Fabio Santacroce

Subtle gestures + peripheries: stimulating a pleasant conversation with Fabio Santacroce of 63rd-77th STEPS art staircase

3 April 2017

The residency gave me the opportunity to experience this neighbourhood, which is interesting because it has many connections with the context I’m used to working in,” says Fabio Santacroce, speaking on a cold, sunny Sunday afternoon in Bermondsey, South London, chatting between steamy cups of tea and a bag of muffins. We’re here to discuss the exhibition Il Cielo a Calci (intro) at London’s Jupiter Woods, a one night event concluding his ten day residency at the space and co-organised with curator Rosana Puyol on March 24. The presentation also featured sound works by Kareem Lofty and Atièna alongside sculptural elements by Olu David Ogunnaike and Santacroce himself.

Il Cielo a Calci (intro) (2017). Installation view. Courtesy the artists + Jupiter Woods, London.

Santacroce is perhaps best known for his project 63rd-77th STEPS; a platform for contemporary art he created on a section of a stairway in his flat in Bari, where he invites artists from all over the world to exhibit in the space. And despite, or because of, the incongruity of the situation, many artists, including Amalia Ulman and Daniel Keller, have accepted, turning the staircase into a thriving display space and complicating the boundaries between private and public space, creating a forum for the experience of art that escapes the often self-imposed strictures of traditional exhibitions. Since its inception, the 63rd-77th STEPS project has grown considerably, and Santacroce has curated exhibitions on beaches and other spaces in Bari, as well as at Art-o-Rama in Marseille.

Santacroce’s own practice treads a number of aesthetic lines between installation and sculpture, found objects and handmade ones, as well as themes of universality, marginality, disposability and endurance. Jupiter Woods is located at the end of a long street in South Bermondsey populated by council flats, repurposed warehouses, and bustling churches. Just beyond the gallery lies the storied football stadium known as The Den, home to Millwall FC—whose fans bequeathed to the world perhaps the most notorious chant in the history of football: “No one likes us! We don’t care!” Such a social environment could seem an incongruous spot for such a robustly outward-looking practice as Santacroce’s, but he takes pains frequently as we speak to highlight the sense of connection to the local communities in which he found himself situated. He stresses the fact that, often, networks of economic solidarity develop where possible forms of identity might not necessarily promote connection. Sport and music specifically, Santacroce notes, bring communities across social and cultural divides together, however fleeting, and these moments of contact can become the basis for new modes of thinking, experience and self-definition. With these themes in mind, I want to explore his perspective on the roots of the exhibition and the ideas it seeks to present. I began by asking about the Italian phrase he selected for the shows’ title:

Fabio Santacroce: Il Cielo a Calci; it’s an Italian sentence that means when you kick someone or hurt someone, but in this case, you do it to the sky. This includes an impossible but subtle gesture of rebellion, not at any specific target necessarily, but rebellion more generally, and this approach, this feeling imbues 63rd-77th STEPS project. This expression brings this romantic violence, in a way. It comes from a letter that a friend of mine wrote some months ago expressing in such a beautiful way the huge pain coming from her awareness that she was going to lose her daughter. I was totally impressed by her words. I found this sentence so eloquent, and also, it seemed to connect to a larger dimension.

Fabio Santacroce, ‘Mothers’ (2017). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Jupiter Woods, London.

** I’m interested in the notion of interiority. There’s a different kind of interiority to a gallery space than there is to a stairway in a block of flats. Did these different forms of interiority play a role in the construction of this exhibition?

FS: I always found it a bit frustrating, associating the programme with being in a strange or odd location. That was never, for me, the main point. There was always the particular — or specific — space of the staircase being in a domestic environment, and the sense of feeling comfortable in the same way as when you invite people to your place. This encouraged me to focus on an ethical approach. Every time I was doing a show there, it was like inviting people to my place. I was very strict; I never wanted to introduce anything I don’t believe in or anything I don’t like. Also, it was about reflecting on peripheries, not just geographical ones, but also economic or cultural ones, and to trace a sort of generational mood, trying to find, in a specific local context, connections with different areas of the world where certain economic and political dynamics are the same. Being site-specific provides an occasion to reflect on the fact that in this specific period, we cannot be fully site-specific. We are really connected in many ways. So it was also interesting to trace these global geographies starting from a specific context.

** This connectivity you mention is obviously pervasive, not least with regard to market forces, which you’ve examined in other projects you’ve undertaken. Do you feel this form of connectivity, economic connectivity, is a major part of Il Cielo a Calci?

FB: I didn’t want to address these issues in this specific exhibition, but the reference to the market comes spontaneously with a programme, mainly because most of the artists I’ve been working with are now well-established. And this is interesting because reflecting on these marginal positions but also wearing a sort of mainstream dress creates a short circuit that I find interesting. as a way of experiencing and reflecting on market dynamics — which I tend to not demonize because I think there is no way of negating the importance of the market for the artist and for the circulation of art generally.

