CONTACT ME:
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TEXTS

Barroco Lisergico by Ali Mac Gilp
  • Published in EXIT EXPRESS 54, 2010

    Barroco Lisergico

     

    Artist Profile: Ludovica Gioscia 

     

    With her wallpaper installations Baroque Fractal (2006), Rococo-Hardcore (2007) and the recent Bomarzo Vertigo (2010) at the Miro Foundation, Gioscia provides a chaotic regurgitation of the imagery she daily imbibes. Gioscia focuses on cacophonic environments as a metaphor for the times we live in and the texture of the membranes of information-architecture enveloping us, both visible and invisible. Swooningly artificial and disorienting, Las Vegas and the nightclub are the touchstones of the information overload she explores. Her kaleidoscopic structures build up layers upon layers of patterned wallpapers, some painstakingly hand-printed, others found on eBay, which are then ripped down, revealing a multitude of hedonistic fractals from chronologically incongruous eras. Papered-over wallpaper is an artefact of deceased fashion, emerging from the repressed depths of the unconscious.  Gioscia’s post-modern palimpsest, her archaeology of the present forms an instantaneous time-lapse evolution of styles. The torn wallpapers serve as a metaphor for multiple Internet pages open on a computer screen as much as the overlayering of history in an ancient city.

     

    Gioscia’s installations are a vertigo-inducing living graveyard of styles battling for prominence in a primal struggle. They form an arena for temporary alliances and clashes of culture, generation and colour; an all-consuming landscape of convulsive beauty. This jungle of raging patterns, all equivalent, prompts us to consider the way our amnesiac culture endlessly recycles imagery emptied of its ideological commitment, recognisable but free-floating. Giosica celebrates the ecstasy and alienation of the contemporary urban condition with its overwhelming proliferation of visual information. She has recently turned her Technicolor wallpaper into three-dimensional structures, pleating it into origami sculptures or swirling it into balls, folded like Bernini drapery, in her series of abstract busts of decadent historical figures, Beheaded Monarchs (2009).

     

    In Gioscia’s biro animation Untitled (2003) we are cast as voyeurs as a couple kiss endlessly, accompanied by a slurping soundtrack in the ultimate romantic fantasy. Yet it is also a nightmare, vampire-like, the two kissers devour each other in the solipsistic, suffocating self-absorption of romantic love.  In Les Petits Morts (2004) Gioscia invites us into a fluorescent twilight-zone, a psychedelic planetarium, a kaleidoscope of colourful figures picked out in ultra-violet light. Her contemporary incarnation of The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymous Bosch’s orgiastic portrayal of a world deeply involved in sinful pleasures abounding in cavorting nudes, huge birds and giant fruit, becomes a celebration rather than a moral tale. Gioscia’s is an urban bacchanal of chaotic hedonism played out in clubs and parties outside society’s jurisdiction. This wallpapered room pays euphoric tribute to the energy of life, love and friendship. The walls are scattered with jewels, dancing couples and grinning faces drawn from snapshots of friends at unguarded moments. Adam and Eve are revisited as an acid-induced hallucination. They stand poised eternally on the cusp of gaining the knowledge destined to destroy their innocent paradise forever. Gioscia focuses on transient moments of intense feeling and the radical potential of the transgressive state of jouissance.

     

    Gioscia has an enduring fascination with teenage culture and for her current solo show at the Agency, London, Gioscia has taken inspiration from the Paninaro cultural phenomenon of 1980s and 90s Italy. Paninaro was the name given to youngsters who hung out at bar ‘al panino’ in Milan and ate hamburgers at the American-style fast food restaurants then opening. Obsessed with the American popular culture imported by Berlusconi’s TV channels with programmes such as Happy Days, the kids wore Italian leisurewear brands, copied from the US. Companies such as Naj-Oleani created brand dependency from an early age, targeting preteens who had access to their parent’s wallets with patterned merchandise, ranging from clothes to bedding to notebooks. This marked the beginnings of a bland globalised youth culture. These youngsters were naïve consumers when viewed from the more sinister context of today, with the Berlusconi government, the current global economic meltdown and young people subjected to an unadulterated fetishism of material objects. Gioscia’s attitude is both critical and affectionately nostalgic: she presents a vitrine-based time capsule of archive Paninaro ephemera, both from her own youth and purchased on eBay, with a hyper-coloured, gallery-sized sculptural text intervention.  She also shows new hamburger-flavoured variations on Vomitorium (2009), candy-hued sculptural fountains of vomit which use the kawaii visual language of animation to comment on the emetic effect of our oversaturation in consumer culture. Is this ritual purging purely in order to devour more?

     

     

    Ali MacGilp 

THE KANDY KOLORED TANGERINE-FLAKE STREAMLINE BABY BY Pablo Leon de la Barra
  • On Ludovica Gioscia’s Acid-Kolored  Yellow and Pink-Multilayered Surfaces, Signs, and Islands[1]

    Pablo León de la Barra

     

    Girls, boys, arts, pleasure

    Paninaro, Paninaro, oh oh oh

    Food, cars, travel, food, cars, travel, travel

    (Travel travel)

    New York, New York, New York,

    New York

    Paninaro, Paninaro, oh oh oh

    Armani, Armani, A-A-Armani, Versace, cinque

    Paninaro, Paninaro, oh oh oh

     

    Lyrics from Paninaro by the Pet Shop Boys, 1986

     

     

     

    As if scratching the walls in an attempt to find meaning and depth beneath the surface, the layers of wallpaper created by Ludovica Gioscia might seem at first sight superficial. It is precisely this superficial character that her installations explore, with the knowledge that a close analysis of the surface can reveal societies’ desires and aspirations, but also their fears and anxieties.

     

    One of Gioscia’s early wallpaper installations Neon-Volvolo/Pop-Arzigogolo from 2007 is made of thirty layers of wallpaper, some bought at speciality shops, but others handprinted herself. The wallpapers have different decorative elements: acid house smileys, skulls with wigs, modernist geometric patterns, stripes, new wave fluorescent yellow and pink prints, Art Nouveau motifs, paisleys and peacock feathers, female amazons and sea horses, tropical leafs and ferns, mandalas and neo-classical monuments all coexisting within this layered palimpsest. The free-standing exhibition walls wrapped in wallpaper, remind us of the game Pass the Parcel, where players hope to find the present hidden within the wrapping paper every time the music stops. Although in Gioscia’s walls, there’s the risk, or at least the suspicion, that there might be nothing underneath, that there will be only emptiness hidden under the decoration. In other installations, such as Baroque Fractal, from 2006, it’s the walls of the exhibition space that are covered by wallpaper. Here, the sensation achieved is like being inside the box, attempting to escape from it by ripping the wallpaper, but the layers and layers of surface continue to appear. There seems to be no way out.

