YELLOW MOON – LENZ GEERK

About LENZ GEERK  “Mixed Blessings”

at Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, September 2019

 

LENZ GEERK, Untitled 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 70 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles CA

LENZ GEERK, Croissant 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 cm Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles CA

YELLOW MOON

by Rosanna Albertini

No, says the child, the moon is white. That is not the moon, it’s a croissant. 

I am not in the mood for fighting, words assume they are right, so does the child. 

I keep seeing the moon wearing a puffy dress, looking kindly at the people of the house. 

They look at her or keep her in their minds in an uncanny way, even when the moon-croissant, the crescent moon, is off stage, or he looks as if he is wondering where she is, the man about to pick up his briefcase or maybe only passing by through the corridor. His thoughts, heavier than the bag, make him greenish. He might be a tree man growing out of the bag like a Houdini. It’s a painted reality, at the mercy of the marketplace.

 But the artist knows that and he is conscious at the same time, deeply conscious, that he makes people and rooms and objects in his paintings “the only way that he is able to get the picture to exist.” Therefore the story doesn’t have to be necessary,  “it has to exist but it doesn’t have to be necessary …. because the minute it is necessary it has in it no possibility of going on.” 

LENZ GEERK, Pearl Painting and Pearl Necklace 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 49 x 35 cm Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles CA

Gertrude, you are welcome. Did you notice the woman adjusting the necklace underneath her hair, she only has a portion of an arm, maybe she is a statue. Her pearl is so powerful that turns into a giant pearl, a mother pearl? floating between painted waves in another painting. Mystery grows, for the two figures, the woman statue and the painting, float in the dark emerging from the canvas like Venus from the ocean. The painter, I wonder, maybe the painter is realizing he doesn’t have the soft, absorbing surface of felt underneath anymore, he is painting on canvas, not so easy, not so welcoming. He stops remembering the felt. He chops the arm, acts anew and lets the brush make the job.

Pirandello would call the figures six characters in search of their author, so lost in their own nature that they barely deal with the density of the living. Geerk’s painted creatures are not even completely human. They stand rigid, or slightly folded on themselves like leaves, or fall down in a strange angle as flowers do in a vase when the water has soaked the stem and petals dry up.  Impossible to imagine them in a less empty space, less anonymous. A man leans toward the crescent moon on the table, can’t reach her. His woman companion on the chair seems suspicious, keeps her distance.

LENZ GEERK, The Croissant 2019, Acrylic on canvas 80 x 115 cm Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles CA

 Another woman in a small gray painting looks at the yellow presence from afar, half hidden behind the doorway. That is the epilogue of the mystery story, the same that unfolds in five views of the same place: one of the two corners of the moon has been eaten, or stolen. It’s a croissant, not a moon anymore. Exactly as in an old Inuit tale: the house was flying, people inside asked the house to stop, they were cold. The house stopped and the people put some light snow in their lamps, the snow burned and gave them light. Someone from the street went in and said, “the snow is burning!”  And the flame disappeared. 

In our story the flame remained lit in the painter.

An interesting closeness to Morandi’s palette, and to the soft edges of his painted cups and pitchers, goes along with the quiet intensity of the figures locked in themselves and unrevealed dreams. If the crescent moon is their dream, it’s obviously unreachable. But the painter ate it. 

LENZ GEERK, Untitled 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 200 cm Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles CA

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

GERTRUDE STEIN, Look at Me Now and here I Am,  Writings and Lectures 1909-1945, Penguin Books, 1967

Inuit stories in Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred, Third edition, University of California press, 2017

MORANDI, Catalogue of Giorgio Morandi, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1981. The catalogue I consulted belongs to Lucas Reiner, painter. He lent it to me with trepidation because it was one of his mother’s favorite books. Thank you Lucas, both the book and myself hope to see you soon.

 

TETSUYA YAMADA : THE MAN IN THE CLOSET

TETSUYA YAMADA

and his 3 days-installation in an empty Minneapolis hardware store

FRONT AND BACK BACK AND FRONT  2018

Photographic documentation by Rik Sferra

 

“As with most truths, the simpler the words, the stronger and more straightforward they are and most forcefully they strike our hearts.”  Rikyu, 15th century Japan

Tetsuya Yamada: “How can I create an artwork with a life independent of my intention? 

