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di Mario Cristiani
The Arte all’Arte Rinascimento Nascimento Art Industry Landscape project was conceived by the Associazione Arte Continua and proposed to the Museo Leonardiano, the Arken Museum, the Palais de Tokyo, the Het Domain Museum and the S.M.A.K. at the end of 2001.
The title of the project is in itself a synthesis of what we wanted to explore and develop from the contemporary art point of view between 1999 and 2004, a period in which the European Union gradually became less of an embryonic and exclusively economic institution and more and more of a political and cultural player. We had already begun to reflect about the contribution that visual art, and contemporary art in particular, might make towards the realization of a European culture capable of addressing and engaging modern Europeans. We were thinking in terms of a ‘bridge of light’ that could relate a number of symbolically significant elements of the past, for instance the Renaissance, with the artistic languages and problem issues that animate the spaces and peoples of this important continent. One only has to think of the large immigrant populations in the five countries involved in the project, in whose visual tradition the representation of the human figure is often excluded; but also the many native-born Europeans who are unaware of the wealth of beauty and historic memory provided by the artists of the European Renaissance tradition, which forms the basis of the modern age and in particular of contemporary artistic languages. In the same way, the perspectives of other cultures (members from which have now settled permanently in our countries) have changed the way in which art is viewed and practised in Europe.
Throughout the project there was a strong drive, shared by all the partners, to develop this common theme. This is not to say that exhibitions and projects are a direct means of engaging in politics. But showing and informing people about differences, and coordinating events so as to enhance awareness of this process, was an important source of motivation in the choice of which actions to undertake. In mounting the exhibitions and realizing the works, we have tried to take into account these complexities and differences. The enlargement of the European Union to include new countries in the same period is a sign that populations that were once not members of the Union are now a fully-fledged part of it. For this reason too we must be aware that it is necessary to investigate and take account of connections with things that might seem not to have anything to do with us. This is what informed the decision to invite artists who are not, strictly speaking, European, for instance Rita Ackermann at Het Domein or Nam June Paik at Vinci in 2001, or Chen Zhen at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The lines of penetration and escape that leading artists from other cultures present are often the clearest representation of the dynamism in which we are caught up.
Attempting to give visibility, through internationally prominent artists, to other cultural traditions that now coexist and contaminate traditional views of what European culture is all about, is an unavoidable imperative for anyone who wants to live in today’s world with some idea of what is going on. Our efforts can be summed up as a need to sew together again, or at least to create, a cultural fabric that, by weaving together different threads, can make everyone fully and responsibly aware of the age that is unfolding in front of us. Recognition on the part of the European Commission of the pertinence of the undertaking was fundamental to the development of the project. So too was the ability to find partners who shared the aims of the project and could broaden its significance.
It is no means easy to find a local council like that of Vinci, and people like Mayor Faenzi (who was in office when the project began), Mayor Parrini (the current mayor) and the Director of the Museo Leonardiano, who was willing to take a fresh approach in relation to one of the pillars of modern world culture, namely Leonardo da Vinci. In the same way it could by no means be taken for granted that well-established international artists would be willing to submit ideas for the realization of a new piazza. But all this happened in Vinci, where there was the risk that the figure of Leonardo might cast too long a shadow. The end result is testimony to the generosity and power of art, which created a fruitful and vibrantly resonant synergy between the Associazione Arte Continua, the local council and the museum management.
The new piazza that arose out of a competition of ideas – as had previously been experimented by the association with the realization of Loris Cecchini’s Sonar at Colle Val d’Elsa and the refurbishment of the foyer of the Teatro dei Leggieri in San Gimignano by Mario Airò – is intended to be a prototype relating to the Art Industry Landscape theme. The museum structure (like structures that until just a few years ago were considered to be purely cultural) and adjacent structures like the piazza must and can become a model for the realization of sites of modern ‘industrial’ activity, at least here in Europe.
This is not only because knowledge is becoming an increasingly strategic aspect of the market economy, but also because modern museum structures are generating more and more economic resources, employment and offshoot activities, besides providing an art space for the benefit and enjoyment of local citizens and visitors alike. This is what we wanted to achieve with this action, which hopefully will become a model to be followed elsewhere, especially in Italy but also in other parts of Europe. This is the fundamental sense of Arte all’Arte. Our collaboration with the S.M.A.K. museum in Gent and the Museo Leonardiano in Vinci began in 1999 with two shows: Serse – Van Eyck in Gent and Panamarenko in Vinci. We were supported in this by the Associazione Arte Continua Belgium, its President, Jacques Morrens, the Flemish Government and the Region of Tuscany. What we wanted to do in that period was to commence the first phase of the project, and to make our own small contribution at a moment when a significant step towards greater European integration was being taken: the setting up of a common instrument recognized by all the member countries without the need for a war of membership or secession or other ugly episodes of the kind that have marked European history. In 2001, thanks to the conviction of Stijn Huijts, the project was presented to the European Commission, and the Commission’s recognition of the pertinence of the project to the process of establishing connections between the differences existing in Europe in turn reinforced our conviction and encouraged us to further reflect on what we were doing. The conferences we organized and the links we forged on these occasions gave us the opportunity to establish links with the Palais de Tokyo and the Arken Museum, two of Europe’s most significant and interesting institutions with regard to the development of the theme that interested us.
