation of leisure in particular.
In order to elaborate on this critical aspect, I invited Pablo Chiereghin and Aldo Giannotti, two young Italian artists who have been living in Vienna for a considerable length of time, to create site-specific works for the show, their conceptual approach amplifying the exhibition theme. The title DOMENICA and the project as a whole have crystallised from a collaborative effort between me and the two artists.
Etymologically, the term ‘Sunday’ (Lat.: dies solis) refers to the day consecrated to the sun god. In the course of Christianisation, in Southern European or Romance-language countries, the expression ‘day of the Lord’ (Lat.: dominica) came to prevail to commemorate Jesus Christ’s resurrection, as reflected by the Italian word domenica. In other civilisations, different days play a similar role, such as Saturday – Sabbath – in Judaism, referring to God’s ‘holy day of rest’ after he had completed the creation of the world, or Friday in Islam. In Europe, Sunday as a day off work looks back on a changeful history torn between the diverging requirements of religion, politics, and the economy. Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 reads, ‘Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.’ In Europe, the right to Sunday as a work-free day is accordingly enshrined in law. Such movements as the European Sunday Alliance fight for fair working hours and for keeping Sundays work-free.
Although the idea of free or leisure time, i.e. a period of time during which people can freely pursue their individual needs, was born in the modern age, the concept of a time of leisure dates back to antiquity. The Greeks, for example, differentiated between the terms scholé and a-scholia. Simply put, scholé refers to the period the upper classes devoted to edification and philosophical contemplation. What is remarkable is that the slaves were granted a considerable number of days off work, which, however, were rather used for attending Olympic games and various festivities. In Roman civilisation, the term otium as opposed to the term negotium had a similar meaning. Otium describes a period of withdrawal and reflection, of spending time by oneself. Among others, Cicero, Vergil, Horace, Ovid, Seneca, and, later on, Augustine praised the idea of otium. Here, too, the work-free time of plebeians was, by contrast, organised according to the motto of ‘bread and circuses’ and filled with distracting activities.
It goes without saying that such discourse differentiates between a passive laziness calling for criticism on the one hand and intellectual or spiritual leisure on the other, as Francesco Petrarca points out in his De remediis utriusque fortunae. Today it seems that society increasingly identifies leisurely idleness as mere laziness. It has almost become an obligation for people to use their free time for relaxation in order to keep fit for work: leisure time harnessed for labour! Free time is thus spent as leisure less and less and is instead filled with more and more activity. Over the years, a veritable leisure and holiday industry developed, with a cultural industry following in its wake: leisure was discovered as a new branch of the economy.
The inability to surrender to leisure has something neurotic about it. Viktor Frankl before all others claimed that a neurotic person attempts to escape from the ‘great, whole life into work life’. Only leisure on Sundays exposes the entire aimlessness and meaninglessness of our existence, which is drowned in weekend activities. ‘Sunday neurotics’ seek to conceal life’s emptiness behind parties, (record-obsessed) sports, and even art – as long as it thrills their nerves and they can identify with fictitious heroes.
For the exhibition, Aldo Giannotti has created as many as thirty-two new drawings. Tackling the theme partly associatively, partly scientifically, he has found imaginative puns and succinct sayings in order to inflect the theme of Sunday from many possible perspective. He makes use of the special qualities offered by the medium of drawing, which delivers detached and yet intimate visual results. Giannotti is interested in both the sacred and profane aspects of Sunday. Emblematically illustrating the ‘aggregate states’ of both phases in Sunday – Rest of the Week, he reflects upon the dichotomy between work and leisure. For people, free time creates a physical space in its own right within the continuum of time. This space is marked by a distinct, mostly decelerated rhythm and has its own rules and rituals that enable people to perceive reality differently and more intensely. With his drawings, Giannotti also responds to the exceptional site of the exhibition and uses Sunday as a pretext to direct attention to some historical and political events. Last but not least, he has picked out the opening speech as a theme in an ironising drawing called The Marathon.
