The Next Flow
The Next Flow
(the prose and the passion)
“Only connect the prose and the passion,
and both will be exalted,
and human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.”
Edward Morgan Forster
To remember and to tell
The history of humanity is from its beginning a history of migrations that contains and disperses the narrations issued from these paths. The communities have their own methods of mythographic creation, voluntary or spontaneous, and in Europe and in the United States (places of exodus and landing) the debate on the institutional form to give to this memory begins timidly to take shape even on an institutional plane: “global streams of people and ideas have imposed a change in the manners in which it is conceptualized and presented the social imaginary of a nation, as well as the nature of the audiences involved in the sociability of the museum spaces has changed”. There are facts entering the official chronology, kept in the books, collected in the archives, carved in the marble; conversely other ones are removed, or do not come to a verbalization, or fall into the folds of what is authorized and what flows through non-formal channels: stories, songs, held pictures and translated pictures. Art achieves a synthesis and a revitalization process of these secondary stories, bringing out the removed, unveiling it in a transfiguration that keeps together the particular with the universal, and urges the memory as a creative process. According to this ability, art makes a contrary action to the direction of History, as acutely Aby Warburg warned, doing to survive “in a culture how much more removed, more obscure, more distant and more tenacious is, in that culture you give”2. The artists in this progress are placed alongside the witnesses, because not only just who arrives or who remains has the responsibility to think out a narration, but also those who attends from a distance.
Isabella Pers has gone round with immigrants and refugees for a long time. People who have faced with the choice between voluntary exile and the senseless violence of war or the disastrous consequences of climate change. From these meetings and from the interest for the chronicles of those who have recently suffered the laceration of the detachment two independent projects are born, and developed with the use of different artistic languages (painting, collective action, video, photography) but very clearly connected by some common elements, main themes of the artist’s research: the apprehension for the planet’s conditions, the observation of social, natural and cultural ecosystems, political crises and changes accelerated by globalization and, above all things, a very strong sense of individual responsibility. In the leading of the metamorphosis of images and words made by art there is always the need to create conditions for dialogue, for a share that from the private affairs opens to a global understanding, exactly as global is the scale of emergencies and the relationship of cause and effect in which they are involved.
With a work of continuous zoom, Isabella shifts the focus from distant places to the intimate sphere, and in this repeated gesture of connection, empathetic in the most specific sense of the word, we can place the origin of Teitiota, a reflection about the future and memory, the responsibility on the environment3. Ioane Teitiota is a citizen of the Kiribati Islands, the first asylum petitioner for the climate change, which made the demand of acceptance to the government of New Zealand due to the rise of the Pacific Ocean that threatens to engulf the island where he lives4. Teitiota had to take away with him the family, to leave the scenery of a whole life made up of private rituals, social relations, horizons for the look and mind. His story is the symbol of an unbalanced relationship between anthropization and nature that reveals the very strong relationship between each gesture and its consequences on the environment. In Isabella’s work the sensitivity to these events of lacerating departures produces a question that stands out on a familiar horizon. Some pictures of a trip on a sunny lawn, where two women, a child, other children, enjoy the connection with nature and the contact with animals, have been manipulated to look like a blurred memory, or the prospect of an uncertain future. In this perspective, the fate of Teitiota and Kiribati Islands is an optical instrument to appear, even in charge of their own family, of their own closer ecosystem, the dystopia of a time in which simple actions portrayed by the artist maybe will not be possible anymore. The blur indicates the fear but, going back to assume a global intention, also the inability of vision of anyone (endowed of micro and macro powers) is not acting in the present for a sustainable future.
The emotional and affective component expressed in Teitiota is tempered, then, from a broader reflection on the individual responsibility that illuminates the artist’s role and projects it in an identification with the protagonists of each migration. From here it comes the desire to develop a shared witness, that Isabella Pers realizes in the series of paintings Present. The images collected by the associating with some migrants (from the Balkan region, so close to the Friuli, where the artist lives, and from Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo) alternate with those emerged from family memories, related to memory of the second World War.
In the iconography of the last half century the migrant attribute, that of the traveler, the violent detachments from one’s home, has always been the suitcase, from the unmoved Italian emigrants depicted by Lewis W. Hine at Ellis Island to the mourning Wall of the Crying by Fabio Mauri. For refugees of all categories, and for all migrants to which this status is not recognized but that have not had no choice, the suitcase has lost the symbolic power, because those who leave often have nothing to take away, or can not do it, or will lose anything in the course of his journey. Or because the most important assets are intangible they are taken away together with the life that you try to save, in our own mind with the memory. The element shared by all these travelers, the one in which the outside observer can also recognize empathically, is the feeling of memory, a reservoir that replenishes constantly, changing. To those fragments of life spent elsewhere Isabella devotes virtually a no finite number of small rectangular canvases, born from the conversations with the keepers of these memories. It is about minimal stories, sometimes summarized by the formal persistence of small objects or prayers, or just moments photographed against the opalescent background of time. The paintings form a mosaic, a choral story in which the individual detail includes and can tell the global.
