THE CHALLENGE : Milan in the Sixties

THE CHALLENGE: to plan and build from zero two recording studios in three months

ALBERTO in Milano

Text and images by ALBERTO ALBERTINI

The best conditions for damage to a company, a family or a political party, are when one creates or tolerates an inner conflict. “The Challenge” was a textbook case: the perfect conflict. The idea of disturbing my peaceful work by giving me a boss who was not really useful to me, but rather involved in projects totally distant from me, created this conflict. I need to emphasize the dimension of the challenge: to create from zero, in an empty loft, two recording studios in three months. The project implied decisions about what to buy and the complete planning, to the slightest details. Not having any intention to replicate the Roman Fonoroma studios, I paid attention not to do what I had learned doesn’t have to be done and, what’s more, I improved my work thanks to my five years of inventions and innovations. I can’t explain the trust I received.

A constant in my planning activity is a certain incompetence. As Anatole France used to say, the specialists of a discipline know everything about it, but beyond that, they grope in the dark. Being an outsider and not a specialist at all, I did not grope in the dark. Never having had the right school over the years, the son of a painter who had been a mechanic and grandchild of a carpenter, I had studied chemistry, physics, photography, film technique on my own, that’s why maybe I had a bent for applying techniques of one discipline to another. I mean, in developing my first sound recorder I applied in the control system of the reels  the technique used in motorcycle brakes. To the film developing system for the Cineservicefilm I had applied the technique used in a steam engine heat exchange mechanism. A panoramic vision, joined to my natural thoughtlessness, allowed me to face problems certainly bigger than me.

After my departure from Rome in 1959, Fonoroma became something completely different and for sure not my responsibility; maybe their investments to try and make “Cinema in Milano” were excessive or wrong. In the late 50’s people in the film business in Rome used to say that Fonoroma was losing in film production what had been gained by dubbing, but was able to recover. But this time, in the 60’s it did not recover. The workers, after various ups and down, organized a cooperative that maintained the prestigious name. But they had to move, abandoning the marvelous palace behind Piazza del Popolo.

 

There was, in Milan, a factory of film development and film and sound printing created in 1945, immediately after the end of the war, as a present to his daughter by a textile manufacturer from Veneto. The name was Filmservice. The audio equipment of Filmservice didn’t have the quality required by the new market: the “Caroselli,” the very first TV advertisements. In ’58-’59 this factory owner asked Fonoroma to manage the sound department. In 1959 I was sent to Milan by Fonoroma as a manager of the department, to be immersed in the hell of an industrialized dubbing system. I was meeting a completely different reality. The transition that leads to the “Challenge” was five years spent as a manager of the Milanese Fonoroma.

For Fonoroma, sending me north was a big opportunity: I was a Northerner speaking the same language as the clients, and a pain in the neck eliminated from Rome. They easily convinced me with a very good salary to go to Milan, where I found a different world in which producing television advertisements had promoted a style of work adapted to short films. Studios, cameras, microphones were all the same as in feature filmmaking, but designed for very short shoots and with top level audio, because each advertisement had to be clear, intelligible and powerful!

They were the fabulous years…a banal commonplace or cheap sentimentalism? Fabulous years are those containing a more or less defined hope, certainly perceived by intuition, a hope today quite hard to feel. Although those Sixties were fabulous indeed, I didn’t know it, but my instinct pressed me to keep going. In those years the construction of the first subway turned the city upside down, it was the time of miniskirts, and the famous Giamaica bar was nearby, but I didn’t have the time to go there, and Paolo Sarpi Street was not one way yet. These were also the pioneering years of the new electronic solid state technology, those tiny worms with three threads sticking out before they became integrate circuits and then microprocessors. Electronics was then something one could touch, made visible by few and simple tools, now instead it’s the unknown, entirely analyzed by processors indicating if it works or not! The new field was so satisfying to me that I also made one of the first solid state commutators. I could describe the technical aspects of my work, and yet they would be impossible to comprehend even for a competent persons today, so much have technologies changed. In another report I will try an accessible description. More interesting are the clouds approaching on the horizon…

When I arrived in 1959 I found the space of the recording studio in Milan was similar to a submarine: steep metal stairs, a closet for machines, another for directing. The room for actors speaking at the microphone, although bigger, was smelling of humidity, dust and the passing of years. Projects recorded there were absolutely inadequate to the new requirements. RAI (the Italian state television network) had a department of quality control and rejected our products that were not good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young engineer had renewed these studios in Milan. The son of Fonoroma’s owner, he had either tried to save money, or to put to the test the new electronic devices: transistors. In conclusion, I found myself caught in a multitude of technical and methodological troubles because the feature film sound approach was different from the approach for producing sound for TV advertising; they were both effective, and their conflict was only due to the arrogance of the young engineer. On one side there was a fantastic relationship with clients, actors, dubbers, editors, producers, but on the other hand, I had to deal with the problems created by thermal drift in the circuitry of the studio that lead to a decline in sound quality after a few hours of work. It became necessary to quickly examine the new devices, analyze and solve the design problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember that between 1962-63, the owners of the Filmservices studios sold the whole activity to a financial group owned by the Cefis. Filmservice became TTC: tecno tele cine. 

The financial group was concerned with another project, initiated under Fonoroma’s wings, that started to take shape in order to attract to Milan the film production centered in Rome. A “Cinelandia” was supposed to be built by Fonoroma and other investors on the outskirts of Milan. This project would be far from the film processing labs. Because TTC where I worked was in the city center, our actors used to go quickly to the RAI nearby, if the scripts needing to be recorded were only a few minutes long. The new project would have implied inconceivable long traveling, or otherwise disrupted the advertisement production.

My collaboration was as loyal as the one of a dissident in his own party. I was waiting for the right opportunity. The “Cinema a Milano” project continued with general indifference from outside, but for Fonoroma it was a must! A remarkable quantity of money had been invested to build everything ex novo. Since I had built the new film mixing studio in the old TTC place, the director of TTC, seeing how I worked, believed I was in a position to solve his problems. He asked me to build two new studios in the same building, on the top floor, where there was an empty space of 30 x 15 x 5 meters.