Aldo Giannotti is a sensitive, keen, and critical observer who commits his ideas to A4 sheets of paper with a black ink rollerball pen. He is generally interested in the correlation between people and their surroundings or social space, between symbolic or physical space and socially sculpted dynamics. His combinations of words and reduced images resemble aphorisms. They frequently hit a critical mark, with the artist occasionally putting a finger – or his pen – on wounds, yet without intending to increase the pain. In fact, quite the opposite is true: with a great deal of humour and irony, he uncovers the contradictions of social norms and behaviours, the paradoxes of conformism and of the distribution of power, thus opening up new perspectives for reflection. Often his drawings fully come into their own through performances, installations, and the like that make use of all kinds of media. His installation Strisce Blu (2012–17) [blue lines] can be seen in the embassy’s courtyard: parking spaces have been delineated with blue surface markings, which in Italy indicate that a parking fee has to be paid on workdays. Different from a similar installation shown at the Italian Cultural Institute in Vienna in 2012, the present version, due to the exhibition’s title, remains tied to an eternal Sunday, as if caught in a kind of time loop. In Italy, parking within the zones marked in blue is free of charge on Sundays, so that a possible administrative offence is aporetically and not without humour annulled by the artist.In the Music Room, visitors can experience Giannotti’s work Personal Spotlight (2017): the spectator himself steps into the dazzling limelight of what may be a floodlit stadium in order to be celebrated as the hero of the moment, Sunday’s darling, a famous star.
The most explicit realisation of such drawn instructions is the installation-based intervention Pitch Invasion (2017) in the embassy’s Large Ballroom, which Aldo Giannotti conceived jointly with Pablo Chiereghin and to which I will come back to shortly.
In addition, a ‘performative activation’ conceived by Aldo Giannotti and Philippe Riera / SUPERAMAS took place during the opening night.
Starting out from social and political dynamics, Pablo Chiereghin similarly likes working in site-specific contexts. His artistic practice falls on fertile ground where entropies and discrepancies are caused by behavioural patterns and social rules. With his actions, performances, and interventions, he reinterprets elements and processes encountered in reality. In this exhibition, he illustrates subtle differences between Austria and Italy. Making use of cultural ready-mades and clichés, he explores and subverts the way in which Sundays and leisure time are experienced and ‘consumed’.Pablo Chiereghin comes from Adria, a small town near Venice located a short distance from the coast, although it bears the name of an entire sea. That a strong bond exists between the artist and the sea might be concluded from the laconic inscription on the banner Chiereghin has mounted on the embassy’s balcony: Mir fehlt das Meer (2013) [I miss the sea]. Yet the work was originally conceived for KÖR’s project Kunstgastgeber Gemeindebau [Council Housing Hosting Art], and its title is identical to the very first response Chiereghin received from a Kurdish woman from Turkey, a resident of a tenement block. Mir fehlt das Meer is thus a personal reminiscence shared by two migrants, whose words now seem to have been put into the mouth, so to speak, of Italy’s embassy building in Austria.
In the embassy’s staircase, a tapestry made of wool and silk from the seventeenth century has been temporarily covered by the work Pentecoste-Lignano [Übersetzung] (2017), which measures approximately three by four metres: it is based on a journalistic photograph by Massimo Turco (2014) documenting the aftermaths of the tumultuous nights lived through by adolescents from Austria and Germany at Whitsun in Lignano. This work can be perceived as an ironic commentary on Vitali’s photographs and as their thematic and aesthetic complement. Similarly, it also echoes a subtle criticism of the bias one may or may not have against a particular nation.
Throughout the evening of the opening, the travel information for Italy issued by Austria’s Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration, and Foreign Affairs (BMEIA) was being read out to our Austrian guests every twenty minutes in the Great Vestibule on the piano nobile. This performance, emulating official acts, was meant to synthetically reflect the idea one nation has formed of another. In the immediate vicinity of this performance and other installations, Pablo Chiereghin has put up bilingual signs in Italian and German. Functioning as interventions, they provide elucidating explanations and pieces of information: ‘Due to the high attendance, plastic plates, cutlery, and cups will be used at the buffet.’ Or: ‘In order to protect the most valuable pieces of furniture in the embassy’s rooms from wear and tear, they have been covered with nylon sheeting.’ Or: ‘The installation The Ambassador’s Rooms by Pablo Chiereghin is temporarily closed and can only be viewed by appointment.’In the Green Salon, visitors can expect an inflatable children’s pool that has been filled with water and which is accompanied by the following instructions: ‘Lucky fountain. Toss a coin, make a wish, and don’t tell anybody.’ This work is of course an allusion to the Fontana di Trevi in Rome and simultaneously also an allegory of everyday smartness: it is part of a series in which the artist employs his art as a survival strategy, keeping the ‘revenue’ in the form of the coins tossed by the visitors.
