CÉLINE CONDORELLI. CONTEXT IS HALF THE WORK
by Massimiliano Scuderi
BAU BAU, THE SOLO EXHIBITION AT HANGAR BICOCCA IN MILAN, CURATED BY ANDREA LISSONI, IS AN OCCASION FOR REFLECTION ON THE WORK BY CÉLINE CONDORELLI, AUTHOR OF POLYSEMIC WORKS IN WHICH THE CONTEXT AND RELATIONS BECOME PRACTICE AND MODEL OF PRODUCTION
À Bras Le Corps – with Philodendron (to Amalia Pica), 2014. Courtesy the artist and Fondazione HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo Agostino Osio.
MS: I am very interested in your approach to work and in the way you have been developing it through a practice that is comprehensive of many disciplines. My curiosity was born when I had a conversation with Peter Fend about Support Structures. Can you introduce your modus operandi and explain what the project Support Structure was about?
CC: My work is concerned with how our encounter with the material world comes through counting on it, and the fact that all human action takes place amidst countless structures of support mostly taken for granted, that therefore tend to appear almost invisible. I try to be attentive to how certain things, relationships, conditions, are deleted by the present as we see it, and to how this phenomenon is often related to forms of repression, things one does not want to see, that get pushed to the background. In general the idealisation of objects relies on the repression of the conditions that hold them up in the first place, what I would designate as the scaffold. An analysis of objects always shows the complicity of all the supplementary machines, mechanisms, whatever you may want to call them.
baubau, 2014 (part.), installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig, (GfZK), Leipzig. Courtesy the artist. Photo Lars Bergmann.
I have indeed explored this interest in the long-term collaborative project Support Structure (2003-2009), with artist-curator Gavin Wade. I consider support as an essentially political relationship, one of allegiance and responsibility, offering a framework for interrogating how we live and work together, and implement change in the world. The Support Structure project, after being developed over ten phases and seven years, has come to an end as a working rubric and in its previous configuration; set-up explicitly as a curriculum –taking Support Structure through a learning process– this multi-part, collaborative endeavour came to its natural conclusion with its two final phases, the opening of the art organisation Eastside Projects on the one hand, and the publication of the manual and reader, Support Structures on the other. Eastside Projects has been developing its own narrative and, in its five years of existence, has established a strong national and international profile; it has also rearticulated the working relations that gave birth to it in the first place: while I continue to work with Gavin, it is not in the guise of Support Structure, but as directors of the organisation.
Installation view Céline Condorelli, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2014. Courtesy the artist. Photo Andy Keate.
However, something remains. Questions raised by the notion of support structures concern not just a set of issues around display, but also forms of association, and the higher potential in the collective and common, residing in affective as well as intellectual labour. The necessity of working together, to invent possibilities and realities that have not yet been co-opted or exploited, is what also defines relations of friendship. The friendships from the project in effect endure, and in many ways have become for my practice a model of production –of work and of life. Support structures as a process and a methodology entail a way of doing things that creates close ties and connections between people, but also with things, ideas, sites, institutions, books; projects in this way speak through a multitude of voices and propose something that each could not do or say alone, and as a result offers more than the cumulative part of their components and fragments. The friendship they propose is both a practice and a position.
bau bau, 2014, installation view. Courtesy Fondazione HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo Agostino Osio.
MS: With regard to Alain Robbe Grillet, Gérard Genette spoke of an absence of narrative that would depend not on a deliberate fiction, but on a more stringent realism. Is this aspect part of your work?
CC: I will try and answer this question through the pragmatics of my work. I have found that often the narratives that sit alongside images that are being circulated, the subtexts that make them readable, are distorted or even factually wrong. While I wouldn’t designate my practice as being journalistic in any way, I do place a lot of importance in uncovering and considering existing conditions, on social, spatial, political and historical levels, and I subscribe to John Latham’s maxim that ‘context is half the work’. Our understanding of context includes distortions and fictionalisations of the present as well as the past, and sometimes it is interesting to take a fictional premise seriously. For instance, when someone says to you, in relationship to a city like Alexandria, “There is nothing left”, this opens a huge gap between the objective and reasonable response which would be something like: “of course there is, the city has 5 million inhabitants”, which could be a way of dismissing the statement all together; and the other option which would be to pay attention to it, listening to what conditions such a sentence points towards, and which other realities are called upon by it. We know that story-telling, misreading or errors can produce real historical events. In some way, as an artist, I am implicated in forging documents, devising utopias, and constructing imaginary schemes about the future, and in this way I actively participate in the production of the real. In my work, countless real stories and real situations are used that are far more unbelievable than anything so-called fictional. The project is not so much a fictionalised version of real events, than a narrative, a construct, enabling a different understanding of existing conditions and their re-imagination –like that of possible futures.
