ALBERTO ALBERTINI: A ROOM OF SURVIVAL

ALBERTO ALBERTINI — A Room of Survival

Text and images by Alberto Albertini

  Nobody cares if someone dies provided he is unknown and far.  Eugenio Montale                                                         

 The story started when Alberto was sixteen, around 1943, in a Northern Italian village. The same story is told in words and images, 16 images for his 16 years. He is now 92.

                                                     

Everyday life in time of war

War is disquieting, the most inhuman manmade activity! Disheartening to think that, at a short distance from destruction, while destruction is happening, there is a calm, quiet state. Such was our condition as adolescents, not yet at the age of being butchered, but mature enough to understand it. It happened that prealpine valleys were crowded with people evacuated from a half destroyed Milan and mountains were the partisans’ refuge. Only some distant exchange of shots caused us to remember. Small towns were under fascist and German control; we used to go to school in Varese by bicycle, ten or fifteen kilometers wouldn’t have been a lot without steep slopes and descents, we went anyway, trains couldn’t go because of the machine guns firing from the allied airplanes. While crossing the town we met squads of black brigades that marched singing hymns of death. Although tragedy was palpable in those moments, we were able, at that age, to get rid of it very quickly.

A secret bubble around him, his entire life

Dear friend of my sixteen, I must confess I arbitrarily used you as a secret room of survival. This door that I quite often opened, and it allowed me to evade the heavier pressures of my existence, represents my unresolved inmost being: that age full of dreams, desires, aspirations, contradictions and disappointments. While we changed, the world also was changing. The war, the loneliness of being antifascists, the golden cage whose privilege we could perceive through the anguishing feeling of what was happening far from us, was an intangible weight on our unprepared mind. The freedom we enjoyed wasn’t deserved, and yet we held her tightly while creating our stories, the first emotions. Nobody —I believe— will hold on so much. Those who came back from the camps, from the war, only have terror in themselves, humiliation and a torn consciousness. We were not able to imagine how much beyond humanity human beings went, but we had unconsciously absorbed the war into the arcadia of our bare fields and chestnuts trees with no leaves on whose branches we rehearsed for the life to come; our magic bubble could hardly contain the overflow that had happened in our most charming and mysterious age. This marvelous nebula floated around me over the years and still does even if I don’t call for her, I feel her presence, and it’s sweet for me to drift away…

Alberto Albertini, Partisans in Varese

Alberto Albertini, Partisans in Varese

                                         

 

Alberto eating grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. … A woodland behind us was expanding toward the fences at the border, and it was one of those moments in which a stop brings 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. Small, with an exuberant breast, she gave off sweat, heat and pherormones, maybe only tired, maybe available. This is something I will never know.

 

The train to school – before the bombs –  was the place for meeting students of other villages.

 

It’s strange, I entrust my memory to the photographs: I don’t remember at all where and where I made the photo. For instance: the photographs of young people I sent you, I don’t remember I was there making them; one day instead I had talked to the father of a girl about antifascism and Jewish people expatriating and after that I went out with her for a walk on the meadow without taking pictures. And this I remember! AA in 2019

ARTISTS’ TALES – GUTSY STORIES N.1

A R T I S T S’  T A L E S — G U T S Y   S T O R I E S 

N.1

 

with the participation of ERIN COSGROVE (Los Angeles), SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON (Los Angeles), GUILLERMO KUITCA (Buenos Aires, Argentina), ROSANNA ALBERTINI

(Sylvia Salazar Simpson’s foot has free access to this page. A wax creature, the foot pretends to be invisible and moves from the sidewalk to my studio in the most silent way. Photos: Hannah Kirby)

I go first only because this blog is my house. I must open the door. Also because history and unanswerable questions around the mutant forms of her body, transformed into strange alphabetic flooding of signs on tablets or pages, has been my research island when I was a scholar, for twenty years. My head must have been bigger than my whole body at that time. Now I am a woman who writes with the tips of her fingers, and thinks better when her feet move on the outdoor pavement, without studying, waiting for words coming by themselves. Laughing, they sometimes come with one of my old aunt’s expressions: “ego et ego,” that I mutter watching the garbage spread on the street. Little aunt never studied Latin, but mess was egoetego. A word as inscrutable as the birds’ songs hidden in the lilac in front of her window. The meaning was clear to me before I knew about languages or dictionaries. 

The other women I knew in my family look back at me from the mirror: my mother’s shoulders, grandmother’s Rosa jaws, my southern grandmother Giuseppina’s mole in my clavicular left cavity, and god knows how many other spots of heritage from older branches I never met. My body is history! My voice is a concert: every single word I utter or write are history pebbles, their conglomeration is monumental, like an enormous midden. 

