Exhibition catalog, text
Live without dead time, Museo Cantonale D'arte; Lugano
13.09-17.01.2010

"Vivre sans temps mort et jouir sans entraves" ["Live without dead time and enjoy without restraints"]. It was this exhortation that closed the famous pamphlet entitled "De la misère en milieu étudiant" ["On the Poverty of Student Life"]. Published anonymously in 1966 in Strasbourg, accompanied by violent polemics although also by immediate international diffusion, it constituted one of the warning signs of the Paris uprising of May 1968. It resulted from the meeting between a group of students who had taken over the local section of the students' union [U.N.E.F.] and some members of the Situationist International including Guy Debord and Mustapha Khayati, the latter considered the author of the pamphlet which encouraged young people to become the revolutionary political subject - together with the proletariat - as part of a theoretical framework defined by the criticism of the society of the spectacle. The fortunate aphoristic synthesis of this situationist slogan soon made it one of the most well-known rallying cries of the '68 protest movement. Echoing Horace's carpe diem, the anonymous graffiti that from the walls of the Sorbonne spread to the streets of all French towns and cities transformed this motto into the watchword which summed up the claims and aspirations of an entire generation: the rejection of passivity, the search for a creativity freed from lower middle-class boredom and banality, the constrictions of alienating work and the aspiration to the realization of man in the anti-authoritarian dimension of play and the festival. However,  as Mario Perniola has written in his Miracoli e traumi della comunicazione (2009), in this prevailing of the moment over duration, this overwhelmingness of the present which refuses to hold over the satisfying of desire to the course of time and which takes the forms of an absolute impatience, one sees an affinity with the experience and way of feeling that is typical of drug addiction (which not fortuitously became a mass phenomenon in those years among young people).

Forty years after 1968, with the capitalist economic system having by now entered a new phase (what in a recent text Vanni Codeluppi has defined as 'biocapitalism'), the protest which permeated western society during the second half of the 1960s can be seen in the same way as a growth illness of capitalism in the point of its passing from a society of producers to a society of consumers. A decisive moment which as acutely theorized by Zygmunt Bauman marks entering the age of liquid modernity. As in a sort of diabolical détournement, the situationist slogan has in this way ended up by becoming the epigraph "inscribed above a gateway" through which our society has passed in to the hell of consumeristic addiction. In fact, no advertising expert could have found a better formula than live without dead time in order to promote "a life moving increasingly faster in the attempt at earning the time necessary for going after other things". Also because, as Bauman has written: "The excitement of a new and unprecedented sensation - not the greed of acquiring and possessing nor wealth in its material, tangible sense - is the name of the consumer game. Consumers are first and foremost gatherers of sensations". The furious acceleration of this mechanism of consumption is no longer fueled - as it was in the past - by way of the satisfaction of needs but through the continuous "growth in the quantity and intensity of desires" which as soon as they have been consumed leave us dissatisfied, so urging us towards other desires and therefore other goods, in a reduction of time to a frenetic succession of self-isolated moments, to a perpetual "here and now" in which we are imprisoned by the alluring promise of new, unforgettable experiences which exclude the day-to-day routine (boredom) from our lives: "dead time", in short.

Consequently, in today's society the task which the economic system assigns individuals is no longer only that of producing things but above all of consuming them. Following the increasingly more totalizing expansion of the consumeristic model it is no longer sufficient for the individual to lend his/her work force to the productive system. He or she must also be at the disposition of the consumer system, becoming the "disposer of goods" within the so-called free time or leisure industry. In the period of the greatest freedom ever tested by western society, it is no longer the diverse forms of social coercion - as was true in the panoptic system described by Foucault - that force individuals into this new form of "slavery". On the contrary, and in a totally paradoxical way, it is the freedom of choice and the liberation of individual identity from whatever form of social predetermination that constitute the chains that indissolubly bind us to 'consumption society'. In liquid modernity the freedom of choice really is not a choice at all. Hidden behind it, in fact, is the obligation to choose, from which there is no possibility for escape. Identity, on the other hand, is no longer a gift one receives at birth but is, as Bauman has written, "a life sentence of hard labour". In this way the construction of one's own identity has become a both arduous and laborious task, a Sisyphean futility which accompanies the individual for his or her entire life. Alleviating this fatigue, however, there is the intercession on the part of the consumption society that by way of the seduction exercised by advertising continuously offers us a prêt à porter identity, simply asking us to open our wallets. Identity in this way is reduced to a consumer good on a par with other goods, marked down to a disposable product, easily replaceable with every change in fashion or trend, reduced to the simulacrum which advertising sells us in exchange for our consumption, taking the concept of merchandising to the very heart of being. As Baudrillard has observed: "By now everything is a sum of appearing and of only appearing, without too much preoccupation for being. Therefore Design and not Dasein".

