TURIN — This morning there was no toilet paper and no hot water. I ran into two new strangers in the kitchen last night after walking home 35 minutes in the rain from an industrial space outside the city temporarily being used as a music venue. Thankfully, though sadly, two of my friends were not able to arrive to crash on my floor: Yann Chevallier stayed at the Confort Moderne, perhaps to watch Hyphen Hyphen, and Giovanni Giaretta had to stay in Roma because he acquired authorization to photograph a racetrack and work with a professional diving team. His works explore physical endurance and the role of sport in contemporary society. Alas, the Artissima journey continues alone as I struggle to use my broken Italian to locate my teapot and apologize for the early morning filming of my waking temperature ritual (today: 36.2 °C).
Last night, there were openings all around the city. It seemed like every cultural institution in Torino is taking advantage of the fact that Artissima is in town. The energies of my friends were dissipated between the Club-to-Club music festival (a Redbull-funded commercial event costing 37 euros to enter), the evening performances in the theater of the old prison for The Others fair (free/donation to enter), the art openings of every commercial and noncommercial gallery in Torino, the initiation of It’s Not the End of the World at the five main contemporary art museums and foundations in the city, the live public writings of the writers collective Contropaesaggio, and a million other events. I chose to focus my energy on Artissima LIDO, where five international alternative spaces were exhibiting in five historic museums and institutions of the Quadrilatero Romano district, near my neighborhood.
On my way out of the apartment, I saw what I was sure was an art performance from my window. There were, or what I thought were, organized dancers carrying flaming torches moving and singing in the streets. A police car with flashing lights led the noisy group. The chanting, however, was in a call-and-response rhythm that told me this was a protest march. These last days in Torino, the students have been protesting the new austerity budget; also, the police have been evicting an anarchist squat on the other side of the river. This demonstration may have been related to those tensions. With my brain in art mode, I was relieved for my feet to touch ground with a certain reality when I witnessed this presentation. I find the conditions in this Italian city to intrude often on life unexpectedly and strongly.
Quadrilatero Romano is the historic center of Torino with the typical Roman street grid. The stone buildings are tall and the streets narrow. During this Artissima weekend, the ancient spaces stay open until 10 pm. The five sites for LIDO are: Museo Diffuso della Resistenza, della Deportazione, della Guerra, dei Diritti e della Libertà (Museum of Resistance, Deportation, War, Rights and Freedom); Museo di Antichità (Museum of Antiquities); Archivio di Stato (National Archives); Chiesa del Santissimo Sudario (Church of Santissimo Sudario); and MAO Museo D’Arte Orientale (Museum of Oriental Art). This was my first time visiting these historic venues, and I was curious to see how the international independent art spaces would integrate the contemporary with the historic.
First, I visited the National Archives, which houses the temporary Artissimo LIDO exhibition of Irmavep Club, an artist and curator collective in France. I found this an interesting choice because many of these archives date back to the 12th century, when the Piemonte region was culturally French Savoy (before Italian unification in 1861). This contentious history was not addressed, but instead the curators decided to “erase all spatial and temporal references, giving new pace and movement to perception.”
Aside from this oversight, I found the sound installation by Phillip Sollmann to be profound. He used monophonic tower-speakers (commonly found in techno clubs) to transmit four different sound compositions into the archives of the local and national land registries. The sounds, originating from one source above the archives, seemed to be augmenting the history, because the medium of transmission is pervasive and continual. The solemn sounds (traditional cello and bass scores, but electrified) seemed to respect the gravity of history, as did the decision to keep the rooms cold and dark. There was one room that had the voice of a North American gospel-folk singer referencing “feeling blessed” and “being a prisoner no more.”
Next, I went to the Church of Santissimo Sudario, which hosts the Shroud of Turin (!!), where the independent publishing house Public Fiction from Los Angeles was exhibiting a show called Treating Shadows as Real Things. I was especially interested in this show because a close spiritual friend of mine, Sarah Cain (the one who gave me the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility back in 2010 and has inspired the artistic recording of my waking temperatures), is one of the artists involved, and she is careful to participate only in projects that she believes in.
The curators, Lauren Mackler and Andrew Berardini, wrote “For believers, the Holy Shroud is a mystery token of Christ’s reality: an icon — in the most profound, spiritual sense of the term — that speaks to us of faith, whose presence leads from the visible to the invisible.” Back in 2006, Sarah Cain had a solo show entitled I Believe We Are Believers at Anthony Meier Fine Arts in San Francisco in which I began to trust art with my body, comprehending it through a visceral and intuitive logic. To reconnect with her work (and soul) here in Torino was potent. The exhibition in the church, with works by artists Lucas Blalock, Giorgio de Chirico, Samara Golden, Andrea Longacre-White, Carlo Mollina, Ry Rocklen, and others, paid homage with a mirror on the floor to the historic Baroque vaulted ceilings depicting the theophany of the Transfiguration — a disorienting change in perception and substance.
Artissimo LIDO continued at the Museum of Resistance, where a show called Words… Actions is exhibited by 98weeks, a research project and artists’ association in Beirut. The museum pays reverence to Italy’s varying contributions to World War II, and the 98weeks exhibition had film works mainly focused on contemporary wars in Lebanon and Syria. The films were powerful. I liked one that was called For Gaza: The Land of Sad Oranges (2010), described as “A very short film ABOUT violence, WITH flamenco, WITHOUT a dancer, and FOR Gaza.” The image showed dead and dying oranges fallen from a tree to the tempo and music of the flamenco dance. Unfortunately, the film reel was about six hours long, so if you were curious about one of the 16 films, you would have to wait hours to watch it. The work of the association 98weeks is mainly research-oriented and operates at the local level in Beirut. They made an interesting choice to invite an Italian artist to lead a writing workshop in which they reinterpreted the meaning of the Italian constitution.
On the whole, I want to commend the challenge to push contemporary art into a historic and local context. It was an important excuse for me to visit the city of Torino from an historic point of view. Also, I think the ability to navigate history with a contemporary eye is a necessary demand for right now — although I’m not sure it reached its goal in the end. In the Museum of Antiquities, for example, after walking through extraordinary artifacts dating back from the 16th century it was difficult to watch a paranoiac video focusing on our hyperreal, networked society created by the London-based collaborative Auto Italia South East.
The night ended with a visit to Bunker, a temporarily occupied, massive post-military base that is used as a music venue as part of the URBE Rigenerazione Urbana initiative. Visual artist and punk musician Nico Vascellari was performing with his project Niños du Brasil, a mix of batucada and noise. His show was commanding in a physical sense, with two male drummers who used their microphones and bodies, plus one DJ. The strength of the event centered on Nico’s animal, unrestrained movements. The night continued with a surprise taking over of the stage by two Vecchio Merda danzband ♥ members, Lisa Perrucci and Lia Cecchin taking hold of two drums. They were followed by Electrocumbia DJs programmed by Ilenia Berria, RawTella, and others. After dancing myself sweaty, I walked all the way back to the downtown area from outside the city, navigating the pouring rain …
Artissima takes place in Turin, Italy, from November 9–11.