25 Nov 2013

nothing happened

nothing happened
Suite of artworks including:

"nothing happened", 2003-2012
Series of ten objects, broken chalices, pack-thread, variable dimensions

"nothing happened", 2008-2012
Audio-visual, SD 4:3 Stereo, 9’33”

"nothing happened", 2011
Lyrical text

"nothing happened leftover", 2011
Performance video recording, Venezia (Italy), 7th September 2011

"nothing happened leftover", 2011.
Broken chalice, cardboard box, packing paper, pack-thread, ~ 15 x 11 x 9 cm

"nothing happened archetype", 2012
Performance, Cortona (Italy), 2nd June 2012

"nothing happened archetype", 2012
India ink on spolvero paper, one main element 210 x 85 cm plus four mobile parts, variable dimensions.

I've put much effort in making this suite of artworks which completion took 10 years, beside my other projects. This suite is an important milestone in the expression of my thoughts about our society.

The idea

All started in 2003, when I accidentally broke a glass tumbler when I was alone with my thoughts on social injustices, you know, when you see a world that is not how your utopian minds would like it to be.
In such particular moments even a simple event like that can be meaningful: I stared to the broken glass for a while and I saw a symbol in it. The tumbler is an object, used to fulfill our need, our thirst; we use it as much as we want, until it cracks; in the same way people are used for the need of someone else: people who exploit other people, until they crack.
But people are not objects, and when they crack, while a broken tumbler would be trashed, they are instead sent to the “repair service”, because until now repairing was cheaper than swapping, this is why public healthcare do exist: that is simply an economic matter; anyway this is changing and swapping becomes everyday more attractive for the system.

Chalices and vessels are also symbols of many other classical metaphors, as I wrote in the lyrical text. From the point of view of “nothing happened” the substance that the vessel brings to the mouth is the loot and the very blood of the same vessels. Vessels and blood also recall to mind more metaphors, religions and myths: the Blood Libel, the Holy Grail, and above all the immortality.

So I wanted to utter all these thoughts by developing them. I started by fixing the broken glass with glue, but the result was an extremely fragile object, so I decided to reinforce it a bit with some packing thread, which would have also visually emphasized its weak condition.

The making of the objects

In the following years I started to collect glasses with the intention to break them and make more sculptures. I have no idea of how many chalices I have bought these years: many tens, maybe two hundreds: going to secondhand stores and flea markets was one of my pastimes until I was satisfied with the chalices I got. I bought many for each model I liked, because I also wanted to film them in slow-motion crashing onto the ground. The shooting in slow-motion of a breaking glass is not an easy task, and it requires many attempts to get a nice result.

The video I had in mind was conceptually tied to a previous one entitled “aim”, and in fact it is its sequel.

When I finished planning the storyline of the audio-visual, I built a “breaking room”: a big wooden box lined of black velvet, with a hole for the slow-motion camera and a high power lighting. I spare you all the details and the attempts I made to achieve the result I wanted.
Then I started a long process of crashing the chalices filming them in slow-motion / carefully picking up the glass debris and clean up the stage for the next session / piecing together the puzzle of debris / fixing the chalices with glue and finally giving them more personality with a become tying of packing thread.
Not all the fixed glasses were nice to see and in many cases it was not even possible to fix them, so I had to repeat this process many times for each model. These ten final objects are the ones that came out good in several tens of attempts. One object for each of the years the making lasted.

These are weak objects: that is coherent with the concept I am going to explain.

The making of the video

The video, as the previous episode “aim”, is based on a music piece. While for “aim” I composed an original music by myself, this time I preferred to confer a classical touch recalling dilapidation using a music conceptually coherent with the visual elements. Since the start I had no doubts that the feeling and the concept of the aria “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” from “La traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi were perfect, so I arranged the score my way with distorted instruments, abstract noises and echoes as I am used to, and slowed it down in order to cover the estimated length of the video: this also conferred the estranging touch recalling a decrepit and dilapidating society.
For the visual elements I filmed in slow-motion two friends for all the necessary visual footage and some more takes of the chalices and another object. As in “aim”, the two characters are a couple, in this case elegantly party dressed and holding champagne chalices.
At that point I had all the materials and footage to create the video, and the composition was simply a matter to put all together the way I had in mind.