I mean the work has to be given its own life.”

I ask Gertrude Stein to answer him: “The master-pieces do not exist by human nature…they exist because they come to be as something that is an end in itself and in that respect it is opposed to the business of living which is relation and necessity.” (Look at Me Now and Here I Am, Writings and Lectures 1909-1945, Penguin Books 1990)

 

 

the man in the closet

by Rosanna Albertini

Wearing the title words as clogs for walking, my mind goes. Almost one year after November 2018, photographs are the place in which the installation still lives. The storefront has absorbed the images of the city across the street, gently struck by winter light over trees that already forgot the green. The scene makes the front of the store the natural background of houses trees and cars as if the windows had captured the cycle of time only by acceptance: relation and necessity. That’s the place, not the art. A bicycle appears.

The art is different. An uninhabited building, waiting for new users, certainly didn’t expect an artist born in Tokyo was about to transform the inner space into an art temple. No parts of the building were changed. A verbally expressed idea, FRONT AND BACK BACK AND FRONT (title of the art installation) was printed white on black on the exhibition’s poster, floating on the front of the building as a pediment in a miracle of symmetry.  It’s a steady statement perfect for capital letters from which doubts and hesitations are banned. The artist could wear it on his own forehead. If I mentally look at his body I have no doubts about his front side, but I must turn around him to see his back. I can do it, he can’t unless he uses a double mirror.

Truth is, the physical body supposed to be in between FRONT and BACK throws the linguistic perfection to hell. As soon as I say it, it goes dead. Must zip my lips to keep the brain restrained. The key is conjunction, the little AND. It has a limitless dimension. Supposing the question arises, I say yes, the imaginary space between FRONT and BACK is the core of the apple, the hydraulic electrical engine of each human underneath the skin, hard to please impossible to control. A human body is yet one of the most mysterious and unpredictable creatures in the universe. So is any emptied living place in which a door screeching, steps on the floor, a bird flying in by curiosity, hands exchanging money for screwdrivers, or fixing all those mechanical engines of our homes that we only notice when they break, become a cacophony, a concert immersed in a peculiar density of smells emanating from wood, metals, industrial oils and plastic tools. Oh, someone stole a pliers!

It’s possible that Yamada explored the inner emptiness of the store like a man in the closet. The black and white poster works as a guardian in uniform waiting outside. Inside, the store becomes the inside of a body with two hearts. Two beating engines meeting for the first time and learning how to beat together: the artist’s and the fifty year old store’s, two distinct lives. Their acquaintance is three days long.  They are the same age, the artist and the midwestern space, now dreaming of voices and people and big tables and shelves all gone. Wood or metal scraped from the floor left their shape, wounds in the middle of room’s and corridor’s floors painted gray. Under the neons’ light, they might be small rivers, or a pond for the many ghosts filling the air, working. They never abandoned the store. Myriads of traces on the floor and on the wall panels tell their story.

Yamada brought in art that could relate to the hums of presences all around him: his own gestures, when writing with tar the skin of the land, or forcing his hands to blindly write and draw underneath the table, and photographs of unrest in the landscapes. Contrasting with the lack of windows in the basement, he hangs on the wall panels outdoor images and language alterations. His body language expands through images reaching the ghosts’ language in a silent conversation. Silence in this case is practical and functional. In this doubled conversation that we can only imagine the art in her entirety reaching the peak of beauty.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tetsuya’s younger body skating on the floors. The athlete in him is the forebear of future gestures. 

Nevertheless the space is livable. It needed a fan: Tetsuya introduces a TV fan looping every four minutes twenty eight seconds. Did Nam Jun Paik leave an unconscious echo in him? The ground floor has a population of sculptures, light and rigid, perfectly symmetrical, no name on them. 

Why there are no conjunctions, why colors are avoided, why clay for the cylinders, usage is possible but unlikely, like: the table is set for guests to come and stand, adding their own freedom of language.