The works created by Fabrizio Giannini for this exhibition should be considered in the light of this series of problems that regard the modalities with which individual identity is constantly subjected to a process of construction and deconstruction in order to guarantee the survival of the consumeristic social model. A group of works which in starting out from a series of images, isolated in the media flow which in an increasingly more invasive way envelops our day-to-life lives, activates an eidetic reduction - in the phenomenological sense - of visual forms and in this way evidences the truth of the means of mass communication. A truth which for Baudrillard is as follows: "To neutralize the unique character of actual world events by replacing them with a multiple universe of mutually reinforcing and self-referential media. At the very limit they become each other's reciprocal content - and this constitutes the totalitarian 'message' of the consumer society".

Mostly taken from advertising and the world of information in the form of photographs, videos or graphic elaborations, these images are then once again elaborated using the computer and subjected to a process of formal and chromatic simplification or else superimposed to create digital collages. The chromatic reduction to black and white which characterizes many of the works analogously refers to a procedure that is typical of the connaisseurship tradition whose exponents for the analysis of works of art have often preferred to use black & white reproductions rather than coloured ones in which every datum is "drowned in a sort of broth", as Federico Zeri observed. Also in the works by Fabrizio Giannini bichromatism carries out this function: by stripping the advertising image of its seductive patina and its illusory adhesion to the optical datum, he reveals its essence as medium that becomes message, of hypnotic illusion which substitutes reality with a simulacrum, of self- referential language that no longer refers to the world but which moves increasingly closer to a pure abstraction constructed by way of a play of signs that refer to each other but which no longer have a referent.

In a way analogous to the chromatic reduction, here we also find the reduction of the photographic and video image to the bidimensionality of the computer drawing or animation. The use the artist makes in these works of those same vector graphics with which logos are normally designed - in such a way that one can infinitely increase the size without loss of image definition - refers to the ability of brands to impose themselves in any context and to overcome all cultural and social 'barriers' in such a way as to affirm themselves as elements of that sole global language which is comprehensible anywhere: that is, consumption. In this sense the proliferation of branding appears to be like a viral infection which attacks reality, appropriating and reduplicating it in a virtual dimension which is, however, proposed to the eyes of the consumer as something "real".

Nothing seems capable of escaping the capability of absorption on the part of consumption society, the cloning of the real in the inoffensive virtuality of communication. We are reminded of this by the Proxy series in which with a stylized form similar to that of comics or children's colouring books the artist reproduces the photographs of groups of No Global protesters with their faces hidden. In fact, in consumption society protest is accepted, tolerated and reabsorbed in the form of one's 'look'. In the very moment of the protest against it, taking the stage with a covered face, the individual implicitly acknowledges the strength and force of the system and conforms to it by taking on a non-identity which in being unable to be anything except temporary is nothing other than a 'look'. It is probably not fortuitous if the permanent subtraction from identity variability of which the burqa is a symbolic representation has given rise to so much consternation since its appearance in the West. That of the protester ends up by being merely one of the many available identities: a mask which when removed means that the person has to go back to the daily frenzy of consumption (even if, in reality, the individual has never left this frenzy anyway), and to the ever more convulsive game of identities which unfold and are multiplied on the stage of the Internet like an hypnotic mantra, ranging from the social forums to the social networks. Uninterruptedly.

