each day one voice  —  Rosanna Albertini

About KEATON MACON and his installation at Laurel Doody, Los Angeles

Nonintention (the acceptance of silence) leading to nature; renunciation of control; let sounds to be sounds. Fluent, pregnant, related, obscure (nature of sound)

JOHN CAGE — Composition in Retrospect, 1982

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery  2013-2015, Custom furniture, tape player, 366 cassette tapes

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery 2013-2015, Custom furniture, tape player, 366 cassette tapes  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery, detail

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery, detail

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery, detail

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery, detail

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery, back of the room

KEATON MACON, Data Recovery, back of the room

The day I was born, December 28, even the time of my birth, with the winter light getting dim at four in the afternoon, are visible in a painting my grandfather Oreste made outdoors in the field, while waiting for me. But I miss the voice of that day: the dry grass crackling under the soles? the rumbling stove in the kitchen? For all its importance, the event shrunk in one word, ‘birth,’ cleans that day from the physical echoes of people walking up and down the stairs, shutting doors, running water, and the concert of words around their mouths. Of course I was there, but I don’t remember them.

Keaton Macon reminded me of the fluent, pregnant, related, obscure nature of sounds with an art piece in which the sound, one continuous hour of sound from each day of the year in the artist’s life, is a ghost vessel kept at bay in tapes. Days lurk in a white box, as vertical as books, holding the name of the day on their back: NOV 30, DEC 06, JAN 14. The year isn’t written, the date is incomplete. One of the many loose ends of this piece that make it magic. The obsessive, archival cleanness of its presentation corresponds to the artificial, manufactured life of the calendar. The natural life of a living day flows out of it asking for acceptance.

Open the box, put the tape in the small recorder, and the fluid mass of John Cage’s silence erupts in the room, the calendar blows up. If a tape gets lost or is stolen, Keaton will wait for the same day of the following year to record an hour of sound. HORIZONTAL THINKING. The same days in different years seem to share more than a name: they have a place in a natural order that is not under human control. Loose end again.

What’s important, really, what does become a date? The artist wondered at the beginning of the project if places where historical dramas happened, like the Bob Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel, or a robbery with hostages in a bank, might be particularly significant. What prevailed is his attachment to the daily marvel, unique and impossible to repeat. The best way to be in touch with the piece is to sit on the floor. To slow down and wonder if any peak of ‘importance’ is ever necessary. Every part of the installation, shelves and drawings on the walls under a diffused light from the ceiling, start floating among the recorded sounds and the rain hitting the window. Humans, images and sounds, physical bodies sharing a space.

Except the drawings are rebellious, and give a visual form to the daily sounds as they unfold, what the artist sees through his fingertips moving the pencil on paper. Tim Hawkinson, about two decades ago, sculpted his favorite musics in large aluminum foil records, letting his fingers react to the sounds. In Macon’s drawings, one for each day, the tape becomes a ribbon, happy to unfold not having anything to fasten, mixing the recorded mood with the artist’s state of mind  unfolding in his chest at that very moment. A loose end in his heart.     

KEATON MACON, March 6, detail

KEATON MACON, March 6, detail   Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

KEATON MACON, March 6, detail

KEATON MACON, March 6, detail Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

KEATON MACON, March 06, 2015 Charcoal and graphite on paper, framing device

KEATON MACON, March 6, 2015 Charcoal and graphite on paper, framing device Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

KEATON MACON, March 6, 2015, Charcoal and graphite on paper, framing device

KEATON MACON, March 6, 2015, Charcoal and graphite on paper, framing device Photo: Fredrick Nilsen