What a scene! All the mess of life, so many efforts to make impersonal what the artist creates almost despite himself, looking at himself from far, putting himself and the work in a big closet, and so escaping the social game of the art world based on money and power. In three words: Honor to him.

Please walk through the photographs. 

TETSUYA YAMADA, Fan (video) 2018 4:28 loop

TETSUYA YAMADA, Tar Gestures series, Gelatin Silver print, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, Pun under the table Drawing series, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, Tar Gesture series, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, From the series Tar Gesture, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, From the series Trace, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, from the series Trace, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, Slowly fast, Fastly Slow from the series Pun under the table Drawing, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, Light in the Dark, Dark in the Light, from the series Pun under the table Drawing, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, sculpture, Front and Back Back and Front, T-shirts with coat rack, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, installation Top and Bottom, Bottom and Top, fired clay and wood, 2018

TETSUYA YAMADA, installation Top and Bottom, Bottom and Top, fired clay and wood, 2018

PS       This piece is dedicated to another man in the closet. He spent most of his life in tiny rooms inventing, fixing and building. Exploring the life of melting metals and electronic circuits.

Often the place was literally a closet, with no windows. His tools, the holes in the wall panels, photographs and microphones were his new world, where his brain might work and maybe rest, separate from the outdoor reality. Charles Trenet’s songs were crackling coming out from one of the radio foreign channels he was able to capture.

A fading page of an old local newspaper has the photo of a working micro-engine in a thimble. He made it when he was twelve. They said it was the smallest engine in the whole world. As a young soldier, not more than a boy, he worked for the American army near Cassino, at the end of WWII.  Transmissions were his specialty. He was borrowed from the Italian army. Although Italian, he was far from home. His family thought him dead for a long while, when there was no communication between North and South Italy. The war left indelible marks in his mind. They never found a way out. The closet, that was his brain and his universe. He was my father.

 

 

 

 

SEWING LIFE AND DEATH: Material Art from China

S E W I N G  L I F E  A N D  D E A T H

The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China

at LACMA, Los Angeles, until January 5, 2020

Text by Rosanna Albertini

Here is the thread sewing my mind to the first generation of Chinese contemporary female artists: “my mother was a seamstress.” It’s a recurrent matter of fact in their lives during or immediately after the cultural revolution. I avoid capital letters. I could also say, “my mother was a seamstress, so was her mother, as the other grandmother couldn’t be, having lost four fingers of her right hand cut off by a machine in a factory producing thread for sewing.” Many women were seamstresses in Italy at the end of WW II. Such a heavy heritage didn’t make me an artist. Unless my hand-making books has some roots there, but probably not, the thread that I like to handle comes from the narrative thread in the written book, from the writing tension.

Among many interesting artists at LACMA, four female artists stopped my heart: 

MA QIUSHA    LIN TIANMIAO    YIN XIUZHEN    PENG YU

These artists were all new for me. The more online research I did trying to have a more comprehensive idea of their work, the more astonished I was by their art and by them in person, interviews revealing the struggle of identities as fragile as butterflies fluttering at first, and becoming very steady in the blink of an eye, flying out of the cocoon of collective mythologies mixed with communist ideology, not to mention thousands of years of a powerful civilization. They bloomed by working hard. Still with one foot in patriarchal families and the other crossing one of the fastest social transformations in history. Studying and living in the US for awhile, and going back, to preserve cultural values in the storm of energy that pervades their country. Feeling the pain as well as the positive influence of change. Lin Tianmiao winds thread around bodies and every object she can find, physically changing them with raw materials. She has in mind “a simpler past” while she accepts that her existence cannot be separated from everything around, and not only in China, all over the world. 

“Being an artist is a very personal thing and often a lonely thing” she says.

Sewing, fabric, and the thread itself are just the right materials to portray emotions still on the seesaw between past and future, to keep them flexible as long as possible. The present seems to be faceless for the time being, still veiled, still needing a human blanket over the sharpness of changes that are planned more than asked for.