The challenge was to accomplish everything in three months and open the activities before the “Cinema a Milano” could open. Their construction were already quite advanced.

From April to September 1965 we planned the entire project, in order to complete it and open in December. This included the planning of acoustic walls as well as the mechanics and electronic components. Orders and construction had to start within planned, rigid times, in a way that every piece could enter the plan precisely at the right time and in the right space: contractors, modified projectors, recorders for magnetic and optical film, general mechanics, plus the parts built by me. At my little table, I had prepared all the audio and network connections, with orders and deliveries precisely calculated.

There, in that empty and bleak, immense pavillion, the ceiling still a naked, sagging roof, masons pour the floating floors and the double walls for  perfect acoustic insolation, carpenters place the pipes for electric and audio connections, while our workshop prepares the frames for the mixing consoles, the consoles and recording machines arrive, with a collaborator helping me we proceed to work at connections, we install the screens…the sheets of paper for invoices are printed: we start recording!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calculations had been precise. We succeeded in starting to record before the engineers closed the old studio to move it out of town. The hardware project was also supported by a method to manage recordings, archives and invoices, so that the work started immediately in a fluid way. I had learned what does not have to be done and planned all the possible improvements I had discovered in years of work.

These studios, as I had conceived them,  worked for 25 years. The studios of our competitors never took off, stalled in telefilm dubbing. The recording studios were given in the end to private televisions. Now, 2015, I don’t know what remains of the out of town studios. Those I had planned and built do not exist anymore. The whole building was demolished and replaced by a luxury apartments building. It’s a new time. After all, fifty years have passed.

(For the translation of all the technical details and more, I had the invaluable help of my husband Peter Kirby. Thank you Peter!)

 

 

LA SFIDA: progettare e costruire da zero due studi di registrazione in tre mesi

ALBERTO a Milano

La condizione migliore per danneggiare un’azienda, una famiglia, un partito, è la creazione o la tolleranza di un conflitto interno. “La sfida” era un caso da manuale: il conflitto perfetto. L’idea di disturbare il mio pacifico lavoro dandomi un capo che non serviva a me ma ai progetti a me estranei, creò il conflitto cui ho accennato. Quello che intendo sottolineare è la dimensione dell’impresa: creare da zero, cioè da un capannone vuoto, due studi di registrazione in mesi tre. Il progetto comportava la decisione sui prodotti da acquistare e la progettazione completa, nei minimi dettagli. Non intendevo ripetere gli studi romani della Fonoroma, ma fare tutto quello che avevo imparato che non bisognava fare, e in più tutte le migliorie del lavoro in base alle esperienze di cinque anni di invenzioni e innovazioni. Non trovo spiegazione della fiducia che mi era stata accordata.

Una costante nella mia attività di progettazione è l’ incompetenza specifica. Come diceva Anatole France, gli specialisti di una disciplina sanno tutto di questa ma, al di fuori di essa, brancolano nel buio. Io ero al di fuori, e non essendo specialista non brancolavo nel buio. Non avendo mai frequentato la stessa scuola negli anni, figlio di un pittore che era stato meccanico e nipote di un falegname, avevo studiato chimica, fisica, fotografia, tecnica cinematografica per conto mio, forse per questo tendevo ad applicare le tecniche di una disciplina a un’altra. Per dire, al mio primo registratore avevo applicato al freno di svolgimento della bobina la tecnica delle frizioni motociclistiche. Alla sviluppatrice della Cineservicefilm avevo applicato la tecnica dei vasi comunicanti e degli scambiatori di calore delle locomotive a vapore. Una visione panoramica, non unilaterale, unita all’incoscienza congenita di cui godo, mi consentiva di affrontare azioni sicuramente più grandi di me.

Dopo la mia partenza da Roma la Fonoroma non fu più la stessa, non certo per causa mia ma perché gli investimenti per “fare il cinema a Milano” dovettero essere eccessivi o sbagliati. Si diceva, a Roma, che la Fonoroma perdeva, nella produzione di film, quello che aveva guadagnato con il doppiaggio, ma comunque si riprendeva. Questa volta non si riprese e dopo varie vicissitudini, i lavoratori finirono in cooperativa, conservando il prestigioso nome ma cambiando sede, abbandonando il meraviglioso palazzo dietro Piazza del Popolo!

A Milano esisteva uno stabilimento di sviluppo stampa e sonorizzazione film nato nel 1945, subito dopo la guerra, come regalo di un industriale tessile veneto alla figlia: si chiamava Filmservice. Le apparecchiature audio del Filmservice erano di qualità insufficiente a soddisfare le richieste del nuovo mercato: i Caroselli, pubblicità televisiva. Nel ’58-’59 la proprietà di questo stabilimento propose alla Fonoroma di gestire il reparto suono. Nel 1959 sono stato spedito a Milano con l’incarico di gestire questo reparto, immerso nella bolgia del sistema di doppiaggio industrializzato; mi venivo a trovare in contatto con una realtà tutta diversa. La transizione che conduce alla sfida è un interregno di cinque anni passati come gestore della Fonoroma milanese.

Come settentrionale ero una grossa opportunità: parlavo la stessa lingua dei clienti ed ero un rompiscatole eliminato a Roma. Con un’ottima retribuzione mi convinsero facilmente a tornare a Milano nel ’59, dove ho trovato un mondo diverso. La pubblicità televisiva aveva promosso un modo di lavorare su misura dei brevi filmati. Teatri di posa, pellicola, microfoni, tutto come nel cinema vero ma solo per brevissime riprese per giunta con un audio ai massimi livelli perché ogni pubblicità doveva essere chiara, intellegibile e potente!

