Anna Daneri: The exhibition plan you have conceived together with Massimo Marchetti for Quartz Studio was born from a recent research aiming for meddling with the experimentations you carried out in the Seventies, often in form of collaborative projects, that generated actions in urban spaces or somewhere else, but always outside the “protected” gallery or museum spaces. Those were the years, when you and Mara Sitti, the artist and life partner, unfortunately prematurely dead in 1992, with whom you carried out many of the researches to which you are going back today, formed the variable team Ricerche Inter/Media. Living in a period – by now lasting nearly ten years long – when younger artists, critics and institutions, both private and public, go back to the practices of the Seventies, I find very interesting that an artist himself chose to deal with his own work, without any nostalgic or ” historicist ” stance, by expressing instead the will of reactivating his own history, that is collective too.
Maurizio Camerani: I find the term reactivation very appropriate to define my current research. For some time now, I have been focusing on exploring with new eyes my artistic work of the Seventies, a phase when I elaborated together Mara Sitti some concepts that I still consider meaningful. Since 1975, in our reflections the idea of interrupting the worn out relationships with institutional protected spaces started taking shape: to us the world was whirling round and round and we had the clear perception that, same as the social relationships were being modified, also the relationship between the art world and the society had to evolve. Ricerche Inter/Media was our response and the post office box 236 the place where to find us and to communicate. That process of reactivation of energies and artistic practices started taking place in 2019 with a photo-sound intervention at Torre Prendiparte in Bologna, curated by Maria Livia Brunelli, and continued at the gallery Unimediamodern of Caterina Gualco in Genoa, where, with Furti di paesaggio (Landscape Thefts), I proposed once again my investigation on the energies that in those years the roads and the walls were expressing like huge blackboards of a generation. For the exhibition held in Turin at Quartz Studio of Francesca Referza instead, I have begun to read again the substantial project Evento 77 (Event 77) that Mara and I activated with the collaboration of others in September 1977, and I let the same working mood of that time guide me. Evento 77 was an event in which 35 artists from several latitudes interacted with the private or public life of 27 inhabitants of Ferrara, mostly external to the art world. The relationships generated within more than four months set the foundation for the pivotal principle of `the independent parallel channel’. Beside one of the Furti di paesaggio (Landscape Thefts) of 1976 and the video Altrove (Elsewhere) of 1981, the exhibition presents three works inspired by the same collaborative and relational principle of Evento 77, that involved other artists in their making.
AD: The letter of invitation sent to the other international artists who participated to Evento 77 (among them Sarenco, Angela Curly and Yervant Gianikian, Renata Boero, Luca Patella, Franco Vaccari) expresses some clear intentions through the very choice of terms you decided to use. The artist is defined `operator’ in respect of a dynamics thought in order to activate Ferrara’s urban fabric through a series of relationships with people and places intentionally stranger to the art circuit and some interventions and actions “meant to overcome the concept of object as product, fetish of power, stereotype to be contemplated; but also to overcome the concept of concept, meant as abstract, passive entity, we would say nearly impotent and exclusively mental, by intervening within reality through reality, with an event born with reality, that within reality spreads”. A critic to the system (not only the art system) attuned to that time, which has much in common with our present too. For Turin show you decided to show three “operation” conceived and/or carried out then, sharing the same transforming and ecological mood. Make a better world now is an appeal to the awareness and the action: today that could be a slogan used by the global movement Fridays for Future. The invitation originates from an idea sent by Robert Rehfledt, who opened his communication with statement “Art in contact, it’s life in art! ”; the action was photographed by Mara Sitti. Vulcano (Volcano) was born instead from an ideogram recalling light, the sun and life, sent by Takahashi Shohachiro to which you gave the temporary sculptural form of a paper volcano. Everybody knows it, the scandal is as unstoppable as the new on the move is instead the text of four telegrams that you sent to Mara with the guidelines for writing them in four spots of your studio. How did you intervene today on the materials and the ideas of ’77?