     

    Gioscia’s rips reveal the different layers and historical moments that exist one under another. The wallpaper installations find their direct antecedents in the 1950s décollages of Mimmo Rotella in Italy and Raymond Hains and Jacques Villeglé in France. Their early décollages were mainly constructed from film posters and advertisements (many already layered and ripped) found on the street during their psycho-geographical urban derives and which were then reconstructed, re-layered and mounted on canvas and later hung in galleries. These décollages were constructed by addition or subtraction, revealing to a greater or lesser degree the posters underneath, décollage meaning in French to rip, to take off — the opposite of collage, which means to join. Contrary to Rotella, Hains and Villeglé’s décollages, Gioscia’s are not fixed on canvas and stretchers but mounted directly onto the exhibition walls, occupying the whole surfaces of once empty and white gallery walls. As such, Gioscia’s research reveals the historical layers of the human desire for decor, and contests Adolf Loos’ early twentieth century protest against ornamentation and demand for modernist hygiene: ‘Do not weep. Do you not see the greatness of our age resides in our very inability to create new ornament? We have gone beyond ornament, we have achieved plain, undecorated simplicity. Behold, the time is at hand, fulfilment awaits us. Soon the streets of the cities will shine like white walls!’[2]

     

    In other works, Gioscia recycles the debris and leftovers of her wallpaper installations, reassembling the fragments directly over the wall as seen in Corrosive Archaeology 1 and 2 from 2007. Sometimes the debris becomes sculptures, like crumpled paper recouped from the trash. The wallpapers, sometimes crumpled, sometimes folded like origami, and inspired by the head wraps worn by African women, become what Gioscia calls Beheaded Monarchs (2009), each with a different emperor’s name, and are hung directly on the wall. The ‘heads’ also recall Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Rosa Bruciata (Burnt Rose), from 1965, where Pistoletto created a giant rose from corrugated cardboard and spray paint which was then installed on the wall at human height, allowing the public to smell the ‘flower’. As Shakespeare said: ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. The wallpaper sculptures also remind us of Deleuze’s notion of ‘the fold’, where he describes what we inherit from the Baroque as the fold’, and where ‘the fold’ announces that the interior is nothing more than a fold of the exterior.[3]

     

    Sometimes the décollages become living creatures. The rips resemble body parts: eyes, mouths and tongues. This is made evident in her huge wallpaper installation Bomarzo Vertigo created for the exhibition Murals at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona in 2010. The installation integrates previously used wallpapers with new ones: psychodelia and Paninaro motifs are present, as well as roses and Mickey Mouse. Here the rips become eyes and a mouth, reminding us of the stone ogre of the gardens of Villa d’Este, in Bomarzo, and also known as Il Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo (the park of Monsters of Bomarzo) created by architect Pirro Ligorio in 1552 and commissioned by Prince Pier Francesco ‘Vicino’ Orsini, after the death of his wife Giulia Farnese. In Ligorio’s 1553 Book of Antiquities he explains the meaning of his work in Bomarzo: ‘Although the ‘grotesques’ appeared fantastic or profane, they were all ingenious symbols or objects, created not without some mystery … Some of the forms are so fantastic that one thinks one is dreaming … They were created to provoke stupefaction and wonderment in miserable mortals, to illustrate the fecundity, the fulfilment of intelligence and its imaginative qualities to the utmost …’.[4] Bomarzo’s villa of wonders is a direct antecedent to our modern amusement park, in it a series of constructions and sculptures, the mythological and the fantastical coexist: the colossal head of a marine monster, a giant turtle with a woman standing on its back, a Pegasus, an inclined tower, a giant Neptune, and an elephant with a tower on its back. The stone ogre with his eyes and mouth wide open (the mouth known as the gate to hell) threatens to devour the visitor, pulling them into the interior grotto. In the same way Gioscia’s wallpaper is ready to devour the museum visitor, dragging them into the depths of the wallpapers’ surface.

     

    While the fantastic sculptures of Bomarzo’s gardens might also be an influence for Gioscia’s installations and sculptures, there is also in them a reference to the work of the Italian Futurists, specially in Giacomo Balla’s three dimensional abstract garden installation, Il Giardino Futurista (The Futurist Garden) from 1916-1930 as well as in Balla and Depero’s Futurist manifesto The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe[5] of 11 March, 1915. In their manifesto, Balla and Depero suggest revolutionising the world by making it more joyful through complete re-creation. In the manifesto they also propose the construction of artificial landscapes that are autonomous, brightly coloured and extremely luminous (using internal lights), odorous, noise-creating, and explosive, where elements appear and disappear simultaneously with a bang and unexpected explosions: pyrotechnics-water-fire-smoke!

     

    In her Campscapes installations Gioscia reconstructs other kind of monsters. Inspired by her travels in Asia, Honkonk (2008) and Tiger Economy (2009), are imaginary islands that contain silhouettes of buildings that sandwich in between wallpapers and textures. The sculpture-islands are an abstraction of the frenzied and unregulated building economy found in Asian cities, but which also exist in the neoliberal developments of exclusion being built in Dubai, Miami, Panama and contemporary metropolises elsewhere. Contrary to their title, the Campscapes are not ‘camp’ sculptures in Susan Sontag’s sense, where ‘camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized—or at least apolitical’[6], where there’s ‘a victory of style over content’.[7] The Campscapes, along with most of Gioscia’s work, are more what could be called ‘critical camp’ where ‘one can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious’,[8] and where they reconstruct the extravagant fantasies of theatricality, artifice and exaggeration found within the spectacular and the superficial, but also reveal the seduction, illusion and control existing behind them. If Roland Barthes in his travelogue of Japan, Empire of Signs,[9] de-codified the country as an empty text with empty signs, for Gioscia, the interest is how the East has consumed the West. Giant screens, vertical advertising, lighting signs and post-Metabolist buildings where everything is encoded and everything is propaganda, are not Zen, but structures that produce desire. Gioscia is seduced by the landscape of consumption while at the same time denouncing its construction, its emptiness.

     

    This excess of signs and consumption provokes in Gioscia a bulimic revulsion. Like in Brazilian Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 Manifesto Antropófago[10] where he proposes the strategy of cultural cannibalism and resistance to the submission to the Western canon, through which the colonised devours selected elements of the coloniser’s culture in order to appropriate and transform them and vomits out what he doesn’t need. Gioscia’s Vomitoria[11] (2009) are like baroque volutes, arches between the floor and the wall that are structurally useless, becoming decorative cartoon fountains with surfaces layered within the structure and ending with a splash.

     

    The Campscapes and Vomitoria also share a formal inspiration that comes from the Italian tradition of Memphis, the design movement founded by Ettore Sottsass over dinner with a group of designer friends on 16 December 1980, and which constituted a reaction to the status quo of modernist ‘good taste’ in design. Originally named Nuovo Design (New Design), it was renamed Memphis at a dinner during which the Bob Dylan record being played got stuck on the 1966 song Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again), repeating the lyric ‘Memphis Blues’ again and again. As design journalist Barbara Radice, who was present at the dinner, recalls: ‘everyone thought it was a great name: Blues, Tennessee, rock’n’roll, American suburbs, and then Egypt, the Pharaohs’ capital, the holy city of the god, Ptah.’[12] In the same way that Memphis mixed references, it also mixed shapes and materials: formica and other unconventional materials, historic forms, extravagant colours, geometric and leopard-skin patterns, printed glass, neon tubes, gold and zinc finishes. Sottsass’s paradigmatic room divider, the Carlton from 1981, is an almost useless bookshelf that is closer to being a sculpture. With its plastic laminates, vivid colours, abstract anthropomorphic shape, and triangular structure, it can be seen as the forefather of Gioscia’s sculptures.