Erano i favolosi anni…un banale luogo comune oppure sentimentalismo a buon prezzo? Gli anni favolosi sono quelli che contenevano una speranza più o meno definita, sicuramente intuita, speranza che oggi è difficile nutrire. Quegli anni sessanta erano favolosi, io non lo sapevo ma il mio istinto mi sollecitava ad andare avanti. Erano gli anni della città sottosopra per i lavori della prima metropolitana, delle minigonne, del Giamaica a due passi ma che io non avevo il tempo di frequentare e via Paolo Sarpi era a doppio senso, ma erano anche gli anni pionieristici della nuova tecnica elettronica allo stato solido, quei minuscoli bruchi con tre fili sporgenti destinati a divenire circuiti integrati e poi microprocessori. Allora l’elettronica si toccava con mano, cioè la si vedeva con pochi semplici strumenti, ora invece è l’ignoto, tutto analizzato da processori che dicono se funziona oppure no! Questo mi dava soddisfazione ed avevo pure realizzato una delle prime commutazioni allo stato solido. Certo potrei descrivere gli aspetti tecnici del mio lavoro ma sarebbero incomprensibili anche agli addetti ai lavori del giorno d’oggi, tanto le tecnologie sono cambiate.
Tenterò comunque in altro rapporto di farne una descrizione comprensibile.
Più interessanti le nubi che si approssimavano all’orizzonte…

Lo studio di registrazione milanese disponeva più o meno degli spazi che si trovano in un sommergibile: ripide scalette di metallo, un buco per le macchine e un altro per la regia. La sala, il luogo dove gli attori parlano al microfono era più grande, si, ma puzzolente di umidità polvere e tempo. Progetti assolutamente inadeguati alle nuove necessità. La RAI aveva un reparto di controllo qualità e respingeva i prodotti deficienti.

Il progettista del rinnovamento degli impianti di Milano era un giovane ingegnere, figlio del padrone degli studi romani, che aveva voluto sia economizzare, sia sperimentare i nuovi dispositivi elettronici: i transistori. In conclusione mi sono trovato in una moltitudine di guai tecnici e metodologici perché la scuola di suono cinema era diversa da quella del suono pubblicitario, pur essendo entrambe valide erano in conflitto per via della supponenza del nuovo progettista. Se da un lato si era instaurato un fantastico rapporto con i clienti, attori, doppiatori, montatori, produttori, dall’altro mi trovavo a gestire apparecchiature che principalmente soffrivano di deriva termica tale che dopo qualche ora la qualità del suono decadeva. Dunque necessità di studiare i nuovi dispositivi, analizzare i problemi e risolverli.

Intanto, la proprietà dello stabilimento sviluppo, stampa e sonorizzazione film (Filmservice) cedette tutta l’attività ad un gruppo finanziario facente capo ai Cefis, mi pare fra il 1962-63. La Filmservice diventa TTC: tecno tele cine. Questo gruppo era preoccupato da un altro progetto, promosso da Fonoroma, che cominciava a prendere forma, per attirare a Milano le produzioni cinematografiche romane. Avrebbe dovuto diventare una “Cinelandia” fuori città, dove la Fonoroma avrebbe deciso di trasferirsi. Sarebbe venuto a mancare lo studio di doppiaggio che faceva da supporto all’attività di sviluppo film. Siccome lo stabilimento dove lavoravo era in centro città, gli speakers facevano un salto dalla vicina RAI per registrare testi di pochi minuti. Il nuovo progetto avrebbe richiesto tempi di spostamento impensabili, ovvero sconvolto l’attività pubblicitaria.

La mia collaborazione era leale quanto quella di un dissidente entro il proprio partito. In definitiva aspettavo l’occasione giusta. Tra l’indifferenza generale il progetto “Cinema a Milano” andò avanti, doveva! Furono investiti parecchi capitali per costruire tutto ex novo. Poiché io avevo costruito il nuovo studio mixaggio film nella vecchia sede TTC, il direttore di questa, vedendomi al lavoro, mi reputò in grado di risolvere i suoi problemi e mi contattò proponendomi di costruire due nuovi studi nello stesso stabile all’ultimo piano dove esisteva uno spazio libero di 30X15X5 metri.
La sfida consisteva nel farlo in tre mesi e aprire l’attività prima dei “facciamo il cinema a Milano”, già avanti con i lavori.

Da aprile 1965, inizio dei contatti, a settembre, il progetto doveva essere pronto per l’esecuzione che doveva terminare in dicembre. Questo implicava sia la progettazione murario-acustica che quella meccanico elettronica, cioè far partire ordini e costruzioni con tempi previsti e impegnativi in modo che ogni pezzo si incastrasse in tempi e luoghi precisi: impresa di costruzioni, proiettori modificati, registratori su film magnetico e ottico, meccanica generale più la parte costruita da me. Anche tutte le connessioni audio e rete, erano preparate da me a tavolino, ordini e consegne calcolati con precisione.

Ed ecco che nell’immenso padiglione vuoto e squallido, il soffitto ancora a tetto nudo e spiovente, i muratori posano i pavimenti galleggianti e le doppie murature, per un perfetto isolamento acustico, i carpentieri posano le tubature per le connessioni elettriche e audio, la cabina elettricità, l’officina prepara lo scheletro del mixer, arrivano le macchine, con un collaboratore si procede alle connessioni si installano gli schermi…si stampano i fogli lavorazione/fatturazione: si registra!!

I calcoli erano stati precisi, riuscimmo a iniziare le registrazioni prima che gli ingegneri chiudessero il vecchio studio per trasferirsi fuori città. Il progetto dell’hardware era affiancato anche da un software: il modo di gestire le registrazioni, le archiviazioni e le fatturazioni cosicché il lavoro iniziò subito scorrevole. Avevo imparato ciò che non bisogna fare e progettato tutte le migliorie possibili osservate durante il lavoro.

Quegli studi, così come li ho concepiti, hanno lavorato per 25 anni. Quelli dei concorrenti non decollarono mai, ripiegarono sul doppiaggio di telefilm e i teatri di posa infine ceduti alle nuove TV private. Ora, 2015, non so cosa sia rimasto degli studi fuori città, di quelli che ho progettato io, più niente. L’intero palazzo demolito e al suo posto una nuova costruzione residenziale di lusso. Segno dei tempi, in fondo sono passati cinquant’anni.

