Lucie Fontaine is glad to present “I baffi del bambino” [the child’s moustaches] a project curated by Luca Bertolo. The exhibition opens on September 15, 2014, from 7 to 9 pm and it will remain on view until December 15, 2014.
Precisely twenty years ago, my friend Luca Giorcelli and I opened Risultati buoni1, a show of works done by four hands. We’d started from medical and veterinary pamphlets we’d found in abandoned rooms at the former Sierotherapy Institute in Milan. We’d taken photographs of certain images taken from books (dogs, horses, tools) and printed exploded views. We’d also monkeyed with the texts, deleting certain parts. The big attraction that lent the show its name was a series of semi-nude women (patients photographed following a hip operation) apparently caught in the act of performing absurd dance steps. An audio track completed the show: short bursts of birdsong accompanied by comments in Russian in a virile man’s voice. With the exception of our girlfriends and a few other friends we’d invited for the inauguration, that show – my very first – received no other visitors.
Contemplation is nothing more than an occasional lapse in that widespread and all-inclusive condition of always having to do some this or that, this and that.2
I purchased my first work of art, a painting, in 1993. I bought it right from the author, an older friend of mine, spending two thirds of what I had in the bank, the equivalent of today’s one thousand euros. The small beautiful canvas rather simply shows a man sitting. Slightly green against a slightly green backdrop. And just what is this slightly awkward man doing? Sitting. He’s evidently chosen a comfortable spot from which to view the world. Now as everyone knows, contemplation is an entirely peculiar activity, given that one’s attention is not focused as much on things as on what they mean. And as Byung-Chul Han3 explains, contemplation is by no means passive; it is, on the contrary, a form of activity of higher level, as well as a much-needed corrective to the somewhat hysterical form of activism (performance) that characterizes this moment in our history. But times are hard for contemplation and contemplators, even in the world of art, where the mere mention of the word suffices to get a roomful of people antsy.
To tell the truth, we’re all clumsy things ourselves. This burden, both detestable and heart-warming, represents our human condition only too well: creatures tottering between animality and culture, the pleasure principle and reality, body and spirit, approximation and fanatical perfectionism. And keeping balance is hardly easy. Particularly stimulating in a work of art, whenever I happen to find it, is the tension between elegance and awkwardness. It cheers me up no end. Also, as many of us have observed, certain gestures can be all the more expressive for their clumsiness. At any rate, ever since the world was born, artists, writers, scientists, and musicians have been bustling around forms attempting to create elegance and bring a bit of order to chaos. They try damnedly hard. That’s entirely understandable. The limit is reached when the form is so tight that all life gets smothered inside.
to repeat: it is the impossibility of eradicating entirely the “arbitrariness”, except if one chooses the solution of the monochromes – and maybe not even then – that is at the base of our current mourning of modernism.4
At a distance, I think this show also has something to do (again? perhaps so…) with the so-called death of utopias. Organizing the perfect society, building the new Man – these are the sublime aberrations we’re talking about. Humanity doesn’t really seem to have had much luck with socio-political planning so far. Sooner or later some glitch or side-effect comes up, like gulags. Modernism was another expression of that same exasperated idealism, if but with less horrible consequences. One way or another, Modernist diktats have been safely removed to the attic for some time now. So why, in fact, should any monochrome be deemed more pure than a wanderer looking over a sea of fog?
Here’s the bottom line: what I’m about to say may appear off the subject or at least at odds with what I’ve said above. Bear with me: despite all his fragility, the child commands. Ruthless hunter of lizards, candid self-accuser, powerful improviser – that’s a child. For an adult, the child is a counter-study. And if that’s the case, he can even have a moustache5. A child is a lake an adult can tap for moisture whenever he feels dried up. A child stumbles and trips again, drawing benevolent smiles from adults: he is the one who will be looking after his forefathers.
2. Carlo Sini, “Alle radici ancestrali del disegno”, in Il disegno dopo il disegno, Pisa University Press, 2013.
3. Byung.Chul Han, Die Müdigkeitsgesellschaft (Fatigue Society), 2010.
4. Yve-Alain Bois, Painting as Model, MIT Press, 1990.
5. See Il bambino con i baffi, “acoustic film” by canecapovolto, a work on display in this show.
(translation by Craig Allen)
Ph. by Oak Seed Studio, Courtesy Lucie Fontaine
via Rinaldo Rigola, 1