The video plot explained

The video starts and ends with a green noise, the same of the previous video “aim”. The video noise, the mangling of visual and audio elements and the lo-fi are an artistic choice and have a purpose as I explain in my other article “Exposing the enslaver machine” (Me and video art).

During this initial video noise, and all along in the background, there is a distorted noise soundtrack: in my vision this is the torment of the sacrificed people mourning since the dawn of times.

From this noise, two characters appear along the music piece, still enveloped by darkness and floating into the noise. A man and a woman are drinking a chalice of champagne, till the last drop. After tasting a while the two let the chalice fall from the hand.

The fall of the chalices is the most romantic part: this is a transient instant where the chalice, vessel symbolizing the body of exploited people, is finally free from the grasp, but just for a short while: being totally exhausted and powerless, the flight can only be downward, toward the ground.
The falling chalice becomes many, other exploited vessels do appear, and finally all these glasses crash on the floor, in darkness, in silence, alone, one after the other. The music stops.

All the glass debris are then poured, forming a cascade in the void.

At this point a key element of the video appear: a pyramid, over which the cascade of glasses is poured, while the music starts again. I created this pyramid myself, with cardboard and paint, and I have used it in other two photographic artworks, as well as in the other two performances of this suite.
The pyramid is a symbol used in freemasonry, and I use it to represent the hierarchical structure of our actual institutional society, thus representing the very mechanism of hierarchical exploitation in itself.

The glass debris are then reprocessed into the pyramid's belly to reborn as fixed chalices. These repaired glasses are like zombies or Frankenstein's monsters, and they slowly and mindlessly walk again toward their new destiny, which is once again the same as before: to be grabbed by the exploiters' hands. All never changes.

Here the narration just needed an abrupt end along the glorious musical finale of the ‘Libiamo’ aria.

This video will be followed by another sequel I was planning since its making. “Aim”, “nothing happened” and the next episode will form a trilogy.

All the three episodes are released on-line and are of free distribution.

Until now this video has been rejected by 47 in 50 exhibitions and video art festivals: that is an unprecedented rate of 94%! (2021 update: actually this video has been rejected by 78 in 83 events, the rejection rate is magically still the same, 94%.)
It is not visually nor conceptually worse than most of my other videos that have a way better rate of success, maybe it touched very sensitive chords about our society.

Here is the video.

The two performances

The “nothing happened” suite meant much to me, so I promoted it with two public introductory exhibitions, one held in Venice during the 54th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2011 with a work in progress, and the other with the complete suite held in 2012 in Cortona, the most ancient Etruscan city-state of Italy and stronghold of the aristocratic power of that times, a meaningful town to talk about power, with the complete suite.

In both events I enacted a performance, even if I am reluctant about public appearances, but that was very necessary to complete the conceptual introduction. I am very discreet and humble and prefer to be an incognito person: I never go to vernissage parties as I do not like people around thinking “Look! An artist!”, that is why I perform with the hair covering the face.

Nothing happened leftover

The first performance held in Venice was entitled “nothing happened leftover” and featured a chalice I had in excess. The intent of the action was to explain who is crashing the chalice, other than to introduce the suite and some symbolic elements.
I played two characters distinguished by different headgears: the “Humble Hat” is the typical straw model used by farmers and symbolizes the people who work to provide for their own needs; the “Haughty Hat” is the pyramid already used in the video and symbolizes the power and the hierarchical society.
I started with the Humble Hat showing the chalice, then I swapped to the Haughty Hat to crash the vessel on the floor. I swapped to the Humble Hat again to perform a merciful act of pity picking up the bag with the broken glass and putting it into a box; I wore white gloves symbolizing the care of Humanity (but also classism for the Haughty character)
This chalice has been symbolically buried: death is in the reality of facts the way with which some people escape their eternal and unavoidable destiny of exploitation.

The resulting object, that I have titled and signed, has been gifted to an onlooker.