 

 

TRANSMIGRATIONS : Indian and Italian Times

INDIA from afar

through the images by BIANCA SFORNI

and a text by ROSANNA ALBERTINI

BIANCA SFORNI, Le Corbusier Watches at Mill’s Owners Association, Ahmedabad, 2016

Confession of a soul from Charles Louis de Montesquieu’s Histoire véritable, True Story (mid eighteen century):

“No doubt I was the biggest rascal in all Indias, and the servant of an old gymnosophist [naked wise man] who spent fifty years to obtain a happy transmigration and, practicing rough penances, made himself a skeleton in this world not to be transformed into a vile animal in the afterlife. As for me, persisting in a cruel behavior at every occasion, I was terrible, executing all the animals falling into my hands. To tell the truth I didn’t dare touch the old cockerels in my master’s court, or some old goose almost sixty years old, and I took good care of an old wrinkled cow that made me crazy, because she didn’t have teeth to graze anymore and, when my master ordered me to walk her around, I was almost forced to hold her in my arms.” (Montesquieu)

Many stories of cruelties follow. From the time they happened to the confession we read, there is a gap of four thousand years.

“I engaged myself in the seduction of a young woman. Her husband happened to discover it and killed me. Because my soul was brand new and hadn’t yet animated other bodies, she was directly transported into a place where philosophers had to judge her. They measured the weight of my whole life: the scales fell violently on the side of the evil acts. I was condemned to migrate through the most shameful animals … but, instead of been stunned, distressed or complaining, I kept my usual good mood and, seeing other shadows scared, I burst into laughter. One of the major philosophers admired my bravery and became benevolent: ‘To show you that I appreciate your firmness, I will grant you the only gift which is in my power: it is the faculty to remember everything that will happen in all the revolutions of your being.'” (Montesquieu)

BIANCA SFORNI, Regina della Notte, Kolkata 2016

BIANCA SFORNI, Quando le ruote non avevano i raggi, 2016

BIANCA SFORNI, Agricultura, 2016

BIANCA SFORNI, Pastoral, 2016

I also transmigrated more than once in my life. I have been a scholar long enough to absorb so many stories from the past, from centuries old volumes that had lost their weight from the infinitely small insects eating the paper, that in the end I found some treasures never touched, never studied, but was forced to abandoned them. The academic rules were hard, and their imposition on the volumes and on me was an insane mortification. I saved one volume, deciding to expose it to the public as much as I could. This time I succeeded: Elvira Sellerio –  publisher from Palermo – put it in her Blue Collection: Montesquieu, Storia Vera, 1983 (second edition 1991). I translated the little book into Italian, with an essay I wrote realizing that our Western way of looking at India’s religious beliefs is marked by a misunderstanding we will not overcome. Transmigrations are only deaths without pain, they won’t be stopped by human desire to trace their history. To us from Europe, instead, memory is the only road to reconnect the fragments of an invisible movement. I don’t know why, we call it history.

BIANCA SFORNI, A Street is a Room Without a Roof, Kolkata 2016

When my friend Bianca recently went to India, for real, she probably borrowed the spirit of some soul who allowed her to see, through a transparent light, figures moving across a living space in which there is no distance between past and present. Humans merge into a sort of density, objects lose their opacity. Stones and metals show through their bodies the shape of the mountains they are made of. All of that in order “to avoid the paralyzing effects of experience, to use the mind in different ways.” (John Cage)

BIANCA SFORNI, Dancer, 2016

BIANCA SFORNI, Comari, 2016

BIANCA SFORNI, Our Cousins: the Sacred Squirrels, 2016

And now, even knowing that the description of my very first transmigration is affected by frames of thought rooted in Italy, in the Greek-Roman civilization, I lay it down next to Bianca’s Indian photographs for this is, to me, the only way to figure out what a transmigration is, without relying on two thousand years of books. My personal attempt at stepping into that world.

BIANCA SFORNI, Librarian, 2016

I was a girl looking down at the floor of a semicircular room of an apartment, the entrance room. A combination of red, green, gray and brown stones irregularly cut and randomly recombined. They were as hard as me, standing up on them and discovering my feet with clean shoes over that shiny surface. My mother brought me there. She was there and then she was not.

A small suitcase remained next to me, I was wearing a red coat with golden bottoms I didn’t like. I was ten years old. Nobody had spoken a word to me about my new life in the city, in an apartment of two sisters, friends of my grandfather. There I was. Not at all in my mind that I was going to spend in that place the next eleven years of my life.

Middle school was about to start in a few days. It was the end of September. I was scared by how neat and clean things were around me. The house was built with a curved wall on one side, as the building looked half toward a square, and half toward a street. Vibrations produced by the tramway were so strong that, at the passage on the curve, the walls trembled.

I don’t remember having feelings of any kind: I was an empty body quickly growing on a couple of legs, with short hair, and my usual freedom compressed in another me, out of that house. It took a long time before a soul joined my body again. When it happened, she found a different person: taller, language cleaned up, no more countryside accent after a constant work of correction, sort of linguistic surgery operated by the sisters. A new language called French had started to spurt from my lips, my brain was lost in rules, grammars, Latin, my behavior cleaned up from a body-language considered socially dangerous. For a street child from a village, education was hard. My natural paradise was lost.

I realized a soul (mine? someone else’s?) had reentered my mind, guiding at least some of my wishes, when despite the foreign environment, made out of replicated mental habits strongly persistent in the aristocratic principles rubbed on me every day by the two aristocratic sisters, I found my new freedom reading books. I fell in love with them. The first very long book I read, at 13, was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, of course in French.