Personally, I didn’t consider the commercial aspect with 63rd-77 STEPS because I want to feel able to establish a relationship with the artist I’m inviting in a different way, as well as allowing for the artist to make something that could be limited through the market. Conceiving a work for being sold is different from considering a work just to create a cultural experience. Sometimes they can overlap, but I think in this specific case, I’ve found that most of the artists are able to deviate from commercial structures, and they were giving something to me that I found to be totally great.

** This exhibition feels quite topical. In terms of the imagery, was this specific set of images something you’d planned beforehand or did it emerge from working in the space and the city?

Fabio Santacroce, ’63rd-77th STEPS’. Promo image. Courtesy the artist.

FB: For the exhibition, I’m presenting this piece using the image of George Michael from the album, Older, and these canvases were wrapped using these zip ties, so it’s a very subtle gesture referencing suffocation. Why George Michael? George Michael is obviously a pop music icon, but also he was a way for me to gently and ironically address a UK audience, and his recent passing. In the districts where I work, when his death was announced, people played his music every day, so it became the soundtrack for almost two weeks. Music plays an important social function in this district, as does football, and it was also curious that behind Jupiter Woods there is also this football stadium. But I don’t really do planning, I don’t consider my works planned, I create a kind of overlay that comes from everyday life. Also, being here gave me this impetus to focus on these details — trying to recreate these overlapping sensations that comes from experiencing the city, experiencing the context. This is one of the reasons we left the space untouched. This ceiling, for example, really worked well with the idea of the sky being kicked. And the footballs themselves are not fixed, so, during the opening, people were just kicking them around, and this was creating an interactive element that was also interesting to me. They were also creating a bit of danger too, subtle danger. Obviously, we didn’t want to hurt anyone but it was like the low frequency, subtle violence.

** Though this exhibition concentrates on your artistic practice, there are also elements of curation, particularly the inclusion of the work of your collaborators. Could you speak about why these works resonated with you or fit in with the themes of the show?

FB:  For example, Olu constructs these stratifications of different wood from different parts of the world. He overlaps them and creates the panels, he constructs the layers. That was very interesting for me because it was a subtle reference to the many cultural and racial identities of peoples around the world, compressed into one place as one experiences in London. The reference to humanity compressed into one meter square has many layers of meaning, and the wood from the trees is one of the features of the terrestrial world that gets closest to the sky, naturally incorporating different oxygen spaces and different skies. Another interesting element is that this could be taken for a normal, commercially-produced panel.

** Regarding this specificity, did you notice any difference in the way London audience engaged with works as opposed to the way people in Bari have with previous exhibitions?

FB: No, actually. I didn’t notice any major difference, but the main difference was that English people were more able than other nationalities that came to the opening to recognise these images. So, for me, it was a success because the use of George Michael is a way of putting an element, or an image, between myself and the audience to stimulate a pleasant conversation.

** To speak about some of the broader themes in your practice, your work often addresses the hyper-circulation of capital, hyper-circulation of imagery, but at this moment in history, we’re seeing a crackdown on the free movement of people and the determination to re-erect borders. In using mass-produced images, are you attempting to touch on these political dimensions?

FB: Yes, sure this political dimension is totally present in my programme, but also in terms of my personal works. Also, one of the most exciting details of this show that — it wasn’t planned, it came spontaneously, but it was also a chance to proclaim the necessity of reflecting on specific issues like immigration, which is really strong at the moment — but three artists from this show are of African background, Olu, Atiena, and Kareem Lofty. I’m actually the only white person involved. For me, I don’t think in terms of these categories, but it came up. One of the artists realized this and she expressed her happiness to be in a show weighted in this way. So taking this element as a chance to confirm the necessity and importance of being collaborative, of being open, and not negating the access to anyone.**

The Il Cielo a Calci (intro) group exhibition was on at London’s Jupiter Woods, March 24, 2017. 

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‘A Mystical Staircase’ online @ 63rd-77th STEPS, Jun 25

27 June 2016

The A Mystical Staircase group exhibition was launched online on June 25, with a public presentation to happen at Museo Villa Croce on July 8.

Curated by Francesco Urbano Ragazzi in collaboration with Bari’s artist-run space 63rd-77th STEPS, A Mystical Staircase is an exhibition with 22 artists in the form of an online tarot deck.

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.

Artists involved in A Mystical Staircase will “share a vision with you” upon formulating a question and picking a ‘card’. These visionaries include Sarah Abu Abdallah, Kareem Lotfy, Fabio Santacroce, Tiril Hasselknippe, Institute for New Feeling and Eva Papamargariti.

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”.

See the Museo Villa Croce website for details.**









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CAROGNA @ Rijksakademie, Apr 20 – 30

20 April 2016

The CAROGNA group show is on at Amsterdam’s Rijksakademie, opening on April 20, running April 30.

Featuring the likes of aqnb regulars, Kareem Lotfy, who is the show’s organiser and a current Rijksakademie resident, Katja Novitskova, Ilya Smirnov and Anna Solal, CAROGNA promises to be an interesting gathering of works.

There is little information provided about the ins and outs of the show itself. The title roughly translated from Italian means ‘carrion’, or the decaying flesh of a dead animal. Sent along by Lofty with the logistical information of the show is an image of a piece of toast bitten into to make a moon shape with slightly charred areas, and a short Arabic text of lyrics from Syrian performer and noted Assad supporter George Wassouf’s ‘Tabib Garah‘ that opens, “I’m a surgeon, I cures people’s hearts”.

