‘Realism is a bad word. In a sense everything is realistic. I see no line between the imaginary and the real’ – Federico Fellini.
Contemporary art is so fragmented nowadays it might be hard to find an ‘ism’ that could describe it beyond its commercial surface. Nevertheless, if there is any thread that links the heterogeneous and eclectic practices that make up contemporary art, it is art’s adherence to reality, to social emotions and experiences. The urge of expressing contemporary paradoxes. In fact, it becomes a primary need for people who desire to understand themselves and the laws that surround them. In so doing, art creates meaning out of chaos. Here are five Italian artists who represent our times; their works are all articulations of the ambiguous, unstable, cynical, irreverent and yet still representing astonishingly present ideas.
Valerio Berruti‘s works stands in analogy to a disenchanted childhood. His painting practise is essential both in style and theme; a delicate black line frames the children’s little bodies and just a soft touch of colour is added to impress all but ephemeral memories in the viewer’s mind. The artist, born in 1977, is interested in showing a stolen childhood in which the same uncanny element of Paula Rego’s works softly unsettles the scene.
Who can stand up and call themselves innocent? Not even kids, apparently.
Naivety is always marked by the sin of experience in Nicol Vizioli’s photography. Her practice is dedicated to a flamboyant human carnival, sensual in its theatricalism and idiosyncratic in its realism. Her naked bodies recall Bill Henson’s existential portraits where the chiaroscuro declares the complementary presence of light and shadow. The artist’s aim is to populate reality with her dreams of maverick and eccentric characters as an antidote to boredom and apathy in a way that echoes David Lynch. Nicol Vizioli talks about a personal naturalism, as the necessity to articulate the world through one’s own tools and sensibilities. Naturalism has to be liquid then in order to be autonomous from reality’s dogmas.
Another artist interested in this pluralism of interpretations is Silvia Camporesi who explores and questions photography as an autonomous medium of expression. She does not show a favourite subject but focuses instead on dense and sometimes complex projects whose visual limits are enlarged by philosophical enquiries. Camporesi, born in 1973, playfully engages with notions such as the real and mimesis by presenting a sublimate dimension rather than a document of facts. Take her project The Third Venice for example; the Italian city, internationally venerated for its romantic allure, is captured in the liminal space between waking and dreaming. In so doing, Camporesi questions the category of the real by putting into existence idiosyncratic scenarios and landscapes that could easily pass unnoticed in the ordinary context of the everyday. Her work echoes contemporary photographers such as the German Hans-Peter Feldmann, in terms of the ardent desire to challenge the camera as a medium, and the American Anna Gaskell with whom Camporesi shares a similar oneiric approach towards the scene’s composition.
Despite the similarities with these overseas photographers, Camporesi reveals a very Italian sensibility; her Venice reminds the viewer of Fellini’s Borgo, the little village in the movie Amarcord where Titta, the main character and narrator, has eccentric visions sublimated by a wintery fog.
While Camporesi navigates her way through figures and concepts (one does not exclude the other), Ericailcane plays with the sinister analogy between men and animals. Erica the Dog (the English translation of his name) is a visual artist based in Bologna, whose practice refuses to be pigeonholed in any way. He does drawings, murals and installations, using a great variety of media for an essential theme, which could be described as the animal anthropomorphic world. His work questions how similar humans and animals actually are, and uncovers a common strand of identity which unites the two. By doing so he suggests that we should not take ideas such as progress for granted, as not to erroneously mistake fallacious chimeras for conquests. Looking at Ericailcane’s work, it seems to echo Bulgakov speaking in Heart of a Dog: ‘there is absolutely no need to learn, to read when one can smell meat a mile off’. Ericailcane is part of the prolific Italian street art scene, which avoids commercial fame, and overtly represents human sins without any moral or reactionary judgement.
Last but not least, Stefano Bolcato, born in 1977, evokes childhood memories in his pop culture inspired art. The painter plays with LEGO, the construction toy that every adult remembers as a joyful moment of his past. Within that microcosm, Bolcato’s fantastical works subvert rules by inhabiting the shape and form of a grown-up’s reality. The distinction between work and play is not original, it comes later in history and art knows it well. Just think about Dadaism, Primitivism and the current Fluxus, for example, where unstructured fragments continuously opened new territories. Bolcato seems to have in mind Piero Manzoni’s ironic work which was always saturated by the ambiguity of jokes. This is evident in Bolcato’s images which use nearly artificial colours and add a perturbing nuance to the innocent and naïve kids’ entertainment.
If there is any common thread in Italian contemporary art scene it is the honesty of its craftsman, who all attempt to break down artificial categories in favour of ‘social’ adherence.Their attention towards people and crucial periods in their life (such as childhood, for instance) might be the right way to sabotage an ultra-commercial art-status, while their spectacular presentation of plays reminds us how the notion of job or labour, is unbearably tedious.