     

    Ludovica Gioscia’s exhibition Paninaro (2010) is a homage to the high hedonism of the Italian 1980s counter cultural youth movement of the same name, which celebrated identity through brand identification: Fiorucci jeans and T-shirts, Swatch watches, Vans footwear, Ray-ban sunglasses and Moncler jackets, MTV videos. Paninaro members met originally at panini bars and later at hamburger joints, Paninaro being an updated version of post-war Americana, Rockabilly and Archie Comics aesthetics, further influenced by New Wave. Coming mainly from an aspirational middle class background, the Paninari were totally depoliticised; for them identity was forged through exhibiting the elements of their consumption, and many had no memory or reference of the social rifts in the late 60s and 70s, or of the effects of the Italian Red Brigades.

     

    For her Paninaro exhibition, Gioscia presents vitrines with memorabilia which she has collected, like an archaeologist scavenging the recent past, combined with her own teenage diaries influenced by the fashion at the time. As part of the exhibition she also presents a human-scale sculpture spelling out the Paninaro name, with wallpapers and Paninaro elements sandwiched in between. The Paninaro sign is complemented by two Vomitoria, one vomiting a hot dog, the other a hamburger. In their 1972 manifesto, Learning from Las Vegas, Venturi and Scott Brown argued: ‘The sign is more important than the architecture … If you take the signs away, there is no place.’[13] If we substitute the words ‘architecture’ and ‘place’ with the words ‘sculpture’ and ‘art’, this affirmation is still valid today, and with it Gioscia’s Paninaro sign, raises questions about the meaning and sign (and signature) of contemporary art.

     

    Influenced by Pop Art, what Venturi and Scott Brown suggested was that architecture should learn from the new American pop and vernacular culture[14], instead of being defined by high modernism. As Venturi would say ‘Less is Bore’ and with it promote the recovery of symbolic ornamentation in architecture. Their fascination with commercial signage would be expanded in their exhibition Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City, which they organised in 1976 at the Renwick Gallery of The Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and where they explored the historical and contemporary signs and symbols of the North American city. The exhibition was structured in three parts: signs and symbols in the home, on the commercial strip, and on the street. The exhibition displayed a saturated arrangement of full size signs coexisting within the same space: McDonalds golden arches, Shell, Mobil and Union 76 gas signs, as well as signage from other commercial uses and brands. This was the opposite of Philip Johnson’s 1954 exhibition Signs in the Street at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which thought to encourage good design in public signage and which aimed to straighten out the chaos of the modern city.

     

    The enthusiasm for the power of commercial signage had already been endorsed by Tom Wolfe:

     

    Yet long after Las Vegas’ influence as a gambling heaven has gone, Las Vegas’ form and symbols will be influencing American life. That fantastic skyline! Las Vegas’ neon sculpture, its fantastic fifteen story-high display signs, parabolas, boomerangs, rhomboids, trapezoids and all the rest of it, are already the staple design of the American landscape outside of the oldest parts of the oldest cities. They are all over every suburb, every subdivision, every highway … They are the new landmarks of America … And yet what do we know about these signs, these incredible pieces of neon sculpture, and what kind of impact they have on people? Nobody seems to know the first thing about it, not even the men who design them … they come completely outside the art history tradition of the design schools of the Eastern universities … America’s first unconscious avant–garde! The hell with Mondrian, whoever the hell he is. The hell with Moholy-Nagy, if anybody ever heard of him. Artists for the new age, sculptors for the new style and new money of the … Yah! Lower orders. The new sensibility …[15]

     

    Yet today, we know the impact the spectacle of signage and its urge to consumption has had on people. As Guy Debord confirmed: ‘The spectacle is a permanent opium war waged to make it impossible to distinguish goods from commodities, or true satisfaction from survival … That is the real basis for the general acceptance of illusion in the consumption of modern commodities. The real consumer thus becomes a consumer of illusion. The commodity is this illusion, which is in fact real, and the spectacle is its most general form.’[16]

     

    In her wallpapers, island sculptures, vomitoria and sign sculptures Ludovica Gioscia goes beyond the surface of spectacle and seduction, in order to de-programme herself and de-programme us (the spectators) from the alienation which attempts to transform us into consumer zombies.[17] In her work, by going beyond the surface, we can decode the signs of control and oppression and be free again.

     

     

    Pablo León de la Barra is an exhibition maker, kunst-worker, cultural agent, independent curator, researcher, museum/art fairs/collections adviser, writer and photographer. He is co-director of the Novo Museo Tropical and founder and director of the First Bienal Tropical in San Juan Puerto Rico (2011). He was co-director of 24-7, an artists-curatorial collective in London, from 2002-2005. Since 2005 he has been co-curator of the White Cubicle Toilet Gallery  (London). He is also the publisher of Pablo Internacional Magazine and Pablo Internacional Especial Editions, and editor of his own blog (Centre for the Aesthetic Revolution).

     



    [1] The original title of this essay was intendedgoing to be From Rome to Las Vegas, which is one of the subtitles of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, from 1972. This bookwhere they argues that if architects from the 1940s, who were brought up in North American car- scaled grid cities, rediscovered the Italian piazza and its human scale as an urban element, the new generation of architects needed to learn similar lessons about the open space, largebig scale, high speed and commercial signs fromof Las Vegas. Unfortunately However, as Michele Robecchi’s the essay in this publication,, by Michele Robecchi and which was handed insubmitted prior tobefore this one, is titled From Vatican to Vegas, in referencereferring to Norman M. Klein’s book The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects, from 2004 and which presents the illusion and control created by the spectacular, from the Baroque up to today, it has changed. The title of the essay now comes from Tom Wolfe’s novel The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby published in 1965  and which includes the essay ‘Las Vegas (What?) Las Vegas (Can’t hear you! Too noisy) Las Vegas!!!!’, an early look at how outrageous Las Vegas was: The super-hyper-version (of a whole new style of life in America) is Las Vegas. I call Las Vegas the Versailles of America , and which had a huge influence on Venturi and Scott Brown’s Las Vegas research.

     

    [2] Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908.

    [3] See Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

    [4] From http://www.bergerfoundation.ch/Jardin/pirro-ligorio_english.html

    [5] Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero, ‘The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe’, 11 March  11, 1915, consulted at http://www.unknown.nu/futurism/

    [6] Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays, ‘Notes on Camp’, New York: Delta Books, 1967, p. 277.

    [7] IvIbid.i, p. 287.

    [8] Ibid.Ivi, p. 288.

    [9] Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs, New York: Hill and Wang, 1983 (French edition 1970).

    [10] Oswald de Andrade, ‘Manifesto Antropófago’, in Revista de Antropofagia, 1928; reprinted in Gerardo Mosquera, Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America, London: Iniva, 1995, p. 58.

    [11] It is thought that the name vomitorium comes from a room in Ancientantique Roman houses which allowed theintended for users to throw up in so they could order to  continue theirwith gluttony. Some historians considerdiscuss the existence of such rooms and consider itto be thean invention of modern history, with a vomitorium in reality being the architectural term for the exit passage existing beneath the amphitheatre or coliseum through which the crowds could exit. Needless to say, I prefer the first definition.

