ON A BRANCH OF THE SAME TREE

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Self-Portrait

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Self-Portrait

INTERMEZZO

Characters: Alberto and Rosanna (uncle and niece)

Alberto (Albertini) I see more clearly, now that I’m trying to glue together these unsold stocks, what those years meant, my expanding years. As in the comedies whose protagonist waits off stage but never appears, those years have been a chaotic search for a rational existence in the shadow of tragedies hovering over our souls. Like an insect flying in every direction who repeatedly bumps against the window glass and is incapable of getting out, I was tossing and turning in a world that I did not understand, but that sooner or later I would be forced to accept.

The time of adolescence has remained in me as the confirmation that life is impossible to grab. I always felt an inner separation between the thing, the one you touch, and my intimate awareness that I wasn’t convinced by the tangible world, and I had a bent, instead, for a separate life in a world without dimension, the world of imagination.

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, One of the first photographs

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, One of the first photographs

Such dualism has always been my companion in a curious way. I never believed in the projects or in the accomplishments I actually made. An instinctive energy pushed me to do them anyway, often with good results. The fact I did not believe in what I was doing, often with passion, as if it was a mission assigned to me by high and hidden authorities, probably saved me from deceptions, or from being hurt by life events, although after all something happens at times that requires a certain solidity.

Born and growing up mostly in the countryside, I had a sharp and gray image of the city, which was Milan. It was a geometrical place, with straight lines and angles for houses, streets, and tramway rails. Volumes and shapes with no apparent clear meaning and large walls with no windows. Why? Did somebody live there? What a sense of isolation, and impossible communication. Did I prefer the village between the mountains? That was not a problem I had ever considered; I was more interested in atmospheres, sensations. At dusk, in the autumn, I used to look at the village from a hilltop site: I saw the first smoke from the chimneys, not really able to spread up, hovering still on the houses. A lazy village made sluggish by the early cold weather, wrapped in cellophane so as not to disturb the quiet.

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, 1943-45

ALBERTO ALBERTINI,  Incanto, 1944 or 1946

Rosanna (Albertini) After reading and rereading this final self-portrait of an adolescent Alberto seen by an older Alberto, I sit on a branch of the same tree, the Albertini tree. I wonder whether there are others in the family who share the same difficulty in having a hold on life, or it’s only us. The destiny of a complete school training, until the Laurea, sort of fell on my head. Not by my choice: I have been put in a wagon of a train going toward that direction when I was ten, and transplanted from the countryside into the sharp city. From a house of artists and inventors I ended up in the house of two feminist professors, sisters, originating from aristocratic Neapolitan stock. The mental confusion caused by ten years in their tutorial hands is still in me. Although now it is more like a sharp companion, an antidote against the dullness of ordinary life.

In the form of written words, Alberto’s writing these thoughtful stories started not a long time ago. This post is not the end of them. More stories will follow in this blog about his search for a job in Italy after the war, and his life proceeding as a professional sound-recording expert and as a secret photographer, for his entire life. Through his words and pictures, pungent sensations migrate into my voluntary exile in Los Angeles: different smells coming with the seasons, the grass like a rug. Lying on the ground I was able to forget most of the senseless situations offered to me as if they were special presents. To me they were each a Pandora’s box, no lid could close them. Books and intellectual life became my imaginary safe place, separate from real life.

Looking backwards, my childhood until age ten wears the dress of a lost paradise. Early in the morning I rush to school, I’m late, and Campanona, a woman as large as a bell, checks on me from a window on the corner of her house. “Run, run,” she shouts pointing at the church and the school, that occupied two sides of the same square. How many seconds do I have to deviate and buy an eraser at The Convenienza? And immediately after, to change my soaked shoes and put them around the stove? The classroom was filled with vapors; there was odor of fresh ink poured into a small hole of my desk.

Only the time of one generation between Alberto and myself. I have a long life in my skin. And I’m still surprised that, despite different circumstances, personality and experiences, we shared without knowing it very similar attitudes toward life: I cannot say that I never believed in what I was doing, but I never had expectations, maybe it doesn’t count, still now I don’t have any. What comes, comes. Life is a big pizza dough without dates, with no major events. Ingredients are all significant, they get mixed, change places, some of them well cooked, others burned. Chance, accidents, and events make a nebula in which I’m present as a guest. I only hope somebody remembers that, for the primitive mediterranean people, – which is what I am – the guest is sacred, and sent by gods.

