Stefania Galegati – I modi di dire e della buca con opere di Mirella Bentivoglio, Tomaso Binga (eteronomo di Bianca Menna), Betty Danon, Agnes Denes, Amelia Etlinger, Maria Lai, Margaret Morton, Giustina Prestento, Greta Schodl, Salette Tavares dalla collezione di Gianni Garrera
Pinksummer: Let’s start from the title of the environmental installation you mean to set up for the finissage of your exhibition, perhaps inside Galeazzo Alessi’s “fake” lake at Villa Doria, the 16th century work of hydraulic engineering that will frame your “Hole in the Water”.
“To put a hole in the water” is an Italian saying that indicates a vain attempt, a flop, a failure. There is a story by Luigi Capuana titled “Un Buco nell’Acqua” (A Hole in the Water) whose moral teaches us how often we erroneously consider impossible something that looks as such, but in fact it is not.
Speaking of failure, we think that it is necessary to set a distinction between repeating the same mistake and proceeding in life by taking the risk of brand new mistakes. We think that when Beckett declared that it is necessary to try again, fail again, fail better, he meant that one should try making new mistakes and not those he or she have already made.
Again on failing, Cioran speaks about the allusion to the unutterable place where the secret of our own soul with its unique being-in-the-world is kept and he adds that those who are keen on falls and peripheries are everywhere. Also, he asserts that the defeat takes to the transfiguration and it is related to the poetic inspiration, meaning that if the loser can be on top of his or her failure by taking advantage of its metaphysical potential, he or she will be enlightened, as what matters is not to produce something, but to understand. Bas Jan Ader seems to have understood, by dealing skillfully with that ideology of failure, by turning himself into an “invincible victim”.
In terms of metaphysical potentialities, “The Hole in the Water” has got many of them and in that sense it fits perfectly in your aesthetic investigation that sometimes aims to emphasize, beside to imagine, a reality that is always about to trespass a border taking back to the ontological nakedness of the real. Are you against the mystifying ethics of victory, who is the raté, the loser?
Stefania Galegati: I would say yes, I am against the ethics of victory because I am against nations, borders, punishments, things administrated by delegation and other stuff.
In table football instead, I stand for victory because that is a temporary condition of enjoyment which leads to a re-match.
Who is the loser?!
I cannot find a definition for loser, as losers exist whenever someone considers somebody as such. If somebody has a company that does not work, or quits his or her bourgeois life to go living on streets or everything goes wrong, then we say: that is a loser… but you cannot take that for granted and, most of all, that is not relevant.
Failure, which has an unavoidable value, is the mental habit of being aware of human condition. The ability to bear it in mind.
Remembering to fall down now and then, like Bas Jan Ader or even Buster Keaton used to do, means to keep yourself updated on your own precarious condition.
The drama is watched and made positive.
Such type of failure is often tied to irony, to the aware acceptance of our precarious condition. The idea of a hole in water (to tell the truth I had it about fifteen years ago) is therefore a mental exercise. It makes us laugh, it seems an idiomatic expression, but then it has its own physical presence. A presence that is immediately denied because it is a hole, an impossible hole, two times a hole.
PS: Tell us about the exhibition title, whence “I modi di dire e della buca” (The Ways of Saying and The Hole)?
SG: The reference to the way of saying is clear and it suddenly clicks.
The hole refers to the exhibition inside the gallery and to the feminine hole symbology.
“Il sociale e della cacciagione” (The Social and the Game One) was a Romagnol restaurant. I have always liked such forms of language, meaning something and then shifting toward something different.
PS: As a matter of fact, holes are irreducible and all-encompassing and in some way they could be understood as representation flaws. The hole is nothing to see, like female genitals, already excluded in Ancient Greek sculpture, rejected out of the representation scene. The hole is actually absence. About sex and language, female sexuality has always been thought according to male parameters. Woman’s desire does not speak the same language of man’s one, escapes the male logic of looking and the discrimination of form. Women like better touching than watching.