    [12] Barbara Radice, Memphis: Research, experiences, results, failures and successes of new design, New York: Rizzoli, 1984, p. 26.

    [13] Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972, pp. 13-18.

    [14] Denise Scott Brown introduced Venturi to the idea of learning from the contemporary popular and vernacular, this came from her own education in South Africa in the 1940s, and from the influence she had absorbreceived in the 1950s in London from the Independent Group and especially from their observations of street life in East London. Both were also influenced by Edward Ruscha’s sign paintings and his photographs of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles: Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966. See Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rem Koolhaas, ‘Relearning from Las Vegas. An Interview with Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi’, in Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping, vol. 2, Köln: Taschen, 2001, pp. 590-617.

    [15] Tom Wolfe, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, New York: Bantam Books, 1965, xvii-xviii.

    [16] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, New York: Zone Books, 1994, pp. 30-32 (French edition 1967).

    [17] This kind of pimping of the creative force is what has been transforming the planet into a gigantic marketplace, expanding at an exponential rate, either by including its inhabitants as hyperactive zombies or by excluding them as human trash. Suely Rolnik, ‘The Geopolitics of Pimping’, 2006, in http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/1106/rolnik/en/

     


     

FROM VATICAN TO VEGAS BY MICHELE ROBECCHI
  • (Published in ‘Ludovica Gioscia’, 2012 – see press section)

     

    From Vatican to Vegas

    Michele Robecchi

     

    For the majority of people, Paninaro is nothing more than a minor 1986 hit by the British pop duo Pet Shop Boys. As it is, this exotic and funny word, that wouldn’t be out of place on the menu of one of the thousands of fake-Italian restaurants disseminated around the world, is the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and refers to a social movement born more or less spontaneously in Milan at the beginning of the 1980s, one that soon spread in different forms all around the country.1 Quintessentially Italian, and yet heavily indebted to the dominant American culture of the time, the Paninari were a true reflection of their time — wealthy, fashion-conscious, and with a very loose interest in politics and music. Their origins weren’t the product of alienation or repression, and, unlike those who constituted other ‘tribes’, they weren’t seeking a better world or a tearing down of the status quo. Hardly revolutionary, they didn’t clash with the values of mainstream society but rather embraced them and made them their own. Of all the factors that contributed to the phenomenon of Paninari, two particularly stand out — the ascendance of the local fashion world and the high spirits generated by Reaganomics after years of depression.

     

    Cultural and social models already consolidated in the United States had just started to turn up in Italy in the 1980s. McDonald’s, personal computers, MTV, and a whole load of cowboy-inspired clothing made a sudden appearance and built upon the glassy-eyed nostalgia for the 1950s that produced Happy Days and Grease only a few years earlier. Unbeknownst to many, by the 1980s the Cold War had practically been won — not an insignificant fact for a country that enjoyed the doubtful privilege of being one of the chessboards on which the two Global super powers of East and West played dirty tricks in order to avoid a large-scale conflict.

     

    Not that all of this was of any concern for the Paninari. They could be stark and uncompromising, and were no strangers to the idea of raising hell, but their confrontations with more politically involved rival fractions, such as the skinheads and punks, were mostly hypothetical, and took place only in cases of mutual territorial invasion. Totally disinterested in the concept of creating a culture, or even following one, the aesthetic of Paninari was their most tangible element, with their lifestyle being a combination of this love affair with America, coupled with a bubblegum right-wing political vision. Carefree, if not outright decadent, in their serious moments they sported an attitude openly allergic to anything remotely associated with education and orientated instead towards having ‘everything and now’ — an old favourite of every rebellious youth movement. And as in every rebellious movement, this one too was rife with limits and contradictions, chief among them the total absence of an individual standpoint. Monthly publications like Il Paninaro or Preppy2  were textbooks, just as Sniffin’ Glue had been an ABC guide to punk credo a decade earlier, but were dishonest and governed by external agents — the symptom of a silent but inevitable corporate takeover. Mass identification had provided an entry point for all those interested in targeting the invaluable new commercial resource of the teenage world, in this case an extremely gullible one and with conspicuous access to wealth in its own right.

    But fashion is too fast-moving a creature to follow. In a few years’ time, the Paninari and their expensive outfits completely fell off the radar, and by 1988 they were practically extinct. As their history evaporated, the players moved on, settled down or found other vehicles to express their dissatisfaction. Paradoxically, this short-lived existence cemented their popularity, and today the Paninari are considered a pivotal moment of the 1980s. A proper revival hasn’t taken place and probably never will, but as Silvio Berlusconi’s media outlets played a not unimportant  role in the evangelism of the Paninari and their consumerism-driven mentality the first time around, it’s hardly surprising that the few odd status-symbol elements of their scene have randomly resurfaced in the Italian landscape during the past two decades.3

     

    From a generational perspective, Ludovica Gioscia experienced the phenomenon of Paninari second-hand. She was too young to be an active part of that world, but old enough to remember it, and this mid-position is what makes her representation of that time somehow unique. Detached from the punditry, stereotyping and sloganeering that more involved people would have inevitably developed over their militant years, the seed of Gioscia’s investigation was planted during two trips to the United States, to Las Vegas and Pittsburgh respectively.

     

    Gioscia visited the capital of Nevada for the first time in 2006, and left with the impression that the two realities of her native Rome and the Oasis of Las Vegas, albeit geographically and historically distant, could live well together in her practice. Often prone to cross-pollination and visual excess and overlapping cultures and epochs, just as the ruins of Rome’s monuments and buildings from different ages overlap, Gioscia’s installations echo the thesis expressed by Norman M. Klein in The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects (2004).4 In his book, Klein identifies baroque churches as an early example of brainwashing entertainment. Decorated with larger-than-life paintings of religious scenes and powered by loud and repetitive music, Mass made for a transcendental experience, not too dissimilar to the visual bombardment of advertising boards and the over-saturated chromatic light that permeates the streets of Las Vegas.

     

    It’s a juxtaposition of history and the present that finds further correspondence in Gioscia’s use of textiles, wallpapers and fabrics, a lot of those inspired or reprised by originals from different époques that she has collected and archived over years of travelling and researching. This latter aspect in particular is linked with Gioscia’s second trip to America, this time to Pittsburgh, on the occasion of her solo exhibition at The Andy Warhol Museum in 2009.

     

    Warhol himself was an avid archivist. During his lifetime he seldom threw anything away, collecting all sort of ephemera in cardboard boxes and then putting them in storage. These containers eventually gained the status of artworks in their own right, and were aptly entitled Time Capsules (1974-1986). Exhibited in Pittsburgh, Gioscia’s own wallpapers and collected materials collided with Warhol’s, and in some cases absorbed them — a number of Gioscia’s ‘heads’ having fragments of original Warhol wallpapers, donated to her by the museum, incorporated within them — providing the inspiration for her subsequent treatment of the Paninari.

     

    One of the most striking qualities in Gioscia’s work is the co-existence of serial repetition and manual intervention. It’s a contrast that provides a blurred vision, where the past is neither recreated nor honoured, and is possibly the result of a response that is consequential rather than critical.

