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The end of the 2010s and start of the 2020s produced the parallel presence of two generations in Italian art. We should more rightly speak of three generations: the one that late-twentieth-century sociology identified as Generation X, and the ones that followed at the turn of the millennium, identified with the letters Y and Z. The fact that these generations are defined by the final letters of the alphabet creates an ominous coincidence with Alessandra Troncone’s reflection in the third issue of this publication, regarding the end of our civilisation, as foreseen by the aesthetics of contemporary artists, with the related archaeologies of a future that already seems to be in ruins before it has even been experienced. A non-future, then, just as what follows the letters X, Y and Z is a non-alphabet. But, perhaps, the outlook is not so bleak. And, probably, after the Latin alphabet, another alphabet can begin, that of a new civilisation, with new principles and new characteristics. In the works of artists born between the early 1970s and the late 1980s, we can note a leaden tension, in which the climate of political concern leads to a feeling of end times. Yet in the production of those born between (roughly) 1990 and the present, we begin to perceive a different, uncertain perspective, whose focal point is not in the concept of apocalypse, but in that of transformation.
But let’s take things in the right order. The first of the two artistic generations working in parallel in recent years is the one described in my recent book 15 ipotesi per una storia dell’arte contemporanea (Castelvecchi, 2022). This is a group of artists, formed in the pre-Internet world (or at least when the Internet was not yet supported by every PC), who reached professional maturity in the 2010s. This generation has two main characteristics: it is entirely ‘analogue’, to use a somewhat misleading term, and it is, decidedly, the latest expression of Homo sapiens sapiens. The digital revolution, in fact, like other key revolutions in history (think for instance of how much the invention of printing changed the functioning of the human brain), has had important anthropological consequences, leading to physical repercussions and radical questioning of the self.
In its phase of its formation and development, Generation X’s art had no reason to address an anthropological problem of such magnitude, thus orienting its research horizon toward a political dimension. The question ‘who are we?’ – chosen by both generations as the crux of their investigations – was, in this first case, conjugated in a collective, civil, community sense. The dense and complex web of social practices and relational aesthetics stemmed from this question. Artists who had arrived in a mature democracy sought to go beyond the individual – whose philosophy in the field of art had dominated a time span ranging from the 1980s to the late 1990s – and to embrace an idea of collectivity that found resonance in many other tendencies. This included even tendencies unrelated to art and connected to a globalism that, for the first time, thanks to technology, was able to transcend small intellectual enclaves and become a popular sentiment far and wide. The art incubated in the 2000s, and which emerged in the 2010s, was perfectly aligned with the external political context. Eugenio Tibaldi’s denuded condominium, built for the Second Chance exhibitionat the Ettore Fico Museum in Turin; Marinella Senatore’s participatory performances; Gian Maria Tosatti’s popular novels; Andrea Mastrovito’s historical epics, which I wrote about in the second issue of the Quaderni; the sociocultural allegory of Luigi Presicce’s Storie della Vera Croce, the stitching together of the republican past by Francesco Arena; the sometimes disturbing and provocative presence in Francesca Grilli’s performances; Chiara Fumai’s paradoxical rallies – all thses seem like schemas for the re-signification of a world beginning to experience interconnectedness. The works mentioned are almost all based on space. They are largely installations. They have at their core something radically performative, directly involving the public. They take shape in spaces of collectivity. Often, they unfold in the street. Their ideal field is the public dimension. Produced at a time when there was less distance between the political and cultural worlds, these works could have been read as manifestos, statements of a society that determines to structure a new consciousness, while the technological and digital revolutions are creating scenarios that can no longer be confronted alone. This generation grows together with the great, global return to the streets, the climate demonstrations, the Fridays for Future; it strongly embraces the idea of ‘we’ as the key to accessing the future. But, as if to overturn Marx’s famous axiom that consciousness precedes the event, as the collective consciousness converged in the cultural and civic sphere something broke. Perhaps the technological revolution went faster than the civil revolution, and the ambition for the ‘we’ became discomfort for the I’. Indeed, Generation X has kept quite clear the difference between analogue and digital, online and offline, for its own biographical reasons, having lived a significant part of existence without the tools of connection and the meta-dimensional space that the web and its attributes have defined and are still defining.
Generations Y and Z, on the other hand, have from birth experienced the infinite opportunities of a multidimensional space, with endless backdoors, which they can open to find themselves in decidedly more elastic regions of being. The concept of the avatar has probably been the greatest upheaval for modern man. It is the embodiment of Rimbaud’s incendiary ‘I is another’, the breaking of the psychoanalytic Pandora’s box. The avatar is the manifestation of man’s concrete possibility of making himself, the definitive liberation from creation and from an idea of a creator other than the subject himself. For the first time in history, he becomes the sole architect of his destiny, the only one capable of recreating himself. A philosophical cataclysm of this magnitude is, of course, still far from being fully understood. It has, however, provoked a reaction, a shift in perspective. If it is true that, by investing in the future, I can try to build a new civilisation, it is equally true that in the burning present I can already, via my computer, without anyone’s mediation, remake myself, my life, my image and my way of constructing my relational universe. This has generated a chasm in the concept of being, making it enormously deeper and more open. This condition has produced disquiet, which has been translated into art through recourse to the most intimate of mediums: painting. If the works of the artists of the 2010s belonged to ‘public space’ and a four-dimensional form, those of the 2020s give the impression of coming from the (only apparently two-dimensional) ‘intimate space’ of a painting, with the same morphology as a screen. And it is abstract painting, of course, that dominates the scene and, when even the forms are recognisable, their succession denies any spatial realism, thus pointing toward free elements of suggestion, floating in a mnemonic or mental area. This happens, for example, in Francis Offman’s pseudo-landscapes, and in Marco Eusepi’s floral works, whose speed seems to point back to the dizziness with which an elementary image of physical reality finds itself whirling to inhabit the ultra-fast and multiplicative dimension of augmented reality. The presence of reprocessed bodily shapes, typical of Andreas Zampella’s painting, also attempts to get to grips with questions of self-recognition. Similarly, Alice Visentin seems to relocate figure and space in a horizon that denies the limits of physics or makes them allegorical, as does Guglielmo Castelli’s painting. Equally, Marta Spagnoli’s dances, centred on animal-human hybrid figures, have the appearance of suggesting the fusion between the anthropomorphism of the human and the flexibility of the avatar. The physical dimension of public space, so dear to the previous generation, seems to have faded and get lost in a sort of clouded memory in Laura Omacini’s latest paintings, presented at Ca’ Pesaro in the exhibition Le beatitudini. Another work bordering on the abstract and decidedly pictorial emerges with the same dynamic of dizziness, trembling in an uncertain extension of being. This is the work of Chiara Enzo, with microscopic observations of scraps of a physicality that can no longer be put back together again; almost like flashbacks, in which one can no longer discern the subject of the memory: perhaps ourselves, perhaps another, perhaps a fleeting physical or digital encounter created by one of the infinite online dating sites.
The existential realms expressed by these two paths pursued by Italian art at the turn of the 2020s are decidedly distant from one another. Yet the two distinct directions do not develop a simple chronological relationship of succession. They seem to proceed side by side. As if both had something radically unresolved that can only be addressed in the encounter with the other perspective. The task of critical reflection is perhaps to lead both parallels to meet in a sort of mathematical infinity, coinciding with a new theory of art, capable of organically welding together developments in Italian and international research.