Elio Schenini

Translated by Howard Rodger MacLean

 

COABITAZIONI COATTE/COMPULSORY COHABITATIONS

CACTicino - Centro d’Arte Contemporanea Ticino - in Bellinzona opens its 2005 season on Saturday March 12, 2005 at 17:30 with a theme exhibition entitled

COABITAZIONI COATTE/COMPULSORY COHABITATIONS

Mounir Fatmi, Fabrizio Giannini, Damir Nikšić, Salis & Vitangeli, Akram Zaatari

With this first exhibition of the year, CACTicino presents artists coming from the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Middle East, and the Arab world in general. Underlying Coabitazioni coatte/Compulsory Cohabitations, an exhibition primarily made up of video works, is an accusation against the contemporary world and, even more so, against the political, social and ethical-moral practices that belong to a precise geographical area.

We are living in an important historical period where changes in our relationship with history and the way we work through history, as well as our relationship with the society of institutions, betray the increasingly wide gap between the real and the institutional world. We are all witnesses to the growing tendency towards eliminating both individual and collective liberties, which are now being forcefully replaced by manipulation, a violent cultural colonialism and the exclusively political-economic spread of a north-south concept. The at times blatant demagoguery of political operations is fuelled by a system of networks in the hands of one class. The concept of dialogue is being replaced by preventive war, moderation by forced politicisation in a climate where it has now become difficult to distinguish the true from the real.

How are we to interpret the recent changes in contemporary society? As an attempt to contaminate free thought, culture and traditions, and to inhibit – if not to eliminate completely – all personal judgement?

At this delicate historical moment of perturbation and crisis the artist takes on an almost shamanic role as a transformer of political-monetary-carnal values into totally spiritual values. He/she no longer uses an exclusively expressive means but rather re-appropriates his/her status as a comparative agent at work in the media.

With his video projection Manipulations (2004), the Moroccan artist Mounir Fatmi (1970) presents the themes of the game as a creative element, mental imagination and the thousand combinations of life. This both critical and self-critical work offers a vision of the Arab world which is encapsulated visually in a close-up of two hands playing incessantly with the famous Rubik’s cube, trying to make each side of the cube into a single colour. Soon, however, the colours fade to make way for the non-colour of black; the form of the black cube thus refers to the Kaaba, one of the oldest Muslim shrines in the world. The hands become dirtied and dripping with paint to indicate not only split blood but also oil, the economic bone of contention between West and East.

Fabrizio Giannini (1964), a Swiss multimedia artist, also presents a video projection, a work which is, so to speak, telematic or connected to the world of technology and bears the title Coito.664 (2005). A computer projects on to a wall a sequence of many of the names of computer viruses present today on the market of the computer diseases we are forced to live with. The computer has become a means of communication which brings together all the geographies of the world, including cultural geographies. It is a weapon of interactive information which by definition reflects the concept of globalisation. As part of a purely technological reflection, Giannini brings the discussion onto the level of issues linked to machines.

Damir Nikšić (1970) is originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina and is now resident in Chicago. He mainly uses the medium of video to condense his favourite themes; division and reunification. Oriental (2004) was presented for the first time as part of Genoa 2004 European Capital of Culture. In it the artist shows the tragic relationship between West and East in ironic and sarcastic form. Nikšić – artist and actor – plays the role of singer, imitating one of the many models taken from MTV. The song’s dramatic lyrics clash with its saccharine and consumerist style, calling into play the subtle and intelligent sarcasm that is so typical of this interesting artist’s work.

Morning Star #2 (2004) is the evocative title of a short clip by the couple Salis & Vitangeli (Giovanna Salis, 1970 & Massimo Vitangeli, 1950) which consists of the static image of a machine for killing the kind of insects that swarm around public places especially in summer. The machine uses electricity to burn and kill nocturnal insects, in particular the moths that are exclusive to the Mediterranean. The video reveals the systematic and conscious intention to kill these annoying creatures and is accompanied by a soundtrack that mounts to a climax (which heightens the drama) and then falls towards the end to represent death.

Red Chewing Gum (2000) by the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari (1966) is a work which tells the story of the separation of two friends, worked out through the almost random use of different temporal and spatial planes. The impotence of the narrator in the face of time that takes away the intimate experiences of life is manifested in the attempt to nostalgically reconstruct memory, to idealise experience. It is one last vain and desperate cry to exhume and to reactivate the past. Zaatari is a courageous interpreter of Lebanese society, denouncing political and cultural realities through themes such as identity and sexuality.

The exhibition can be visited by the public from Friday to Sunday from 14:00 to 18:00 and will stay open until April 30, 2005.

(Translation Ian Harvey)