Cultural Tectonics

From September 19th to December 13th the Royal Academy in London is hosting Ai Wei Wei’s first British retrospective. Ai Wei Wei became a “star artist” since he engaged with topics like human rights and freedom of speech in the contemporary China. Since then his public image has changed; it overshadowed the universal and collective value, which consistently have been characterising Ai Wei Wei’s work since the origin.

By means of Chinese artistic heritage, Ai Wei Wei articulates a particular artistic language, which is capable of expressing the intricacy of Chinese heritage and culture via new tectonic assemblages. Ai Wei Wei’s tectonic, indeed, encourages diversity. The works is not flat, as well as humanity doesn’t speak the same language; we all have different cultural heritages. Ai Wei Wei’s tectonic expresses such cultural intricacy. From stools to bicycles the singular value of each different piece triggers the metaphor of the world as an orchestra. The strength of such diversity is the cut, which normally is understood as the weakest part; in Ai Wei Wei’s sculptures the cut becomes the keystone. Ai Wei Wei’s tectonic tells stories about diversities.

On the other hand contemporary design is featured by smooth white objects. From architecture to products smooth surfaces and lines run through space with no sign of interruption. Nevertheless, as in Ai’s work, there is also an emergent field of design that is looking back at tectonic, from the material point of view. Stereotomy is the guideline to understand forms between the digital and the real.

Cultural tectonic is in favour of cultural diversity that coexists; cultural tectonic doesn’t apply the global ephemeral smoothness that saturates details.

If looking at our everyday, cultural diversity is a topic politics should engage with. In the midst of immigrant flows and the seek of new social, political and economical orders, it would be worth to look at Ai Wei Wei’s work to get some inspiration.

Ai Wei Wei @Royal Academy ©Laura Ferrarello Ai Wei Wei @Royal Academy ©Laura Ferrarello


New Roots for Democracy

I recently read two articles that attracted my attention. They are different for the topics discussed, but similar in content.

They both take place in China; one describes the accident when Xiang Liujuan has been eaten by the escalator in Jingzhou. The other one is a comment that follows the blast in Tianjin.

Why are they similar? They both talk about the social power that social networks have in China on rising up discussions about topics that are quickly skipped by Chinese authorities. People find their word to say what they think…… in public. The Internet enables discussion and let people comment and argue about event of the everyday. The Internet, which nevertheless is controlled by the Chinese authorities, enables people of a kind of freedom, which else wouldn’t not be possible in a traditional public space.

Is public space migrating towards the digital realm? Chinese dissent artist Ai Wei Wei has been already using the Internet as medium to engage people worldwide. Even tough kept in captivity since 2011 (he recently received back his passport) Wei Wei has been capable of keeping his ideas public.

Space is the place of discussion, debate and confrontation. Ancient Greeks and Romans designed their cities around the space where discussions about politics and philosophy were the everyday. The agora and forum were the heart of the city. People met there to talk.

I am aware that such treat is no longer present in our cities. Nevertheless I am quite happy to see that people find their way, which adapts and camouflages according to the time and technology.

2.0 Adaptive Vitruvian Men

In 1490 Leonardo da Vinci designed one of the most iconic drawings of human being history: “The Vitruvian Man“. Its legacy influenced not only visual arts and, in particular, architecture but also a whole generation of philosophical thinking, which for years has been perpetuating its insights on the subject of harmony between human kind and nature.

Leonardo’s man is measure of the universe.

Until early 20th century the human body has been the rationale on the subject of proportions to be applied to urban, architectural and product design. Human based proportions were the continuous thread between “the spoon and the city“. For centuries the body has been the second term of a mutual relationship with the environment, with the intent of creating harmony between microcosm and macrocosm.

With the emergence of wearable technologies the perception of the body in design has been registering an important shift. Wearable design is no longer the medium that interfaces human kind with nature. Nature is on the body, it follows human biorhythm and performs accordingly. Through sensors, adaptive technologies and smart materials we are capable of modifying any kind of environmental condition in relation to our personal perception of it. If  hot, we can wear sweatless fabric, which gets riddle of any unnecessary drop, the same applies to cold. We now wear the environment, there is no longer any detachment – i.e. a threshold by which we define border of identities – but a single interwoven mesh that weaves bodies with the everyday life.

The seamless condition we find ourselves in melts any demarcation line, which traditionally divides for defining and enhancing the self critical acknowledge of the real.

Contrast and constrains help on developing challenges.

Poetry, poem, music and visual art have been created under restrained circumstances. I love the idea of avoiding the freezing cold of the winter, but I hope that there will be always room for a mutual, challenging and contrasting relationship between human being and nature.

Crisis unfolds invention.

The Void of the Real

In these days I’ve been lucky enough to see Malevich’s “Black and White” at Tate Modern and Turner’s last paintings at Tate Britain. The lucky coincidence made my mind travel through a common theme that both artists have dealt with: the void.

Nevertheless the value that each artist assigns to the void is at the antipodes. Whether Malevich expresses the impossibility to capture the real, so that beyond the white frame there is nothing, Turner uses the void of representation to translate the metaphysical value of the real. This is something that transcends the phenomenal and reaches the noumenal – borrowing Immanuel Kant’s terms.