The house where I was born 12 years before I came to earth. !934 (?) Probably, photo by grandfather, Oreste Albertini

The house where I was born 12 years before I came to earth. 1934 (?)
Probably, photo by grandfather, Oreste Albertini

Per Francesco e Diego

SUL RAMO DELLA STESSA PIANTA

Personaggi: Alberto e Rosanna (zio e nipote)

Alberto (Albertini) Mentre ora cerco di incollare tra loro queste rimanenze di magazzino, vedo con maggiore chiarezza il senso di quegli anni, gli anni espansi. Come in quelle commedie in cui il protagonista incombe ma non appare mai, quegli anni sono stati una caotica ricerca di una razionale esistenza all’ombra delle tragedie che gravavano latenti sui nostri animi. Come l’insetto che vola in tutte le direzioni ma continua a sbattere contro i vetri senza mai poter uscire, io mi agitavo in un mondo che non capivo ma che prima o poi avrei dovuto accettare.

Per me è rimasto, il periodo dell’adolescenza, come come la conferma dell’impossibilità di afferrare la vita. C’era sempre in me un distacco tra la cosa, quella che si tocca, e il mio intimo che non ne risultava convinto, che tendeva a vivere separatamente in un mondo senza dimensione, quello dell’immaginazione.

Questo dualismo mi ha sempre accompagnato in modo curioso. Non ho mai creduto nei progetti e nelle cose che ho fatto ma una forza istintiva mi spingeva a farle lo stesso, e spesso funzionavano. Il non aver mai creduto alle cose che facevo, sia pure con passione, una missione assegnatami da autorità tanto elevate quanto occulte, probabilmente mi ha preservato dalle delusioni, dal permettere che gli eventi della vita mi scalfissero, anche se poi nella vita capitano cose che richiedono una certa solidità.

Nato e cresciuto prevalentemente in campagna, avevo della città, Milano, una visione tagliente e grigia. Tutto era geometrico, righe e angoli netti, le case, le strade e le rotaie dei trams. Volumi articolati senza senso e grandi pareti senza finestre. Perché mai? Ci viveva qualcuno? Che senso di isolamento, di incomunicabilità. Preferivo il paese tra le montagne? Non mi ero mai posto il problema, ero più interessato alle atmosfere, alle sensazioni. In autunno, all’imbrunire, guardavo il paese dall’alto e vedevo i primi fumi che uscivano dai camini, che non riuscivano a salire, stazionavano immobili sulle case. Un paese pigro e intorpidito dai primi freddi, avvolto in un cellophane per non turbare la quiete.

Rosanna (Albertini) Leggendo e rileggendo questo autoritratto finale di Alberto adolescente, visto da un Alberto piu avanti con l’età, mi siedo su un ramo dell’albero di famiglia, la pianta Albertini. Mi chiedo se in famiglia anche gli altri condividono la stessa difficoltà di afferrare la vita, o siamo solo noi due. A me è toccata la sorte di un percorso scolastico completo, fino alla laurea. La scelta non era mia: sono stata messa sul vagone di un treno che andava in quella direzione quando avevo dieci anni, e trapiantata dalla campagna alla città tagliente. Da una casa di artisti e inventori sono finita in una casa di due professoresse femministe di origine aristocratica, napoletana. La confusione mentale causata da dieci anni di educazione stranamente decentrata nel tempo, per non dire ‘vecchio stile,’ mi accompagna ancora. Anche se adesso è piu che altro una compagnia mordente, un antidoto contro la banalità quotidiana.