 It was always a matter of slowing time, with sewing or weaving, from Penelope waiting for Ulysses to the time when Bertha filava, in Italian fairy tales.  The matter yes, but time first, time driven by female hands, the juice for the metaphor. Slowing time, maybe, allows these artists’ minds to pause on the physical world like migrating birds. They need to fly, no matter the risks. And they do. Their wings are large and strong. They cover the human condition, in China and elsewhere.

MA QIUSHA, Wonderland: Black Square, 2016  cement, nylon stocking, plywood, resin, iron, 96 7/16 x 96 7/16 x 23/16 in. Courtesy of Beijing Commune.   LACMA 2019 Photo RA

The Wonderland Amusement Park of Ma’s childhood has slowly disappeared. The rough surface of the road on which the artist used to skate back and forth from her mother’s to grandmother’s house is the solid canvas of the square, covered with black stockings. In other similar pieces of this series colored stockings or clothes soften the same ground. If it’s a map, roads are not traced, there is only a soft proliferation of irregular fragments of nylon, they all had walked slipped on women’s legs, and now they are a body on their own, never flat, petals of blackness. 

LIN TIANMIAO, Day-Dreamer, 2000, white cotton threads, white fabric, digital photograph, height adjustable on actual site: 196 13/16 x 86 5/8 x 59 in. Courtesy of the artist. LACMA 2019. Photo RA

The artist’s body floats midway from the sky face down, and sends her profile towards a pedestal on the floor. Cotton  threads edge with stitches the flat shape of her figure —a wound marked with no blood— before it falls like vertical rain. The base is empty. Has Lin embroidered the artist’s destiny? limited in time but persistent as a challenge, an impossible dream. 

LIN TIANMIAO, Here? or There? 2002, mixed media  Courtesy Gallery Lelong

LIN TIANMIAO, Endless  2004, mixed media Courtesy Gallery Lelong

Yin Xiuzhen moves Lin Tinmiao’s inner struggle into an outdoor landscape. She doesn’t fear showing attachment to remnants of the past, old and more recent, inexpensive traces of daily life quickly erased from the cityscape. She collects used fabric, clothes and shoes from all over the world, surrounding herself with so many past lives that her personal relevance turns to zero, a molecular, an alchemical function. Through her art, the face the present shows is a texture of multiple times. The most significant threads are invisible, broken like dry branches. They are the same in every human, by genetic or cultural recomposition; and they exist beyond national borders, different languages and food. 

YIN XIUZHEN, Shoes with Butter 1996, color photograph Courtesy Pace Gallery Beijing (Hybrid of spirituality and materiality inTibet)

YIN XIUZHEN, Transformation 1997, B & W photographs mounted on used cement tiles. 7 1/16 x 7 1/16 x 1 15/16 in.  LACMA 2019, Photos RA

YIN XIUZHEN, Transformation 1997, Beijing, Photo Song Dong, Collection of the artist, Courtesy Pace Beijing

With Trojan, at Venice Biennale 2019, Yin Xiuzhen brings back the homeric tragedy as a topic of our own contemporary drama: not only the horse has entered our world, we do more, we enter the horse! And inside it’s strangely appealing, a space of thoughts we would disclose in an empty cathedral, far from conflicts, aware of our fractured ideas. We get ready to crash. Yin Xiuzhen adds Nowhere to Land, always in Venice. I don’t feel like adding words on that. Silence on our folly. She got it all. 

YIN XIUZHEN, Trojan, Venice biennale 2019 (Photo designboom.com)

YIN XIUZHEN, Trojan (inside) Venice biennale 2019 (Photo designboom.com)

YIN XIUZHEN, Nowhere to Land, Venice biennale 2019 (Photo designboom.com)

Peng Yu is perhaps the extreme edge of the boat. Spiritual threads link her to the afterlife humans whose bodies were left behind, buried or forgotten in frozen rooms for medical experiments. Exile is not for them. Feeling our own exile she filled a jar with fat sucked out of those bodies, sort of a lacrimal bottle to collect tears, but gigantic. And she poured the fat into a river that runs around Beijing, to merge with all the other leftovers pushed around by the water. But first of all she sewed visible leftovers of life in the river to a tangible, physical component of death, so completing the circle: never give up with feelings, one doesn’t need to be dead to be nice, affectionate, a gentle dead. One can be gentle, even when living. 

