A CAT IN THE RAIN
When we first received the invitation to be part of Endecameron20 digital edition, a "virtual artist-in-residence" at the real zoomorphic, Renaissance castle of Rocca Sinibalda, my first intuitive reaction was the one of a cat under pouring rain. I escaped with a big leap backwards, and went into total defence: Our work has never been the one of a studio artist, if not the world itself be our studio! We have conceived and realised body-based performances psycho-geographically under melting glaciers, on breaking icebergs, in Russian WWII ruins, burned forests, decaying sugar factories! Just some days ago we had finished our Manifesto on Performance-Based Filmmaking for an academic journal of artistic research, and therein defended our “Poetics of Relations”. How now shall we ever become “digital performance artists”?
But we let it sit. We discussed and considered, we had no other option. Knowing Francesca Fini to be the artistic director of the project secured us that technically and logistically the project is going to be curated intelligently, hyper functionally, coherently and efficiently – there was nothing to fear on this end. Francesca's own artistic work has since long been the embodied hybrid of an assembly of techniques – moving fluidly and considerately between the analogue and the digital, the virtual and the real, handcrafts and softwares. Francesca holds our esteem and admiration for precisely this quality of bridging arts and being genuinely cross-disciplinary. It was clear to us that if anybody can confront the complex challenges of a project of that kind elegantly, then it was Francesca Fini.
As visual artists, we had conceived works from our imagination in the past, and this is what shall help us later on – to move back to crafts. And then again, we needed to profess: this is just another space. Our task is to encounter it with the same artistic openness with which we encounter the places in our reality and imagination. We accepted Francesca’s invitation, and embarked onto our first “virtual artist-in-residence”.
THE HUMAN HEART
The team of Endecameron20 digital edition had unstatedly made a pivotal conceptual and curatorial assurance: this is virtual, but it is profoundly human. Maybe because the project’s initiators Cristina Cenci and Enrico Pozzi are profoundly anthropo-curious – an anthropologist and a psychoanalyst. Perhaps because the artistic director Francesca Fini is first and foremost an artist herself. Or because the alchemy between these masterminds of brilliant conception was just simply right.
Therewith, despite the residency being in its essence of digital nature, it happens that the human is at the very core of the project, and as participating artists, we feel this at every step. This is not humans hiding behind technology, or escaping into it from the harshness of reality. Here, technology is at the heart of interconnectedness between humans and the confrontation of the everyday.
But how do they achieve that? The team arranges daily meetings, which are never felt to be an obligation, but an opportunity. They make sure – again with pressureless lightness, as an open invitation – that the artists share glimpses into our daily production process on the project’s live blog for that we keep being connected. Every evening, we encounter and chat on public Zoom sessions that are streamed live for who wants to join these virtual gatherings. Gracefully moderated by Francesca Interlenghi, these meetings give particular attention to granting everyone a dedicated space and time to be. And as a welcome side-effect, these evening hours on Zoom made another miracle: they made me finally overcome my Zoomophobia, which had turned to oppress, to say the least, through the last months. My fear of not being able to connect with others through the screen alone, of missing out on details of the communication, of being inappropriate if not skin to skin, have been blown away day by day. It goes without saying that encountering and acknowledging each other on Zoom is undisputably different than sharing a dinner table in real life. But this is not the time for plane comparisons, as these equations are doomed to never fully correspond. The value of these daily virtual encounters is to make sure that we remember that here we are – humans. In different spaces at a shared time, but every evening, here, in residency together, everyone in their homes, spread across Italy and Germany.
Can you see me?
