Spotlight on Picnic Affair Summer Edition, a triannual boutique celebration of music, arts and joie de vivre held in Sicily with an exhibition curated by Maria Abramenko showcasing the work of Emiliano Maggi, Edoardo Dionea Cicconi, Agnes? and Lilli Moors.
On one of the hottest fridays this summer, a 45 minute speedboat drive dropped me and a group of Italian businessmen off on the coast of one of Favignana’s best restaurants. With me being late to the party as usual, the event had already started, but we were nevertheless personally greeted by Picnic Affair’s founder Jacopo Pizzicannella.
Picnic Affair, a triannual boutique celebration of music, arts, and joie de vivre started as Pizzicannella’s birthday party in 2019 with a small themed gathering in a Tuscan farmhouse and has since grown into a very well organised experimental event that has hosted circa 400 guests in it’s 6th edition. This time Picnic Affair welcomed its mostly regular guests to Favignana, a small island off the west coast of Sicily known for its tuna hunting and white tuff mining traditions that span back to Roman times. While the previous editions of Picnic Affair focused solely on music, this time Pizzicannella invited Maria Abramenko to curate the weekend’s fine art programme. The London based Abramenko previously curated the Palermo Art Weekend and some parts of Manifesta 12, making her the perfect choice for another project in the region.
The evening started with a performance by Emiliano Maggi, a Rome-based artist whose practice broadly spans between sculpture and performance, music and dance. He combines the mythological and the ethnographic with the surrealist scenes of Italian 70’s television. Maggi presented the island public with an electric guitar made out of a tree log found in the Tuscan countryside. The instrument, carved out of old wood following the tradition of mediaeval or even pre mediaeval ideas on music, sounds nothing like a Fender, Gibson or Ibanez, but more like a psychedelic representation of an island nymph’s love call. The performance evolved into a mixture of vocals, guitar chords and dance, all done by Maggi alone, wearing a specially produced costume with his face painted midnight blue. The piece evolved from a 2015 work entitled ‘The Nymphs Orchestra’, in which Maggi performed on a much larger log surrounded by the ruins of the ancient city of Cosa as well as in Rome’s Church of Santa Rita. Maggi, hosted in the halls where boats and tools for tuna hunting used to be stored, opened the event in a hypnotic manner, beginning the much promoted transcendental experience of the ‘Trans-Romantic Republic’, a neologism coined specially for this occasion by Pizzicannella.
At around eleven in the evening, the crowd started moving to Favignana Mangia’s Resort, where most of the guests were lodged. The party continued until early morning – a true veteran raver’s paradise. The second day of the event conveniently started with a guided yoga class by the sea – the resort’s stony beach is beautifully covered with patches of wooden verandas and plateaus. After a morning swim in the sea on one of the beaches on the other side of the island and lunch with some local delicacies – the previous night I already made some friends who gladly took me around – I joined the crowd by the pool and lied down in the sun with an espresso martini by my side. In the afternoon, guests were offered a stylist and a large selection of clothes, accessories and makeup in order to prepare for the theme of the evening party. I was a little confused when I saw the room filled with random pieces of clothing, rope, net, and glitter. The masqued crowd flamboyantly varied from Mad Max to Cast Away, forming some sort of an Italian island version of Burning Man.
Sun was slowly setting down as the masked crowd of four hundred moved to Cala del Pozzo, a beautiful beach on the east side of the island, the venue of the weekend’s main event. A scorched field filled with beautiful cacti and peculiar island vegetation opened in front of our eyes, with an impressive stage in the middle. On the edge of the coast, set in a perfect non-place between land and sea, stands a three metre tall triangular glass monolith by Edoardo Dionea Cicconi. My first association, of course, was Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interestingly enough, the original monolith built for the movie was a solid block of transparent acrylic, but the director later decided to go for a black one. Dionea’s unparalleled attention to detail brings the monolith to another level. 45 degree edges on the glass panels instead of 120 degree ones that would normally finish a perfect triangle force the viewer to inspect the piece further – to touch it and converse with it in a very personal manner. ‘150-93’ works on the very physical basis of light refraction while basing its name on the distance between Earth and Sun – spanning from being a mirror reflection of surrounding space in the day, a perfectly transparent monolith at dawn, to an artistic impression of the unimaginable energy of the Sun in the night – a carefully and delicately programmed simulacra of aurora borealis.
Lilli Moors, a young Berlin based film director presented us with a video piece starring Anna Cleveland entitled ‘Mistress of the Inner World’. Set on the island of Fuerteventura, this film poem follows a woman stranded on a deserted island fighting her inner fears and slowly embracing and joining with nature. The young directress describes the film as a “female Zarathustra travelling towards a reversed Plato’s cave”, alluding to the idea of embracing our inner darkness instead of endlessly searching for a light from the outside. The video melted perfectly into the island’s geography, seeming almost natural, transcending from the digital into the surreal.
The weekend concluded the next morning. After a long night, exactly at noon, a mirage of a sea creature appeared off the coast of Favignana. Agnes? (Agnes Questionmark), a trans-species artist was seen swimming in a gulf next to the resort morphing her body into a beautiful almost mythical combination of human and fish. Agnes? works primarily with her body and the idea of trans-species, i.e. transmission to another species than human, either real or fictional. She became known by her durational performance ‘Transgenesis’ in which the artist lived 23 days as a half-cephalopod in an abandoned leisure centre in North London. Water is another constant in Agnes?’s work. The artist describes it as the origin of all life. Growing up on her father’s boat, the sea was always around her. For the new performance piece ‘Sirenomelia’ she decided to take the form of a siren wearing a 25kg silicone fish tail made in collaboration with the greek transdisciplinary artist Anthromorph and a head-piece done in collaboration with the Italian eyewear designer Kuboraum. The performance was minimal, with Agnes? just swimming in the little island gulf, but it felt strong as a slow birth of a new species and a beginning of a new chapter in Agnes?’s practice. I was left wondering what comes next.
The short island retreat concluded with positive emotions and a calm mind. Picnic Affair served us with a great combination of art, new friendships and parties. Pizzicannella’s decision to introduce contemporary art to a mostly music event is something other music festival organisers should look up to. It was pleasing to see the four artists accepted and respected so much by the event’s visitors, stopping them on the street to congratulate them on their performances and praising their artworks. I left the island inspired, still picturing the beautiful images of artworks perfectly blending with the island, the sky and the sea.