 

BIANCA SFORNI, Anand’s Magic Guardians, Ahmedabad 2016

“keep a clicker / in / your pocket wittgenstein / just in case you / encounter / ugliness that needs / transformation / ugliness that / after / one / click / you accept / as beautiful / transformation / sudden change / of / mind / the third india is dharma / good’n’evil / true’n’false / right’n’wrong / in the / moral sense / discrimination / following in a general way.” John Cage, A Year from Monday, 1963

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE N.5

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE N.5

EILEEN COWIN, Lost in Translation from the Mad Love Series, 2017 5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

Not just self, maybe before
by Rosanna Albertini

The apricot tree was a large umbrella spread over a square piece of ground sown with potatoes. A green hedge separated this part of the garden, the hole for garbage and the henhouse, from the pine tree and the rose garden. After the beans had been completely harvested, I used to move the sticks into the potato field. Because they were five time higher than me, I pretended they were poles for building my favorite space: a sort of teepee made out of wooden sticks crossed at the top. Before the dew was frost on the clogs, almost never before November, the soil was soft enough to keep my construction quite steady. It was a difficult achievement for a seven year old; my home was often falling apart like a house of cards, scratching my arms legs and feet – but the final contentment was beyond description. I had my own house, and an unrestrained mind freedom. I didn’t mind of all those strange people inside the big house. They weren’t usually able to find me until dark, but it must be said that quite often they also forgot I existed. If they called, I believe I did not answer, sitting as I was on the inner curve of the moon. In summertime, before the grass was cut, it was even easier to disappear in tunnels through the blades, or astride the branches of a pear tree. God knows what I had in mind, lots of stories that were all vividly true since pretending is not lying; pretending is a secret work that one does not share with anybody. Besides, I was encumbered by theological doubts. Perhaps because people were not yet feeling safe, immediately after the end of the war, and quite often children died young, the local Catholic community (four nuns and one priest attended by his sister) had probably decided that children, at least, had to die sanctified, having received the sacraments at age six and seven. The elementary school started at age five, a year after we could chew the doctrine book listening and memorizing, rather than reading. It was easy: Italian or Latin, it did not matter. Because of the long skirted people who had told us that our heart had to connect to those words, we were seriously charmed. Our families never knew how influential the Catholic rituals had been on our small lives. We did not know what it is to be smart. Naive, dumbfounded creatures, my friends and I were a group of about fifteen children not really capable of separating the fairy tale territory from the church discipline. Like a small army wearing pink or blue overalls, each of us brandishing one carnation, we walked to the cemetery at every funeral. Not to chat or burst out laughing were the hardest things, being the circumstance only a normal death in which our feelings were clearly not involved. Did we even have feelings? Maybe not, I don’t remember. And now, as I look back at those years with no rules, I see the strange tall people in the big house must have loved me very much, if they left so much space around me.

EILEEN COWIN, Merely an Episode from the Mad Love series, 2017 5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

JOSEPH BEUYS Sliding the Sun Light

A FIELD OF SOCIAL SCULPTURE

Exhibited in Los Angeles, March/April 2017, at CMAY Gallery

“I was wondering where the animal starts vanishing and the living being becomes a human. All the different possibilities offered by everyday life, one has to arouse them from inside.”
— Joseph Beuys

 Words are by JOSEPH BEUYS himself from Was its Kunst? What is Art? 1986. They have been translated by the editor, RA, from the book’s French version which is in turn a translation from German: we can only hope that Beuys’s spirit and heat survived  the linguistic journey.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Enterprise 18.11.72, 18:16 Uhr”  1973  zinc coffer, photograph, camera, felt
 16 x 12 x 6 in   Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

What necessity can we establish from which something like art was born.

Ideologies are not ideas, they imply a violence imposed on ideas in order to embellish our instincts with a conceptual apparatus.

Art mustn’t remain something retinal… that’s why I was interested in substances… Gradually, substances get out of themselves aiming toward a supra-sensitive substance that doesn’t belong in the physical realm.

Thinking is already by itself a sculpture process about which we can prove it’s a true creative act, I mean a process that humans formed by themselves, free from any imposed authority… It’s important to listen to the images, to perceive sculptures through the ears, setting in motion a much more interior and deeper machinery, able to produce the substance of heat, the evolutionary heat that helps humans to progress, enabling them to be carriers of evolution.

JOSEPH BEUYS,  “Suite Schwurhand – Eiszeittiere” 1980  lithograph on white Arches paper
15 ¾ x 11 ¾ in   Courtesy of  CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

JOSEPH BEUYS, “The Eurasian (Sulphur Work)” 1971 silkscreen, sulphur and pencil on paper       23 5/8 x 18 ½ in   Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

I got interested in an intense way in the materials around me, of course in any state: dead or alive. The site where a plant reposes, her vertical function, her way to emerge, to orient herself; or otherwise we must give a sense to life, simply understanding that the life we live is important and not ignoring that it could be sad, it could bring a burden without being a big thing; the states of depression can be suppressed by getting rid of ourselves, making of ourselves something new. By the same means we must do something new with the other peoples… This will become heat through a communication process with other humans, listening to what they produce… The field of a social sculpture works like a new machinery, we could say, like a carrier of energy.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Fingernail Impression in Hardened Butter” 1971 butter, wax in plastic box on gray cardboard 9 x 8 x ¼ in Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Element” 1982 copper sheet and iron sheet 12 3/8 x 17 3/8 x 3/8 in Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

A thing must talk. Sometimes it’s very hard to find the reason why a thing to whom one has dedicated work for so long doesn’t talk.