     

    Original Paninari-related items that the artist has collected, such as publications, stickers, pencils and fashion brand logos, are displayed in museum-like vitrines or partially recreated in colourful murals, collages and sculptures that give a fresh take on the subject, no matter how dated. Absorbed, digested, rediscovered and represented in a modern light, the universe of Paninari here becomes a lot more than just a sociological dissertation on the events and the moods that characterised a period in our recent past. For those not familiar with the subject, it’s an anthropological study of a language no longer in use (a fact the artist literally corroborated with the publication of a Paninaro-Italian dictionary that offers further evidence of the bizarre Anglo-Italian lingo adopted by the Paninari community, with words like ‘kissare’ or ‘lookeggiare’); for those who are, it’s like a trip down memory lane on acid. Old symbols assume new, unexpected meanings, colours are kaleidoscopically subverted, and the renewed clothes in which they present themselves are a testimony of the precariousness of their nature in the first place. It’s after all one of the basic rules of fashion. The introduction of a novelty always happens at the expense of something else.

     

    Maybe an even better metaphor that successfully encompasses all these aspects in Gioscia’s work can be seen in Vomitoria, a series of sculptures she made in 2009. According to an apocryphal tale, at the peak of their hedonism, Ancient Romans had designated places where they could throw up before resuming drinking or eating during their frequent binges. Utterly disgusting, the exercise existed for the sole and practical purpose to making room for more. Gioscia picked up this story to create three vomit-shaped fountains, another typical architectural element of Rome. Fluorescently coloured and surprisingly eye-friendly, they freeze a moment of emission as well as of rejection, capturing the tendency of contemporary culture to take in, reject and recycle at disconcerting speed.

     

     

     

    Michele Robecchi is a writer and curator based in London, where he works as Editor for Contemporary Art at Phaidon Press and is a Visiting Lecturer at Christie’s Education. He writes regularly for magazines such as Art in America, Flash Art, Kunst-Bulletin and Mousse, and is the author of a monograph on the work of Sarah Lucas published by Electa in 2007.

     

     

     

     

    Notes

    1. The etymology of the word ‘Paninaro’ refers to a bar in Milan called ‘Al Panino’ (The Sandwich), where the core of the movement used to hang out in circa 1982. The bar still exists.

    2. The early issues of Il Paninaro and Preppy were published by Edifumetto in 1986 and 1987. They both shut down in 1992, and the publisher went on to produce another short-lived magazine, this time about skating. Curiously, with the end of their tether in sight, the two publications had developed rather different philosophies. Whilst Il Paninaro maintained a fundamentally radical slant, Preppy initiated a slow process of erosion of the values of the movement, culminating in one of the last editorials by his editor, Davide Rossi, where he openly criticised the shallowness of the 1980s and invited his readers to grow up and face the 1990s in more constructive fashion.

    3. A very popular TV-show at the time, Drive-in, regularly featured comedian Enzo Braschi lampooning Paninari’s habits and attitudes. The mockery didn’t go down too well with the community founding members in Milan (Braschi was told not to show his face around their usual joints) but it unquestionably boosted their popularity on a national level.

    4. Norman M. Klein, The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects, New York: New Press, 2004.


     

Commodities in Search of an Author by Alberto Duman
  • (Published in ‘Ludovica Gioscia’, 2012 – see press section)

     

     

    When, in 1991, Gerald Ratner delivered to the Institute of Directors in London the speech that would consign him to history forever under the rubric ‘Doing a Ratner’, he might or might not have known that he was summarising in a single sentence the basic tenets of Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory:[1]

    People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’

    I say, because it’s total crap.[2]

    In one short utterance that accelerated the journey of his low-cost jewellery products from cradle to grave at an instantaneous speed, he traversed in one single omnipotent sweep, the starkly simple spectrum of commodity classification as enunciated by Michael Thompson in 1979: Durable, Transient and Rubbish. More precisely, by ‘rubbishing’ his products to the lowest possible level of value Ratner leapt downwards across the divide between the categories of durable and rubbish as deliberated by Thompson in his anthropological analysis that produced them.

    The temporary insanity of Ratner’s commercially suicidal remark would always be remembered as a moment of rapture and revelation of the way that commodities’ values are constructed and destroyed in a series of unexpected transitions between such essential states. What distinguished Ratner’s gaffe was that it short-circuited all those invisible social processes of creation and destruction of value; in doing so he claimed for himself the ultimate authorship of life and death in the attribution of value to his own jewellery products. In an instant he became an artist in reverse.

    Creative acts of dispossession or recuperation of values in an aesthetic sense — with the attached consequence of altering their economic value within the art market — are of course, customary operations in the field of cultural production, so much so that artists, in their exemplar transformative capacity, are now the blueprint for any entrepreneur. The mastery of positioning and manipulating objects in the most effective way to expose their inherent but hidden qualities within a system of objects, and to extract value from these new attributions, is one of the most obvious skills that is constantly transferred from art across to all other disciplines in search of profit.

    When Giorgio Agamben addresses the ‘dandy’, he’s also implicating the artist: ‘He is the redeemer of things, the one who wipes out, with his elegance, their original sin: the commodity’.[3]

    Art redemption mechanisms are the paramount care system and ambition ladder for things and ideas that have been ‘rubbished’ enough to have been left with harsh and limited hopes of survival: to be reconfigured, either by negotiated social processes of recovery happening at variable speed, or abruptly by individuals with cultural capital that can push them towards the threshold of the Durable category, beyond which lies salvation. The rubbish bin oozes with spent micro or macro commodities elbowing and marking themselves out for attention, disorderly personalities toggling between potential high value and effective zero value, occupying both spaces at once to satisfy whatever the redemption agent demands from it.

    Some of these processes of creative destruction are truly productive in the way that they engender ways of revisiting our relationship with materiality.

    Take Ludovica Gioscia’s Debrocks for example: In the trajectory through which she reconfigured discarded publications, sourced, transformed and displayed them as solid fragments, she describes a journey opposite to that described by Ratner’s sentence. Here is the ‘rubbish’ that becomes ‘durable’ by accelerating millennia of geological transformation of waste matter into solid depositions. Presented as mineral accretion derived from magazine covers, her rocks become samples from a past world of commodities that seem to belong to another age altogether, and end up displaying properties akin to those that the rock arrangements of Smithson’s non-sites pieces have in relation to their place of origin .

    But rather than a geographic displacement, her Debrocks turn out to function like Moon Rocks, mineral accretions of a planet distant in time, not in space; this is rubbish —literally — as fossil fuel for the cultural revaluation machine of art, a material recovery plant for commodities in search of an author, but also a platform for their liberation from our world, in which their curse is to remain in circulation as markers of values that they are inexorably subjected to. Their return to a mineral state, as suggested by Gioscia, turns them back into their archaic configuration, before their extraction separated them from the secrecy of the landmass and exposed them as prime resources for the making of stuff.

