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The archive is one of the themes most urgently posed to the preliminary reconstruction of a new history of artists and art. This latter relies on a necessarily systematic work of surveying of data, traces, testimonies, documents (even apparently marginal ones), artworks, and all that can be done in re-elaborating more or less far-reaching events, especially concerning particular years. This topic is usually discussed in relation to all that is, or is about to be, historicised. The present contribution instead turns its focus to how the Italian artists of the most recent generations are preparing their own possible archives: private or even intimate archives, and ones in any case free from the rules generally practised in archives set up in the usual manner. On the other hand, the archive of an artist at the height of his or her conceptual and operational activity must necessarily be a space constantly in motion, a place perpetually in transit; in some cases, an integral part of the research path itself.
In Italy, the complex issue of archiving the art history of the latter half of the twentieth century is giving rise to highly valuable products, which have developed and are being sustained in publications, studies, exhibitions – as well as institutional settings. We need only to think of the committed efforts at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome, including through the recent acquisitions of the archival collections of the L’Attico and Marilena Bonomo galleries; at the Castello di Rivoli, with last year’s exhibition on the archive of Achille Bonito Oliva, as part of a cycle commissioned by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and began with Harald Szeemann; at MAXXI, with the “focus” on the Ugo Ferranti Gallery, curated by Maria Alicata; or at the Polo Biblio-Museale di Lecce, with the Carmelo Bene Archive. There is also the activity around scholars’ archives (MAXXI has also dedicated a “focus” to the archive of Alberto Boatto, while Studio Celant is preparing a series of conferences for September 2022 in which the open perimeters of the archive of Germano Celant, who dedicated pioneering attention to this discourse from the mid-1960s onward, will surely emerge), and above all, that around the archives of artists, through the dedicated efforts of heirs, galleries, art historians and archivists, aimed at giving order to their trajectories. Finally, there are operations related to collecting and the art market. In Arte (Cairo Editore), for more than a year, since the end of 2020 – with the key support of director Michele Bonuomo and editor-in-chief Fabiana Fruscella – I have published a monthly feature on the individual archives of the Italian artists of the second half of the twentieth century, which differ in their approaches and practices. These range from long-standing archives, such as those dedicated to Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana – the latter was probably the very first, thanks to the generous and pioneering efforts of his wife Teresita – to the Luciano and Carla Fabro Archive, scrupulously managed by their daughter Silvia but in fact already started by the artist and his wife; and from the archives of Mario and Marisa Merz, Carla Accardi and Antonio Sanfilippo, Alighiero Boetti, Giosetta Fioroni, Fabio Mauri, Franco Angeli, and Piero Dorazio, to those dedicated to two masters who are still very much at work, Emilio Isgrò and then Giulio Paolini, who has dedicated a significant part of his entire artistic parabola to this subject. Now, the time has come to investigate what is happening in the studios of Italian artists of later generations. I invited artists who are very distant from each other in terms of their generation, attitudes, the languages adopted and their operational activity, to reflect on this subject. So, here, it seemed appropriate to publish their thoughts directly, often without any mediation, within a discussion that is very much open. The archive is in fact, first and foremost, a private story, and so I think it is right, at this early stage, to listen to them. They range from an artist with a long history behind him, Marco Tirelli, to the young Andrea Polichetti: each one’s perspectives are always highly independent and in some ways original.
Do you have an archive of your recent and past work? How is it organised? What value does the archiving process have for you? Does the art world today also require this kind of commitment? These were the questions that I asked them.
“I have an archive that collects all my works created from 2003 until today. Basically, it is divided into two parts, one consists of an archive of Word files, one file for each work, in which technical information about the work is collected (materials, dimensions, packaging, together with a short text that “narrates” its production, both in Italian and in English), data on the ownership of the work and where it is located, where it has been exhibited, where it has been published, and any instructions regarding assembly or maintenance. The second archive is the image archive, very simply a collection of folders – again, one per work – which store design drawings, photos of the work being done and photos of the final version, also in different exhibition contexts. These two archives are held in different copies on various PCs and hard disks”. This is how Francesco Arena (Torre Santa Susanna 1978) describes his idea of an archive. He also points to a highly important theme: “The archive helps me to quickly review works, to look for connections between works”. So, it is clear that this has a concrete, tangible value for his work, even for the essence of research.
Andrea Polichetti (Rome 1989), however, suggests that “the work exists in the moment in which it can be recounted crossing through time”. He then focuses on the importance of this practice for the artists of his generation: “I believe that the archiving of young artists is very much rational, for a market reason, related to the circulation of work. Digital times dictate the speed at which images are exchanged and the artist has to be up to speed, always ready to send their own material, behaving like a gallery”.