One day for instance I made a big marble relief and wasn’t really unsatisfied. I thought: it will be superb. When it was finished my thought has been: well, that’s it, finished, but it was enough to put it against the wall to realize that it did not talk, it did not make sense at all. I remade it completely. Yes, and sometimes things happen: for instance that crate isn’t bad, it’s even talking for me. The soil instead doesn’t talk at all… By all means, that crate has her own expression.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Suite Zirkulationszeit – die Mütter” 1982 etching on laid paper 14 7/8 x 11 ¼ in  Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

We do not know what sculpture is. The concept was used in order to say, this is sculpture, this is painting, this is architecture, this is dance, this is poetry, etc. I was always annoyed by people using a concept without knowing what it is. I understand very well Ad Reinhard’s reaction when he was asked his opinion about modern sculpture. Sculpture? -he answered- It is that thing one stumbles on while stepping back from a painting to see it better. … I told myself: although it’s a concept without foundation, it must have something in it expressing much more precisely what it’s made of. And I discovered something very simple: it is composed with forces, and components are very important… Our civilization, for instance, is conformed by the rectangle…
And men are organisms enlivened by heat, by the heat’s spiritual principles, we could call it love, love in the highest sense. It is surely a principle of heat.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Suite Schwurhand – Vogel”  1980  etching and lithograph on paper, rolled on Arches paper 12 5/8 x 9 5/8 in Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Suite Zirkulationszeit – Meerengel zwei Robben” 1982 etching and acquatint on grey laid paper 14 7/8 x 11 1/8 in  Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

FIONA CONNOR : THE BRICK

Heavy! With thoughts? ― A BRICK

by Rosanna Albertini

Los Angeles, UCLA School of Architecture and Design, Room 1020 B Perloff Hall

An art exhibit in a classroom confirming that art is a strange ritual sometimes involving understanding and feelings, but not necessarily. The story features:

FIONA CONNOR, the artist, SIMONE FORTI, artist and friend, ROSANNA ALBERTINI, friend and writer, ALLAN KAPROW, the father of lifelike art

The three of us met the first time sitting on the grass of the Barnsdall Park with a few artists of Made in LA 2012 who were curious to know each other. Fiona was there, stretched out on her belly, handling a tape recorder.
She had in mind an alternative catalogue, and the conversation was a good starting moment, and was printed as it happened as a flux of words voiced by nameless people.

Simone felt easily part of that book out of order, more a bottle of water than a collection of statements. Words were kept in motion, escaping from their temporary blockage in meanings. When she performs, Simone’s body in movement is a fullness of feelings channelled into a slow motion physical language, almost savoring the quality of each gesture.

“I held a large grasshopper in my open hand. It swayed from side to side as we gazed into each other’s eyes. We sustained this alignment of sight through an exact correspondence in our movements, which created a certain resonance between us. We danced together like this for many minutes. I had just saved his life and we were very curious about each other.” (Simone Forti, Handbook in Motion, 1974)

Kaprow “When you do life consciously, life becomes pretty strange … so … a new art/life genre came about, reflecting equally the artificial aspects of everyday life and the lifelike qualities of created art. For example, it was clear to me how formal and culturally learned the act of shaking hands is; just try to pump a hand five or six times instead of two and you’ll cause instant anxiety. I also became aware that artworks of any kind could be autobiographical and prophetic. You could read paintings like handwriting, and over a period of time chart the painter’s abiding fantasies, just as you might chart writers’ thoughts from collections of personal letters or diaries. Happenings, and later activities, being less specialized than paintings, poems, and the other traditional arts, readily lent themselves to such psychological insight.” (Allan Kaprow, “Performing Life,” 1979)

The brick should be allowed to raise his protagonist voice in the room. No way. Kaprow hasn’t be around for a while. He never died for me. He might be happy to see a sort of happening resurgent in a school room in 2016. The brick, the English name doesn’t help to describe it. Italian is more direct: il mattone. Tongue and palate must stick to one another before the weight falls on the tip of the tongue and the lips shape an oval for the second o, that receives the accent. Sure heaviness, a compact thing. Like two teenagers dancing very close for the first time: il ballo del mattone, the mattone dance we used to call it. Brick, instead, is a Teutonic and French hybrid name: a broken thing, and the form of a loaf. Therefore, a baked form of clay. Architects of that day mainly saw the practical usage, the stillness of facts.

Our brick, along with 74 brick friends, lies in a corner of the room. On the walls, some bulletin boards replicate the originals at the Pacific Clay factory. Some bricks are wrapped with a printed sheet about the history of  bricks of the UCLA buildings. The building itself, and most of the other buildings on the campus, speak unmistakably brick language. But to hold only one, naked, unfinished, is handling a rough unit, a number asking to be a body, a body that would like to be something else: “I want to be an arch,” the brick told Louis Khan. The architect accepted the challenge. But here, in the school room, the only challenge is “doing life consciously” and feel a solid piece of clay transformed into a book.

Maybe Fiona looked at the brick like Simone at the grasshopper, were they very curious about each other? Clay is the opposite of an inert material. Minerals trap water into their molecules. And, in this Happening at the end of day, because of all the elements orchestrated around the little heavy red rough block, the mind goes through walls and buildings, the mind can feel what happens: the brick is a catalyst like any book, a substance that increases chemical reactions in our brain without changing her own composition. Water is trapped in our brain’s chemistry.

Suddenly The UCLA buildings appear melted back to the original condition of the clay, which was entirely dug from a site near Lake Elsinore. Let’s pretend it’s a virtual reality experience: bricks meet from ancient China, India, Egypt, and Northern Italy of course, they shake hands with their California siblings and go back to their functions in the walls, buildings reappear intact. It wouldn’t be history without hands and tools of their makers at the factory, without the people who provide the loafs, architects designing the forms, others teaching how to build, and inevitably taking the bricks for granted, as we do with our legs and arms. Fiona Connor gave to the brick a day of glory knowing it wouldn’t last. “Life,” also “conscious life” absorbs everything: geology, fantasies. The brick, a human idea.

bibliography: 

ALLAN KAPROW, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, edited by Jeff Kelley, University of California Press, 1993

SIMONE FORTI, Handbook in Motion, An account of an ongoing personal discourse and its manifestations in dance.  Contact Edition, Northampton MA, 1974

Commentary by Charlie Morrow:  

bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS
bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS
bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS
bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS

 

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE n.4

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series, 2014 5.5″ x 8.2″ Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love Series, 2014    5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

A migration story

by Rosanna Albertini

In your old age you used your wooden prosthetic hand as an advantage against the many obstacles a working woman encounters, starting with the train’s schedule. You were always late. One morning, after grabbing the handle while the wheels were already turning on the rails, the door slammed on your hand. Four fingers were blocked outside. The station master dropped his hat, and almost fainted for he couldn’t understand: you were smiling through the window, over the locked door. “Didn’t you see they are wood?” you screamed after him. The wooden hand had several clones in the dresser’s drawers. If we found one of them in the kitchen and you were not at home, the main concern of everyone was, “Again, grandmother forgot the hand!”

