A JOURNEY INTO THE UNKNOWN
by Cynthia Penna
The collaboration between artists is a critical and difficult issue that artists traditionally have preferred to avoid.
The first work of this kind which I had the opportunity to see, many years ago, was exhibited at the Getty Center in Brentwood in Los Angeles: a canvas that Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the elder had painted together, sharing both the spaces and the subjects, trying to dialogue with one another, accepting that they would both be influenced by one another, even if they maintained their creative autonomy. From that moment the idea of a collaboration between artists began to take root and develop in my mind.
The Traveling Canvas project has been created on the basis of precisely those thoughts, but it has been a tumultuous, complex and difficult one from the very beginning.
Research in every field is the key to the future, and my personal research and contribution as a curator pivots on the discovery of new possibilities.
A lot has been said about art, perhaps even too much, but Art certainly remains a path, and by no means a secondary one, towards the progress of humanity. Research and experimentation characterizes it just like it does science, and it is therefore worthwhile to pursue new paths, to test and to explore situations and means, even if they may seem impossible to realize.
The project is based on building teams with artists who have never met or worked together before. It is a matter of artists who belong to totally different cultural and social structures, who act and think on the basis of wholly different cultural schemes and religious beliefs, who live on different continents and who are thus far removed from one another both physically and from an ideological point of view. The challenge of the project, and the question it seeks to answer, is not only posed in aesthetic terms, but also in anthropological and psychological ones. The experiment is based on, and aimed at, the ability to interact with someone distant, psychologically and emotionally. When curating the project we have also chosen to bring together artists of different genders, because gender is an undeniable, instinctive, primary and very “natural” and basic aspect of human existence.
The artists have been united in teams, but they have not been brought together physically. Indeed, each has worked on his or her own, in his or her own studio, home town and country. They have, all the same, worked on a canvas where “other” colleagues have worked, or on which they would work afterwards: this is what we have asked the artists to do. For someone who is used to work alone and to have full control of the space of the canvas it can be quite unsettling to imagine that another artist will intervene on that very same canvas, possibly on their own work, on their own brushstrokes and signs. Imagining something that will happen on that canvas, something that is the work of someone else, and therefore restrict oneself while realizing the composition: this can be quite a challenge.
It is undoubtedly a trial, a risk, a completely new experience; a question of how far one can venture, how far one can go while taking someone else’s existence into account.
We have asked the artists to use their own historical memory, both individual and collective, as starting point and to transfer it to the canvas; both memories are an essential part of the cultural construction, not only of the single individual but of the whole country of origin.
The mediation between one’s own memory and heritage or simply one’s personal painting style and that of another artists inevitably becomes more and more complex: it is a matter of a mediation that has to take into account the respect one owes the complete and complex reality of the other artist.
To interact with someone else, to connect with another artist, to share a space that may be small but that is an expression of individuality: to an artist all this is not only synonymous with putting oneself on the line; it also means to share a vital space, like persons who live in the same room. The self-limitation of the conscious and rational I comes into conflict with the expression of the Id, or in other words the sphere of the unconscious. As a consequence, the outcome of the experiment, the aesthetic result, has been wholly unpredictable.
But that is just what art is: unforeseeable, emotional, sometimes magical: art is the harbinger of the new, of the revolutionary, of the “other”. An experiment, like those conducted in a laboratory: because art is a laboratory of ideas.
The political sense of the project
“Art is the highest form of hope” (Gerhard Richter)
The political message that the project aims to present is that of integration, united to a respect for difference.
In a world that is only apparently and only commercially globalized, the structure of society is gradually breaking down due to the changing relationships within families and consequently within the community. We are witnessing a disintegration of traditional societies as a result of individualisms and separatisms of every kind: religious, racial and political. Overpopulation in some parts of the world have inevitably led to forms of reactivity that essentially find an outlet in aggressive behaviour and all-out rejection of the other.
The political message of the project is the absolute antithesis: it presents Art as an element capable of interfering with the gradual shift towards separatism and intolerance which characterizes contemporary society. Art has always been a vehicle of social transformation, and it has sometimes, for this very reason, been perceived as a source of destabilization and of concern for authoritarianisms of every kind. Rejected and persecuted by authoritarian regimes due to its essential tendency to challenge absolutisms and dogmatic dictates, art is on the contrary the sphere of opportunities, of possibilities, of experimentation, where everything may happen and a lot must be accepted.
