Berlin, Sept. 2012: As the American elections loom ahead, many ArtSlant readers will be ruminating on how individuals’ values, allegiances and issues tie together communities. For anyone chewing on these concerns, Marinella Senatore’s art offers an inspiring example of people working together to create intellectual consensus by collectively investigating the nature of community. Her elaborate film projects involve masses of volunteers in various cosmopolitan cities who band together for a common creative goal. The Italian filmmaker and artist refuses to claim an authoritative position in her projects. But she graciously grants us an interview before her upcoming solo show at Peres Projects, in Berlin, which opens on September 15.
Ana Finel Honigman: What role do you play in developing the communal stories for your films?
Marinella Senatore: I’m a filmmaker and artist. I work with video, photography, drawing, installation and sound. In my projects, often developed in collaboration with museums, universities and related institutions, I involve entire communities in the creative process. I’ve enlisted a community of retired miners from Enna, Sicily; more than 15,000 citizens of Derby, UK, and 300 Lower East Side residents, in NYC. In this process, the viewer becomes a participant and the hierarchy between the artist, as author, and the public as recipient can be questioned and rewritten.
AFH: How do you facilitate this process without becoming an authority figure and undermining the work’s purpose?
MS: Being a facilitator is about more than just activating the experience. Affection, relationships and the process of negotiations between participants and me underlay it all. I started working in this way in 2006. I’m still in contact with thousands of former participants. In order to instigate this process, I have to prepare platforms that people can use in different ways. My background is art, music and cinema, so the structure and the methodology of my work come from there. I try to let participants work and share their skills, their stories, their memories and their backgrounds freely. Even when I organize workshops to introduce them to different roles of movie production such as camera, sound, costume, script, I want them to be free. To paraphrase Jacques Ranciere, I really relieve in the emancipation of the ‘student’. The participants go over the limits of my knowledge or how other professionals could help me. We activate a process that can go in different ways. I like to take such risks.
AFH: Do you think an artist can ever really own the meaning of his or her work? Does an artist's interpretation of her work's meaning matter more than a viewer's?
MS: I don’t focus my attention trying to interpret my work or tell people what it means. I proceed instinctively and I like when spectators, participants, friends tell me something I don’t know or I don’t expect about my work.
AFH: What qualities determine which people you invite to participate in your projects?
MS: They just need to understand and want the experience we propose and not another one. What I mean is that if a professional actor joins our casting and he is thinking about success and going to TV, then it’s not the right place for him. However, if he or she wants to have an experience with other people who come from completely different backgrounds then they are more than welcome to participate.
AFH: Have you encountered people aspiring to stardom through your work?
MS: Not really. The communication and the proposal are so clear, that I have never had to say ‘no’ to anybody. Instead, people come and introduce themselves and are always conscious about what they were doing. The expectation is never to have anyone feel disappointed at the moment. And there are many ways that people can be involved. Members of the public can be involved as co-writer, actor, set designer, camera operator and director. They share time, experiences and skills. They acquire new knowledge in an atmosphere of ongoing workshops. They come in contact with the contents that they find in their environment and according to the level of involvement and their backgrounds. It’s a negotiation that I like, very much, at this moment.
AFH: How has this process evolved?
MS: in the past, the public was also involved as producers of public projects though a micro-credit system. With a contribution of one euro each, 1,200 citizens of Madrid produced the musical Speak Easy in 2009. But the strategies to reach people change constantly, depending on which people I’m working with. The clear exchange is constant and makes people feel secure. If they contribute 15-19 hours towards a project, without any economic compensation, then it means something is working.
AFH: Please tell me about your upcoming exhibition at Peres Projects in Berlin.
MS: It will be a two-part exhibition in September and November. We are presenting ROSAS: a trilogy of operas, which was specifically conceived for the screen. It is a long term project involving more than 20,000 people. Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin) organized the German part of the project while Quad (Derby, UK) arranged the second one and Matadero (Madrid, Spain) helped with the last one. For the whole event, participants were involved in writing the libretto, but also in making the final film and directing using cameras and lights. They shared time and skills according to their background and their level of involvement. The outcome is not an end but part of a much bigger picture expressing a social and political dynamic that has been adopted by the community for a relevant time. I also used the budget of the different museums to allow people to fly from one city to another. The memories that they share generate social systems and create a sense of a group.
AFH: How do the different sections interrelate?
MS: The permanent installations created in Derby and Madrid will then be converted into a low-cost film-studio. Once the working set of ROSAS will be completed, for the duration of the exhibition, then groups of actors, photographers, filmmakers and amateurs can use the space, stage, make up station, post-production technology, light and sound equipment for free. Basically, we try to tell about all that at Peres Projects Berlin. In the first part of the exhibition, we will show the process itself. In the second one, the gallery will be transformed into a low budget movie studio, open to citizens of Berlin. They could use the set for free and all the equipment for rehearsals for their own video, photo shooting, performances or whatever. In the last part of the exhibition we will also dedicate a space for the projection of the entire trilogy.
AFH: On a larger level, what would you say are the main elements tying together communities' shared narratives?
MS: I observed a lot of differences but I realize that, when people find something in common, they immediately become 'a group'. They force new community, spontaneously, without me forcing anything. In all the countries where I worked, I have noticed participants still working together making projects beyond the framework of contemporary art.
AFH: Are pop-culture, celebrity and famous gossip as influential in our communal ties as might be expected?
MS: To be honest, in my experience, no. I’ve found the opposite is true. It is probably because I invite very different groups of people, with quite urgent stories or memories to share with others--such as communities of miners, workers, activists, or, sometimes according with social-political changes, students and kids--that my impression is always the same: people need to share what they are and tell about themselves. They feel free to do that in the space that I create.
—Ana Finel Honigman
ArtSlant would like to thank Marinella Senatore for her assistance in making this interview possible.
(All Images: Marinella Senatore, ROSAS, 2012, 3 chapters Opera for the screen HD, sound, color, 30' each with the participation of 20.000 citizens of Berlin, Madrid and Derby (UK); Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin)