“Continental Breakfest The Expanded Map” Venice Forum, Biennale di Venezia 7-8 June, 2005

Traces of identity outside the “white cube” art spaces
(Spaces for art)

Various animals purposely mark the territory through their urine, corporal secretions, and other techniques to signal their presence in that specific place to their fellows. Taking our dog for a walk in a park where other dogs are, we can easily observe how the animal is interested (sometimes feverishly) in tracking these marks, how he moves and orients himself showing a major interest in some of them and omitting others. I have always wondered what it means to the dog, if through a particular smell the dog reconstructs an identity “desirable” from any point of view, sexual, relational, etc. At the same time, we can notice how the animal loses interest in the others if the “place” of encounter is a room, even if attended by other animals, but regularly washed with disinfectants that eliminate the smells or that overlap them.

These rooms are everywhere in Europe, just like in America or Asia. They have no decoration of those tales by images that have accompanied us during all the past, orienting us into the forest of senses, meanings and symbols that is our history, the European history. These spaces don’t house anymore the “Works”, in the full sense of the term, that spaces out from its object to its spatial meaning, but “Works of art” meaning the result of an activity, of a process that sees in an exaltation of the term “Work” the attempt to make all human activities homogenous, emphasizing those productive and creative characteristics of “Value”, …”The work that creates exchangeable values is then a work abstractly general” according to Karl Marx’s words of 1859. The next step from the plural term “Works” that referred to object results with manual and handicraft implications, to that of the singular “Work of art”, makes of it a symbolic process that extends, (with a mystic and mythological attitude) the working practice to all human activities, making a creative engine of that value which is at the basis of any economic exchange. That is how work becomes “conceptual”, through the accentuation of one of its possible variables, the “speculative” one. With this term at least two things should be intended: first of all the studying, in other words inquiring with the intellect everything in front of or around us to make it ours, as if it was ours. Secondly (and maybe with a priority by now) the use of our acquired knowledge (of any knowledge, being it spiritual or economic) as a treasure to be invested with the end of an immediate earning to the detriment of other people’s work, in fact incorporating it in our own sphere of interests and possibilities, paying it below cost (again both spiritually and economically) and drawing out the highest profit from a future sale to a public who is often unaware of participating in a high financial cultural game, yet who is more often approving the cynical sentiment that makes it appear the winner at a table where human resources and the survival of our own species are at stake. This cruel, refined, at last conceptual game; based on the assumption that it’s possible to reach out at a treasure of knowledge frozen in forms and thoughts to make of art some sort of “investment” with the purpose of managing and augmenting a parasitic income, is exercised indistinctly in either “abstract” places, that is, deprived of environmental or historical characteristics, or “contextual” places that is, overwhelmed by related factors so called memorable. In both cases, speculative art is incapable of proposing itself as a transforming force, it continues using a vocabulary already given as a book with formulas to be applied. A conjunction of formulas deposited, once and for all, in that mental rather than physical place called long ago, “white cube”. By now it’s not only a spatial experience but a human and artistic practice profoundly ingrained. The “white cube” is us, our head, our home, and also our treasure that we think we can reinvest with a profit. In it, each body tends to disappear and with the body each trace of functionality. On the outside it’s stained with the blood of those “workers” that contributed to its realization, victims of Central, Southern and Northern Italy, Bosnian women, Wandering Jews, frontier inhabitants, mystic Ottomans, never appeased minorities, serious Polish, impoverished Yugoslavs…etc. Diaphanous inside, infinite, it’s like the house in which we would like to live (or where we do live). The house is often called “mirror of the soul”. I’m sure that with this definition it’s not (only) meant that it represents us as individuals reflected and recognisable in it, that is identified with it, but instead it’s the place of the soul. “Alma Mater” reflects itself in the house passing through the bodies and showing itself externally in its typical colour, that blinding white in which our orientation gets lost, that smells just like detergent, spread out, wisely, even in the most remote corners. To show art could and should mean the narration of something, to be part of a story and be able to narrate it, making at the same time a commune and a solitary act. Solitary, because such is the risk of the image, commune because this risk is perpetuated with the language. The places of art are the ones which protect the image risk in favour of the singular identity. These are symbolic-places
but also passage-places. Places where one is free to use a multiple interpretation without falling into a vague shapelessness. Closed or open spaces that help the exchange between different identities, but where the word exchange shouldn’t be intended as merchandise, economic exchange where everything has a price, where, for example some traditions are worth less than others, and for that same reason of easy hoarding and utilizing. The word exchange should keep something from the old barter and plus, with love; exchange of caress with the purpose of giving and taking pleasure, exchange of gifts, that could be reciprocal. Besides each representation, a place of art is each place that can lovingly keep the image, making it a stone of confrontation and measurement of reference for the body, intended either as singular body or as social body. Do we have these places in Europe? Places that are able to narrate, that express themselves with images and stories not taken from the vocabulary of the “white cube”? Non classical or anti-classical places but places for the being of art capable of revealing limits and joys of the human beings?
These places exist, sometimes they are the same art places that we all attend, other times they are the shadowy arcades where the voices of the passing echo under painted arches, closed squares like medieval cloisters, grey suburbs playgrounds, rooms in front of the beach, libraries in which no one steps in…these places exist inside of us, its ourselves, our head, our house, our treasure…

Alfredo Pirri