Even though holes have spatial properties, do they exist? What are they made from? Which relationship do they have, for instance, with gruyere or visual poetry and with the “Materialization of Language”, to quote the title of the exhibition curated by Mirella Bentivoglio at the 1978 Venice Biennale in order to introduce your awkward solo show that will include works by Mirella Bentivoglio, Tomaso Binga (Bianca Menna’s heteronym), Betty Danon, Agnes Denes, Amelia Etlinger, Maria Lai, Margaret Morton, Giustina Prestento, Greta Schodl, Salette Tavares?
S.G: Holes exist and are made from air, usually, that is invisible. (with the exception of black holes, that are extremely heavy).
And they are defined by the matter surrounding them.
Some months ago you proposed me to curate or to set up an exhibition of some female artists active in the 60s-70s-80s taken from the collection of Gianni Garrera. That proposal was a very beautiful gift that made me think at my education and at the context I am in. I knew the work of Maria Lai and I had heard the name of some of the other artists. I did not know anything about the exhibition curated by Bentivoglio though. How come that is possible? A purposeful effort of cancellation and exclusion has happened. For the whole last summer, every two or three days, Gianni has been sending me a work.
In the meantime, under the beach umbrella, I was reading “Vai pure” (You Can Go), the dialogue between Carla Lonzi and Pietro Consagra, that helped me to give a context to the hole in which all these artists had been acting. The artist was supposed to be male, he was selfish, almost a priest and language was the one of the penis.
Women artists of those years worked in some sort of parallel world, they were allowed to work, as if that was just a sop.
I suddenly realized what deficiencies in terms of language I had experienced both at a pedagogical and at an artistic level. Unpackaging that collection has been like discovering a familiar language and the practices, the practice that I was missing.
Gianni, what a genius was to acquire those works! What was your approach as a collector?
Gianni Garrera: Starting to collect was initially to look for something different. Against the mood of my study days, by doing so I was finding some moments of absolute distraction. I was working at some translations from Kierkegaard and every time I had a break from that work I went to visit Mirella Bentivoglio. On weekdays I worked with philosophy and on holidays I went to her place, to see her works, to listen to her stories, to get her vision of things, to know her friends and recognize her fellow adventurers. I came back from every visit with a piece, by Mirella or by one her friends, every Sunday one artwork, in order to carry something with me, to have a fetish or a little idol. Usually they were visual poetry works or object books, therefore it was like if I simply adorned the lack of feeling of my room with products of feminine manufacture. I got to know Mirella because she needed a consultation concerning Simone Weil, outstanding philosopher and mystic, and she asked me for some “tutoring”. We met every Sunday, for a year, and after I taught her about Simone Weil, in the second part of our meetings, Mirella returned the “lesson”, explaining her works, her life, her idea of art. With me telling her about Simone Weil and she telling me about herself, basically I was devoting all my Sundays to the feminine. Mirella used to tell me that for us Sunday was no longer the day of the Lord, but the one of the Lady (so she nicknamed Weil). Therefore she has had a fundamental role in my education as a collector, having guided many of my choices.
S.G. Were you already friends when she had that exhibition in ‘78? Because the nasty taste in my mouth is still connected to the blocking out of those years. Linguistically speaking, the women who were supported by the system behaved as they were men. Me too, when I “came out” without understanding myself, I have played the man for many years.