Nothing happened archetype

The second performance held in Cortona was entitled “nothing happened archetype” and there I represented more symbolic archetypes about power and possible consequent behaviors.
Also in this case I played the two antithetical characters previously distinguished by the Humble and the Haughty hats, but in this case respectively impersonating the Mankind and the Deity. The performance, mainly consisting in a drawing session, took a very long time, a bit boring to someone, so I put on-line many versions of the record: full, shorter and time-lapse.

The performance featured first the Mankind character carefully depicting a self-representation: this act symbolizes the self-consciousness, the proclamation of will and the ability to shape one's own destiny. After the drawing was finished the Mankind left the scene.

Then the Deity came across this act of will of Mankind, immediately finding it undesirable and destabilizing, so it started to swap and add things to subvert its simple functioning and serenity: the Mankind hat on the head is replaced with the Deity hat (the idea of God) and shifted under the feet (Mankind oppression); then it put on the hands of the depicted Mankind two devices of self-domination: on the right hand a primitive caduceus, symbolizing the Power of knowledge and science which makes people addicted to them, and on the left hand an axe, symbolizing the State or the actual hierarchic society where mutinous people are chopped. These two devices are driven by the arms, which in reality symbolize respectively the education and the police; the first one could even be a good tool and the latter should only conduce to the first, but in this case their main function is to distract the Mankind from the real principle: the swapping of the Mankind straw hat with the Deity pyramid, making that depiction essentially a pyramidal-hierarchical machine of exploitation.

Then the Deity leaves the scene before the Mankind would come back. Everybody would consider this mangled Mankind depiction something weird, a monster: this is our actual society.

The Mankind character, once back in the scene, horrified by the vision of this mangled depiction of its destiny, starts to pull out all the things attached by the Deity: the pyramid hat, the caduceus, the axe, but then, sure that soon or later the Deity will be back again to subvert the destiny, it destroys the drawing crushing it.

However the Mankind still has the Humanity white gloves, and repented for that act of rage it starts to pityingly unwrap the crushed drawing trying to restore it as good as possible. This act symbolizes what in reality is the wish to continue life even in disgrace.

I ended the performance titling and signing the crumpled drawing, but this time I wished to keep the work for myself.

(Available also in shorter and time-lapse versions)

The lyrical text

Poems should not be explained, since they are attempts to explain deepest inexplicable inspirational feelings that come out suddenly and soon disappear leaving just the written text as trace of a vanishing dream, sometimes still cryptic for the poets themselves.
Poems are fingerprints of the soul.

Here it is.

      who was drowsy awakes
      others exhaust their time
      who was elsewhere is elsewhere even when is coming back
      and the cycle ends

      the wheel turns
      those who wanted to escape this simple motion have invented complex levers and mechanisms
      mysterious machinations to exploit the strengths of others
      dreaming the perpetual motion
      in the inertness
      as parasites

      living by the others’ soul does not preserve one’s own
      and to elude the logic of entropy is a fruit of the illusion
      to think about procrastination means not to live
      to freeze
      to deny what Atropos provided and let it to decay closed into a drawer
      it is to proclaim one’s own misfortune
      it is the mournful crying of the coward

      the chalice is metaphor of abundance
      of life
      of union in love
      but also of inheritance to be divided
      of loot
      of easy opportunities and of improvident abuse

      the chalices that break falling from the hands are the end of the substance
      the end of the party
      the end of the opportunities after the last drop has been drunk from that cup which represents the impoverishment of oneself and the others

      the wheel turns
      the times are changing
      but this is only a cycle that recurs

      who was drowsy awakes
      since a long time we assist to the prodromes of the transition from the wild era of the intelligence to the intelligence of the wild era

      it is coming the end of an epoch of artificiality
      of sophistication and mystification
      of pollution and degradation
      of wounds that for avidity have been kept open with any stratagem
      wounds that want to close again
      even preserving the scars as evidences of what it has been

      the meaning of the repairing
      desperate attempt of unwillingness to look at reality
      illusion that nothing could change
      that the winning game is not over
      even in the Elysium

      at the end there is no trace of the Self
      but just the vacuity into the useless memorabilia of the extorted fate


aim, 2008-2010
Audio-visual, SD 4:3 Stereo, 4’20”

“Aim” is a short video based on a music piece I have composed on the purpose and it was premiered at the VIII International Festival of Experimental Art held in August 2010 at the Manege of Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

The idea behind this audio-visual arose from my philosophical minds about the social unrests that were then bursting out around the world and still today are boosting more and more violently. At the dawn of this global agitation the policemen with anti riot suits became soon an icon in the collective imaginary, and also many other artists used them in their art, just for example the Take That band during the Brit Awards 2011 with the public performance for the song “Kidz”.

