The project takes its name from an ancient allegory describing the ascension to Knowledge, as it continues the quest for the “spiritual dimensions of data consumption”. Curatorial duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi started in organising The Internet Saga with Jonas Mekas, which (below) featured a phone call by Amalia Ulman.
Interestingly, the project also alludes to the rotations of our point of view on moving images, what the press release describes as a “silent revolution which is happening on our devices. The possibility of writing a new vertical cinema”.
The Il Futuro era bellissimo per noi group exhibition features 13 artists and takes its title from lyrics of an Italian pop song. It’s called Odio le favole by Ermal Meta, and follows themes of dramatic love in a temporal paradox; a logical contradiction in the sentence, “The future was very beautiful for us”. Pop music references are a constant in the program and approach of Bari-based “project staircase” 63rd-77th STEPS. Run by Italian artist and curator Fabio Santacroce, its website carries on this tradition with this most recent off-site exhibition, running April 14 to 30, in an online press release entrusted with the heart-breaking words of another famous song by Gianna Nannini feat. Don Backy, L’immensità(‘immensity’ in English). Said track plays over the desolate webpage background of a tiled gif of blacks birds taking flight in a wintry-white sky.
Questions of temporality settle at once with the outside project, ‘Lambrequin’ (2016) of Mathis Collins that sinks, drips and dries on the facade of the studio. After swathing a big red sheet on the front door as a kind of tent, the artist himself sits outside during its installation, collecting his liquid consumables —drinks, beers, wines, coffees —and pouring their sweet, acid, sticky contents on the canopy. Taken down and hung up again inside the studio, the fabric wears the stigma of its production time. On the floor, some ‘archeological’ objects remind us that the present is permanently in flight, suspended between past and future. Solal’s ‘Kites’ —part shields and part children’s toys —mix fabrics, decal stickers, bicycle chains and the screen of a smashed-up iPad screen. Close by, Santacroce’s installation quotes the exhibition’s title and confronts tradition and modernity, between the French clichés printed on canvas and customised car side window sunshades.
Everything in Il Futuro era bellissimo per noi is about mythologies: those that explain our past and those that will shape the world of tomorrow. This meeting of the antiquated and the modern comes in works like Anna Franceschini’s film, ‘Before they break, before they die, they fly!’ playing on loop and showing us some small tourist souvenirs from Rome, like the Colosseum, a helmet, Saint Cecilia’s statue, almost made sacred suspended above a magnetic levitation pad. But this is also the ambivalence of the myth that is at stake in the floor piece by Sean Townley. His small sculpture ‘Intrinsic Apoptotic Pathways’ (2013) is a cast made from a kapala skullcup. According to legend when a Tantra Buddhist or Hindu monk dies, the upper part of the skull is cut and then decorated with gems and precious metals. These often serve then as containers, such as cups or memento mori.
Then there are the idols and their offerings. A customized half-unpacked present by Quintessa Matranga. A foam vital organ suspended —a kind of large human heart —by Mariantonieta Bagliato. A ham biscuit totem cut into the shape of a hand on the sink by Cédric Fargues. Emanuele Marcuccio participates in the chorus of voices composing the show through one of his recurring cold and metallic sheets, its geometric cuts shaped into abstract faces and stick figures. Here, his ‘I wanted something calm’ work welcomes the visitor, acting as a sort of metal front door or, inversely, blocking access to that implosive environment that constitutes the whole exhibition, overseeing this place of temporary work, in a space already awaiting another tenant.
On his side, Frieder Haller articulates a concrete, treacherous path along the existing staircase inside the space, creating additional steps and level in small wood and concrete constructions that complicate its climbs and descents within the existing practical ones. This conflict, also enunciated in the title, is everywhere. It is temporal first but also spatial, as behind a half-closed door an audio track by Kareem Lotfy called ‘French connection environment’ is hidden at the centre of an abandoned mess in the kitchen.
