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Art Put to the Test
Palermo as a Training Ground for Dialogue

Questo articolo è disponibile anche in: Italiano

One of Palermo’s most marked features in recent times has been the liveliness of an emerging generation that has found the energy to organise its own present autonomously, and to take charge of the understanding — or construction — of its own physiognomy. This can be deduced above all from the proliferation of spaces self-managed by artists. But while in some ways this phenomenon is new, in terms of its numerical size, that does not exhaust the question of what is happening on the level of relationships, and of what is driving artists’ commitment to share studios, ideas, and approachs — even if this does not mean that they are giving up individual poetic pathways.

The presence of numerous artist-run spaces does not, in itself, characterise a cultural climate. If anything, it testifies to it, and if we read this phenomenon in quantitative terms alone, we would end up reducing it to a systemic trend. In part, surely, it is also this — a widespread trend everywhere developing as a reaction to the rampant speculative-financial approach. But there is more to it, and more complex driving forces.

At the same time, in Palermo, there is a history linked to the last twenty years that tells of various attempts by artists to counter the city’s, and even more so the country’s, indifference by setting up project and exhibition spaces. I am thinking, for example, of Zelle. Founded by Federico Lupo in 2005, later transformed into Van Holden Studio and now into TOMO, with its activity of exhibitions and productions, it has always represented a community linked by specific interests, such as drawing, publishing, and the collection of vintage objects and audiovisuals. I am thinking of L’A project space, opened by Giuseppe Buzzotta and Vincenzo Schillaci in 2009, which, thanks to the relations established with a national and international network of similar spaces, has had a definite impact on the transformation of the Palermo scene. I am then reminded of the experiences led by Adalberto Abate, mostly animated by political impulses or in any case by collective engagement (from Arěa, in 2003, with Giovanni Lo Verso, Domenico Pellegrino and Domenico Stassi, to Sacrosanctum and Spazio Rivoluzione). Or the activity of Caffè Internazionale, run by Stefania Galegati and Darrell Shines, which from 2015 to 2018 offered a context in which music and art found continuous opportunities for interaction.

The youngest, today, consciously bind themselves to these stories, from which they have acquired the model of self-management but also certain underlying motivations. First among these is the responsibility to build — the enthusiasm for building — a context suitable for playing host to their thoughts and works, creating the conditions to nurture a dialogue within the city and to establish authentic connections with the outside world, pivoting on the centuries-old Sicilian calling for exchange and welcome.

In Sicily, accoglienza — welcome, and hospitality — is not an ingredient of the tourism sector, but rather a way of being in the world. With the experiences launched in recent years — again, in the spirit of the essential concept of hospitality — the aim was not to invite in attention-grabbing big names, but to create, through the efforts of many people, a habitat that could be of value to oneself and to others. Here, we find the sense of the community initiatives of recent years — having firmly grasped that they wanted to be highly mobile but not migrate to other shores, that they wanted to create conditions allowing people not only to stay in Sicily, but to be able to think about “great endeavours”.

From the inalienable perspective of being a fertile island in the Mediterranean — with all the historical, economic and geopolitical significance that comes with that — these young people are working on their territory, with the ambition of sharing it with the generation to which they belong, imagining it as a both material and immaterial collective good.

I will give a few examples. But in a place where associative forms are multiplying, around clusters of laboratories and “civilian” demands, we could name many more such figures.

One of the driving forces is, without doubt, the Genuardi-Ruta duo.

Even before dealing with L’Ascensore — a space particularly active in the valorisation of the local scene and interaction with the European panorama — Antonella Genuardi and Leonardo Ruta have always been a driving force of aggregation, ever since the days when they transformed the meetings of the Osservatorio Arti Visive, [1] where they had their main training, into a family environment able to take in the warmth of the community even amidst conflicts. The fact that they brought food to share with others wherever they met — from the classrooms of the Accademia to the places where they staged their collective exhibitions — set the seal on these community moments by way of a fundamental element of Mediterranean culture, conviviality, sharing a special time kept distinct from other everyday occupations. A sort of revisitation of the concept of otium, to be precise. If being a community was investigated and discussed within the Osservatorio, also on the basis of the cues that came from the philosophical and sociological debate that was then underway, it matured in the poetics not only of Genuardi-Ruta, but also those of the Campostabile duo, Gianfranco Maranto and many other young people who questioned how to integrate art with the city, with their friends.