Le riflessioni di Alberto sono cominciate in forma di parole scritte non molti anni fa. Non finiscono qui. Altre storie seguiranno nel blog sulla ricerca di un lavoro in Italia dopo la fine della guerra, e il progredire in parallelo della sua vita come esperto di registrazione sonora e, quasi in segreto, come fotografo. Le sue parole e le sue foto inseriscono sensazioni pungenti nel mio esilio volontario di Los Angeles, gli odori diversi delle stagioni, l’erba come un tappeto. Sdraiata sul terreno dimenticavo la maggior parte delle situazioni senza senso che mi venivano offerte come un dono speciale, ma per me erano vasi di Pandora, e non c’era coperchio che li richiudesse. I libri e la vita intellettuale erano diventati il mio rifugio immaginario separato dalla vita reale. Guardando indietro, vedo la mia infanzia fino ai dieci anni di età come un paradiso perduto.

La mattina presto corro verso la scuola, sono in ritardo, e la Campanona, una donna larga come un campana, mi controlla da una finestra d’angolo sulla via verso la chiesa, e anche verso la scuola, che abitavano nella stessa piazza. Quanto secondi per deviare verso la Convenienza e comprare una gomma? E poi cambiare le scarpe bagnate e metterle intorno alla stufa? La classe era impregnata di vapori e dell’odore dell’inchiostro fresco in una cavità del banco.

C’è solo il tempo di una generazione fra Alberto e me. Ho una lunga vita nella pelle. E ancora mi stupisce che, in circostanze, personalità ed esperienze diverse, abbiamo condiviso senza saperlo atteggiamenti molto simili verso la vita: io non posso dire che ho mai creduto in quello che facevo, ma non ho mai avuto aspettative, per quel che conta, anche adesso non ne ho. Quel che viene, viene. La vita è un grande impasto da pizza senza date, senza avvenimenti principali, ma gli ingredienti contano tutti, si mescolano, si scambiano di posto, alcuni ben cotti, altri bruciano. Caso, incidenti, avvenimenti formano una nebulosa nella quale la mia presenza è ospite. Spero solo che qualcuno si ricordi che per i mediterranei primitivi – così definirei la mia natura – l’ospite è sacro, mandato dagli dei.

CAMPFIRES, SOCIALISM, AND MULTI-LEVEL SELECTION

— The Sharing project —

N.5: CAMPFIRES, SOCIALISM, AND MULTI-LEVEL SELECTION

By Joel Tauber

When we went camping late last summer, I was struck by a sense of increased communal spirit, both within our family and with our neighbors in the campground. Somehow, sharing labor, equipment, and food felt easier than it normally does.

Without needing to be asked, Zeke and Ozzie eagerly and proudly gathered twigs and leaves to help build the fire. A neighbor noticed that we were having some trouble in the wet weather, so she gave us some of her highly flammable logs to make our lives easier. After Alison and I had trouble sleeping on a leaky air mattress, the boys let us use their sleeping bag pads. Then, we all worked collectively to make smores, and we took turns eating them.

Philosopher G.A. Cohen believes that our behavior on camping trips is both a model and an argument for Socialism. Since egalitarian and community principles motivate us when we go camping, they should also guide us when we return to “civilization” and lead us to adopt a type of Socialism that guarantees equal income (or at least equal hourly wages) for everyone.

Unfortunately, we haven’t developed enough mechanisms for this kind of Socialism; and we haven’t sufficiently explored models that have already been envisioned, like Joseph Carens’ method of redistributing all earnings via taxes in a market based economy.

As we returned from our camping trip, I tried to imagine what it might be like to live in Carens’ Socialist world; but I started worrying if I was capable of sharing enough to do so. The communal spirit that we had enjoyed in the mountains had already dissipated; and, in the process, a familiar ambivalence about sharing had overtaken me. I was entranced by the egalitarian and community principles of the camping trip; but the very thought of sharing all my income through taxes was terrifying, and it made me want to cling to my possessions even more selfishly.

I was wrestling with similar thoughts when I reluctantly shared my tripod with Zeke and Ozzie. Zeke must have sensed my ambivalence, because his behavior oscillated between different positions about sharing, just like my feelings did. At first, he was happy to share the tripod with Ozzie, and they explored it together quite harmoniously; but then Zeke insisted on “privacy” and a chance to play with it by himself. Zeke enjoyed his time alone with the tripod, but he seemed to regret how things had evolved once it became Ozzie’s turn. After giving Ozzie some time, Zeke returned and wrested it from him. He stopped me from scolding him by saying that he was merely showing Ozzie “how to do it”; and then he proceeded to work on the tripod with Ozzie, sharing it beautifully with him like he had done initially.