What is the in your opinion the specificity of female art? Materials like spins, embroideries, weaving, ceramics, writing, some ephemeral way of using video… are often recurring, but to me such a theory seems to relegate women back to craftsmanship, while I feel deep affinities of thought too…
GG: Yes, we often identify female art practice with those materials, as if feminine artistic activity were a domestic appendix, a deviant variation of domestic activities such as sewing or making a shopping list. I do not dislike the principle, because actually it does not relegate women in their environment, but it identify a twist of the tradition, an aesthetic heresy, for which the innocuous equipment of female domestic life is used inappropriately, in a nonorthodox way (sewing books, embroidering conceptual pages). Also, if I think back to the conversations or the works by Mirella Bentivoglio or Maria Lai, those techniques allow the artist to undertake an indeed exceptional speculation, meaning that some works of visual theology by Mirella Bentivoglio (see “The Absent”) take an obvious anti-dogmatic turn in respect of the constituted theology. As it happened with Weil and her bewildering recovery of marcionism or of cathar heresy, even the most unarmed work by Mirella Bentivoglio help the revisioning of some dogmas, therefore it is not even an action of Marian submission. According to her intentions, her work “L’Assente” (“The Absent”) should had replaced the icon of the crucifix, therefore it was functional to a replacement of symbols. Women’s use of words and their actions on words are always very powerful, because they reformulate the concepts, the handed on maxims, through inadequate, antirhetorical means, as it happens in the sewn poetries or landscapes by Elisabetta Gut: radical censorship and annihilating interventions that can be painful too. By sewing words or images, feminine erasure defines itself as the opposite of male erasure, because it plays on the misunderstanding of the darn and the “sewn mouth” and operates using the thread and the needle instead of barred text and strikethrough graphics.
PS: In an interview, Mirella Bentivoglio said that language is the instrument of power, of History, of Law that relegated women to public silence. Women experience language as a communication tool beyond any alienating mechanism though.
Heraclitus of Ephesus’s pupil Cratylus, who made his master’s “panta rei” radical, claimed that it is impossible to name things and he simply pointed at them with his finger.
Is verbal language an architecture that crystallize reality?
Is word a men tool?
GG: It is not the word that is male, but the grammar, actually, Nietzsche thought that death of God will not really happen if we keep on believing in grammar. For example, the meaning of Mirella Bentivoglio’s works such as SCUOLA (SCHOOL), a smashed plate, is an allegory of the broken alliance with grammar, which means with the law of the language, like the breach of first Mosaic tables of law. That determines the abolition of the word as an institution. To transgress an orthographic commandment means to smash the entire law of the word. In female visual poetry specifically, the breach of linear syllabic writing is executed, the new charisma of language proceed from the dissolution of syntax and the orthography. To undermine orthography means to undermine words and the laws that regulate the speech. The most radical form of poetic fight is the fight with grammar. When Maria Lai starts sewing a book, she transforms completely the writing means and the parameters which regulate writing, by adopting an extreme italic that generates a totally indecipherable dictation. Words are made illegible in order to disprove the system of the meaning and to set up an integrally asemantic handwriting. So these women withdraw from the alphabetical competences of the world.
SG: The word is a thing by itself, transgender. We cannot decide to change the language, we can only use it and it complies with the world and the world complies with it. Then it is obvious that the power of men on women transpires also in the language. I always do an exercise to see whether something change a bit: in case of the generalization of a group of people, for example, I try turning it into feminine even if there is only one woman present. It sounds weird even to me myself, although I decided to adopt the exercise.
PS: Stefania, according to what criterion did you choose the works from Gianni’s collection?
SG: It’s all in the gut. And by affinity. The plate of SCUOLA by Bentivoglio, for example, is pretty close to what is left of “Il Monumento a Cadere” (The Monument to Falling).
PS: Tell us about your “Il Monumento al Cadere”.
SG: “Il Monumento al Cadere”, still visible on Google Maps, was inaugurated in March 2017 in Palermo. The project involves a root and a piece of the trunk of a great pine tree, fallen after a violent thunderstorm. The two meters circumference of the unearthed roots has moved me.
I called up a team of friends to reflect on what to do with that and we decided to take care of it. We cleaned it up, we treated it and we attached importance to it. We added a marble plaque and we inaugurated it with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in presence of Assessore alla Cultura, Andrea Cusumano. Some months later, the Municipal gardeners removed it. I recovered the totally broken plaque that reminds us of the attitude of falling.