The transitional space, the architecture itself, the works and its installation; its temporal value, its multiple references, its fragile sustainability. Like the discreet drawing by Ilya Smirnov, ‘No Title Provided’, placed above the radiator, or the small consumed candles on canvases by Josip Nosovel in the corner,Il Futuro era bellissimo per noi triggers a short-circuit mixing low and high culture, dominant historical narratives and esoterica, pop culture and cheap technology—temporalities, language, tone —in a moment that is both sentimental in mood and very dark in humour.**
Ilya Smirnov‘s Mechanics Alley, running December 18, 2015, to January 31, 2016, is a single in-depth study of a place. Produced, exhibited and available for download from Bari art space 63rd-77th STEPS’ website, the online installation details, scours, smells, draws, photographs, films, collects, understands and captions an alley in New York that has not been included on any map since 1905. It was partly blocked by the Manhattan Bridge, which now arches over it, leaving it partly forgotten.
There are a couple of elements to the work. Principally an online book, which is a 606 page pdf and consists of chapters like “drawings that belong to roof 1″, “roof 1” and “documents (unearthed at the site)”. Captions work with images in a way that is remarkably clear, deadpan and magical all at the same time. Pen drawings fill in the gaps that holes in mouldy newspapers have made. It feels like a work thats not trying too hard. It is full of imagination but is just presenting what is already there in the alley. On the right hand side of one spread is a scanned-in image of a still shiny silver knife (despite its slight rust) and on the left is a page made out of kitchen roll. Perhaps the kitchen roll was used by Smirnov to carry the objects in the”Tools” chapter away from Mechanics Alley.
Smirnov adds a special thanks to Jon Lucas, Emma McMillan and Anna Teterkina on the 63rd-77thSTEPS website, as well as a video to accompany the Mechanics Alley project. The camera starts by delving into a dark gap in the ground before moving up to film, with a shaky hand, the Manhattan Bridge above whose streetlights almost glare. The camera is almost completely out of focus. Somewhere in the 606 pages of the online book it notes that one of the roofs –the second one –is “elevated in relation to roof 1 and 3″. Perhaps Smirnov is filming from ‘the second roof’, wherever that is. We are told things in terms of individual details rather than with the aid of whole pictures.
A song starts to play over the scenes of the detritus in the video. It is, according to Shazam, ‘Three Sisters Who are not Sisters’, the first scene of an opera made in three parts. You can’t find this music anywhere else on the internet, which makes perfect sense when you are watching this person go through the nondescript ‘stuff’ thats half lying in the cold uninterrupted powdered snow. They find a key before there is a shot of some hair moving around against the inside of a car window. All of this–the place and the work –feels made to write about, especially with it being in the snow and during the night.
Smirnov has made documentation that suits being documented. The artist has edited the larger online pdf work into a 16-page version titled ‘Hammer Edition‘, especially for aqnb. The images take up more space on the screen and are in a different order. In the original pdf a black and white image of a woman sitting with her arms folded, looking to the viewer shares a spread with a mirror-image of herself. In the condensed ‘Hammer Edition’ she shares the screen space with a blurry scan of what looks like a painting of a burning building underneath a full moon. **
AFA 2, running from July 29 to August 12, is a lightweight exhibition. It could fly away with the first summer breeze. It leans on the public beach of Bari in Italy waiting for the sun to set, folded and unfolded in a ritual which determines its existence. Thirteen international artists invited by 63rd-77th STEPS design a series of black and white print towels for the historical coastline of Pane e Pomodoro, its intense life discreetly interrupted by this spectral summer collection lying on the sand. The towels are unfolded from afternoon till evening among the haphazard lines of bathers, arranged in random order daily, in an event that lies somewhere between guerilla marketing and the human right to tan.
Pane e Pomodoro is a popular beach: just like the dish from which it took its name. Bread, oil, salt, water, tomato. In the heart of a landscape of contaminated beauty, where the sand isn’t natural: the shore being artificially designed following an asbestos removal project nearby. It assimilates and defines their waves. And it stays there, soft and still until the flow of people slows at sunset.