    And what are rocks if not potential rough diamonds ready to be turned into durable commodities? There is an intimation that Gioscia might be ‘doing a Ratner’ in reverse. The candid and effortless way in which her simple transfer ushers a long view over what are otherwise totemic acts of participation in the consumption of lifestyles, still without completely leaving the commodity status in which every object (art or not) becomes ultimately implicated, points towards a way of seeing materiality in the future tense that might disengage it from the laws of property. Art History and Natural History converge in her Debrocks.

    Like a respected, despotic film auteur who in a fit of conscience rubbishes a commercial he’s just made for a product (and in doing so separates the economic and the aesthetic value of his production), Ratner tinkered with a threatening limit that even our playful age cannot quite deal with: the categories of Durable and Rubbish cannot inhabit the same object at the same time, in the same space. The penalty for such daring tenure is the sudden loss of value for the object and the defrocking for the perpetrator of the untenable.

    Of course, in reality, we know they do, and Gioscia’s Debrocks seem to facilitate this idea by inhabiting at once the temporality of trash and the durability of rocks.

    For Ratner, the scar left by his remark remains a testament of the value of branding and image over product quality, and at the same time a reminder that ‘rubbish’ can still be a commodity in a consumption flow that knows no bounds. Ironically, his ‘budget’ products were already calling such a debasing fate upon themselves by attracting the consumer with vulgarly-coloured posters — in the kind of sickly acid tones that Gioscia also employs in her work — that didn’t quite suit the customary restraint of jewellery shops at the time, and in doing so he imploded the rigid categories of taste associated with the display of value in that trade. It’s not a casual connection that it was much in the same vein that the emergence of Pop Art, and its embrace of lurid hues derived from the world of commodities, disintegrated Clement Greenberg’s rigidly hierarchical categories of highbrow, lowbrow and kitsch by rolling them together in Andy Warhol’s purging mash-up of art objects as commodities ‘out of place’ and commodities as proto-art objects.

    Ultimately, in and out of the category of ‘art’, defined by ever less stringent criteria, everything begins its journey as a commodity.

    By shortening, bridging or even temporarily dissolving the distances between the categories that classify commodities and their values in dynamic or hierarchical ways, we cause semantic pollution in the systems that produce them and the system reacts to protect its boundaries. But a weakening of the counter-measures to hide such rifts is shoring up their efforts, leaving traces of the emergency cleaning-up squad.

    Gioscia’s Debrocks might be intended as traces of such processes, Goodwill Moon Rocks[4] of a world of commodities in transformation.

    The anthropological impossibility of ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ (valuable or rubbish) coexisting in the socially-attributed values of commodities has never been so clear as in the idea of ‘toxic debt’, a pervasive notion in a post-collateral global economy such as the one we inhabit at present, where triple-A rated value assets can be instantaneously written off as rubbish (zero value).

    Both the victims and the perpetrators of a collectively-constructed hypnotic experiment, the financial magicians who concocted the mortgage-backed securities, collateral debt obligations and credit default swaps at the core of the financial meltdown of 2008 are the most credible inheritors of Ratner’s Rubbish Empire, and the nephews of Reginald Perrin’s Grot.[5]

    Alberto Duman is an artist, lecturer and independent researcher whose core interests are located in the urban and the everyday as nodes of ubiquitous connections to be revealed and manipulated. As a result, his work has explored the portable and the architectural, the local and the international and the permanent and the temporary across various media.  He is currently running a BA Fine Art module at Middlesex University, London, and he is working on a ‘road movie’ filmed across London. One of his pieces of writing has been published in the book The Art of Dissent: London’s Olympic State (2012).

     


    [1] Michael Thompson, Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

    [2]Doing a Ratner’ and other famous gaffes”, The Daily Telegraph, 22 December 2007. Extract from the speech delivered on 23 April 23, 1991 at the Institute of Directors, London.

    [3] Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (trans. Ronald L. Martinez), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, p. 48.

    [4] Near the end of the third and final moonwalk and what would be the last moonwalk of the Apollo program, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt picked up a rock (later labeled sample 70017) and made a special dedication to the young people of Earth. Then President Richard Nixon ordered the distribution of fragments of that rock to 135 foreign heads of state, the fifty50 U.S. states and its provinces. The fragments were presented encased in an acrylic sphere, mounted on a wood plaque, which included the recipient’s flag, which had also flown aboard Apollo 17.

    [5] Grot was the fictional shop founded by Reginald Perrin in the second series of the UK TV sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, which was aired between 1975 and 1979. A last gesture of defiance at the world, Perrin envisaged Grot as a shop selling items that were deliberately useless—machines which did nothing, soluble umbrellas, games without instructions and the like. Unexpectedly, the store became a great success, so in an attempt to sabotage it, Perrin hired many of the former incompetent staff of the now-bankrupt company for which he had worked, Sunshine Desserts.

     


     

LUDOVICA GIOSCIA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARIA ALICATA by Maria Alicata
  • (Published in ‘Ludovica Gioscia’, 2012 – see press section)

     

    MA: In your works there is a strong link with Italian culture and your personal history of being born and growing up in Rome: A city where the stratification and the layering of different ages, the revival, the architecture, the monumentality are very strong signs in the visual landscape and in the story of the city itself. Could you please tell us if these images have influenced you and how they manifest in the conception of your works?

    LG: For sure being born in Rome has a particular relevance to my work, because it’s such a culturally rich city. You used the correct word, layering, to talk about Rome’s stylistic contradictions and complexities. As Romans we grow up with so many styles of architecture and so much history, everything is overlaid. This will inevitably influence how we understand and interpret art. Rome is a very Baroque city and I grew up visiting Baroque churches. It is poignant to reinterpret this style today as it reflects our cacophonic surroundings. Norman Klein points out that we live in electronic Baroque times: He interprets the Baroque church as the first example of an Imax: A place where every surface is treated and scripted and hence becomes a multi-sensorial experience. Grand fakes, trompe l’oeil, shocks, surprise twists are all strategies deployed in the Baroque to leave an impression on the spectator. The baroque special effect was conscious of its seductive appeal to the human psyche. There is a big parallel between that and the times that we live in today in which we are bombarded by advertisements superimposed one on top of the other. The hyper-decoration in Baroque churches was used as a form of political propaganda. This overstimulation was a strategy adopted to sell you something: It was about converting you to Catholicism, in a similar way that advertising today wants to convert you to capitalism. We can interpret the baroque interiors as the first example of bombardment advertising.

    MA: One of the most fundamental parts of your work is the practice of archiving materials, from your first works where you collected patterns for your wallpapers, to the more recent works. Could you please talk about this practice at the basis of your work?

     LG: This archival nature of my work is becoming stronger year upon year. At the beginning I thought I was just collecting things that might become useful, and then I started being really methodical about how I would accumulate and categorise these elements. As you can imagine I have a large archive of wallpaper samples. For the most part they derive from wallpapers that I design the pattern for and screenprint myself; the others are collected during my travels or purchased on eBay. You could see my practice as one large archive of hedonism through history. The wallpaper archive is a collection of entertainment patterns. These motifs stem from acid house smileys, psychedelic explosions, paninaro patterns, various designs based on entertainment parks such as the Bomarzo Park, Disneyland, Jumeirah Palm Tree Island in Dubai, Nicola Michetti’s eighteenth century arches for fireworks displays for Roman parties, to luxury aspirational 1980s shimmering Asian wallpapers.