Other artists include  63rd – 77th STEPS founder, Fabio Santacroce, Isaac Penn, Michael Assiff and Mathis Collins. Many of them are also in current show, Il Futuro Era Bellissimo Per Noi at Cité Internationale des Arts.

See the FB event page for (limited) details.**

'CAROGNA' (2016) @ Rijksakademie, Amsterdam.
‘CAROGNA’ (2016) @ Rijksakademie, Amsterdam.
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The Garden @ ROOM E-10 27, Feb 11 – 24

10 February 2016

The Garden group show will be on at Paris’ ROOM E-10 27, opening February 11 and running to February 24.

Thirteen artists will show work in ROOM E-10 27’s garden. The pieces will contribute to the environment, finding moments between the domesticity of nature and the ability to overcome and menace it, according to the press release, which also tells a tender story about Derek Jarman’s meditative and arid garden:

“Poking out of the flint surface, its irises, plants and rusty crosses made from wrenches, is a far cry from the green monochrome of Bree Van de Kampf’s perfectly tended lawns that adorn Wisteria Lane.”

Artists in the show include Rosie Hastings & Hannah Quinlan, Anna SolalFabio SantacroceAnna Sagström, and Cédric Fargues. 

See the ROOM E-10-27 webpage for more details**

Neighbourhood, Anna Solal (2012). Courtesy the artist.
Anna Solal, ‘Neighbourhood’ (2012). Courtesy the artist.
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Kelly Bar @ Pane, Jan 13 – 17

12 January 2016

New Milan-based artist-run project Pane is hosting group show Kelly Bar at Cafè al 5 on via Pellegrino Rossi 5, opening January 13 and running to 17.

Kelly Bar is a Chinese cafe that “DOESN’T list abstruse and exotic Chinese dishes with bright names”. Instead, the press release says, it has sumptuous Italian sandwiches and “fragrant breakfasts”. It is a Westernized place that “fully reflects the imagined expectations of a young Chinese teenager” while walking along via Pellegrino Rossi in Milan.

Artists showing at Kelly Bar include Lucy ChinenNina CristanteAdam Cruces,  Ilja KarilampiKareem LotfyQuintessa Matranga, Fabio Santacroce and Bruno Zhu among several others. 

Pane’s motto is: “Pane is bread, Pane is primary, Pane feeds, Pane crumbles”.

See the FB Event Page for more**

Ilja Karilampi, Espressen (2015). Courtesy the artist.
Ilja Karilampi, ‘Espressen’ (2015). Courtesy the artist.
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9800 opening @ 9800 Sepulveda, Oct 29

29 October 2015

9800 transforms a large vacant building into an art space with seven curators, each occupying a different floor of the building and presenting over 100 artists at the historic 9800 S Sepulveda building in Los Angeles on October 29.

The event will bring in a rotation of simultaneous exhibitions and events, many of which were created specifically for the space, and all of which “take the particular location as their orienting force, their impetus”.

The result is something “more in the realm of the experimental, temperamental, fleeting, emerging”, with the curators and artists alike considering the site and creating works “activated” by it. Among the seven curators are Courtney Malick and Ana Iwataki, and among the over 100 artists are ÅYRFatima Al Qadiri, Sarah Abu Abdallah, Felix Melia, Item Idem, Rachel Lord, Fabio Santacroce  and Sean Raspet

See the Facebook event page for details. **


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AFA 2 by 63rd-77th STEPS @ Bari, July 29

27 July 2015

AFA 2, an off-site project organized by 63rd-77th STEPS – Art Project Staircase, is opening at Pane e Pomodoro Beach in Bari on July 29 and running intermittently until August 12.

The project brings 13 international artists to exhibit together in Puglian capital, including 63rd-77th STEPS founder Fabio Santacroce, as well as Maja CuleMichael Assiff, Lucia LeuciBradford Kessler, and Ilya Smirnov.

Following last year’s AFA documented 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.”

See the project page for details. **

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Always Brian (TI AMO) (2015) exhibition photos

23 February 2015

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.

Always Brian (TI AMO) (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy 63rd - 77th STEPS.
Always Brian (TI AMO) (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy 63rd – 77th STEPS.

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.
Happiness is not a cinematographic effect and you have been
approving only “first class” tags.

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. **

Exhibition photos, top right.

Always Brian (TI AMO) group exhibition was on at Bari’s 63rd – 77th STEPS, running January 16 to 18, 2015.

Header image: Rosa Ciano, ‘Together Alone #0’. Install view. Courtesy 63rd – 77th STEPS.

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AFA (2014) @ 63rd-77th STEPS off-site exhibition photos

10 October 2014

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”. **

Exhibition photos, top right.

AFA was an off-site group exhibition by 63rd-77th STEPS, running in Bari, Italy, from September 25 to 27, 2014.

All images: AFA (2014) @ 63rd-77th STEPS. Photos by Fabio Ingegno. Courtesy 63rd-77th STEPS.

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