While all of this unfolded, my mind turned to Darwin’s theory of multi-level selection, which describes how we’re simultaneously driven by the opposing forces of individual selection to act selfishly and group selection to act altruistically.

Our genes send us mixed messages and confuse us. They encourage us to be greedy, but they also ask us to share. They promote altruism towards family members via kin selection (Fisher, Haldane); towards friends and colleagues via group selection (Darwin, Wright, Wilson); and even towards strangers, if there is a reasonable chance of reciprocity (Trivers).

I’m certainly grateful that I have biological impulses to act altruistically, but I’m also aware that I can’t rely on them. They won’t free me of the fundamental conflict between altruism and selfishness that is wired into my DNA, and they won’t enable me to reach beyond my current limitations. I will have to look for inspiration elsewhere, as I strive to live in ways that are at least a bit more aligned with the egalitarian and community principles that Cohen describes.

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.

http://thesharingproject.net

 

BLESSED NEWS

TUNDRA-VENICE: Chapter 3 (Chevac, Alaska — Venice, California)

About COREY STEIN from Sunland, California

COREY STEIN, Fox tanning in the sun Venice CA)  2010 8

COREY STEIN, Fox tanning in the sun (Venice CA) 2010,   8″x 11″x 2″ beads hand sewn on felt
Courtesy of the artist

COREY STEIN, Fox tanning in the sun (Chevak AK) 2009 8

COREY STEIN, Fox tanning in the sun (Chevak AK) 2009,  8″x 11″x 2″ beads hand sewn on felt
Courtesy of the artist

The air lives a life that is not ours

to understand; it lives its own blue

windy life that starts overhead and soars

upward, ending nowhere. Looking out of the window, you

see spires and chimneys, rooftops of lead;

you see this: the beginning of a great, damp world

where a roadway, which reared us, heads

to its own premature end. Dawn curls

over the horizon. A mail truck clangs by.

There is no longer anything one can choose

to believe, except that while there’s a bank on the right,

there’s a left one too: blessed news.

JOSEPH BRODSKY, Collected Poems in English, 2000

There is a human fox on the left and the skin of a fox on the right. The sun is roasting both. It’s a curious news that for both of them we don’t know what it is or was inside the skin, who’s the animal. As a stereotype, the woman isn’t less empty than the fox. The two of them are clever at deceiving. Impersonal bodies, blocked by inertia. The sunlight they stored should turn them into a lively and funny pair of bodies. Instead they dry up like motionless images, nothing to dance with. It’s almost impossible for an artist’s mind to give up with the skin obsession; whatever the object they bring to life, they sacrifice their own skin. (Symbolically I mean, like the round, white small host on the tongue of the faithful.) Michelangelo painted his own skinned body on a corner of the Sistine Chapel, Corey Stein paints two foxes, with beads: one supposed to be in California, the other in Alaska, blessed news.

COREY STEIN, Beach bear 2008 8.5

COREY STEIN, Beach bear 2008,  8.5″x 9.5″x 2″ beads hand sewn on felt
Courtesy of the artist

And yet the uncivilized, the wild beast breaks into the scene without permission, so surprised he did it that he didn’t even feel the heath of the sand, nor the fear of the beach population that left him alone, measuring the shore with long steps. Angry, maybe. Perhaps another symbol, the power of a dark spot in the sun. Breathing the air “that is not ours to understand.”

Might one say the Venice building is easier to comprehend? It lives its own wooden life, painted white, sheltered by bars at the windows and locks at the door. That’s the thickest skin. As the artist is taken by the sense of it, the needle slips from her fingers, ending as a blade into her skin. She bleeds but doesn’t cry.

