“The Scent of Time”, critic text by Laura Ammann, 2019, eng
Our talk started with him telling me about his work The Rape of Venice (2015), exhibited at the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia at the same time as that year’s international art biennial and closely related to its title, All the World’s Futures. In this multimedia installation, which included an overlaid printed floor, an audio track, video projections and the diffusion of a fragrance, Andrea dealt with what he called “the decay of Venice.” The Venetian artist, indignant about the situation Venice found itself in, was then concerned with the challenges unfairly posed to the city’s residents by mass tourism: “The Rape of Venice encourages the public to reflect on the present conditions confronting Venice today, its decline, and its relentless transformation into a theme-park for millions of tourists,” Andrea wrote in the entry to the artwork on his website. This still remains a problem for this wonderful and wrongly celebrated city of only 55,000 Venetians out of a total of 261,000 inhabitants and 20 million yearly tourists.
The viewers entered this installation walking over an artificial floor, made of pictures’ fragments Andrea took from the mosaic floor of the Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice’s most famous sight. Through this iconoclastic presentation of Venice’s postal card, Andrea is alluding not only to its byzantine past but also to its possible destruction. In one of the many signs presented in the installation one reads the question “Is Venice being loved to death?” Andrea explains to me how the installation aims to direct the viewer towards “a desired climax: the Scent of Venice.” How surprised I was to know that this presented scent was an attempt to reproduce the smell of “freezing seaweed” Joseph Brodsky describes in the beginning of his essay on Venice (Watermark), the one I was reading during my stay there. This scent is the most essential feature of Venice and in this work it represents the hope of saving the city from its environmental and social threats derived from unthoughtful human action.
Andrea’s artistic process has been socially and politically charged from the beginning on, he tells me. However, for him it is essential to convey his message enclosed by an aesthetic format, “otherwise it’s just propaganda.” Andrea’s general body of work shows that the artist works as aware of the tradition which precedes him as (in)formed by global contemporary events. He has made references to classical paintings (Puzzling Project, 2015) and neoclassical sculptors such as Antonio Canova, while regarding contexts of terrorism and war for instance (Le Nostre Idee Vinceranno, 2002). Andrea’s inspirations lay in many traditional and contemporary sources, from literature to music, in religion and the visual arts. Our talk included names like Brodsky, Luigi Nono, Toni Negri and Walter de Maria. The artist explains to me that although he gives a lot of attention to the technical aspect of each work, the concept is also very important to him.
For this residency Andrea presented a video entitled Engagement Acts (2019), that shows him in a sandy landscape engaging in a series of bodily explorations of his surrounding – throwing and escalating rocks and bush branches, experimenting with the ability of his body of passing through the natural obstacles he encounters. In a natural way, he experiments with nature’s force and power and explores to what extend it is possible to achieve a graceful result. He is the sole explorer of this empty scenery, which is meant to be “everywhere and nowhere,” since it is not possible to identify from the landscape only where the action actually takes place. Andrea tells me that the film was made in the Venetian beach area of Lido, but he consciously aimed to a more universal approach. “Don’t call me a local artist,” he warns playfully. The artist is also the sole explorer in this film because there was no cameraman and production team on site. In some rather funny moments, nature unexpectedly revenged the artist by throwing back at him some object he had thrown first. A metaphor of human action on the environment?
Eventually I asked him one of my guiding questions of all interviews, namely what crisis are we living in. “It is a general cultural crisis,” he says. This one creates many others: lower levels of empathy, populism, lack of critical instrument, global warming. I couldn’t agree more. “Do you venture to guess an origin to all this cultural crisis?” I asked. Andrea was, as it is expected of someone who understands the complexity of the situation, reticent to find a unique responsible but eventually he traced the origins of our current crisis to the popularization of television, something that culminated in digital social media. Since then, he believes, we have seen a general decline in literature, pop music and cinema, not to forget the visual arts, which have been highjacked by a “circus of money and interests.” I ask him whether art and artists still can do something to change this situation. “Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be one,” he answers.