For Francesco Fossati (Lissone 1985), the theme of the archive is so close to his concerns that he has set up a space in his studio in order to properly document his works photographically. A master like Marco Tirelli (Rome 1956) says he has “a digital archive, organised in a database designed especially for my needs and the specifications of my works. It is the FileMaker programme, which is certainly one of the most suitable for archiving, with all the infinite possible keywords to refer to a work. From the most obvious ones that can be taken for granted – the title, year, size, and location – to the themes and contents of the works themselves. I have a person completely and exclusively dedicated to the archiving and constant updating of this database”.
“About ten years ago I began an effort of archiving and chronologically ordering my work and all the materials that revolve around it (press releases, invitations, articles, interviews…). I organised it in boxes, which I never opened again. Your question makes me think about the archiving methods I most frequently practice, the creation and updating of two of the formats through which artistic work circulates online: the portfolio and the website”, Valentina Vetturi (Reggio Calabria 1979) instead indicates. For Giuseppe Stampone (Cluses 1974), on the other hand, the archive is an integral part of the fabric of his work; his investigation in fact presupposes a constant operation of surveying images and imaginaries belonging to different social and cultural spheres. His idea of an archive: “Every two years I do a publication of my latest works – I have reached ten publications – in fact I believe a lot in this method of archiving through critical writings with the images of new works created two years earlier”.
Alberto Gianfreda (Desio 1981) tells me that “archives have become social, accessible, searchable and interactive. Moreover, I would like the archive in the future to become a real tool of storytelling, within practices and languages that are increasingly differentiated and plural, difficult to “represent” in a limited selection of images. My desire is to be able to identify a method that knits the technical data of the works together with the biographical dimension: categories and life, a dynamic archive that can contain both works and encounters”. Whereas Domenico Antonio Mancini (Naples 1980) writes to me: “I must tell you that your request and your questions come at a time when I am giving particular attention to the need to think about a systematisation of the material I keep. To be honest, perhaps more than archiving, I “gather”. Archiving the works in their aspect as objects is a different question, for which I rely on the archive of the [Lia Rumma] gallery, which has a much more structured way of archiving information. This probably depends, on the one hand, on the fact that I have never experienced my works as fetishes, so once they were made, I entirely entrusted them to someone who could manage them”. A stimulating reflection comes from Daniele D’Acquisto (Taranto 1978): “I don’t have an archive. I just keep track of ideas, works, experiments, experiences and documents in their natural line of evolution: research. We are talking about research, not an archive. If you do research, you need to record procedures, behaviours, “phenotypes” and poetic nuances functional to the autopoiesis of that research. So then, we are referring to a process that, once triggered, never ceases to feed itself. That’s the kind of archive that interests me”.
Antonio Marras (Alghero 1961) works by mixing languages and approaches, fashion, design, and the visual arts, breaking down the barriers between genres. He tells me: “I’ll answer you very frankly: I don’t have a real archive, because I am much more attracted by what is yet to happen to me and not by what has happened to me already. Plus, the continuous intertwining of creative fields, and a working method that never becomes documentary material, doesn’t make things any simpler. But almost all my works, performances, installations, are photographed by Daniela Zedda… perhaps she is my very personal, precious archive. If, on the other hand, we are talking about “rags”, that’s quite a different matter. I own over 10,000 garments of all kinds and origins. My own garments from over thirty years of collections, vintage clothes, my mum’s clothes and special outfits. I do not differentiate between haute couture and fast fashion, between designers and what’s mass-produced, between traditional clothing, Chanel and H&M. I archive everything – accessories, embroideries, fabrics, offcuts, knits, costumes, silks, hats, shoes, decorations, scarves, shawls, necklaces and headbands. I archive with passion, with instinct, with love and with a sense of ownership. I remember each piece and each one is part of me”. For Silvia Giambrone (Agrigento 1981), “the archiving process is very important, despite what you might believe when you’re a young artist. Being of Lonzi’s philosophy, I interpret it as an active revisiting of what my work has been and what my life has also been”. Claudia Losi (Piacenza 1971) tells me that she has “a partial documentation of some of the works I have produced, with a gallery I have been collaborating with for some time, but not all of them, especially the ones that required a long and complex planning phase. However, I do have my own physical and digital archive, where I have collected the various steps that many of my works have taken. But without a rational archiving process. Perhaps collected rather more through material “sympathy” and conceptual proxemics”.