COREY STEIN, Hang'in on Breeze Court  2010, 8.5

COREY STEIN, Hang’in on Breeze Court 2010, 8.5″x 12″x 2″ beads hand sewn on felt
Courtesy of the artist

COMPANIONS and EXPATRIATES – L’ESPATRIO E LA COMPAGNIA

 September 1943: JEWISH FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS

By ALBERTO ALBERTINI   – Milano, Italy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

On July 25, 1943, I was on the train: groups of people taking shape on the sidewalks and, when the train left the station, swarms of people moving, gathering in different groups. They told me that fascism was down. In August, bombs on Milan. September 8th, the army was headless. My companions and myself were guiding some friends in the mountains to reach the Swiss border, still open for a few days. September was sultry. Growing hot, we took our shirts off. The border wasn’t far; through a clearing we could look at the valley: it was limpid, motionless. A woodland behind us was expanding toward the fences at the border, and it was one of those moments in which a stop becomes a brief awareness of what was happening to us: separation from friends, a future about to grab either them or us, and meanwhile we were surrounded by an enchanting beginning of autumn, a sort of laziness that starts with leaves looking tired, and fading colors. As the group began to walk again, a girl was still leaning on a tree. Skinny, with an exuberant breast, she gave off sweat, heat and pherormones, maybe only tired, maybe available. This is something I will never know.

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Companions (Giancarlo Fumagalli Ciuti)

Soon after I went back to the border as a guide for two Jewish friends. A short time before Switzerland closed the border and a curtain would fall on a brief hope. We received the first news of deportation of those young people who hadn’t found a shelter in time. A family friend was deported for having helped some Jewish people to illegally expatriate. Until 1943 the Jewish situation was somehow Italian style: there were concentration camps, but apparently, in some of them, one’s presence was only for bureaucratic control. A person I knew was obliged to show up in the camp, although he was renting a room in a fascist authority’s house. Not all fascists approved the racial laws, they seemed excessive even to them! I can confirm that an elementary school teacher, a woman perhaps only officially fascist, gave me a hand to organize the clandestine expatriation of my friends’ parents when the risk was already a Nazi risk. With the German occupation after ’43, one could have ended in a German concentration camp.

According to the plan, I was supposed to go to their house at four in the morning and then, taking hopefully empty countryside roads, reach the train station from where, by a small tramway, we had to go up the mountain to find a person waiting for us. That person had access to the border thanks to a stone quarry placed exactly on the line. The major risk was the tramway journey, it was possible to meet people. But that was the way back for workers going to work, therefore nobody was on the tramway but us. Everything worked as foreseen. Although I knew the risk was real, I didn’t feel worried. I remember, though, the infinite sadness of that journey in a dark, winter morning on the frozen ground, and the anxiety of being in a carriage where we could have been arrested, the melancholic goodbye, the uncertainty of the future, a separation with no meaning and no emotions. Overwhelmed by the inevitable necessity of that choice. Only now, bringing back the episode, I realize they had put all their expectations in my hands, I was only sixteen.

ALBERTO ALBERTINI. On the way to Switzerland

ALBERTO ALBERTINI. On the way to Switzerland

The Jews. We realized they existed after the racial laws, when young students were expelled from public schools. They were mostly from wealthy families merged into our bourgeoisie. I became friend with two brothers; with them I had my very first political discussions. It was evident that, for the most, the racial laws were a humiliating dependency on the Nazis, they had no other justification. The Jewish chapter was also part of my expanded life, very important not so much for the quantity of relations, rather for their quality. My friends brought cultural life: political, musical, economical, experiences; to me a new branch to explore. They escaped from Germany and could talk about Prague, Leipzig, German and Yiddish languages. They gave me a deeper knowledge of classical music. The thing that struck me the must, at the time, was the idea I had found somebody I could count on. A new air was blowing, a vitality I did not notice in friends or school mates, an injection of information that opened to me a larger horizon. They were clearly well suited to commercial activities, exchanges and a joyful taste of life. Yet, clouds on the horizon were already very dark!

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, On the way to Switzerland

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, On the way to Switzerland

Post Scriptum by Rosanna Albertini

More than sixty years after. Throughout his long life Alberto maintained a deep friendship with one of those brothers. A friendship that is still going on between the two old men, vivid and joyful, among other things fed by their love for the arts.