Thirteen black and white print towels, faded as if by the sun, impress on the sand. They’re uninhabited islands on densely populated portions of coast, between the midi-sounds of the piano bar, the haze of some merry embers, the kids playing football and the shouts of their parents. The unsaturated images realized by the artists and printed on terry cloth are situated in the very multicoloured peak of people, marking some short pauses. They are sudden grey zones from which everything seems to be more distant: the hunger, the heat, the excitement, the anger, the Mediterranean sea. They soften like from a higher sense of suspension, innocence, restlessness, desolation.
This is the feeling of the three bathers portrayed in Fabio Santacroce‘s ‘Mare Nostrum’, that can be found in a lot of the creatures evoked on the towels: from the monkeys sketched in the white by Ditte Gantriis, to the hypersexualized female ants by Lucia Leuci. There are the tentacular eruptions of the ‘Phallus-vagina Dentata’ by Uffe Isolotto and the pale masks by Liz Craft, the threatening black claw between the small birds cages by Rosa Ciano, and then the four-handed zombies of the ‘Gmorkrunoff’ by Rolf Nowotny.
All these aberrations of the body are probably generated by the contradictions of ‘meridian thought’, as sociologist Franco Cassano calls it, faced with global economy. The same suggestion comes in the sign of Spencer Longo’s ‘Work Ethic’, Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’ stuck on a doner kebab spit by Pentti Monkkonen and the cluster of ‘submit’ icons carpeting Maja Cule’s ‘Submit to AFA’, which spills out from the Internet to the beach in Bari. For an instant they may seem like a collection of bottle caps and cigarette butts: that’s just the effect of visual pollution. It’s a bit like the darkened emoticons sadly reclining on the pain rating scale of Bradford Kessler’s ‘Even Diablos Get The Blues’, or the plots and symbols of the Transpacific Partnership of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization intertwining in the ‘Factory Trawler’ by Michael Assiff.
Guiding us through this variable and irregular itinerary, we bump into Ilya Smirnov‘s lost children with a torch, which rather seems like the lantern of Diogenes the Cynic: ‘contra omnia adversa’ (against all). But there is no light and no words showing us the way. And maybe we can’t do anything else but get lost in this reality. **
Following last year’s AFAdocumented here, the project’s description comes as a story-like text that begins with: “Only one survived.” The ‘one’ refers to a little ant, “dazed, rusty but fair”, collecting breadcrumbs of an “authoritarian bread”. The description ends seemingly senselessly, with: “In any case, no one was in the apartment that afternoon, maybe they were all on the beach to roast their thick skins along with the unpunished lies. Meanwhile the fatty rice salad was earning flavor in the fridge.”
Always Brian (TI AMO) owes its title to street art. The only evidence of an underground language exposed in the light of day, the words could mean a range of things, their semantics depending on any number of factors that are too many to quantify. It doesn’t stop people and their programmes from trying though, with linguistic inquiry and word count text analysis software (LIWC) being one of them. It’s this purported window into the “emotional and cognitive worlds” of any given social media user that provides an interesting launching point for this group exhibition. Organised by 63rd-77th STEPS and running January 16 to 18, the show becomes an obtuse inquiry into the implications of the monitoring and manipulation of peoples’ very moods and the way we read them via the text they choose to share.
The three day exhibition marked a year since Fabio Santacroce founded the aforementioned “art staircase”, that often exhibits off-site, by taking up residence across the three rooms where the spray-paint tag of ‘Brian’ and his love were discovered at the train station of Bari, Italy. It acts as a nucleus in a synaptic network of information shared between nine artists that include Rosa Ciano, Benjamin Asam Kellogg, Lucia Leuci and Yuri Pattison; their self-contained clusters of personalised information presenting images and objects as codes and signifiers that can be read any number of ways.
Jasper Spicero‘s wall-hung iPad featuring a generic looking bedroom is tangled up inside a web of taut and tied-together shoelaces. Cecile B. Evans‘ dancing animated scissors are singing Sade’s ‘No Ordinary Love’ through the stilted tonal blocks of a Vocaloid application in a projection of ‘How happy a Thing can be‘ (2014). Matthew Landry‘s ‘Whisper’ collection of personalised image-board posts tacked to a couple planks of wood announce “MY BEST FRIEND MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE” and “Ummm”. Amalia Ulman‘s slide show presentation ‘The Future Ahead’ (2014) video – also shown at the artist’s The Destruction Of Experience solo exhibition in London last year – takes Justin Bieber as a starting point to exploring femininity in terms of masculinity and teen girl fandom: “he’s still monetizing on their prepubescent love-business”.