MC: My approach has never been nostalgic, but contemporary instead. It was like pushing a switch, that was simply left off. Space and time just vanished. Things have happened by themselves, I have only finished a work I began some years ago. At that time, all those interventions were documented, basically in order to leave a track of what done, through a self-published catalog and a small exhibition, collecting all the contributions and lasting a few days in the spaces of a cultural center in an outlying neighborhood. The one of today is therefore the first occasion in which the results of those actions are exhibited in a proper venue. Even though I am pretty intolerant of the rhetoric of the `old days’, I think it could be useful to tell shortly about the circumstances in which those interventions developed, also because art and life are always related. In 1977 I was in Rome, in barracks because of my military service as grenadier. I was enduring that experience with great difficulty and I was indeed furious and full of repressed energy. I began therefore to think to my contribution to the event I had organized, looking for an equivalent of those feelings. At one point I found a newspaper article with a sentence (“Everybody knows it…”) that seemed perfect to me, and I immediately wrote to Mara telling her about some telegrams with a call for action she would have received soon. To me, that looked like a very precise formula in respect of the moment I was living, therefore I cut it out, extrapolating it, a little like visual poets use to do, something I knew thanks to the acquaintance with Michele Perfetti. Then I asked Mara to rewrite the sentence in our studio in order to let that kind of energy take some shape. It was the same force contained in that sentence, what I found later in the letter sent us by Rehfledt. As a matter of fact, I was really impressed by such a sudden consonance, therefore I immediately proposed Mara to interpret it as one can see in the photograph, with the flag on the street, staging one of mine personal protest demonstration. The paper volcano inspired by Shohachiro cue too, with all those white sheets waiting to be filled with drawings or writings, was an element that was bursting, that was producing energy. In short, something potential that one day could have really been happening somewhere. I felt the need to project myself `elsewhere’, a term that will be later mentioned in several works of mine, starting from the title it of the video that I present in the exhibition.
AD: In the reactivation of your works I also see the need to go back to the reflection on authoriality, work commodization and to the comparison with relational practice and the interaction with urban space, following a long research – the one undertaken from the Eighties on by experimenting with new technologies, video and sculpture, that still waits to be better known and valued. In particular, the series of Furti di paesaggio (Landscape Thefts), some performative urban actions started in 1975, is the one on which you are working more intensely today, as if you were reopening a discourse that looks like it was never closed. I am thinking at your last exhibitions in Bologna and Genoa, where, starting from some documentary source material, you realized some light boxes, photographic works and sound installations. The landscape is the one of the city and its signs, its writings, its hoardings, its field recordings. The object of `the theft’ is not the monument, but the interstice, the secondary scene, the message left by the one who passed before, that in the series assumes the value of a work to be recovered by using techniques such as tempera paint frottage, molding. A practice that develops a “psycho-geographic” approach to the basis of the situationist theory of the dérive and the Marxist idea of the landscape as mirror of human soul, cited by Guy Debord, in his second film of 1959: “People can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is animated”.
MC: Obviously, I am really happy that these works might open up some reflections connecting them to the facts you mentioned, but I must say with all sincerity that at that time I did not know Debord at all, nor his reflection on détournement and psycho-geography. Rather, those were for me, on one hand the years of DAMS and Lavoro o comportamento (Work or Attitude) at the 1972 Venice Biennale, which changed my approach to art by shifting my goal from the realization of sculptures to some more attitude based forms; however, on the other hand, those were also the years of the student protests in Bologna, of the street clashes, of the gunshots and the tanks in via Zamboni. I was frequenting Bologna since ’68, at the times of the Fine Art Academy, and I already experienced the student protest, but in 1975 I also begun to teach high school in that city and my immersion in that heavier and heavier season was reaching the apex. I felt therefore the necessity to move towards the real horizon, which was then the city level, the one of everyday life. In that situation, I had no direct interest in politics though; what was interesting to me was rather to understand the energies circulating in those places, and Furti di paesaggio just suited that intention. Therefore, speaking about your reflections on situationism, I can tell that I was not moving like a flaneur, I was not aiming for the “dérive” in a radical way, even though I frequented the urban space and I was open to the influence of its signs and sounds. Basically the idea was to realize some sort of sensitive photocopy of the place, or better, to equip me with some kind of “absorbent paper” allowing me to collect those energies, rather than something representing the creative action of an anonymous individual. As I have said before, energy had been a concept that always accompanied me, which already then interested me much more than the political meaning of the single words or the slogans collected from the walls. I was looking for any kind of detail, ranging from the roughest writing to cancellations and noises, with the only goal to capture the sedimentation of energy. Within that research, the techniques I learnt at the art academy suited me as a mere laboratory reagent: I thought that I was no longer supposed to produce expression, I assumed it was over, I wanted instead to reveal it in what surrounded me, therefore techniques became “cold” instruments for the emergence of some alternative communication forms or, as I defined them, “non-formal”. Thus it was like going excavating an archaeological site in order to extract a sample to analyze as close as possible. As a matter of fact, I tried to approach those signs in order to discover something revealing me the formula of language. As far as the present time, the fact that I resumed working on those materials by elaborating them, sometimes concluding them or simply removing them from the oblivion, is due to the fact that in those years I have left too many doors open and now I think is time to close some of them. If eventually my works from the Seventies find a renewed freshness through the experience of the artists who came after my generation, that is just a pleasure to me.