(Il testo in italiano è dedicato ai miei nipoti Francesco e Diego)

SETTEMBRE 1943  Gli amici ebrei — L’espatrio

di Alberto Albertini

Il 25 luglio ero in treno: formazione di capannelli sui marciapiedi e, quando il treno uscì di stazione, sciami di persone che si spostavano, si riunivano in altri gruppi. Mi dissero che era caduto il fascismo. Agosto, i bombardamenti di Milano. L’otto settembre, l’esercito abbandonato a se stesso. Noi, la nostra compagnia, accompagnavamo alcuni amici in montagna fino al confine che gli svizzeri avevano tenuto aperto per alcuni giorni. Un settembre afoso. Eravamo accaldati e ci eravamo messi in canottiera. Mancava poco al confine, una radura consentiva la vista della valle, limpida, immobile. Alle nostre spalle ricominciava la boscaglia che si estendeva fino alla rete di confine, uno di quei momenti in cui la sosta diventa una breve presoa di coscienza di quello che ci stava accadendo: la separazione dagli amici, il futuro che avrebbe atteso loro e infine anche noi, mentre eravamo circondati dall’incanto dell’autunno incipiente, quel senso di pigrizia che comincia dalla stanchezza delle foglie e dai colori che si smorzano. Il gruppo si era rimesso in cammino, ma una ragazza della compagnia indugiava appoggiata ad un albero. Era minuta ma con il seno esuberante, emanava sudore, calore e ferormone, un po’ stanca e forse un po’ disponibile. Questo non lo saprò mai.

Non molto dopo tornai al confine per accompagnare due amici ebrei. Di lì a poco gli svizzeri chiusero le barriere e calò il sipario sulla breve speranza. Giunsero le prime notizie di deportazione di quei giovani che non avevano trovato rifugio in tempo. Un amico di famiglia fu deportato per la sua partecipazione all’espatrio clandestino di ebrei. Fino al ’43 la situazione degli ebrei era un po’ all’italiana. C’erano campi di concentramento ma in alcuni pare si potesse fare solo presenza di controllo. Un mio conoscente aveva l’obbligo di presentarsi al campo ma aveva una camera d’affitto presso un gerarca fascista. Le leggi razziali non godevano dell’approvazione della totalità dei fascisti, anche a loro sembravano eccessive! Posso confermare che una maestra, fascista forse d’ufficio, mi aiutò nell’espatrio clandestino dei genitori dei miei amici, quando il rischio era già quello nazista. Con l’occupazione tedesca dopo il ’43, c’era il rischio di finire nei lager tedeschi.

Il piano prevedeva che io mi recassi presso di loro in bicicletta alla quattro del mattino e che poi, attraverso strade di campagna sicuramente deserte, si raggiungesse la stazione ferroviaria e da lì, con un piccolo tram, saremmo risaliti verso la montagna dove ci attendeva la persona che aveva l’accesso alla rete di confine per via di una cava di pietre situata proprio sul limite. La parte piu rischiosa era il percorso in tram, dove era possibile incontrare persone. Però quello era il percorso di ritorno dalla stazione per i pendolari che andavano al lavoro e quindi il tram era deserto. Tutto funzionò come progettato. Per quanto fossi consapevole che il rischio c’era, non mi sentivo preoccupato. Ciò che ricordo è la tristezza infinita di quel viaggio nel buio mattino invernale sul terreno bloccato dal gelo, l’ansia del viaggio in quella vettura dove avrebbero potuto coglierci, l’addio mesto, l’incerto futuro, un distacco senza senso e senza emozioni. Sopraffatti dalla necessità ineludibile di questa scelta. Solo ora, rievocando l’episodio, mi rendo conto che essi avevano puntato tutte le loro speranze su di me che avevo sedici anni.