The Present series reveals once again the way in which the artist reflects her private life in the artistic practice, in both ways are woven relations, juxtaposed remote worlds from each other, stitched distances. “Nothing else that to connect”, the sentence in Howard’s End5 by Edward Morgan Forster is appropriate to describe the poetry of Isabella Pers. In the novel focused on the search of a house, physical but also existential, and on efforts to save it, people are forced to meet, even contradicting, continuously. To give space to a relational and physical dimension the Present project is split in the realization of a collective action documented by the homonymous video. Many migrations took place by sea, and often today by vehicles, but the relationship between the migrant and the land he crosses has always the rhythm of the step that beats on the ground. The time and the way of walking that Isabella feels and translates into a choral encounter.
Joseph Beuys in 1974 spent five days in a room of New York City with a coyote. From the airplane landed at JFK airport he had been transported to the René Block gallery in Manhattan on a stretcher, and then by ambulance, completely wrapped in a felt cloth. And after five days in which took place I Like America and America Likes Me, he went off in the same way, without touching, in this way, the American ground. Animated in all his research by a strong political sensitivity, Beuys wanted thus declare his distance from a nation whose government was now responsible for bloody international relations, including the war in Vietnam, and a degrading internal corruption. Keeping off from the primary act of walking in a foreign country the German artist pointed out all the cultural, social and political involvements. Showering of symbolic value his refusal to contact Beuys wanted “to join in harmony with what he considered the spiritual and pure past of America […] denying to recognize a country innervated by war and corruption”6.
In the video Present (which arises, as it is already written, in the same emotional and cultural background of the series of paintings), Isabella proposes an action in the opposite direction but nourished by the same perception, giving to the contact with the earth a symbolic power, a regenerating, soothing power. The video takes places on the Dolina dei Cinquecento in Redipuglia, in a landscape such as Karstic which is both historical and natural, a border land full of traces of long, bloody conflicts, and still visible presences of trenches of a war of position. Men and women who take part (actually all inhabitants of the Friuli Venezia Giulia, old and new citizens) have in common a painful memory: a war, an emergency, an abandoned hometown in recent or more remote times. At the end of the path, in an area which is immune from the witnesses of the war, raised by the pressure of human history, they shared stories, poems, prayers and silences.
Hamish Fulton, probably the best known (and also the most intense authentic) of so-called walking artist, from the Seventies sums in the walking all his artistic practice conceived as a total experience of discovering the world that he crosses, of meditation. How to follow up to a necessary enlargement of this communion, over the years Fulton began to alternate to his solitary walks also collective actions, where also hundreds of people take part. Similarly in the heart of Present there is not the landscape crossed, but the multiplicity that finds the meaning in a shared action, rediscovering the political value of human associations, a vision that in the work of Isabella defies each irreducibility between the ideal and the pragmatic, whereas the “meaning of ‘political’ has the function of transforming the multitudes into a citizenry and a community through the use of language and the faculty of imagination”7.
The video, political and poetic, simplifies the nature of the indispensable condition because the history is not only a hegemonic tool, but the outcome of a collective exercise tended to save, to translate, to remember and to tell: to connect, as he the wonderful Margaret Schlegel of Forster’s novel wished for, “the prose with the passion”.
1 Susan Asley, A Museum of Our Own, in Laurence Gouriévidis (edited by), Museums and Migration. History, Memory and Politics, Routledge, London / New York 2014, p. 153.
2 Georges Didi-Huberman, L’image survivante. Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg, Paris 2002 (it. tr. L’immagine insepolta, Turin 2006, p. 144).
3 Climatic changes characterize the actual geological era which began with the Industrial Revolution in 18th century: the Anthropocene; “In August, the Working Group on the Anthropocene presented a recommendation to the International Geological Congress that a new epoch needs to be declared: the Anthropocene, or the age of humans. For the last 12,000 years or so, we were in the Holocene. This era has apparently come to an end, as humans have become the main forces of transformation of the planet. Yet the Anthropocene as a concept might produce the false impression of a unified humanity, where all people are agents of change. The reality is that if humans have indeed become the principal agents, overwhelming natural drivers of changes, most people are actually not enablers. Indeed, we often tend to forget that most humans on this planet are actually the victims of these changes — starting with those being displaced. At the same time, as Europe was engulfed in the so-called “refugee crisis,” unable to respond in a coordinated and dignified fashion to the plight of thousands of migrants fleeing desperate situations, political leaders and international organizations were pushing for a clear distinction between refugees and migrants”, François Gemenne, Environmental Forum, 2016.
4 United States have inserted the Kiribati, together with Maldive, Tuvalu e Tokelau, in a list of ecosystems in dangerous because of climate changes. Supreme Court of New Zealand has refused Teitiota’s request.
5 Howard’s End, published in 1919, first Italian edition in 1959.
6 Lexi Lee Sullivan, Stepping Out, in L.L. Sullivan et al. (edited by), Walking Sculptures 1967-2015, De Cordova Sculpture Park (Massachusetts) / Yale University Press (New Haven – London) 2015, p. 11.
7 Pietro Gaglianò, Memento. The Obsession with the Visible, Postmedia Books, Milan 2016, p. 168.