PENG YU, Exile 2000, still from video. Duration: 3′ 12″ Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp-M HKA, on view at LACMA 2019

ALBERTO ALBERTINI : DISASTERS

DISASTERS 

 by Alberto Albertini  

(Father and Son – Oreste and Alberto n.2)

DRAWINGS ALBERTO ALBERTINI MADE AS A CHILD

About the drawing of a falling airplane. Since Alberto was born in 1927, the following events started when he was about ten years old, more or less in 1937, and continued. Besano, Lombardia

The beauty of a disaster is fascinating, upsetting and attractive. Certainly not for the victims, but for us it’s incomparable. Attraction comes from breaking the usual routine, brightening up the attention by a sharply different happening. And something more is there —I believe— something dug up from unconscious or previous mental habits: hidden desires of revenge, failed achievements…

I was fascinated by disasters from my early years, they were in the air. At school we received fascist and military culture: we had to learn about muskets, grenades, anti gas masks and the complete military rank from simple soldier to general! I was never been able to learn it, but in the meantime the subtle pleasure of disaster was crawling in me. 

With Giorgio, who had a lot of toys and a great electric train on which he used to keep apples to dry, we used to produce railroad disasters: they were his trains. Had they been mine — I desired them so much — I don’t think I would have treated them that way. I made up for my deprivation by drawing more innocuous scenes. Giorgio and I also loved to take pictures of tanks hit by cannons. Tanks were the prevailing toys, but I was attracted by the caterpillar tracks, that gave the possibility to go everywhere, even off road. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving forward, I transformed an old little game my father had played with me into a complete military construction. Father used to put a match into a small tube, then using another match’s flame he heated the tube’s bottom and pfff, the first match was shot out of the small tube! Thanks to my inclination toward building, I moved to using bigger brass tubes and made a carriage with rubber wheels from other toys: a miniature cannon that I could drag. Such evolution involved the problem of the explosive substance that I fabricated following the instructions in the Sonzogno handbook. Actually it was a handbook for pyrotechnic work that I had bought in order to prepare the black gun powder: 75-15-10 saltpeter-carbon-sulphur. I understood from this that pyrotechnics could be more interesting, which I successfully undertook showing the blaze to the girls, more than sending rockets into space. I paid special attention to Micky Mouse’s whaling ship that I reproduced in wood in miniature, but this too had a small cannon with a harpoon. 

Recently, in a short autobiography in third person, Alberto wrote:

We consider superfluous to talk of the early years, our childhood because, although embryos of the future are already there, (at age five he conceived and made a net of trenches to gather chestnuts without bending his back) we believe that this is what normally happens in everyone’s childhood.  Only the stubborn time of adolescence brings the steady intention to proceed with a project. Which one? He, at that age, loved to say that he was a renaissance man four or five centuries late. And for that reason it would have been impossible for him to embrace all the arts and sciences that were possible in the renaissance, provided one had a special desire and a lot of brain. 

I hope you get the irony. My uncle Alberto is 92 and lives and works in Milano, Italy.

ADIA MILLETT : The Gold of Silence

ADIA MILLETT : THE GOLD OF SILENCE 

  Adia Millett : Breaking Patterns

California African American Museum Los Angeles — February-August 2019

 

ADIA MILLETT, Section 8 2016, Fabric/textile 140″ x 120″ Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

Be broken into a million pieces.

Only then will your heart no longer be confined

by the precious delusion of your own identity.

And perhaps you will stop being a house

with a few windows for the light to pour in.

Instead you will be the ground and the sky.

You will be the echo of your mother’s cry 

and the imprint of your father’s feet.

You… will be everything!

ADIA MILLETT

Edmond Jabès:

ECRIRE, C’EST RENDRE LE SOMMEIL AUX MOTS. LA PAGE EST LE DORTOIR; ALORS LE REVE PREND LES RENES ET TU PEUX BOIRE A L’ETAPE.