MY CATHOLIC CHILDHOOD in a Northern Italian village near the Swiss border

BESANO was the center of my life



 Grandfather  Oreste and me, the last year of his life

Maria was her name, but everyone called her Nennella, almost a lullaby: three n’s rise the tongue to the roof of the mouth, locking the cave with a vertical, vibrating draw bridge. A chain of no’s fills my first speech chamber, almost inhaling words. They evaporate onto the brain. “No, you must sleep, close your eyes.” “No, you cannot be awake.” “What are you doing underneath the kitchen table? Madonna Santa, why this girl is not yet in bed?” Who were they I do not really know, names describe a branch of Italian Catholicism: grandpa was Giuseppe, Giuseppina the grandma, Giuseppe one of their four children, and one of the girls was Maria, of course. Maria named Giuseppe, her only male offspring. Her sister too named one of her sons Giuseppe. In my under ten mind an undetermined number of siblings were confused by abbreviated variations of Giuseppe: Beppe, Beppino, Pino. How many they were, whether physically existing or not, wasn’t really clear. For me, Pino was first of all a pine tree much more real in my outdoor life than all those big, medium or little people I rarely met, and always with surprise; sometimes we didn’t even speak the same mother tongue. “Why does this piccirill’ speak French?” grandma Giuseppina asked my mother during a visit to her house in Southern Italy. The name of the town was Santa Maria Capua Vetere.

So my childhood, what I remember of it, crossed all the Catholic rituals in chronological order because the church was the only place where I could meet other children in the years before elementary school. My Oreste grandfather, a painter and socialist politician, picked me up early every day from the nun’s preschool, a silent little crime not to be revealed. Mother superior closed her eyes. She did open them wide, instead, the day she noticed that my doctrine booklet, covered with blue sugar paper, had a shining red stamp on a corner: with hammer and sickle. Her large face barely contained by the white band of her veil popped up like a red mellon, she called the priest to exorcize that evil intrusion. But don Claudio minimized the accident, and recommended the nun teach me the welcoming text for the annual bishop’s visit. Grandfather was a good person. For two years in a row I was the official performer despite the smell of heresy around my tiny person. Poor mother superior could only obey. A picture I found shows her concern during my recitation. She was slightly squint-eyed.



Without these two pictures, my memory would have been erased. My family and my friends’ families never knew how influential the Catholic rituals had been on our small lives. Naive, dumbfounded creatures, we were about fifteen children not really capable of separating the fairy tales’ 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 was the hard thing, the circumstance only a normal death in which our feelings were not involved.

In the Catholic liturgy, May is the month of the Virgin Mary. We knew she had had a baby without being married and it was O.K. Grandmother told me that my favorite old ant was almost like the Virgin; when she gave birth to her daughter the doctor found her virginal barrier still in place. This was confusing, because my aunt was married. But contradictions of such a kind were easy to overcome, easier than vipers on our paths, when the change of season was overtaking any intellectual challenge. The church was turgid of tuberoses, trumpet lilies, and all the white flowers that nature can bloom. It was a fragrant, sweet scented place more than ever disconcerting. The twenty minutes of singing and praying every night at six, our knees bent on the benches, were a torture perfected by the chilly temperature of the ambiance: our vocal cords were freezing. Besides, we could not avoid the moral guilt, “do each day a small sacrifice like not eating a candy, or not vandalizing a bush for your games, write it on a little white piece of paper, bring it to church.” The tiny flowers of our sacrifice, thus called fioretti, were harvested in a basket. Of course, the stomach was vaguely cramped by the idea that we had nothing to confess, and some other times, instead, relieved because we did have something to confess. Shall we skip the duty? Which was not without remorse if one of the major issues of our chatting was indeed the evaluation of our sins: pouring ink into the neck of the boy sitting in front of us at school, is a mortal or a venial sin? What about throwing a stone at somebody? In our meditated assumptions a stone was less dangerous than a bomb. Six years after the end of the war, different kind of bombs were still around in the countryside, more or less shaped like colored toys; to show them to us, hoping we could recognize them and not touch them, the teacher walked us down the hill to another village where the school had a film projector. Therefore, our missed fioretti were the least of our concerns when compared to life risks.

Turning quickly our back to that terrifying black box with a pierced screen (the confessional) through which one was supposed to talk to a god’s representative, we knew we had said as little as possible not to violate our secret intimacy, moreover the confession’s open mouth was leading to the act of accepting Jesus’ body on the tongue, like cannibals. We rushed out of the church feeling somehow quirky, and ran towards the most exciting evenings of the year: fireflies and jumps over the heaps of the first grass from dusk to dark. The great many questions that had troubled our minds for months over the period of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, were sort of burned into the fire of a summer sabbath of elves almost drunk by smelling grass, happily dizzy of summersaults.