When I was writing the plot of this video, I already knew that the topic would have not find a conclusion in this sole short audio-visual. In fact, this video would have been just the first episode of a future trilogy.

The archetypal concept at the base of this video is that life is violence in itself: it does not exist animal, vegetable or thing begotten without guilt, nobody can be considered excluded from this principle, because any thing that exists do this to the detriment of some other cosmic substance, feeding from it. From the point of view of cosmic unity, procreation is the archetype of violence or the imposition of an entity that wants to subtract space and substance from the cosmos.
The guilt is not of the new being, which is innocent since it can not decide to come into the world, but it consists in the procreation act per se, all the more if voluntary.
For this reason I wanted to compare this philosophical archetype with that contemporary and iconic manifestation of it: the police with anti riot equipment, that is simply individuals who carry out a job with the aim to live, to create a future for themselves and their own family, to create a space for their own offspring. The primal violence aimed to impose one's own self.

I had a clear and simple idea for the visual part: a couple in anti riot suits spinning in an idyll of love, in slow-motion, which I preferred to create with computer generated graphics to make the task easier and cheaper. But before I had to create the music.

In contrast to the slow-motion picture, I wished to create a hysterical music, shocking, with numbly violent thou sarcastically sad lyrics, a messing and dull beat appropriate to idiocy, this is to say the mental confusion necessary to the bursting of violence. What more appropriate than the syncopated beat of ska music? Do not get me wrong, I do not dislike ska beat, just this piece has evolved from ska: it is skat.

I spare you the details of the music composition and arrangement, which took very long for my personal conceptual struggles. For the two non-professional singers I wanted a stereotypical rude testosterone male voice of the Barry White kind (James Smith) and a charming smile female voice (Barbara Johnson), which would have to interweave in a call-and-response lyrics with chorus refrains, recalling certain sugary love songs. That is why the ska rhythm is preceded by a short sensual duet.

The piece was entitled “no more crime, babe” and in the final video it was properly mangled and distorted as I am used to do in most of my audio-visuals, for that is an artistic code with a precise purpose. The echoing song mixed with the frightening noise of laments in the background still gives me shivers.

Just like poems, music lyrics are sometimes hard to explain, take it as it is:

no more crime, babe” lyrics, 2008-2009

(fuchsia = female voice, blue = male voice, none = together)

        you hurt me so much...

        now babe...
        you and me
        right here

        oh... babe...
        now and forever
        all those times are gone

        no more crime, babe
        no more crime

        one day we fell down
        down here, from the highs
        a lightning of love
        broke into your life

        dirty and absurd
        land of corruption
        oh, what a bad place!
        no! we don't deserve it

        hurry up! let's make a clean sweep
        put your gloves and fight the scum
        hurry up! let's make it your way
        aim your weapons to the crowd

        bogeys and wackos
        sack them and shock away
        hostiles and half-breed
        give them a better life

        ungentle black rags
        squeeze them in trendy boots
        unhealthy strangelove
        knows that we are here to stay!

        hurry up! let's make a clean sweep
        put your gloves and fight the scum
        hurry up! let's make it your way
        aim your weapons to the crowd

        we did it for love
        why don't you understand
        we did it for you
        we did it for them all

        they didn't get it
        and now they are all dead
        we tried to free them
        but they did not understand

        anyways they were just garbage
        now this place is looking fine
        what a better world for justice
        where this love is your and mine

        anyways they were just garbage
        now this place is looking fine
        what a better world for justice
        where this love is your and mine

The final audio-visual starts and ends with a green video noise and distorted echoes: in my vision that is the crying of the victims. There arises the police couple spinning in the idyll of love, until they are enveloped by a whirl of rose petals like drops of the sacrificial victims' blood.

