Monuments represent power and are generally speaking stand-ins for national identity; in a word, they are authoritarian. Monuments-as-objects have had their sense and meaning radically changed with an array of failure and crises across the modern historical and political panorama. We are presently plagued with the decay of monuments, a de-monumentalization of symbols and historical icons often replaced by other varieties, less governmental, more icon: TV personalities, general phemera and the omnipresence of brands.
These are few of the considerations that constitute the background of the 14th edition of the Carrara Biennial. The curator this year, Fabio Cavallucci, former director of the Galleria Civica de Trento, described the show as the fruit of a reflection on the meaning and sense of the monument, one that doesn’t aim to give answers but only observe a situation. The text accompanying the exhibition indeed looks like a list of acquired facts and commonplaces on the present situation, marking the sociological approach the curator applied to the whole show.
Divided into two main sections, History and Present, the show is designed according to a linear path that goes from the monument in modern history and its role in totalitarian regimes like Fascism, here represented by artists such as Arturo Martini and Fausto Melotti, and the Soviet Union, with Dymitr Szwarc, to the present investigations on idea of monument and sculpture, represented by (among others) Carlos Bunga, Antony Gormley, and Santiago Sierra.
The show concluded with a section dedicated to a new kind of monumentality, Architecture, “the new symbol of our time”, as the curator stated. Here are maquettes of projects by Zaha Hadid, Massimiliano Fuksas, and Norman Foster. The decline is perhaps the most resonating concept of this renewed edition, both for the character of the biennial and for the hosting city. Carrara has been the city of monument par-excellence, but today the town is a decadent place due to the process of global economy, which moves marble extraction and carving to more competitive countries like China, irreversibly altering the city. Old buildings and a lot of marble factories have become ruins of a great past, revealing a loss of prospective for the future. The exhibition is built around an awareness of this depressing condition and tries to catch the sense of such decline creating a strict parallel between the history of monumentalization and the history of the city.
The premise of the show provokes a certain number of doubts starting at the title, Postmonument, which says much more of the parameter’s inadequacy with which we read and consider reality. The curatorial tendency to frame biennials into a historical prospective makes it difficult for any attempt to explore the idea of sculpture under an open prospective.
The biennial invited 33 contemporary artists (with international acclaimed names like Maurizio Cattelan, Paul McCarthy, Cyprien Gaillard, Rirkrit Tiravanija) to occupy 10 different locations around the city. Unfortunately the idea of representing the un-heroic and un-monumental character of contemporary sculpture remains only an idea, a curatorial belief and dream. So questions are aroused and disorientation becomes the dominant feeling. The concept is a roller coaster, twisting and turning within the idea of monument in a summary way. The invited artists seem to not care about any specific reflection except for a few, who have tried to push the generic idea of the show into a depth discussion of the traditional and established parameters of art history.
Unfortunately nowadays Italy is suffering a certain form of regression and a total absence of criticality, a pathogenic lightness whom even the best artists cannot resist, so I’m not surprised to see a really interesting artist like Monica Bonvicini, who doesn’t resist the monumentality of marble, showing for the occasion a reproduction of one of her powerful concrete wall installations in a marble version (Wrong Do It Again, 2010). Simply a mute ornament of such a decadent place. Or again, Yona Friedman with L’architettura Mobile in Marmo (The Marble Movable Architecture), 2010, a series of stacked up marble forms that, in my view, undermine his discourse about Achievable Utopias. So I began to ask: Why doesn't art create surprising and unexpected answers to context anymore? And the only reason I could find is that there is an excess of events, a “bienalization” that in this occasion becomes more a banalization of issue and questions related to the discourse of art.
There seems to me a contradiction in the curatorial attempt to underline a process of de-monumentalization. So there, I understood that the temptations to use the marble as a sort of ornament is too strong to be forgotten and any good hope for a change in prospective has been annulled or at least limited. It seems difficult to reconcile different needs and to re-establish the sense of a show dedicated exclusively to sculpture. The Carrara Biennal is a compilation of attempts to create “something” that could fit with the heavy material and of course the most interesting works are the ones that resist a superficial approach in an attempt to take a different side: So Nemanja Cvijanovic, a Croatian-born artist, whose practice explores socialist histories, has transformed the socialist Internationale song into a children’s tune that you could be played by harging the carillon placed into the room (The Monument to the Memory of the idea of the Internationale, 2010). From the room an echo spreads off into the whole space while a reproduction of Tatlin Monument made by loudspeakers broadcasts the sound into the outspace.
There is something poetical in this act of playing, as if poety was the dream for a communist world, but every ideology is intended to succumb. So, why not build a monument of Normality? That is what Artur Zmijewski tried to do with his video-projection of marble-workers’ everyday life (Riccio, 2010 and Andrea, 2010). Every act becomes symbol and under the lens it acquires a different meaning revealing the profound relation which ties together mankind and the nature of the marble caves.
The Italian artist Giorgio Andreotta Calò creates a monument for all the workers who died in the caves within an abandoned church in the city center (Per Ogni Lavoratore Morto (For Every Dead Worker), 2010) . The anti-monument is best represented by the work of Gustav Metzger, whose Auto-Destructive Art is an important example of demistyfication and protest against the capitalist society. A series of historic photographs lean on the wall covered with white paper so that these visual documents become invisible and slowly disappear from our view (Historic photograph: Fireman With Child, Oklaoma, 1995; Historic Photograph: to Walk ino, massacre on the Mount, Jerusalem 8 November, 1990; Historic Photograph: Hitler Youth, Eingesecheelsst, 1997).
The approach of the mentioned artists to the issue of monument is original, intelligent and critical. But it is not sufficient to justify the claimed renewal of this biennale. Even if I’m aware of all the difficulties of curating such a monumental show, I would say we are far from grasping the sense of contemporary. I’m sure art could give us more than this.
- Federica Bueti
Image: Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled (Work for the XIV Biennale Internazionale di Scultura di Carrara), 2010. Courtesy of the artist.