AD: An investigation on language, on communication to 360 degrees – written words that become abstract signs, spoken words becoming indistinct sounds – that progressively involved technology, more and more present in the research starting from the Eighties, until eventually flowing into the long collaboration with the Centro Video Arte in Ferrara. The first experimentations date back to ’78 with the project Interferenze (Interferences) put into action through a local radio channel that broadcasted artist’s sound works as part of its daily radio programming. It could be considered as some kind of hack, or at least of displacement resulting once again from the act of moving art to non-artistic circuits, born from a critical reflection on diverse systems in which the medium issue is central. Then another experimentation with the radio followed, Opera Organizzata n. 5 (Organized Work n. 5), this time for Radio RAI that in the 1979 invited you to contribute to the broadcast Fonosfera and the first videos, opening onto a new landscape. Before you were talking about Altrove, that you have donated to the GAM video archive. It is an apparently simple video: still camera in a room that evokes a TV studio (the color of the backdrops; the camera in the center pointing at the viewer inside a structure, which envisage the video-sculptures of the following years), embedding several complex issues though. A real poetic statement, although whispered, never assertive, that includes some video and audio interferences acting like shocks in order to ignite the attention to the message: “Art moves zigzagging. Art is elsewhere. Art is restless…”
MC: Technology is pure energy, therefore I soon started thinking that using it would have allowed me to let such a crucial theme emerge in a more and more tangible and rich fashion. No doubt radio experimentation marked an important verification of this possibility, although in the Furti di paesaggio cycle already, the adoption of technology was expected to expand the gesture of the `theft’ to the level of sound, and also in Evento 77 I had the possibility to deal with video. In the first case, luckily, I saved the material and therefore, forty years after, I was able to realize that photo-sound installation, of course in a revised form, while the video of Evento 77, that basically interpreted some performances, unfortunately has gone lost. Going back to the experiences you have mentioned, the opportunity of acting within the radio channel repeated, by reinforcing it, a concept already been the origin of Evento 77, which is “the loss of the center”, the movement towards the margins of a system that in order to offer recognition and value forced the artist (and naturally keeps on doing that) to take a precise and firm position. Moreover, for sure we did not mean to get stuck in a local art situation that in its entirety was gravitating passively around the institutional program of Palazzo dei Diamanti.The occasion to put into action this further shift was provided us by a free radio station in Ferrara, Radio Notte, that offered us its availability to host the project Interferenze, consisting of a series of sound communications, collected from the international mail art circuit, in form of `disturbance’ within the daily broadcasts, mostly readings of poetic texts and pieces of concrete music. Thinking back to your reference to Debord, we actually acted in order to produce a situationist détournement, stimulating the listener `to reawaken’ through an act of estrangement from the mental numbness induced in the interstices of his free time by a predictable musical palimpsest. That experiment was noticed by Francesco Vincitorio and the review he wrote on “L’Espresso” made us known to Armando Adolgiso and Pinotto Fava, who were preparing and experimental program for Radio Uno called Fonosfera. Segments, routes and sound dynamics in form of workshop proposal. Thus Opera Organizzata n. 5 was born, the staging of an hypothetical nocturnal walk during which one met the most famous and influential personalities of the art world who were addressed with some little provocative communications. From the experience of the sound medium to the video one, that I considered the natural development of Ricerche Inter/Media fundamental premises, the step was short: in 1980 I made a pretty articulated video-performance within the event Babilonia, then the following year I started a systematic research right on that language by shooting La perdita del centro (The Loss of the Center) and Altrove, both present ones in the GAM video archive.