The plot continues quite plain and simple: the spinning couple fades away into the void of cosmos and into the green noise, recalling the archetypal philosophical question: what is the aim, the meaning of life?

Here is the video.

16 Nov 2013

Me and money

Money is evil.

Money is one of the most dangerous inventions man has ever made.

Benna, the bad seed, 2012
Digital painting, photographic print, 60 x 40 cm

You may say that money is just an innocuous means when used correctly and honestly, but the human being is distinguished from the other animals for its inclination to the three fundamental vices I already defined in my photographic artwork entitled “bait”: greed, addiction and sloth.

Benna, bait or the three deadly sins, 2008-2009
Photographic triptych, three photographic prints, 51.3 x 50 cm each

The peculiarity that makes money so dangerous is the possibility to be accumulated limitlessly and indefinitely.
This peculiarity has reached its apex with the advent of the electronic economy, where money is nothing but a virtual number into a bank account, or a real-time speculation over the work of others, without any tangible equivalent value in exchange but solely based on a promise of future work.

Benna, wasted words #14, 2012
Series of personal aphorism, ink on toilet paper, ~ 95 x 1390 mm

But, what is money, and what is vice?

Money is nothing but something (an object or an idea) to which the collectivity confers a common value in order to recognize and use it as a pledge. Thus money may be a shell (as used in ancient times), a word of honor or a signature on a promissory note. Said that, however, also shells can be accumulated, like so the debts/credits of honor.

Benna, this is money, 2011-2014
Series of 47 found pebbles with certificates, stones, ink on paper, variable dimensions

If money, or whatever form of value conferment, did not existed, a greedy or power-hungry person could accumulate food, but beyond a certain amount it would go bad and he would realize the futility of accumulation.
The accumulation of useful or beautiful objects (like artworks for example) may have a meaning in self satisfaction or in the barter with what we need, first of all food, but beyond a certain degree it becomes meaningless too: only people pathologically obsessed by possessiveness can go on with it, and they would be recognized as sick. Instead, today nobody consider sick a person with billions of dollars on his bank account, because everybody suffer for that very contagious sickness.

Vice is a behavior offering vantages in the short term but it leads to the ruin in the long term; greed and sloth are two vices of this kind, while addiction is an intermediate vice and it may be at the same time cause and effect of the other two.

Actually, we live in a society founded since thousand years on money. Except the residual tribal communities that by now are menaced and chased away from their native lands and often exterminated physically or spiritually by Homo pecuniaris (have a look to http://www.survivalinternational.org/), to no newborn of this world is given the chance to live providing for himself without money: everyone must redeem his own seat and freedom stooping, unless you would prefer to be menaced and chased away.

Benna, thrifty thriving #01 (series thrifty thriving or the frugal meal), 2006-2014
47 photographs of meals I had, 12 × 18 cm, ed. 3

And although we are not living in a human society based on freedom and cooperation but on money, personally I am not searching for richness, the pecuniary one, and my one only purpose in life is spiritual or intellectual richness, call it philosophical research or knowledge. I live in a very simple way, not pursuing any of the consumerism's longings or entertainments, and counting on land produces, thus money does not affect much my freedom. So the earnings from artworks' sales are often used for further art purposes: in fact I am devolving money to art itself, in other words I waste money as if I was burning it out. Most of the times it would be preferable to exchange artworks for needed things.Coherently with the philosophic view of a world without money, my artworks may be bartered with other goods or services.

Burning all the money would be the only way to free the world from slavery. Sadly, destroying money is illegal almost everywhere and in some countries even considered a sign of mental illness, but no one would consider illegal or insane to accumulate large amounts of money inside the black-boxes of bank accounts or of virtual economies, no one would ever consider a crime to induce people with money to work in someone's stead.

I think art is a good habit and a social attitude, even a duty; everyone should practice some form of art, be that dancing or writing poems. Art is what free people do.

Money is the slavery-hiding lure, the bait made by slave-drivers.

Benna, the barter, 2008-2016
Polyptych, four photographic manipulations, 75x50cm each

2021 update

See also:

money2020 - future
Open series of diverse Monna banknotes
Inks on reused paper, various sizes, unlimited editions

Procedure art, immaterial artwork