As if it wasn’t enough, for two years at the hospital you became an experimental human field for doctors. They dug two channels through your right arm: one underneath the wrist, the other before the elbow, trying to figure out how to connect an artificial limb to the tendons. Having maimed soldiers in mind, – it was one of  World War I years, 1916 or 1917- they used you as a guinea pig and irretrievably broke your tendons. A seventeen year old girl could only be sacrificed to the young men’s future. You spent two years educating your left hand to writing and sewing, probably growing beautiful in your acceptance of a physical imperfection that did not prevent you from being admired. Soldiers used to throw secret messages on folded pieces of paper through the hospital’s windows. After leaving the hospital, your left hand got used to serving dinners. Your parents had invested in a restaurant with the money paid by the factory for your accident. Such a dreadful sequence of facts seem to have only strengthened your tenacity: this was always, for you, the best of all possible worlds. As a matter of fact, at the restaurant you met grandfather. His love messages were hidden underneath the emptied, dirty plates.

What I see looking at me right now from teeth to toes, is both your lives, mother and grandmother. I read vestiges in irrelevant gestures; I am the only person in the world who can give them a meaning. Since I have only one body, to make your magnificent ghosts compatible in the only space I have is not a matter of choice. I rarely allow my feelings to be transparent, or I strike the comic note. After all, the marks of yours I recognize in my own person are free from both your wills and my own. I walk on grandmother’s straight legs, and often I hold my right wrist, using my left hand like an open fan that completely covers the right hand mysteriously shrunk in a fist. It was grandmother’s most frequent gesture. Does it make sense? It did to her, to me it’s almost embarrassing, a religious gesture out of church. I’m covering a stump although my right hand hasn’t lost four fingers all of a sudden, as happened to her, when the four fingers of the right hand were cut off by a sharp mechanism of a thread producing machine, the common thread for sewing. Was the nocturnal factory life during World War I as bloody as the battlefields? Did I intensify such a mimic gesture after I moved to the U.S? Perhaps I am binding our lives with double thread, grandmother, bringing you back through me into this country that you met first when you were sixteen. It was in 1914. While sleeping on the bridge of a transatlantic steamer, or  learning English thanks to a waiter —you were sent by your family to join an uncle who had a drugstore in Pittsburgh— you certainly could not anticipate the stories to come, very much like Candide: back to Italy after a year with chilblains at your feet because you had spent the Pittsburgh’s winter wearing rubber boots; sent to Switzerland as a baby sitter to make money, this time you only had to cross a lake; brought back to your village at the beginning of World War I by your parents who, ignorant of neutral politics, wanted to have their child at hand. They surely lost the grab. Of you right hand, only the thumb remained.

A strong, rough awareness of my body, without shame or fear, grew in me since I was a child thanks to grandmother’s frankness and unusual metaphors. Bathing outside, in a wooden bucket full of water warmed up by the sun, was a sort of pagan ceremony on which she often put the ornament of unforgettable sermons such as, “remember, take a lot of care of your vagina, keep her always clean because it is your second face.” By the same natural franchise I worked on her skin often damaged by a common sickness that eats the tissues and produces large itching crusts. Never revolted, like the girl of a fairy tale who cleans up louses from an old woman hair and receives a generous reward, I cleaned the wounds, spread pomades, noticing every time as a miracle the simple fact that her skin, though injured, was the softest, clearest, good smelling skin I had ever touched, a rose petal. To be allowed to touch her was my reward, and perhaps my talisman against the senseless order into which my life was coerced. My will to love was reinforced by each visit, bringing flowers to my goddess, rushing as fast as possible up to the fourth floor —there was no elevator— through the smell of bleach on the gray marble steps cleaned early in the morning by the lady concierge, opening the door with impatience and finally, being at home. Who cares that we did not have a kitchen, only a three flame burner underneath a beige and brown curtain next to the front door and the bathroom for washing dishes and clothes. We had a big room and a wide terrace with flowers at the top of a modest building that survived the war. Via Cantoni, 10. It seemed a palace to me because of the constant care, the pride of people who lived there keeping it shining, no dust in the corners.

        The Sundays were filled with movies, or little trips out of town with grandmother and a boyfriend of hers who was an artists specializing in chapels and monuments in the cemeteries just like Lucio Fontana, —Fontana’s father had a company of funerary production —  usually ending in some tabaccheria to check the football game’s results. Totocalcio was the oracle for poor people, a chance of unexpected little money. Then we were running home to look at our receipt. When we won, not very often, grandma was not telling me so the following week we could have a surprise feast instead of our daily eggs and polenta. After dinner, and sometimes in the morning, coffee at the twin apartment on the same floor, the home of a skinny lady smoking so much that her fingers were browned by nicotine. At her kitchen table we did not need TV, almost nobody owned one at the time. It was enough to make the point about famous homicides, love stories among celebrities, other love stories among close family members, political scandals, whispering if a niece of the skinny lady had worked as a prostitute in a house when the houses were still legal before the “Merlin Law.” The two old ladies were dogged readers of newspapers and passionate storytellers. But a moral had to appear from some detail. Yes, the niece was a prostitute, she had a girl, “and you know, the girl wears glasses.” Punishment was as natural as inevitable. The final litany included a formal “thank you, Enrico.” We used to look toward the bedroom, sending our thought to the defunct husband looking back at us from a framed picture on the dresser. There was a red carnation in a vase in front of the picture, just one, to testify his wife’s gratitude. She changed the flower every month, the very day she received the money from his pension funds. Not a bit of nostalgia among us, and we laughed at our cynical detachment. He had been a socialist.