In other words both artists are coping with the unknown form of the real, which is something that any of us – borrowing again Kant and Slavoj Žižek‘s insights- can grasps, so that we fill it with our imagination.

Imagination and fantasy are instruments we employ to reify the real, i.e. to give it a form that somehow we can understand. Malevich gave a black formless square, Turner assigned a metaphysical aspect, driven by a different cultural and religious context.

To deal with the void is like passing a threshold where certainties are gone; we cannot hide from ourselves anymore and those questions and riddles that oppress our minds fall on us.

By flipping what I have told at the beginning of the post, did I look for those artists? I do feel the void is haunting me and I cannot avoid to deal with it.. I am wondering around my thoughts looking for possible solutions, but unfortunately I can’t feel the same energy to translate such unsettling sense and get it out of myself through a new “form”, whather it might mean.

To be honest looking at those works puts myself in the right track, whatever the track is. Looking forward to acknowledging it.

Exhibiting What?

In the midst of data based information a recursive question has been spinning around among museum lovers: what does it mean “exhibiting” when any kind of “representable” thing of this world is accessed through the ubiquitous medium of the Internet?

Experts from any different field engaged in such debate have been 360 questioning the “meaning” of representation to try to find out a new approach and move to the 2.0 age of representation.  Nevertheless “displaying” has been a necessity which hit artists since they left the luxiourius palaces of their mecenati, who were happily keen of paying artists’ fees to be literally sculptured for the eternity.

Nevertheless contemporary art moved forward and beyond the constrained space of a gallery to create spaces (or no-spaces) that happily match the language of the work of art.

Indeed the crisis doesn’t concern art as such, but those agents involved in the art market, who are media between art – which keeps on going following its own route – and viewers, who find themselves sometimes engaged with art. So the questions can be phrased as follows:

How can we, art media, engage the public in a world overwhelmed by images and information?

A couple of years ago I find myself engaged in such a debate, by participating to an architectural competition asking for another museum. Indeed I thought to rephrase the question and I asked myself: “Why people should go to museum?” The answer was for me clear; art is a social vehicle, whose role is to display the Real via different visual vehicles than the expected ones. So I thought to use AG as a guideline to navigate the space of any gallery. At the same time AG is also interface for connecting the gallery in space and time the to the social, political and technological environment where the work takes place. In other words the app explains that art is not an aesthetic image to be actioned, but an expression of a specific social context that simply points out ,and rephrases, questions to be addressed to the public.

May it be a possible route for solutions?

C:Art displaying Ed Ruscha exhibition at the LACMA, Los Angeles

C:Art displaying Ed Ruscha exhibition at the LACMA, Los Angeles


The little guide text at the Victoria Miro Gallery in Mayfair, London, reads as follows:

The critic Rosalid Krauss summed this up and criticised its weakness [ i.e. the Grid] in a persuasive article published in “October” in summer 1979 entitled “Grids”. This is the moment when Francesca deliberately adopted the zigzag, thigh one can see her attraction to it in many earlier photographs.


© Francesca Woodman @ Victoria Miro Mayfair London

George Woodman points out that Krauss’ article became a career pivot for his daughter Francesca.

Francesca Woodman’s photographs might display the theme of zigzag as the continuous line of her work, which she adopts in terms of compositional technique where her body is part of it.

Nonetheless the quality of her photographs does stand out for the ability of challenging the concept of composition per se.

The zigzag becomes for her vehicle to free photography from its static nature, i.e. from being a still image of alive (and moving) objects. Her unfocussed body moving through the camera frame wants to express the will to go beyond the static scene. The use of her body, as a moving object rather than still, is the most challenging, intriguing and seductive element for a culture where the body of a woman is quite often portrayed as still object, which decorates the surrounding. The “on focus” surrounding, made of everyday commodities, enhances the intensity contrast of her fluid body, that looks to redefine a new time-space dimension by dematerialising the existing one.

The poetry of Francesca Woodman’s images is rather metaphysical, as it takes the viewer to another dimension by looking beyond the frame and imagine what might happen next.

© Francesca Woodman @ Victoria Miro

© Francesca Woodman @ Victoria Miro

The Eye of the Director

I recently visited the London Royal Academy of Arts exhibition, which celebrates the early photographic career of Dennis Hopper.

Since I left Los Angeles I am being collecting a positive malinconia that wanted me to experience the city, with other spaces, from the eye of the “Easy Rider” director. Indeed the three rooms that display his work has been a journey, but an unexpected one.

Hopper was part of a creative circle, which embraced the West and East US coast, that allowed him to meet artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg or Ed Ruscha.


Dennis Hopper at Royal Academy of Arts © Dennis Hopper Courtesy of the Hopper Art Trust

It has been interesting to see how Hopper collected, and reinterpreted, through photography the influence of such artists. From the interiors of his house to the little obsession of picturing details of teared advertisement posters or the Standard petrol stations, Hopper’s work appears like a sequence that, on one hand, pins point the American landscape details that inspired art and, from the other one it portrays the connection between US culture and art at that time. For the latter the exhibition takes a value, which is more than displaying work, as it becomes an engaging experience for visitors crowding the space.