In choosing the partners prior to presenting the proposed development of the project, we bore in mind a number of functional and territorial considerations, besides the fact that the partner bodies had joined the project at different stages, in order that the areas of affinity might be enhanced.
It was clear that for Vinci, Gent and Sittard to develop the presentation of ideas phase by means of an exhibition concerning an emblematic artistic figure could not have the same significance in this shared process as it would for the Arken Museum and the Palais de Tokyo, who joined the project at a later date and had different perspectives to develop. The exhibitions of the artists’ projects at Vinci, and the efforts made to satisfy the wishes of the artist and the regulations of the local council involved a lot of hard work by everyone concerned and a strong desire not to be found wanting in relation to our responsibilities towards the local population, the Culture Commission 2000, ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ and international contemporary art circles. I feel we can confidently claim that this objective has been fully achieved.
The Öyvind Fahlström exhibition, subsequent shows and conferences promoted by the Het Domein Museum to create the conditions for real change in parts of an industrial zone (one of the conferences was also attended by a representative from the Associazione Arte Continua, the field research coordinator, Professor Pierluigi Sacco) were a concrete sign of growing interest in the kind of transformation we were envisaging, and indicated that it was only a matter of time before the first tangible results of this (apart from the exhibitions themselves) would be seen in the local area concerned.
Another very important contribution to this process was the Guide to the Artistic, Technological and Environmental District, which provided valuable information about the Sittard-Geleen area. This was a companion volume to the one about Tuscany produced in 2001, which covered the Val d’Elsa Senese, the Prato area, Pistoia, and the Livorno and Pisa areas. The important thing in all this are the initiatives that each of the areas involved are developing individually on the basis of a shared experience. At the same time the process was also being carried forward in Gent, where the Forse Italia exhibition pointed the way to a series of possible actions by young Italian artists in the field of industrial transformation. The artists were able to actimmediately to transform the industrial areas, which comprise modern structures with similar characteristics to those found pretty much anywhere else in the continent. This, however, was not all.
A performance exhibition by John Bock was organized at the Arken Museum, curated by Alessandra Pace. This magnificent event, which I had the good fortune to see, was followed by a meeting with the director of the museum, Christian Gether, Alessandra Pace, Anette Østerby and the artist himself. This provided an opportunity to assess the progress of the project and to study the links between the various strands that had been realized.
A further event of great cultural significance for the enrichment of the project – it also attracted great public and press interest – was the Chen Zhen exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. This was the other strand in the process of reworking, and in some ways going beyond, the idea of the Renaissance artist and his relation with the machine. While John Bock likes to engage in his performances with the theatre and with the creation of forms that can be lived in and occupied by humans today, Chen Zhen takes machines that are the product of Western culture, breaks them down and puts them back together again, combining them with elements of the Chinese tradition as if they were pieces of a body, or at least organic parts of a new dimension (which is also social) that is unfolding in the world today. A visit to the show, and the work I was able to do with the directors of the Palais, Jerome Sans and Nicholas Bourriaud, brought to the project perspectives that are now emerging from China, and which are destined to influence us here in Europe in the years to come. What until a short time ago seemed to some people to be an exotic element now has, just two years on, an extraordinary and almost incredible topicality. All the various strands of the project came together at the international conference held in Vinci on 30 November 2004 to round off the project. The conference was attended by experts from a range of disciplines plus the curators who had worked on the project in the various museums involved. Together we assessed the work that had been done and considered the perspectives that had opened up as a result. A concise account of this can be found in this second issue of the magazine, which brings together the various strands and sets new challenges that the partners will individually work on in their respective areas. This wonderful and very positive experience represents and valorizes the complexity, sensibility and intelligence that, in its diversity, characterizes European culture, above all in the field of contemporary art. Warm thanks to all the museum directors and the curators of the individual sections, and to the European Commission, which gave us the opportunity to develop the project in a coherent and continuous fashion.
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