Art as integration of races, genders, religions, political and cultural systems.
Future generations must receive a legacy, a heritage, and the only thing that is left for humankind to hand down is a sense of belongingness and of beauty.
Societies that are built solely on consumer economies, technological progress and economic powers will not resist. What will the future of the world be? Nobody can foresee it, but Art will always play an important role, as it has done in every century of the past. The time has come to present it as a possible solution, both in specifically aesthetic terms, as a sense of beauty, and in terms of structure of the logical/psychological/social procedure.
The aesthetic meaning of the project
We will stir the waters and see what happens; we will watch the ripples that are created, follow them and see where they end up.
This is, in a nutshell, the meaning of the whole operation. At the same time we have wanted to explore a broader issue, namely how artistic creativity would deal with an essential self-limitation. It is a matter of spatial and psychological self-limitation; a superimposition of instinctual realities, an interaction between personalities with fully defined identities (the chosen artists are no debutantes, and have reached a certain maturity also in terms of career). And, perhaps most importantly, it has been a matter of a limitation in terms of space; the artist has had to make his or her contribution coexist in harmony with other presences, with the contributions of others.
The ten canvases which have been the final product of this project are completely different from one another aesthetically speaking. The contributions of the participating artists have interacted in very complex ways: artists who usually create figurative works have sometimes chosen an abstract language, and even if the delimitation of an area of the painting has influenced the self-determination and the operative choices of the artist, these limits have eventually been overcome in the form of quite free contributions that have in some cases proven to free the individual personality or unconscious.
Many canvases have taken their toll, in the sense of anguish suffered by their authors, who have struggled with their conscience and their rationality; their creative instinct has had to measure swords with the presence of other, unknown hands.
One conclusion that we can draw in strictly artistic terms, is that the classical dichotomy between figuration and abstraction has broken down, definitely and totally.
It no longer makes any sense to speak or debate on the difference between abstract and figurative work, because all ten canvases contain elements of both genres, without losing either equilibrium or beauty. Rather than creating a sense of chaos and disorientation, the superimposition of techniques has resulted in a sense of multiplicity and eclecticism; it has paved the way towards a liberation of contemporary painting, freeing it from barriers, constrictions and inelegance.
The interaction between the artists, with its unique combination between figuration and abstraction, has been realized through an aesthetic sense that is global and diffused. The multifaceted appearance is counterbalanced by the balanced and rigorous overall impression.
In some of the canvases an underlying geometric base has served as an ordering element, while figurative elements have organized the space in others.
All the artists have found their space, we may almost say that they have dovetailed within these primary spaces, remaining true to their stylistic language and in some cases even moving freely between a figurative style and an abstract one, something which has represented a novelty with respect to their usual artistic production.
From this point of view the project has almost proven to be liberating, because regardless of how recognizable the stylistic cipher has been and how rationally the artists have pursued their personal language, it has in some cases been replaced by a much more dynamic and independent expressiveness.
The artistic expression has been liberated from rigorous aesthetic canons, it has cast off the shackles imposed by the art world, by the art market, ignoring the constraints defined by experts and critics. It is almost as if the artists have let themselves go, in spite of the consciousness of the limits imposed on them. And indeed, in the final analysis, it has been precisely the limits associated with the need to dialogue and interact with others that have made something surface, something that the Id or the unconscious had never expressed; something that has remained buried beneath the rational, beyond the reach of consciousness, and that rationality and the expectations of others have suffocated in the past.
Even in the cases where they have remained true to their individual language and style (which is by way of parenthesis clearly evident in all contributions), the element of integration and dialogue with others has produced, made possible and inspired personal solutions that are different, fresh and new, which the artists would not otherwise have chosen.
The result is a free art, within something that may have been expected to represent constrictions, but that have eventually proven liberating and prolific.
It is a matter of a new way to approach medium, space and content: a creativity that has not been suffocated by stylistic self-discipline, that has freed itself from such constraints; if there have been any constraints, they have been determined by the need to coexist, to dialogue, to respect the work of others. The artists have had to face that they work could be covered or cancelled by the contribution of others; they have been able to assert themselves, to express their Ego, but they have also seen it subjugated. But all artists confirm that the experience has been intense and profound, and something they would not have wanted to miss.
It has definitively been a new and unusual way to create art, and what is more thrilling in life than to put oneself on the line, to continue to learn something new, something unusual, different, something out of the ordinary, and to accept it all without prejudice, all the way and to the very end?