We did not know, though, that all that metaphysical questioning was already marked in our mental baggage, never to be erased from it. We had seen God’s son dead on the cross, the crown of spines around his forehead and the drops of blood. Painted? For us they were real.  Because such an uncomfortable machinery was laid horizontal on the church’s floor and Jesus’ size wasn’t different from a normal human’s, we did not have any doubt: he was there, definitely dead. We children felt embarrassment rather than pity, witnessing the effects of a crime committed almost two thousand years ago, and utterly confused because the story told by the priest was translated into the present time.


  My mother Maria and me seven days old, 1945

Per i miei nipoti Diego e Francesco

LA MIA INFANZIA CATTOLICA in un paesino del Nord Italia vicino al confine svizzero, BESANO

Il suo nome era Maria, ma tutti la chiamavano Ninnella, quasi una cantilena: le tre enne portano la lingua verso il palato, chiudendo il cavo della bocca con un ponte levatoio verticale, vibrante. “No” a catena riempiono il mio primo deposito di parole che sono inalate attraverso il naso prima di evaporare nel cervello. “No, devi dormire, chiudi gli occhi”. “No, non puoi restare sveglia”. “Che cosa fai sotto il tavolo di cucina? Madonna Santa, perché questa bambina non è a letto”? Chi fossero davvero, i membri della mia famiglia, è cosa difficile da decifrare. I nomi descrivono una branca di cattolicesimo italiano: un nonno era Giuseppe, Giuseppina la nonna, Giuseppe uno dei loro quattro figli, e naturalmente una delle figlie era Maria. L’unico figlio maschio di Maria si chiama Giuseppe. Anche la sorella di Maria chiamò Giuseppe uno dei suoi figli. Nella mia mente al di sotto dei dieci anni la folla indeterminata dei parenti era confusa dalle variazioni abbreviate del nome Giuseppe: Beppe, Beppino, Pino. Quanti fossero, se esistevano davvero, non era chiaro. Per me Pino era, anzitutto, un albero di pino molto più reale di quelle grandi, medie o piccole persone che incontravo raramente, e sempre con sorpresa; a volte non parlavamo nemmeno la stessa lingua. “Pecché chista piccirill’ parla francioso”? la nonna Giuseppina, da Napoli, chiese a mia madre durante una visita a casa sua nel Sud. Il nome della città era Santa Maria Capua Vetere.


                                                                            With Pupa, the dog who was my friend and baby sitter since I was born.

Così la mia infanzia, per quello che ricordo, ha conosciuto tutti i rituali cattolici in ordine cronologico perché la chiesa era il solo luogo dove potevo stare con gli altri bambini negli anni precedenti la scuola elementare. Il nonno Oreste, pittore e politico socialista, ogni giorno mi veniva a prendere all’asilo delle suore con molto anticipo, era una disobbedienza silenziosa da non rivelare alle donne di casa. La madre superiora chiudeva gli occhi. Solo per spalancarli come fari il giorno che notò, sulla copertina blu carta da zucchero del mio libretto di dottrina, un francobollo rosso fiamma in un angolo: falce e martello. La faccia larga e carnosa, a malapena contenuta dalla fascia bianca del velo, diventò rossa come un melone d’estate. Chiamò il prete immediatamente per esorcizzare l’intrusione diabolica. Ma don Claudio passò sull’incidente con mano leggera, raccomandandole invece di insegnarmi il testo del benvenuto per la visita annuale del vescovo. Il nonno era conosciuto come una brava persona. Per due anni di fila sono stata la performer ufficiale, nonostante l’odore di eresia intorno alla mia piccola persona. Povera madre superiora, non le restava che obbedire. Una foto che ho trovato di recente rivela il suo cruccio durante la mia recitazione. Era leggermente strabica.

Senza le foto, la mia memoria sarebbe rimasta silente. La famiglia e gli amici di famiglia non ebbero mai la minima idea dell’influenza che i riti cattolici esercitarono sulla nostra vita di piccole persone. Ingenui, un po’ storditi, eravamo più o meno quindici creature incapaci di separare il territorio delle favole dalla disciplina di chiesa. In fila per quattro in un plotoncino col grembiule rosa o azzurro a quatretti, ognuno di noi brandiva un garofano per accompagnare la marcia verso il cimitero in ogni funerale. Difficile non parlare o sopprimere i risolini. La morte era un fatto normale, non per i sentimenti.