Gli ebrei. Ci accorgemmo che esistevano dopo le leggi razziali, quando i ragazzi vennero esplusi dalle scuole pubbliche. Per lo più erano di famiglie benestanti confuse con la nostra borghesia. Feci amicizia con due fratelli, con loro erano sorte le prime discussioni politiche. Era evidente ai più che le leggi razziali erano un’umiliante sudditanza ai nazisti e non trovavano altra giustificazione. Anche il capitolo ebrei era una parte della mia vita in espansione, assai importante non tanto per la quantità ma per la qualità. I miei amici portavano cultura: politica, musicale, economica, esperienze, per me un nuovo ramo da esplorare. Erano fuggiti dalla Germania e raccontavano di Praga, di Lipsia, della lingua tedesca e iddish. Approfondivano le mie conoscenze della musica classica. Fu la cosa che allora mi colpì di più. L’idea di trovare qualcuno su cui contare. Una ventata di aria diversa, una vitalità che non riscontravo negli amici o compagni scuola che avevo frequentato, un’iniezione di conoscenze che mi prospettavano un orizzonte piu vasto. Avevano un’attitudine spiccata per il commercio, lo scambio e un gusto della vita gioioso. Eppure le nubi all’orizzonte erano già molto oscure!

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, In the woods

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, In the woods

Post Scriptum di Rosanna Albertini

L’amicizia con uno dei due fratelli è diventata una frequentazione regolare durante tutta la lunga vita di Alberto. E’ ancora vivissima e gioiosa in questi giorni, nutrita fra altre cose dalla passione per le arti.

LES BILLER – MOVABLE DIAMONDS OF REALITY

Mid-Sixties: LES BILLER between Japan and California

by Rosanna Albertini

                _1140090

LES BILLER, Isabel , 1966 Oil on canvas. Full painting and detail. Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery C

LES BILLER, Isabel, 1966 Oil on canvas. Full painting and detail.
Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

“Sensations and thoughts remind us  that “reality”, not only burdened by, but also truly made with all our projections, is the real object in question Luca Patella, (1964)

A natural  cultural environment: going into a patch-work meadow, with colored checks, we find olive and other trees that smell good and talk… Trees talk (… playful and serious) of all the human actions, relations and transformations. Besides, what else under the sky?” Luca Patella, (1970)

“Is it possible to define conceptual art? The very first moments of a new born tendency are like the movable crystals of a kaleidoscope.” Giulio Paolini, (1967)

LES BILLER, Diamond Garden, 1965, Acrylic, enamel, collage/paper Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

LES BILLER, Diamond Garden, 1965, Acrylic, enamel, collage/paper
Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

“I wish an anti-theatrical Art, the necessary condition to have Art living a life which is sincere … conceived for a micro, or a secret  society. An introverted, mysterious Art acting by evocations and not by immediate theorems, not coming directly from reason. I think of something like a vision, expressing a memory’s meaning, looking like a prophetic object.” Claudio Parmeggiani

LES BILLER, Heian Family, 1964-67, Oil enamel on masonite

LES BILLER, Heian Family, 1964-67, Oil enamel on masonite  Courtesy of the artists and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

“Each event, the way it’s distinguished, is a myth. Each action, the way one lives it, is magic. We create mythology when we tell stories, and give a new life to the magic structure of a space.” Paolo Scheggi  (1965?)

LES BILLER, Chinese Nature in Southern California, 1963 24" x 20" Oil Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

LES BILLER, Chinese Nature in Southern California, 1963 24″ x 20″ Oil   Back of the painting
Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

LES BILLER, Chinese Nature in Southern California, 1963 24" x 20"  Oil Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

LES BILLER, Chinese Nature in Southern California, 1963 24″ x 20″ Oil   Front of the Painting

“Anxiety and urgency of ideas, research as ‘obligation,’ worries about evidence, define the grotesque destiny, the charming unpleasant-ness of our days art. Upside-down the muse, reversed the painting, endless transcription, time arbiter, they all  bring derision to the temporary nature (and splendor) of the image.” Giulio Paolini (1967?)