Before you read into the following riddle that is the Always Brian (TI AMO) presentation text – assembled from a harvest of status updates, mail and conversations – spare a thought for the fact that Santacroce himself describes it as “fragments from conversation mixed with personal considerations and turned into a “fractured”, hyper-textual poetry without any specific revealing intent”.
“Always Brian (TI AMO), Corso Italia and a burnt kebab. I like how you fall in sleep on trains, you feel fastened to Earth. Leaves are lying about their agony and we have all been gifted with a YEAR IN REVIEW. It tastes iron. Entertaining revolution, performed poverty, wealthy orgasm. Kamut year. DID YOU UPGRADE YOUR REVERENCE? Happiness is not a cinematographic effect and you have been approving only “first class” tags. LINGUISTIC INQUIRY AND WORD COUNT.”
Each sentence bares a semantic logic all it’s own like the exhibition of artworks it introduces. Its artists’ ability to communicate relies heavily on their association with last year’s 63rd – 77th STEPS programme, as well as their nebulous interrelation between one another, almost entirely by virtue of using text as material, and fragments as form. Understanding that might get you closer to the artists’ intentions, but it also might not. **
Here’s an exhibition curated by project “staircase” founder and artist Fabio Santacroce, whose 63rd-77th STEPS usually presents its works on the last 14 steps of an abandoned 20th century building in the cosmopolitan ‘Quartiere Libertà’ in Italy’s Bari. It moved off-site to occupy a deserted bank over three days for AFA, from September 25 to 27, as part of a festival promoting a temporary revitalisation of the defunct businesses on Via Manzoni. The symbolism of reinhabiting a financial institution with art is unmissable, particularly in light of the recent GEC; the ‘occupy’ movements and soft selling gentrification to follow. The result is a dynamic and politically conscious global art community to emerge and the rather depressing awareness of the role these very artists play in the regeneration and corporatisation of online and offline space within neoliberal markets, thus effecting their own eventual eviction.
Hence the temporary positioning of AFA at the center of this derelict monument to late-capitalism as Joey Villemont‘s ‘relaax.in‘ website is projected onto a wall. It promises “a soothing atmosphere” for expelling the anxiety of internet connectivity, without simply disconnecting. Wavy images and soundtracks from artists like Hannah Lees, Rachel de Joode, Joey Holder and Ian Swanson provide a digital remedy for a digital problem, keeping its audience online at all costs. Much like YouTube channel GentleWhispering, a woman exhales “I am creative” over the undulations of a cushion-covered car in Antoine Donzeaud‘s ‘I Choose to Awaken’, mimicking the market-making mechanism of fixing its own malfunctions.
“Create new oceans”, announces the opening voice-over for Daniel Keller‘s ‘Blue Ocean Strategy (Eclectic Offshore)’ mix, playing through an iPhone hanging from a bit of Bari driftwood. It’s financial advice from a disembodied man’s voice that declares companies should be generating “uncontested marketing space” rather than competing head-on in one that already exists. This is no doubt instruction best heeded by a bank’s ‘Triple A’ clients – those ones with the highest credit rating and infinite borrowing capabilities, ensuring a competitive advantage and exponential growth. Thus Santacroce inserts these ‘AAA’s into every ‘a’, of every volume of Karl Max’s Capital with ‘CAAAPITAAAL’, while Carlos Noronha Feio (also of ‘anonymous’ collaborative art project Pelican Haus) materialises bonds as luxury items for the lucky few in ‘Silk Scarfs as Bonds V and VI’.
That’s all while Ilja Karilampi‘s big finance in the labour of fun and frippery comes in android screen conversations-as-window stickers (“Apparently we had 3 way kiss ?”) greets you at the door. It’s data inserted into a display that’s visible from both sides. Filthy-rich though frugal Scrooge McDuck is looking from the “LOBBY”. **