    More recent archives are the Paninaro archive, the destroyed make-up archive, the magazine archive, the button archive, the textile archive and various minor collections that are still evolving. Each archive allows me to explore a different aspect of hedonism: for instance the Paninaro archive is all about the rampant consumerism of the 1980s whilst the cosmetic archive uncovers the use of destruction in contemporary marketing strategies.

    These archives are then deployed in an array of ways: sometimes they are shown in museum-like vitrines and other times they are explored in very playful ways and become, for instance, a sculpture.

    MA: One of your first works was a series of wallpapers. When did you start working on big flat surfaces and how did these works evolve in the Giant Decollages?

     LG: Previous to my wallpaper works I was working in animation: the seriality of which I still use today when printing my wallpapers and in the repetition of the patterns. When I would project these animations they would spill onto the space and became monumental in size although bodiless. In time the works became increasingly sculpturally present. I began working with wallpaper as a strategy to take over the space.

    In 2006 I started layering and ripping back down the wallpapers and the Giant Decollage series was born. The idea of layering the wallpapers arose when I moved to a new place in 2004 and in tearing off the horrible embossed wallpaper on the walls I uncovered another six layers underneath. It was like peeling layers of interior design memories through which the previous inhabitants’ history was suddenly uncovered.

    The décollages are always site-specific, and they’re always like a second-skin to the wall.

    In my Giant Decollages I layer wallpapers one over the other and then rip them down again. Wallpaper was the first mechanised version of trompe l’oeil. The layering is a cinematic device that I use to allow different patterns to collide and converge. This device is derivative of Baroque twists and turns and of more contemporary associations such as layers in creative programmes for digitally manipulating images such as Photoshop or the way that billboards spill out and are crammed one over the other covering part of your view of the sky in cities like Hong Kong. Layering has become part of our visual understanding of language and space; think of the Internet and its many windows.

    MA: Your recent works such as the Debrocks are more sculptural, do you think they can be seen as a progress/ evolution of your décollages, where the sculptural element in these has led you to the next work?

     LG: It might not be immediately visually obvious, but the Debrocks are an evolution of the Giant Decollages. Most of my work is a concoction of a conceptual backbone and process-based findings since I make all of the work myself. There are many discoveries embedded in the execution of these works. For instance when I install the décollages and throw all the excess pieces that I rip off onto the floor these strips start layering and they dry together very stiff: That’s when I realised that there was a lot of space for a sculptural practice within this material. Gradually they became wallpaper sculptures that hang on the wall and in the last few years they’ve become independent objects.

    The wallpaper layers have collapsed into entropic sculptures: I see the Debrocks as a geology of lifestyles. For instance one of the things that I do to form them is to condense entire magazines into rock-like structures.

     MA: I find that deconstruction is a very important part of your work. Could you please talk about the concept and the process of deconstruction in your works?

     LG: Throughout my practice the materials that I engage with are in one way or another always assembled and then deconstructed or vice versa. For example, the Debrocks are produced by deconstructing an entire magazine and then re-assembling it, while the Giant Decollages are made by layering wallpapers and then ripping them down again. The materials that are sandwiched in the Campscape frames — very often my old clothes and shoes — are always taken apart before finding a new life in the work.

    This line of deconstruction runs literally throughout all of my practice. The dismantling process intrinsic in my work manifests itself in quite an aggressive way: When I tear apart the magazines to make the Debrocks I have to do it with quite some force and equally with the ripping of the wallpapers in the Giant Decollages. This form of deconstruction becomes a form of nervous and manic re-appropriation.

    There is an obsessive-compulsive dimension to my practice, which emerges in my instinct towards hoarding and the consequent drive towards destroying the archive created by altering its characteristics. These are all recent conclusions that I’m exploring at the moment, and I think it has a lot to do with reflecting the obsessive-compulsive relationship that we have with consumption.

    MA: In your projects the ideas of accumulation and destruction coexist at the same time, as theorised by Zygmunt Bauman in his book The Consumed Society. Do you think that the practice of the décollage is also related to this idea of destroying what has been accumulated?

    LG: I’ve been reading Zygmunt Bauman lately and have been really interested in his analysis of the phase which consumerism has reached today: Unlike our parents and grandparents, who used to have more of a fetishistic relationship with their purchases, we’re no longer excited or fulfilled by buying an object, and maintaining it as it is, we actually get a kick out of seeing it destroyed and consumed. And that destruction is nowadays embedded in the marketing strategies that sell you the product itself. I’ve noticed that in the last six years of make-up advertising this dynamic is particularly present. For sure accumulation is intrinsic to my practice, the archives stem from a drive to hoard.

    Destruction and accumulation are definitely two forces behind my practice and recently I’ve also added the leitmotif of compression, which is intrinsically linked to accumulation. We are all aware of landfills and of issues of storage when we purchase something. Recently I’ve started making works that are actually created using vacuum bags and they are all about compression and storage. Storage not only in a physical sense, reflecting our issue with a lack of space available for our landfills, but also reflecting the mass of data, such as zip files, that surrounds us.

    To answer your question in a more direct way, I think that the instinct to accumulate and destroy at the same time, as Bauman describes, is a contradictory impulse that exists in my work: I emulate the dynamic that, to a further or lesser extent, we all have with consumption. We have been programmed to react this way by consumerism. I see my practice as a form of visual retail and social anthropology in which this dynamic is discussed and made visible.

    MA: You define your work as a ‘time travel machine’. And what is very interesting in your work is that you can see several layers of evolution — an evolution of different styles, from architecture and graphic design to art, but in a kind of time lapse of different periods and times. Could you please explain this kind of ‘archeology of the modern’ that we can find very strongly in your works?

     LG: Once again this derives from growing up in Rome where the monument and the relic are so dominant. The clash of styles both in architecture and art that the city is made out of relays a sense of constant historicisation: it comes extremely naturally to me, every time I make a work, to imagine it already in the past and part of an existing history. The Time Machine by Philip K. Dick has been really inspirational alongside visiting places such as Pompeii. I was really inspired by Dick’s idea of going back in time and living for a day or longer in that particular time. Whatever we’re surrounded by today inevitably has a historical precedent. I look for examples in history of that precedent. For instance, when it comes down to hedonism and over-consumption, I will not only look at the Baroque but I will also look at the Ancient Romans. For example I made this sculpture called Vomitorium which is a re-elaboration of the place where the Romans used to go and relieve themselves after bingeing during their food orgies. It is debatable whether the vomitorium actually existed: Some historians stipulate the Romans used to vomit directly onto the floor. The vomitoria are self-regurgitating sculptures that expel consumption, and also illustrate this idea that in consumerism and fashion things are always cyclical and they move along very rapidly.

    MA: Once again references to Italian art history and culture from the Baroque to Memphis to eighties culture are very strong in your works. Could you please discuss the themes and the language that you developed that are behind your research?