TO WRITE IS TO GIVE THE WORDS THEIR SLEEP. THE PAGE IS THE ROOM FOR SLEEPING; WHICH IS WHEN DREAMS HOLD THE REINS AND YOU CAN DRINK BEHIND THE LINES.

 

THE GOLD OF SILENCE

by Rosanna Albertini

Neither words nor images are easy. They only expand in a visual body moments in which the writer, in our case she’s also the artist, has lost memory, explanations, even the measure of time, and holds her breath in hope that a new world will appear on each page, in every art piece. And I would like to wrench more from Adia Millett about fabric and deconstruction, her pacing and undoing to the point of forgetting the heaviness of the house, both object and word. But, more words would pass through the intersection between her life and mine. I stay with the silence of her art as I see what she drew from history or natural events and remade, maybe skipping lightly and quickly, from afar, the ‘precious delusion’ of her own identity.

Daydreaming is the secret. A golden needle was held by Millett’s neurons, escaped her brain, became the vessel of a thread: a thread of breeze or light, and yet strong and farsighted. My, our daydreaming can only be different from hers when we look at her quilts, but we breath the air between the 8 sections of the house, whose door is there? Does the house wrap the artist around her body or live inside her, recombining layers of fabric with untold stories by many steps preceding words?

ADIA MILLETT, Medicine Wheel 2018, Fabric/textile 120″ diameter Courtesy of the artist Photo RA

Ancestors’ spread a monumental asymmetrical wisdom from a temple with one white window at the center. Fabric adds softness to the timeless speech. Adia Millet brought here, now, the ancestors’ voice gripped in stitches, for our eyes’ soul. She went through the magic of a natural environment: the grass sleeps in the green, birds rest among the clouds, the sky sleeps in the blue, the sun blows insomnia from an orange eye, time sleeps in the wheel. Perhaps humans didn’t really step in. 

ADIA MILLETT, Ancestors 2017, Fabric/textile  65″ x 73″ Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

Darkness is the not seen, an unknown fable obnubilated by lack of light. A wound was necessary, red like a horizon. A golden rain falls down from the wound, it’s the fable crying gold.

ADIA MILLETT, Golden Shower 2016, Fabric/textile 104″ x 92″
Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

Then tiny houses scattered on tables. Millett doesn’t stop making houses, gloves for explosions of feelings that ask for shape, protection maybe. Metaphors materialized in illuminated small inner spaces from which, once more, what emanates is silence.

The white, luminous center — one or many minuscule lamps —  regulates shadows and meanings, the infinite meanings each of us can imagine. If we are not delusional, we may feel the same in front of a closed door of a neighboring house. Beyond the door museum rooms with no labels, cabinets of daily wonder. We can only guess, make up stories. 

ADIA MILLETT, Blind premonition (flowers) 2009  Mixed media assemblage, 12 x 13 x 14″ Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

ADIA MILLETT, Capital Gain 2011 Mixed media assemblage 12 x 9.5 x 26.5″ Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

ADIA MILLETT, Rolando’s Ancestors 2011 Mixed media assemblage 22 x 12.5 x 9″ Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

When a long history of human traffic and money is included in a tunnel ending with a vanishing point, with ships sealing the void and money growing on trees instead of apples and pears, I saw the power of tales, the more absurd, the more revealing. A popular Italian story brings up the belief that trees with coins instead of leaves would grow when planting a coin in the ground. Poor Pinocchio, blinded by the beliefs of the poor who dreamed of a new life. Capital Gain is a clever, shameless piece. So are the other miniature spaces. Erasing time, including feelings in a niche, the artist invites us to open heart surgeries. Bleeding becomes gold, if you let your heart explode into a million pieces.  

ADIA MILLETT, When I Was a Little Boy 2011 Mixed media assemblage 9 x 13 x 18.5″ Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

ADIA MILLETT, When I Was a Little Boy 2011 Mixed media assemblage 9 x 13 x 18.5″ Courtesy of the artist, Photo RA

Bibliography

Edmond Jabès, Le Livre de Yukel, Paris, Gallimard, 1964

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