Art Fairs, Bombs and the Environmental Crisis

The new Desert Island exhibition and the visual expressions of international talents

Organised as part of ART CITY Bologna 2024 on the occasion of the jubilee 50th edition of ARTEFIERA, one of the leading and oldest art fairs, Deserted Island (on dropping bomb*shells) is showcasing a selection of time-based media works by seven international artists and art collectives, drawing its base between environment, war, censorship and mass-media and revisiting certain historical and future events.

Through a narrow doorway opening to a busy Bolognese street a dark, cold space unveils. In it – still gazing from the street – we can see a video of a seabed with divers swimming around carrying big yellow letters, cut in half by a wall, and hear an estranging sound of something resembling a distorted cello concerto. Deserted Island (on dropping bomb*shells) is a holistic experience in an exhibition, based on dualities and dichotomies between censorship and marketing, sound and image, politics and ecology, the East and the West, the past and the present, and eternity – and finally – between art and (harsh) reality.

Time-based media is known to be one of the most difficult artforms to present in an exhibition, especially in a fair or festival setting, where the average visiting time of an exhibition – one out of many – is lower than usual. Time-based media needs time and time needs to be earned. By fame, by force, or by successful curation. Carmen Lorenzetti and Dušan Josip Smodej, the curators of Deserted Island (on dropping bomb*shells), imagined a space where the human violence of war and terrorism is juxtaposed to the inhuman horror of the inevitable global ecological disaster. Their low-budget, but precisely constructed site-specific installation consists of six time-based media works: three videos by Raqs Media Collective, g. olmo stuppia and Genny Petrotta, and two sound pieces by Hussein Nassereddine and Stefano Cagol; accompanied by an off-site performance, A Waltz for Sarajevo, 2017-2024 (participatory performance), by the young painter Arianna Marcolin, in which visitors were invited to dance waltz in other people’s shoes, commemorating the victims of bomb blasts whose shoes are left behind at the sites of these horrors.
Upon stepping through the alluring narrow entrance, our immediate focus is drawn to Charade, 2018 (single-channel video, 8 min) by David Birkin. Projected on a small black canvas on the wall adjacent to the exhibition title, this silent video, created in collaboration with the human rights organisation Reprieve, involves over 50 actors, artists, musicians, and performers. It serves as a response to the British Prime Minister’s endeavours to conceal a covert directive permitting military intelligence agents to partake in criminal activities. Each participant in the video mimes crimes they believe intelligence agents may be authorised to commit, employing the rules of ‘charades’ to convey each syllable in silence. The video, through mainstream aesthetics, uses the language of marketing to discuss censorship.

On the opposite wall, Two Birds, Sleeping, 2022 (sound and video installation, 9 min 37 sec) by Hussein Nassereddine introduces an audio poetry piece. Here, the artist contemplates envisioning a place no longer in existence and explores how to verbalise its manifestation. Nassereddine delves into his family’s village in the South of Lebanon, ravaged by violence and political upheaval in the last century. The juxtaposition of silent imagery of Birkin and vocal narrative of Nassereddine forms a captivating duality — an image without sound, speaking; and a voice without image, drawing.

Continuing deeper into the space, an old cathode television showcases Sposare la Notte, 2022 (series of 4 short films, 31 min 18 sec), a performative project by g. olmo stuppia. The project comprises four eco-walks in public space, intertwining autobiographical experiences and artistic research in visionary synthesis. These “walkscapes” explore the aesthetics of the vast province and its impact on the territory, with Venice and Palermo serving as examples, all documented on film, opening the path from politics to ecology.

Deep Breath, 2019 (film, 25 min), already visible from the exterior, is a short film by Raqs Media Collective shot in the depths where the Saronic Gulf meets the Aegean Sea. It captures a fragment of an aphorism related to forgetting, with Luce Irigaray’s phrase ‘Forgetting of Air’ inscribed onto the seafloor. Air has been neglected from western philosophy because “air does not show itself”, but very present in eastern philosophy. Filmed with the assistance of three divers, it marks an interval between the resting place of two shipwrecks — one ancient and another not — speculating on the cargo of old and new things that defy memory, had they continued sailing between the East and the West.

Around the corner, a large projection unveils Kumeta, 2023 (single-channel video, 7 min 55 sec), by Genny Petrotta, narrating the story of the Repubblica Contadina (the Peasant Republic) founded in her hometown Piana degli Albanesi towards the end of the Second World War under the leadership of her granduncle Giacomo Petrotta. In an artistic intervention addressing torture and state repression, Genny Petrotta invited sculptors Francesco Albano and Simone Zanaglia to polish and smooth a rectangular portion of the rock facade of the marble quarry overlooking the village. The polished surface has the same dimensions as the box in which the prisoners were kept during the torture, bridging the past into the present with this monument carved (polished) in stone.

To interconnect these diverse artworks, Mònito – Monition – Mort Nucleàire, 1995 (sound installation, 14 min) serves as the sole auditory experience in the space. A piece by Stefano Cagol, it originated from the last atomic experiment carried out by France on the Mururoa atoll in the mid-1990s. Beginning with an original recording of a nuclear explosion, the sound progressively slows down, culminating in the dilation of the audio wave to an extreme. The result unveils the “soul of the bomb,” unexpectedly resembling a symphonic, tragic, and chilling composition of a stringed instrument such as cello, seemingly slowing down ad infinitum. This piece, together with the exhibition’s cardboard flooring catching traces of visitors’ footprints, constructs an effective bridge into conscious reality, breaking the fourth wall and ultimately crushing the simulacrum of serenity and perfection we are used to in art fairs.

Deserted Island (on dropping bomb*shells) is based on the memory of the 1980 Bologna Massacre, in which a bomb blast in the city’s main train station killed 85 people and wounded over 200, marking one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Europe that has never been totally resolved – some of the court proceedings are still running 44 years later. By analysing the government’s ways of communicating this tragedy and others, this exhibition was conceived to stress out the importance of independent research and flow of information, but also to rethink the concept of the bomb, violence and war in the context of contemporary geopolitics in correlation with ecology. The word bomb*shells alludes to the fact that every bomb, every little piece of violence, becomes a shell – a fossil written in our planet’s history – either in our collective subconsciousness or in the actual planetary matter – for eternity.

Art Fairs, Bombs and the Environmental Crisis


Venue: Art City Bologna / @artcitybologna
Curators: Carmen Lorenzetti / @carmen.lorenzetti.5
Dušan Josip Smodej / @dusansmodej
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Annalisa Fabbrucci / @annalisa_fabbrucci

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