     LG: Actually my practice is really rooted in Italian art history; as well as the references to the Baroque and the Romans there’s plenty more. I have been looking at Futurism, in particular at Depero and Balla’s furniture. I love the visual strength and violence that is found in Futurism. There is an evident lineage between Balla’s furniture and Memphis, which is another totally Italian art and design phenomenon that I am quite obsessed with. Ettore Sottsass wouldn’t have existed without Balla’s furniture, yet this is something that isn’t much discussed. I’m re-appropriating them and through them in a way I’m also making apparent the subsequent cultural colonisations that we’ve undergone. So I’m referencing a very, very Italian visual structure that has been taken over by an American cultural colonisation – by for instance the American cheeseburger.

    MA: You mean it has been attacked?

     LG: Yes, the cheeseburger has attacked a Balla painting and that’s how you end up with the Pan-Cheeseburger Vomitorium! I mean that visually my works are really coherent with an Italian art historical aesthetic and lineage, but what they reveal is the very strong American cultural colonisation that we underwent, for a number of decades. And I’m sure that as the new super powers become stronger and more present in our everyday visual landscape my works will start reflecting Chinese influences rather than Brazilian ones … In my campscape Tiger Economy the cultural cannibalisation that is happening from the East towards the West is present.

    MA: Looking through your works, there is also a strong political influence. I don’t know if it’s a critique, or it’s just a reflection and a restitution to your audience of some political issues that are related to the consumer, capitalism and the media and also the symbols of power that we can see in your works, and also the consumer culture that became very strong in Italy in the 1980s. With all the fashion and the American culture that was very important and powerful to us and our generation.

     LG: This is a question that I’m often asked. Some people can see a critique in my work and others see it as celebration of consumerism. But actually my perspective is quite a different one: I see myself as more of an anthropologist, as is particularly evident in my Paninaro project. I have a political perspective of course, but for me it’s more interesting to record the dynamics that surround us and sublimate them, rather than necessarily being didactic about them. Also it’s a reflection of my own relationship with consumerism, which is one of repulsion and attraction.  I don’t think you’re going to find someone that is pro-consumerism today. I think we’ve all reached the conclusion that it’s an impossible system and that it’s not sustainable, so inevitably there is criticism of it, but that does not mean that the objects that we consume do not still hold a strong power over us. Not to admit that would be hypocritical to say the least.

    Maria Alicata is curator of the Young Artists Department at MACRO (Rome Contemporary Art Museum) in Rome. She was curator of the Art, Architecture and Planning Department of the Adriano Olivetti Foundation until 2010. Maria Alicata co-founded 1:1 projects, an independent platform focused on the creation and production of contemporary art projects. Since 2008, she has been teaching the Masters in Arts & Cultural Skills for Management at the Luiss Business School in Rome.

CUTTING PAPER by Eric C. Shiner
  • (Published in ‘Ludovica Gioscia’, 2012 – see press section)

     

    The work of Ludovica Gioscia, like the artist herself, is whimsically complex in its colour, composition and presentation, so much so that one might instantly reference such far-sweeping influences as Pop and/or Op Art, fashion, home décor magazines, and perhaps even the period of decadence leading up to the French Revolution. But here one may ask, ‘What on earth does the French Revolution have to do with Gioscia’s beautiful wallpaper sculptures?’ The answer, surprisingly, is actually quite a lot, and it has more than a little bit to do with the act of decoration, just as it has very much to do with the act of cutting, ripping or general deconstruction.

    When one thinks of the French Revolution, one’s mind strays in myriad directions, perhaps leading to topics such as frivolous decadence, unfair social conditions, and most certainly revolt and upheaval. One would also be inclined to bring up the subject of the guillotine, the nefarious ‘National Razor’ that after its invention in the late eighteenth century was responsible for the decapitation of tens of thousands of criminals both of the court and of the state. Many of the French aristocracy too saw their ends at the hands of ‘Madame Guillotine’, and this is where contemporary art and history, strangely, collide.

    Here, it is critical to our understanding of Gioscia’s work to know that she has been using ornate wallpapers as her material for many years. In some installations, she applies layer after layer of wallpaper to the walls of a gallery, and then proceeds to rip and shred portions of the paper from the wall to reveal the patterns of colors of the wallpapers beneath it. The end result is an abstract sculpture that is both gorgeous in its colours and forms, yet strangely violent in its tears and deconstructed form. In addition to these subtractive pieces, Gioscia also makes three-dimensional sculptures from wallpaper that look somewhat akin to human heads in their scale and structure. She uses many different sheets of wallpaper in these works, wrapping them in swirls and arcs that, when hung on a wall, start to look like portraits or busts. When the viewer reads the titles of the works, the link to the above-mentioned discussion on the French Revolution and decapitation become clear: they are named after the female nobility whose heads were chopped off immediately after the revolution.

    Now, to make sense of where Gioscia is going with these titles, we must first and foremost remember that contemporary artists create artworks that speak to their age and the societal conditions of their times. They also often look to history for inspiration, and in the case of Gioscia, she is not only looking at French history, but so too is she both commenting on and directly incorporating aspects of Feminist art history into her work. In a sense, she is reclaiming the lost souls of the French baronesses that were put to death for no other reason than the fact that they were ostentatious and of the nobility, while at the same time making a comment on the current state of women in our contemporary society through her use of wallpaper, a material used to decorate and make beautiful the domestic sphere, which is so often seen as the realm of the feminine. This is of course a stereotype at best, but Gioscia claims ownership over the world of beauty, interior design, pageantry and the decorative in her disembodied heads, lined up in a row in every hue and pattern imaginable. In her own way, she is making a cutting critique of culture in paper, and it is up to the viewer to connect these very attractive dots.

    To further the conversation on Gioscia’s role as cultural critic, we must also look closely at the major trends in society today. We are of course only now emerging from a great economic global recession, marked as it was with huge numbers of people faced with vast debt and unemployment. Gioscia’s home country of Italy certainly has seen its own dose of chaos this past decade, with Berlusconi’s countless scandals and a general economic malaise across the nation. Her new home of Great Britain has also been wracked with bombings and large-scale social ills that affect the entire nation — and of course, by extension, these same uncertainties resonate the world over. It is not shocking then to realise that Gioscia is addressing these very things in her work, rich and textured and colourful as it is on the surface, yet still deeply scarred, ripped apart and dejected in the end. It would not be a leap to say that Gioscia is presenting us with a portrait of our contemporary age that both references the past, yet warns us not to make the same mistakes in the future.

    Her whimsical creations recognise — even celebrate — the decadent side of the human condition: the parties, the consumerist urges and the finer things in life that many of us strive after to no end. And although Gioscia no doubt revels with us in these alluring endeavors, so too does she engage in an act of critique on these very notions in her deconstructive physical undoing of the status quo, of the beautiful and of the privileged. With each piece of wallpaper that she rips away, each noble head that she builds or each new pattern that she refigures, Gioscia is in actuality presenting us with a sculptural archaeological dig of human history that more often than not begins with a long period of decadence prior to chaos, collapse and restructuring. And as that was very much the case in the period immediately before and after the French Revolution, we can also safely say that it is the case in the here and now. Are we ultimately in the period of recovery and reconstruction after the age of opulence and excess, or are there still darker days to come? That is a question that remains to be answered, but it is certainly the heart and core of Ludovica Gioscia’s most gorgeously cutting paper.

     

     

    Eric C. Shiner is the Director of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.