Money of course was the main subject of complaint. Sometimes, daydreaming about my future, grandmother and her friends could see nothing but a job as a secretary at the top of their wishes. They were fairly perplexed, mumbling with discomfort, as they realized my Latin and ancient Greek were not likely to become profitable in a commercial world. But their talking did not make me worried, any future was inconceivable. Besides, I was too busy discovering other people’s stories coming to me from the books. Yet I was far from suspecting that Helen’s role in the Troy war could have been compared to my mother’s disruptive function in our family war. After years of serious preparation for sure, the war exploded as soon as grandfather died, bringing grievance and stinginess into my goddess’ life. “Mother, don’t be angry at me. Sure, I was on grandmother’s side. More than once I felt hatred wrapped in silence flowing between the two of you. And I was myself in a muddle for my attachment to her was unassailable. The only version I have did not come from you.”

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series, 2014 5.5″ x 8.2″ Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love Series, 2014      5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

INDIAN CASTLES – CHATEAUX EN ESPAGNE

V o y a g e   en   I n d e  

Chapter I:   Free music for six hands    by Rosanna Albertini

PHOTOGRAPHS by BIANCA SFORNI

IN-414

To Bianca:

Questo viaggio in India è la mia osservazione di te come artista senza esserti fisicamente vicina. La parte immaginaria scaturisce dalla distanza, dalle poche cose che so e le molte che non so.  Quello che capisco e sento essendo tua amica.  E’ un viaggio mentale, attraverso le tue sensazioni dell’India, ma sopratutto è la storia di un’amicizia, forse di due amicizie: surreale, semplice. La scrittura fa il testo. Se vuoi, l’India c’è come pre-testo in senso positivo. Ha creato l’occasione. Per dare un senso alle immagini che non sia solo per te e per me, devo metterle in movimento in un contesto che parli a tutti. 

This journey to India is my observation of you as an artist without being physically close to you. The imaginary part comes from distance, from the few things I know and the many I don’t. What I understand and feel being your friend. It’s a mental journey through your sensations of India, but first of all it’s a story of one, maybe two friendships: surreal, simple. Writing made the text. India is here, if you want, as a pre-text, in a positive way. It gave us the occasion. In order to give the images a meaning that won’t only be for you and me, I must put them in motion in a context which is for everybody.

Bianca Sforni (artist) traveling in India
Claudia Gianferrari (gallerist) crossing the US by car
Rosanna Albertini (writer)  at home, in Los Angeles

with special participation of: Peter Kirby, John Cage, Baruch Spinoza

India, 2016

BIANCA.     Did you sleep well? I was on a horse (equine) in a marvelous light. I slept there and you too, maybe, tomorrow night.

R.     Remaking my bed the morning after, I touch one of the sheets with palm and fingers flat on the cotton, over a print with ships, palms and American Indians of the time when Columbus mistook them for real Indians: my India for the day.

CLAUDIA.      She calls from Las Vegas, on her way to Los Angeles: “Can you make me some pasta? No cilantro please.”

R.     For how many?

CLAUDIA.      We are three, I have a nephew and an adopted son with me.

R.      Having been friends for fifty years, since middle school, when Claudia hadn’t yet discovered contact lenses, I plan pasta for dinner.

Cooking with India on my mind, I’m assaulted by smells as they spread from Indian restaurants in America. Immediately, I send a message to Bianca asking how is the smell of India. I am a person who can feel a smell only thinking about it.

BIANCA.      The smell of India is the same as Pasolini had mentioned: you don’t feel it.

India, 2016

India, 2016

IIM-INDIA 2016
JOHN CAGE.      Our poetry now is the realization that we possess nothing.
Anything therefore is a delight (since we don’t possess it) and thus need not fear its loss.
We need not destroy the past; it is gone. At any moment it might reappear and seem to be and be the present.

g-raja-dogs

JOHN CAGE.      Would it be a repetition?

Only if we thought we owned it, but since we don’t, it is free and so are we.
Most anybody knows about the future and how un-certain it is.
What I am calling poetry is often called content.
I myself have called it form. …
Each moment presents what happens.

India, 2016

India, 2016

India, 2016

 

R.      Photographs. I tell Peter the more I look at them the more they are silent.
The artist gave them life during her dialogue with the light. Peter smells romanticism from afar. I click by instinct, so I’m not a photographer. Bianca is, instead. Peter makes a point which is crucial:

PETER KIRBY.      The photographer finds the frame for each image. That’s what makes her different from one who takes snap-shots. She hunts for the image and clicks when she finds it.

R.      My impression is, she might wait for the time between two heartbeats, like the archer. We still have feelings, but they move inwards. The image becomes a secondary effect of desire.

 

INDIA 2016-
JOHN CAGE.      In other words, there is no split between spirit and matter.

R.      John, you said it partakes of the miraculous when it happens, that I only have to a-wake to the fact. Would you like some pasta with mushrooms? I’m not sure I can. Maybe it works for music. A poem, a photograph, they are like doors. You can open them or not. If you do, you dive into their silence and find your own story. Art is the miracle. Artists.

India, 2016

BARUCH SPINOZA.      Desire is man’s very essence, insofar as it is conceived to be determined, from any given affection of it, to do something.
Exp.: We said above, in P9S, that desire is appetite together with the consciousness of it. And appetite is the very essence of man, insofar as it is determined to do what promotes his preservation. 1664-65.

R.     Claudia’s appetite was inextinguishable. My mothers meals! Claudia couldn’t wait. I don’t know where you are, now that you passed to the clouds. Can you read me? I think you sent Bianca into my life, and me into hers. She was one of your artists. I never told you that the first time Bianca and I met, in New York, we look at each other for a while through the frames and lenses of our glasses, without a word. Only one thought, untold: “Are you Claudia’s friend”?
It was forever. We celebrated our triple connection with a lunch you would have recognized as excellent. Let’s share some India this time. To the next.

INDIA 2016-