Finally, a video by the artist is projected onto a screen in front of the fireplace in the Battle Salon. It shows empty parking grounds of supermarkets on Sundays shot with a fixed camera. The formal architectural images taken on the only day on which work and consumption come to a standstill in such environments give a dismal impression and are in contrast to Vitali’s large photographs installed in the same room.
Aldo Giannotti and Pablo Chiereghin’s large-scale installation Pitch Invasion, the key work of the exhibition, in a way reflects the nature of the entire exhibition. Im Zuge meiner Recherchen eines geeigneten Fußballfeldes für die Innenräume der Botschaft brachte mich Hubert Scheibl in Anlehnung an seine Einzelausstellung 2013 im Museum der Moderne Salzburg auf die Idee, einen echten Rasen zu benutzen. For this, real lawn that cannot only be touched but also smelled has been laid out in the Large Ballroom. Especially on Sundays or during leisure time, people love spending time outdoors in nature, strolling across meadows alone or in the company of their families and friends. The white lines suggest that the present lawn is actually a football field. In the case of Italy, the connection between football and Sunday is obvious. In this context, I would like to return to Viktor Frankl, who recognises a clear symptom of the above-mentioned Sunday neurotic in someone who considers the success of a particular football club the most important thing on earth. Pier Paolo Pasolini, in a positive sense, even referred to football as the last ritual manifestation of present-day sacredness…
However, as Pitch Invasion only depicts part of a football field, the meaning of the installation goes far beyond that of the mere image of a playing field. It is a special field, an abstract space the artists see as a metaphor for human activities. Here, team spirit and competition, love and hate, patriotism and nationalism, faith and fanaticism, the monies and interests of the leisure industry, and many other social, historical, and political aspects also play a role.
Yet the main point of this installation is that in reality a pitch invasion (crowds storming the playing field) is an illegal act that can be severely punished by law, in particular by Italian law. Then again, a pitch invasion can take the form of a solemn ritual: players and audiences of different nationalities uniting in the playing area on common ground as if they were going on a Sunday pilgrimage. The artists invite us to engage in such a subversive ‘collision’ and at the same time force us to bring ourselves into play.
Pablo Chiereghin (www.pablochiereghin.com) was born in Adria, Italy, in 1977 and has been living in Vienna since 2008. He has collaborated with numerous institutions and galleries in Austria, Italy, and Switzerland, such as the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, andata.ritorno Gallery in Geneva, Bank Austria Kunstforum in Vienna, CCC Strozzina – Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Galerie Laurence Bernard in Geneva, Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna, Künstler Haus in Vienna, Kunstraum Niederösterreich in Vienna, Micamera Gallery in Milan, National Archaeological Museum in Adria, Trieste Contemporanea, and weisses haus in Vienna. He has realised several projects in public spaces, for example for KÖR.
Aldo Giannotti (www.aldogiannotti.com) was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1977 and has been living in Vienna since 2000. He has exhibited his work in numerous institutions, including the Albertina in Vienna, Artothek in Munich, Austrian Cultural Forum in London, Biennial of Young Artists in Bucharest, Beijing Art Biennale, CCC Strozzina – Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Essl Collection, Kunsthalle in Vienna, Kunsthaus Graz, Künstlerhaus in Dortmund, Künstlerhaus in Vienna, Kunstraum Niederösterreich in Vienna, Lentos Kunstmuseum in Linz, MUSA in Vienna, Museion in Bolzano, Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg, Muzeum Sztuki in Łodz, Nikolaj Kunsthal in Copenhagen, and Strabag Kunstforum, and has realised several projects in public spaces for KÖR. In 2007 he and Liquid Loft received the Golden Lion for Best Performance at the Venice Biennale. In Austria, Aldo Giannotti is represented by Projektraum Viktor Bucher.
Massimo Vitali (www.massimovitali.com, www.hilger.at/832_de-kuenstler-werke.htm,massimo,vitali) was born in Como, Italy, in 1944. His works are preserved in numerous collections, such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, Fonds national d’art contemporain in Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In Austria, Massimo Vitali is represented by Galerie Ernst Hilger, Vienna.