17.01 – 8.03.2002
ANDREA SALVINO – Scorn
written by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi
A story that has been buried, repressed; nameless people and places, like so many others; paintings and drawings made with an “impersonal” technique; an apparently documentary video; a title, Scorn, forceful, militant, taking a critical position, overturning the perspective of apparent detachment.
The object of the poetics of Andrea Salvino is contemporary social and political history, especially the history spanning the 1960s and 1970s, characterized by collective expression in the scenario of the metropolis. In his works, from the outset, scenes of urban conflict, demonstrations, attacks, slogans of class struggle, all that material we might define as pertaining to social antagonism is transformed into material for an art that uses linguistic and visual paradox to update or negate its messages.
Recently Salvino has forged further ahead. His latest shows, in fact, are the result of more complex and detailed projects that begin with a reflection on the context. Starting with the city and the particular history outlined above, his works form an itinerary that isn’t restricted to the exhibition space, but aims at intervening in the context itself. Delving into the theme of a memory that has often been repressed, the artist pulls elements back the surface like rapid flashes of conscience, images that emerge from oblivion and strike in a direct, unexpected way. Through the key of emotional or mental engagement of the artist or the spectator, Salvino restores to us an image of the metropolis filtered by a collective memory, contributing to define its identity.
This exhibition is also constructed in the same way, and I feel it is the most ambitious and successful to date. Salvino begins with a forgotten episode in the history of Milan, a part of the story of the city. The tale is that of Claudio Varalli and Giannino Zibecchi, two young men who lost their lives in Milan in April 1975, during a span of two days, the first killed by a group of right-wing extremists, the second during the demonstrations that came in the wake of that tragic event. One of the many stories of metropolitan demonstrations that continue to repeat with the same forms and modes, even today.
From the premise the artist retraces the lines of the story, returning to the places where the events happened, meeting people who were there, finding images and evidence. Through photographic reporting, conversations with witnesses and existing documentary materials, the artist explores the repressed part of memory. But his intent is not documentary in nature. His path becomes one of participation, recomposition of the identity of the individual and the place. By bringing a story back to life he reappropriates it; through the works he restores it to us in decontextualized fragments that reveal its universal nature, offering suggestions for reflection, but without reconstructing the story itself. Through the itinerary of the exhibition, carefully studied in a subtle equilibrium between past and present, between evocative and apparently anonymous images, the pattern of a collective memory is recomposed, restoring its dignity and visibility.
The aim is to engage the spectator, to make him or her take a position, albeit of emotional involvement or intellectual reflection. Participation and reflection, or the elements that constitute ethics and morals.
The exhibition is the formalization of this process. As soon as we enter the space we are confronted with a gigantic painting covering an entire wall, the setting where the historical event took place. It is the image of Corso 22 Marzo, a deserted avenue that could be in any city, a common metropolitan landscape, an anonymous place without any temporal characterization. The scene of the tragedy hosts us in its silence, its temporal suspension. The size of the painting invites the viewer to enter the space represented, to become an actor on a stage, present in the place, a witness to the event.
Facing the painting there is a posed head and shoulders portrait of a demonstrator in white overalls, the uniform for a protest march, one of those persons the artist defines as “social antagonists”. It is the image of a nameless individual, representing a typology and an attitude. Immobile, fixed, proudly defiant, enigmatic because of the almost total disguise of a hood and a bandana, the figure observes the spectator with a stern gaze. Through two classical typologies, those of the “landscape” and the “portrait”, apparently pacific and inoffensive, the artist mutely creates an atmosphere of expectation and suspension, charged with tension.
And the event promptly arrives. In the video shown in the second room we see archive images in black and white, filmed by amateurs and edited by the artist. The drama takes place in the same location seen in the painting, but this time the images are “real”, crude and direct, without commentary but engaging, shot with a handheld camera. As in a theatrical performance the facts repeat the action defined by a tragic script: the demonstration, the charge of the police, the death, the funeral… a script that continues to repeat itself today, with very few variations. This is the moment of greatest emotional involvement. The action is presented in all its essential nudity, without filtering or emphasis.
Other works re-create the subtle play of temporal slippage, the confusion between past and present, reality and representation. The stylistic uniformity of the paintings and drawings intentionally eliminates any temporal characterization. The holes the artist has made in one of the canvases shown underline the relationship between mental and real space; but, sarcastically, the pure spatial gesture is set in relation to the image represented, contextualizing it: the urgency of the past returns in the present, and the space represented continues in real space through the violence of bullet holes.
The shifts and participation continue outside the exhibition itinerary, but still as an integral part of the project: the text Salvino has requested from the association ‘Per non dimenticare Varalli e Zibecchi’ published in this catalogue bears witness, in the form of chronicle, to the events and their consequences. Another way to remember and engage. The exhibition, in fact, is also an opportunity in which people who want to remember can be present, mingling with the audience. The boundaries of artistic research are crossed in the construction of an event, a moment of recognition of a collective identity. Recognition that isn’t just a commemoration, but which through the interpretation key of the title formulates a judgment to which we are forced to respond, positively or negatively. With extreme ability the artist takes us to the center of the stage, pulling us out of our role as mere spectators, making us participate.
If the contents of the project focus on the delicate themes of ethics and morals, on a conscious but fragile equilibrium between anonymous and strongly evocative images that, nevertheless, never enter the realm of nostalgia, it is also because their artistic formalization is based on a stylistic coherence and formal rigor that are independent of the media the artist decides to utilize. Just as the uses of video or photography
have the characteristics of first-hand reporting, so the painting concedes nothing to aesthetic accents and stylistic virtuosity, sticking with controlled, essential gestures that recover a certain formal typology based on the Italian tradition of social content in painting in the late 1800s and early 1900s (from Pelizza da Volpedo to Morbelli). A choice that is certainly not an intent of citation, but a natural orientation toward a moment of recent art history that more than any other had directly political content.
Whether in terms of the historical material or the linguistic codes explored, Salvino’s artistic operation operates through reappropriation and recombination of elements, and through a lucid, precise linguistic project. Images and meanings are decontextualized and updated through the alchemy of formal typologies, recognized codes and emotional and mental engagement, between the aesthetic and ethical spheres.