The first experiments in this sense took place in the peripheral and fascinating Villa Vincenzina, home of the L’A project space, where Buzzotta and Schillaci — each a little older — had welcomed the idea of hosting a “test exhibition”. Which is to say, an exhibition project (Campostabile/Maranto) that chose to give itself the title “test” precisely because it came to life within a collective experience, making the works the cornerstone of the pooling of a time and above all a horizon of ideas.

It is no accident that Genuardi-Ruta, Campostabile and Maranto conceived a painting in dialogue with space. Indeed, their place-forms do not result from a decorative practice, but always from the formation of a groove in which their gazes on the world, their stories, their landscape, can coexist with those of those who will enter it as spectators. A habitat, in fact. This feeling has created a community that today is above all intellectual and emotional in nature. Conviviality, history, and landscape are at the heart of this community impulse.

From these thoughts, and from having taken part in these same events, last year emerged La Siringe, at the hands of Enzo Calò, Gabriele Massaro and Davide Mineo. They opened their space in the city centre, in Via Merlo; they did not restore it, because all the signs of that ex-recording studio tell of a sedimentation of experiences that they do not intend to forget. Their passion for all that a place can mean is at the basis of their personal works, too. But to date they are yet to exhibit them, here; they prefer to dedicate this space to their fellow travellers, or to peers born elsewhere who are capable of reading and occupying a space-situation. They speak of “the creation and contemplation of physically existing ideals”; they revisit concepts that other generations have fought against: “an intense ‘beauty’ which is not polished and embalmed, rather raw and alive”. They speak of “resistance”, of a “free sounding board”. Being a community is, then, a project, an answer to the rampant atomisation through hypotheses for the resemantisation of existences, starting from the collective “cultivation” of art.

A few months after La Siringe, Parentesi Tonde was founded by five artists and a curator (Francesca Baglieri, Antonio La Ferita, Alberto Orilia, Roberto Orlando, Rossella Poidomani, and with them Ilaria Cascino). The exhibition activity is, again here, only one point of application, not the end in itself; it is an opportunity for oneself and for others, but above all it is one input feeding into the experimentation of new practices. Two of them, in parallel, also share a studio together with other young professionals, including a set designer: a large open spacein which each artist has their own area, but basically work elbow to elbow with the others. They call it Officine Ouragan. They debate the outcomes of what they are doing, share manual skills, theoretical competences, and their relationships with workers; they plan to open up to experiments in related fields, ever seeking new points of intersection.

With an organicist outlook, aware of their potential as artists in redesigning residential and social contexts, in rethinking the use of monumental heritage, in safeguarding the landscape, in re-appropriating traditions and in writing the “rites” of the future, the Parentesi Tonde group combines contemplation and urban politics, while at the same time defending and promoting authorial singularities.

Finally, it ought to be said that the connection with the Accademia di Belle Arti plays a very significant role in this climate. Most of these artists have a bond of reciprocity with this institution that goes well beyond the training cycle itself. In all its complexity, the Accademia is in fact an extremely proactive laboratory, where people work in groups, intergenerationally, building transversal communities in constant relationship with both the city and the art world. Among the many project sites, it is worth mentioning at least a few cases which a community dimension has been constructed over some time: in addition to the aforementioned Osservatorio, there is the Düsseldorf-Palermo exchange project in the large Haus Der Kunst barn, managed, among others, by artists/teachers[2] who organise a busy exhibition calendar also involving students and former students; the Cielo Raso cycle, curated by a group of artists/teachers[3] in a classroom at Villa Filippina; the Polizzi Generosa Arte Contemporanea exhibition project;[4] and many other initiatives, such as the very recent Young Vulcano.

[1] L’Osservatorio Arti Visive is a research and curatorial design body of the Accademia di Palermo, founded in 2008 by Daniela Bigi, Gianna Di Piazza and Toni Romanelli.
[2] Alessandro Bazan and Daniele Franzella, who are members of the scholarly board.
[3] Francesco Albano, Marcello Buffa, Marcello Faletra, Stefania Galegati, Rosa Persico.
[4] Coordinated by Sandro Scalia and Emilia Valenza.