On the occasion of The Bubble Boy (Needs to Hug), the exhibition by Riccardo Previdi (Milan, 1974) at Quartz Studio in Turin, we have been going into some aspects of the artist’s work with the curator Lisa Andreani. The artist focused on the story of David Vetter, a kid born in the Seventies who lived the 12 years of his life always inside a sort of bubble, or a sterile containment bell jar, because affected by a disease called severe combined immunodeficiency, that did not allow him to have any contact with the outside world for the risk of contracting infections. Why bringing back a story that moved the entire world? We ask the curator Lisa Andreani about it.
Elena Bordignon: A. Pozzato, C. Knupfer, P. Tuttofuoco, M. Grimaldi and M. Buvoli: five smiling friends looking at an installation. This is basically the image presented by Riccardo Previdi’s exhibition at Quartz in Turin. Why did you chose that image? Does it has any emotional warmth?
Lisa Andreani: Actually no, that image did not represent for us any emotionally charged object, but, on the contrary, a point from which to restart. As a matter of fact, that was put at the end of the last publication on the work of Riccardo Previdi, published on the occasion of his solo show at Villa Croce, although it represents the sprint of a start. Point of departure and return, it encloses one of his first artist packaging. The bubble of Bubble Boy has been for us an evolution, a way to get back in game and to rethink action in terms of its formal and conceptual developments.
EB: The exhibition is introduced by the story (very sad, in my opinion) of David Vetter, the first and the most famous of the “bubble-children”, born in 1971 with a rare genetic disease shutting down his immune system. What is the relationship between that unfortunate short-lived child and the exhibition by Previdi?
LA: The bubble of David Vetter represents an historical artifice, of course a sad one, but also a revealing one, telling us about a need for deep-freezing and detachment that belongs to us under a thousand diversified forms. The circumscription of an apparently tangible place, without separations, whose transparency distract us, at first blush, from the opacity that passes through it. While watching one of the many documentaries about the story of the child circulating on Youtube, I was impressed by the moment when the child himself claimed “I don’ t have to clean my bubble”. Just enough ironic and razor-sharp.
The bubble represents that habitable place that we compose and we tailor on ourselves. It is dazzling because it is an oasis of pleasure, but the utopia of fairy-tale seems to need being updated continuously. We and our everything appear powerful, fit and healthy at the right point, but actually the foundation remains bitter. However, as David says, we do not need to clean up our bubble.
EB: The tangency of design and architecture within Previdi’s research has always been known. Does this aspect of his work emerge in this occasion too?
LA: I personally think it only partially does so. It is true that the bubble is an architectonic element that had absorbed various functions and had taken different shapes across the years, but just because we have considered the exhibition a new starting point, we decided to move away from it. Initially, in fact, the publication we are working at aimed to guide us through a chronology of the bubble, eventually we ended up reflecting on our specific case. To present once again the connection between Riccardo’s work and that research on architecture did not make sense, in particular considering what the actual production of the work turned out to be. The central points remain instead the relationship with the digital dimension, the layers, the invasiveness and the imprecision of the machine in measuring the human body.
EB: Can you tell me briefly what did the artist show?
LA: The artist showed a 1:1 scale self-portrait carried out in mdf by using a 3D printing technique, after a scansion of his entire body. Taking part in the entire production process of the work was fundamental, the actualization of all the conversations we previously had. The various layers, left faulty on purpose, emphasize a reduction, a bequest that the machine admits to realize. The sculpture much recalls the works by Mario Ceroli, its dreamy look, sad at times, is made ironic and super cool by the bubble harnessed onto the body. On the background, a grimace, equally bittersweet, evokes the colors of Actimel, the infallible yogurt for strengthening your immune defense. The canvas merges with the wall from which two long geometric arms grow. It is the warm hug that the Bubble Boy asks and gives us, by partially compressing the space and us inside it, while, with his reassuring smile, he stays there and keeps on staring at us.