LES BILLER, Fuji, Shrine, Face in Cloud, 1967, 28" x 22"  Oil, enamel, pencil on wood Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

LES BILLER, Fuji, Shrine, Face in Cloud, 1967, 28″ x 22″ Oil, enamel, pencil on masonite
Courtesy of the artist and Rosamund Felsen Gallery

“Only a conceptual balance can destabilize the present: an unsteady balance between past and future, between forgetfulness and discovery.”    Vincenzo Agnetti

The starting point in writing, painting, and many other human activities, is often a dark cloud hiding the brain. Mister Thinking is asleep, or pretends not to be there. Then Lady Intuition appears and bumps into the cloud of Thoughts. There is a path, no one knows where it goes. The human personality perhaps doesn’t have any role in this story, except being driven by emotions. Why I’ve placed a few lines written by early Italian conceptual artists next to Les Biller’s paintings I don’t really know, they were conceived in the same decade but this is a fact, not a reason. Making art was not, for them, living in their heads. Italians are not Americans. Away from reason and structured theories and rationalized spaces for living, away from industrial happiness. In the Nineteen Sixties.

My conceptual people did not fear a tentative navigation over a vague, unclear stream of un-decisions: human actions floating in a large, magic space of sensibility; a reality built by our projections, often out of focus, dissolved in nuances, dreams, alterations, disappearances. That’s also in Les Biller’s art.

Nor do I want to imprison his American art in an Italian conceptual cage because I’m in my native water with Paolini, Agnetti, Scheggi, Parmeggiani, Patella, Ferrari. But, Les Biller’s art made me find their words today. In the Sixties I was lost in philosophical labyrinths, kissing boyfriends in secret corners, not yet restored, of the Thirteenth century convent that had been transformed into the humanities’ home called Università Statale di Milano. I was fantasizing about the plague, for centuries cured in the same rooms of our classes, when the convent was a hospital. I missed then all the wonderful artists who were there, in the same city or nearby, a parallel universe for me. Yet, now that I read them and hold their art inside me I see that now is the right time, I ‘m a tree of the same forest.

Italian thoughts around Les Biller’s paintings are soft companions offering a glass of wine to their American friend, sharing struggle and doubts. They don’t ask. There is nothing to ask for, only life that becomes art. Isabel’s diamonds spread the sparks of life of a baby girl who did not make it. The painter father asks the bushes to tell his heart, the small figurine fades, while colors sing her laude, forever.

“Once upon a time there was … the common place.

The violence’s noise … is a guarantee.

The wisdom’s sound … is a risk.

The opposite could also be true, it depends on your musical education.” (Vincenzo Ferrari)

Not so frequent to meet an artist with family, many children. These paintings, made in a time of transitions, journeys between countries and memories and painting modes, seem to me generated by a secret inner space, the only one from which a new human adventure for an artist can begin. Les Biller lived in Japan for three years with his family, back to Los Angeles accepted a job at UCLA, was a teacher of Figure Drawing with Richard Dibenkorn and Lynn Foulks. “For each painting I could start a new journey, I only have to go through…” Les says. And it’s a luminous journey; images are not allowed to be still, or organized around one single perspective. They move along with the artist’s mind. A diamond opens its facets to become a garden in dawn and sunset, always pervaded by pink light.

As in Samuel Beckett (the short stories written in the late 50s and 60s) things move and get in the artist’s path. They have the beauty of landscapes altered by unconscious turmoils, the eyes editing cuts and angles with humor, and multiplied questions. What to do with flatness? Painted pages. In another beginning, Les has been a writer. But images prevailed. An odd body of transformations brought him to merge Chinese nature with California palm trees, only one jungle growing in his mind, as if time had overcome the resistance, the inertia of images asking to be separately recognized, identified. No way. Here we have the real presence of mental operations. On the living texture —the real canvas of Les Biller paintings— if images seem still, it depends on the distance, but they like better to float, as light as a flying albatross, free from the ground, they never really stop. His mind works like an illusionist: “He is a boy and suddenly an old man,” (Beckett) he is a boy enchanted by the oriental furnitures of grandmother’s house and not much later a father in Japan climbing mountains, absorbing fog and colors. Les Biller’s visions will change in the 70s, but let’s be here with him for a while, taking in with our eyes these few, evocative paintings, “prophetic objects,” and let’s embrace the courage of a dreamer.

Quotes of Vincenzo Agnetti, Vincenzo Ferrari, Giulio Paolini, Paolo Scheggi, Claudio Parmeggiani, Luca Patella, come from the small, precious catalogue of the exhibition CONCETTUALE IN ITALIA 1965-1972, published by GALLERIA MILANO in 1987.