Maggio, nella liturgia cattolica, è il mese della Vergine Maria. Sapevamo che aveva avuto un bambino senza essere sposata e la cosa era regolare. La nonna mi disse che la favorita fra le mie zie era quasi come la Madonna; quando partorì il medico trovò la barriera della verginità ancora presente. Ne fui ancora più confusa perché la zia era sposata. Queste e altre contraddizioni erano facili da superare, più facili delle vipere sui sentieri, quando il cambio di stagione si imponeva su ogni sfida intellettuale. La chiesa era turgida di tuberose, gigli e di tutti i fiori bianchi che la natura può generare. Era un posto invaso da profumi dolcissimi, e più che mai sconcertante. I venti minuti di canti e preghiere tutti i giorni alle sei del pomeriggio, in ginocchio, diventavano una tortura perfezionata dalla temperatura gelida: le corde vocali erano congelate. Per giunta, eravamo presi dai sensi di colpa. “Ogni giorno fai un piccolo sacrificio: non mangiare caramelle, non brutalizzare i cespugli quando giochi, per esempio. Scrivilo su un pezzettino di carta, piegalo e portalo in chiesa”. I fiorellini del sacrificio, che chiamavamo fioretti, venivani raccolti in un cestino. Si aggiunga un vago senso di disagio nello stomaco all’idea che non avevamo niente da confessare oppure, altre volte, che c’era qualcosa da confessare. Come scappare? Che non era senza rimorso, dal momento che uno dei punti più accaniti delle chiacchiere fra noi era la valutazione dei peccati: versare inchiostro nella schiena del compagno seduto nel banco di fronte, in classe, sarà un peccato mortale o veniale? E buttare un sasso contro qualcuno? Nelle nostre meditate assunzioni un sasso era certo meno pericoloso di una bomba. Sei anni dopo la fine della guerra, in campagna c’erano ancora molti tipi di bombe colorate come giocattoli; per farcele vedere, sperando che riconoscendole avremmo evitato di toccarle, la maestra ci faceva camminare fino al paese vicino, Quasso al Piano, dove la scuola aveva un proiettore di film. Paragonati al rischio di perdere la vita, i fioretti erano la preoccupazione minore.

Correndo via svelti dalla terrificante scatola nera con la finestra piena di buchi (il confessionale) che ci metteva in contatto con un rappresentante di Dio, sapevamo di aver detto il meno possibile per non violare l’intimità dei nostri segreti. Per di più, aprire la bocca per la confessione ci avrebbe portato ad accettare il corpo di Gesù sulla lingua, come cannibali. Ci allontanavamo dalla chiesa in fretta, straniti, infine correndo verso le piu eccitanti serate dell’anno: saltavamo sui mucchi di fieno fresco dal tramonto allo scuro della sera, circondati dalle lucciole. Le questioni piu grandi di noi che ci avevano turbato durante i mesi della crocifissione e della resurrezione sparivano nella fiammata di un sabbath estivo come fossimo elfi inebriati dal profumo dell’erba tagliata, disorientati dalle capriole.

A quel tempo non sapevamo che il bagaglio di rimuginamenti, interrogativi, di esami di coscienza, ci sarebbe rimasto impresso nella mente, e per sempre. Avevamo visto coi nostri occhi il figlio di Dio morto sulla croce, la corona di spine intorno alla testa, le gocce di sangue, Dipinte? Per noi erano vere. E siccome quel macchinario disturbante giaceva orizzontale sul pavimento della chiesa e il corpo di Gesù era grande come i corpi vivi, non potevamo aver dubbi: lui era lì, morto. Piu che pietà, noi bambini sentivamo imbarazzo. Un po’ perché eravamo di fronte agli effetti di un crimine commesso duemila anni fa, un po’ perché il prete ci diceva, creando ulteriore confusione, che la storia era ancora valida per il presente.


 The kiss: Rosanna and cousin Gianluca