And it is for me the most exhilarating discovery to see that from the Papua in New Guinea to the northern Netsilik Inuit to my old friend from the Eighteenth century, Rousseau Jean-Jacques, the mind resides somewhere in the larynx, the memory in the belly, and the force of magic “does not reside in things; it resides within man and can escape only through his voice.”* “Songs are thoughts, sung out with the breath when people are moved by great forces & ordinary speech no longer suffices. Man is moved just like the ice floe sailing here and there in the current.”**

When words shoot up of themselves, there is a new song, a new song from my porous bones. It might have holes of undefined shapes. It might rise like fog around human monuments, it’s only words. “Confusion will be my epitaph,” and that was Jim Shaw. I think he made a nest in my liver.  RA

 

HISTORY — historical origin of the word: it comes from wit, old English witan from Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit “Veda” (knowledge) and latin “videre” see. The passage from wit to Hist is clearly phonetic. It belongs to the spoken more than to the written language. 

 

       THE MARCH OF HISTORY by Erin Cosgrove

 

 

ERIN COSGROVE, The March of History 2012. Live action video 15′ 17”

Before you enjoy watching the whole video, let me pay a few words of introduction; please listen to them with your ears. I’m the mocking bird who repeats all the possible sounds, who can sing some snoring out of your window. My song simply repeats some of Cosgrove’s words. The March of History is an art piece, spoken words go with the actor’s body language. Like me, he also walks, like history we all float through horizontal currents … of time? of air? mainly keeping our feet on the ground. But our mind is disrupted by disturbances: questions, centuries of conjectures and ideal constructions, interpretations, philosophical frames: which are histories, maybe rather stories, with people trying to give their present lives the proper ancestry from recent and ancient past stories rewritten and manipulated ad hoc. An endless work, worthy of Sisyphus. If there are truths making history’s rock too heavy, too painful to absorb, a new revisionist version will be entrusted to the words. Voilà! A march of lies. Erin Cosgrove is a conceptual artist who tears to threads any scholastic disguise. She is not immune from sarcasm and allegoric representations. Her art melts stories into romance, drawings, tapestry and animated films.

Here she deals directly with the big monster of History, a creature as fragile as Polyphemus who is one more symbol of single vision, the railroad of unidirectional thinking. She throws her pole into his unique eye, HISTORY’s single name, although hélas, not without pain for her. As in Camus’s Sisyphus descending the cleavage to recuperate the rock and push it back to the top of the mountain, an infinite sadness appears at the end of the story.  Erin knows too well that lady History, altered and imperfect as she is in her verbal dresses, is our inevitable backbone, no less mysterious than each of her conscious and unconscious performers. Losing History, no doubt, we would lose our shadow. Come to the march!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of Erin Cosgrove’s words, moved around by me in a cloud of thoughts:

The past refuses to die

even if there is a past, history is falsified by everyone

let’s face it; memory is malleable, even in personal history

plausibility?

is history different from fiction?

Abba Eban: “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely only once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

It is part of the very warp and woof of life that the poor do not appear in history. As the African proverb goes, until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. Is it so very surprising then that a brilliant few will be valorized over the many? We cannot undo the past. To think you can demonstrates a fragility of mind. The very price of understanding history is an impotence to do anything about it.

 

SYLVIA’S FOOT

(One of 20 feet exhibited in the water of a big pond at Barnsdall Park, Los Angeles, CA, 1978. An installation for The Great American Foot Show, Junior Visual Arts Center.)

Here Sylvia’s foot meets one of Erin Cosgrove’s paintings on wood:

 

It’s a foot, it’s a candle. The replica of the artist’s foot cut off below the ankle was born in 1978, 41 years old. Nineteen identical siblings didn’t survive the fire of Sylvia’s house. 

It is a base without pillar, maybe he forgot the body he came from. It has become a mental thing in my mind, abandoned by name and personal history. The foot belongs to the realm of death secretly swallowed into the silence of wax, colors also were lost. Only for one day the foot floated in a pond of water at Barnsdall Park in Los Angeles. Children were allowed to grab the feet as if they were fish. “Oh, sea,  what fish is this / so tender and so sweet? / -asked Gregory Corso, his boyish soul-  —Thy mother’s feet.” 

Words are absent minded. They often abandon us mid-way.

Wrongly or rightly, reb Souassi drew the logical conclusion that death was nothing but a coarse distraction of life. Hélas! It was fatal to us.

It is far from the shore that books have a shipwreck, like improvised boats knocked down by the storm.  

Whiteness, by distraction, found herself without color. Unless it was the color that, suddenly, discreetly, found its whiteness again.

EDMOND JABÈS

Jamais le sang ne connaitra la blancheur      Blood will never know whiteness

GUILLERMO KUITCA, one part of Missing Pages 2018, Oil on canvas 285 x 380 cm 18 parts, 95 x 63 cm each.
From the catalogue published by Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles for the Kuitca’s exhibition 18 march-11 August 2019

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Guillermo Kuitca, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles 2019

Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Paris, Gallimard, 1942

Gregory Corso, Mindfield, @ 1989 Gregory Corso, New York, Thunder’s Mouth Press

Edmond Jabès, L’ineffaçable L’inaperçu, Paris, Gallimard, 1980 (transl. of the quote by RA)

*Statement by Trobriands, Papua Nuova Guinea, in Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred, University of California press, 2017

**Statement by Orpingalik, Netsilik Inuit, in Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred, University of California press, 2017