Another factor that grants substantial psychologic background stability for the artists at work is whom I call "the witnesses". The silent observers, attentive onlookers, attestors of the sublime happenings – Alessandra Fenizi, Vincenzo Padiglione, Luisa Pronzato and Marco Stancati. Invited journalists, communicators, anthropologists, who listen to the artists and feedback into our process every day. They read and comment on our blog post, feed us with further material of thought, and report from the castle. They warrant that we do not feel lost in cyberspace, disconnected physically from the actual place of production – the castle. They demonstrate that “someone out there” is listening to the overall process, to each artist's individual progress, to the works emerging, even to the castle itself as it waits to host the works in its rooms. This active witnessing helps to keep the main inherent risk of production for and through the virtual at bay. It avoids this stale, confusing sensation of leaving and dissolving out into the ether, remaining un-determinedly lost and lonesome lingering in that nowhere space of 1s and 0s; unknowingly of where and whether to encounter someone and whom…
We navigate along with the conflicting knowledge that in the world of the internet clicks, likes, baits can be bought and can never truthfully account to represent reality. In the digital realm, we never know whom our work actually reaches. In a live performance, we see whether we perform for 3 or 300 people. At far or close, we see each other's eyes, sense subtle or expressive reactions, respond on our turn in constant dialogue. But in both the virtual and real realm, it is not the numbers that count but the attention, the quality of the shared moment, and the act of sharing itself – the mutual inspiration. The precious active witnesses of the residency are with attention listening to us, talking back to us. In addition to that, they ensure that this is a project by the people for the people. They empower us to move further into our artistic inquiry, day by day. I know whom I am speaking to. And I know you see me.
The project’s Live Blog, the L'INFORME webzine, the curated web presence, the communication efforts on social media – all this is crucial for tracing the digital, for manifesting storytelling in real-time. It turns a valid production research archive, growing and morphing day by day.
REAL TO VIRTUAL TO REAL
Another essential point in this project – compared to others that we could witness emerging through the last months – is that despite being virtual in its execution, this project has an actual, realer-than-real (even if seemingly surreal) anchor in real life. We as artists are invited to produce works for an existent venue – the unique castle of Rocca Sinibalda in central Italy. Every artist has been carefully attributed to one thematic room of the castle. Each day, Enrico Pozzi guides us in a video message to reveal one of the rooms, letting us dive into the room’s particular mythology and symbolic universe.
This anchoring in the veridical, in real life, makes that we never had the sensation to produce for “nothing” or nowhere”. Undoubtedly, our work has a very concrete collocation in reality. And even if we artists are not in site, the Endecameron20 digital edition team is. They share with us their being and meanderings in that very castle that we are working for from afar, sourcing sounds, images, texts and material for us and our art installations. They are our “avatars”, as Francesca Fini would say. Be our treasured prosthesis, our multitudes through time and space.
We artists-in-residence, each one in their homes, start from the scratch. We go back to our crafts. Make a mask, sew a costume, write a text. Perform for camera, create a video, compose an audio, compile in the editing software. Imagine an installation that corresponds to the essence of the artistic vision inside a place that we don’t yet know. This is nothing new to the process of art-making, and it makes us cherish again our acquired crafts that we can source back onto now.
In the next step, once our digital works are created, our multitudes in the castle again care for turning the digital proposal real in situ. They install according to our indications inside the collocations of the actual rooms. They create an exhibition, to be visited by a selected number of guests, and then again translated into the world wide web to be accessible by an even vaster audience.
It is precisely this passage that makes the difference for me in the process of creation. It is a digital residency, but against my initial unease, I never felt lost. We never felt aiming at nowhere, because we have people to talk to, we know that somebody always listens and is curious about our production process. And we know that there is a real place – a room so generous and powerful inside the walls of that special castle – waiting to host our artistic proposal. We know that someone cares. And this matters, because as our dear friend Guillermo Gómez-Peña has put it in his “Letter to a Young Independent Curator”:
Be tender to us (artists), we need it to feel empowered because we are broken humans.
We will reciprocate with radical tenderness and powerful art actions. …
Help me to be a better artist than I am. I expect you to look after me.
As a curador, I expect you to cure my wounds and help me heal my broken bones.
Because I often fall during the process.
In the same “Letter to a Young Independent Curator”, I expressed the wish:
Please challenge me.
Challenge me to step out into the unknown,
for we know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know.
Challenge me to use mediums and methods that are unfamiliar to me.
Challenge me to go on a journey together without knowing where to,
trusting that we know the path as we’re going it.
Challenge me to be with you. To listen to you, to be in dialogue.
Challenge me to know the other one, for without knowing the other I cannot know myself. Endecameron20 digital edition – thank you for the challenge!
Gratitude to Francesca, Francesca, Cristina, Enrico, the "witnesses", our artist colleagues whom we all eagerly hope to meet in person one day – and to all those who so preciously contribute to make this project a variety of realities: an alchemy of time and space.