Additionals (Night Piece), 2012, installation view Additionals, Roger Stevens Television Studio, Leeds University, Leeds. Courtesy the artist.
MS: Toni Negri’s book Arte e Multitudo contains a letter to Giorgio Agamben, where he speaks about the idea of putting again the feet on the materiality of the real. He says that whether experiencing the sublime has shown us the way, the decisive factor is rather in the transition to practice, in the fact that we want our emotion to be an action, the material ethics of a decision (...). This difference between giving the name and discriminating the being is the place of the transition from theory to ethics, that is also the overcoming of postmodernism. How do you conciliate abstraction and realism in your work? Jacques Rancière talks about the relationship between social structures and aesthetics. What is your personal position in this regard?
CC: I will answer both these questions –that I believe to be essential, fundamental– with a quote from Claude Lefort, who said that “… no economic or technical determinations, and no dimensions of social space exist until they have been given form. Giving them a form implies both giving them meaning (mise en sens) and staging them (mise en scène)1”.
bau bau, 2014, installation view. Courtesy Fondazione HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo Agostino Osio.
MS: Your exhibition at Hangar Bicocca is entitled bau bau. Can you explain its starting point and what the installation created in cooperation with Pirelli Technical Centre in Settimo Torinese is made up of?
CC: The exhibition at HangarBicocca, curated by Andrea Lissoni, brings together works of the last decade, and is structured by the division between day and night, taken through several articulations. Day and Night correspond directly to a part of the exhibition being in daylight –through opening a huge window in the walls of the space– and behind a curtain, while the part behind a curtain is therefore darker and night-like. Of course the exhibition in this way changes throughout the opening hours (until midnight), and will be altered as the seasons change until it closes in May. But this division is also juxtaposed with two materials, cotton and rubber, that form the line of thought and research behind several of the pieces on show. In this way darkness and light are both immediate, perceptual and physical aspects of the space, and also function as a conceptual structure: black and white, rubber and cotton, night and day. This was also a way of ordering the uncovering of existing conditions which is a fundamental part of my practice, and in this case corresponds to the physical and social context of HangarBicocca in the first place, including the area of Bicocca which is made part of the exhibition with the view out of the window juxtaposed with the neon sign flashing bau bau, (construction in German, flashing just under the massive building site outside), research made at the Pirelli archive, included in the atlas/index of the exhibition which is effectively what Support Structure (Red) contains, and finally the work made in the Settimo Torinese Pirelli Factory.
Installation view bau bau. Courtesy Fondazione HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo Agostino Osio.
The project departs from an interest in raw materials, in this case the fascinating history of the rubber tree – which is transposed in the exhibition as the black material in relationship to the whiteness of cotton (about which I have developed a series of pieces).
The Pirelli factory is the one of the contexts and background to the exhibition space, and also a place where a certain transformation of matter takes place in the hands of people whose work cumulatively results in the tyres that in turn traverse the surface of the globe. They have allowed me to enter this production process to fabricate items that would collect traces of the production itself. It is an extreme privilege to be allowed inside such a specialised, and fascinating world, and be able to work alongside such sophisticated production – but in effect as an artist I am also engaged in the transformation of matter, which is the motivation behind this collaboration in the first place.
White Gold & Support Structure, Red, 2012, installation view Social Fabric, Lunds Konsthall, Lund. Courtesy the artist. Photo Lunds Konsthall.
The new work/installation made in and with the Settimo Torinese Pirelli Factory, is called Nerofumo [in English Carbon Black], which is the name of an intensely black derivative commonly used in pigment, and also a key binding ingredient in the making of tyres. The installation was made in the Pirelli factory with the factory workers, and is the result of small interventions into the existing production process, through conversations with the people who make it possible in the first place. The work considers the transformation of materials into a tyre as the cumulative effort of individuals and their respective actions, bound into an object which subsequently navigates the world leaving traces of that collective labour. A path made of altered tyres and their marks, Nerofumo functions both as a register of that social and material journey, and as a way of navigating the exhibition.
1. Claude Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1988, p.11