Hans Ulrich Obrist foreword for the book “What Good Is the Moon? The Exhibitions of the Trussardi Foundation”
AVERE FAME DI VENTO by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Beginning in 2003 with the installation of Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset’s Short Cut, a car and caravan trailer erupting from the tiled floor of the octagon at the center of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s urban strategy has been to reject the idea of a fixed institutional location, turning instead to the reconfiguration of the city itself, its public spaces and palazzi. Elmgreen & Dragset’s stark juxtaposition of the Galleria’s 19th-century opulence with the dejected trappings of contemporary mass leisure created a dramatic disruption in the heart of one of the city’s most famous locations. In 2004, Maurizio Cattelan, creating what he has called, in another context, a “psychological lab in real life,” fashioned a stark image of violence with his installation of three children hanging by their necks from an ancient oak tree in Piazza XXIV Maggio. This painful remainder of Italy’s past provoked many reactions, including vandalism. In the same year, John Bock transposed images of his rural German hometown from his film Meechfieber to Milan’s central train station, causing a sense of dislocation in commuters rushing to and from their suburban homes. In 2006, Martin Creed’s neon sign, hanging above the piano nobile of Palazzo dell’Arengario, drew attention away from the busy street; while in 2005 Urs Fischer’s House of Bread in the church of the Istituto dei Ciechi—the city’s Institute of the Blind—was slowly devoured by a family of parakeets. For his project in the city in 2007, Pawel Althamer suspended Balloon, a giant inflatable self-portrait, over Palazzina Appiani in the Arena Civica.
Visitors to all of these exhibitions experience the contemporary alongside the city’s richly layered past. The Fondazione Nicola Trussardi operates as a nomadic institution that turns Milan into both a stage and a material to be formed and re-formed. The projects become not only sites for forecasting the future, but also provocations to rethink the past, and thereby opportunities to better come to terms with the present.
Each project takes part in an ongoing process of what Israel Rosenfield has called “dynamic memory”—occasions for revisiting and revising our collective sense of self, and especially Milan’s continuity of self through time. Dynamic memory is the process by which a coherent sense of self is continually constructed through incremental changes and underlying stabilities in one’s physical body image. This sense of coherence is a way of being open to the future since, as Rosenfield says:
It is because memory is relational and dynamic that we can rapidly adapt to the changing circumstances that are the essence of our daily life. Otherwise we would not be able to survive…
Similarly, just as each of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s projects catalyzes its surroundings and leaves its imprint, its erased traces, on the physical identity of the city, it projects that coherent sense of urban identity into the future as an open field of possibilities. As Erwin Panofsky says, the future is always built out of fragments of the past. Some of the projects—for example, the films presented by Darren Almond at Palazzo della Ragione in 2003—represent an attempt to resurrect the past through active processes of imaginative re-enactment, and through the action of memory create links between different locations—locations as distant as Blackpool and Milan. In a sense, Almond’s films analogize the work of the Foundation itself, its ongoing project of archeological rediscovery and reanimation.
Other projects have raised questions of what it means to be contemporary. As Merce Cunningham once told me, “working at something that one doesn’t know how to do yet is the most interesting thing.” Tacita Dean’s film of Merce Cunningham performing Stillness to John Cage’s 4’33’’, a work that premiered in “Il Tempo del Postino” in Manchester in 2007, leverages the past and yet opens directly onto the present tense. True to the spirit of Cage himself, it is open to the unknown, and Cunningham himself well understood the importance of the unusual and unfamiliar location.
Recently, Giorgio Agamben revisited Nietzsche’s “Untimely Considerations,” arguing that the people who belong to their own time are those who do not coincide perfectly with it. It is because of this shift, this anachronism, that they are better able than others to perceive and to grasp their era. Agamben follows this observation with his second definition of contemporaneity: the truly contemporary person is the one who is able to perceive obscurity, who is not blinded by the lights of his or her time or century. The artists who have worked with the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan have, likewise, opened up many unexpected sites in the city—Peter Fischli and David Weiss at Palazzo Litta and Teatro Arsenale, Martin Creed at Palazzo dell’Arengario—observing and engaging with these spaces from the past in order to step aside from the present, and thereby encounter that present more fully. In the context of their Milan show in 2009, Fischli and Weiss filmed Parts of a Film with Rat and Bear, the third in a trilogy of films featuring the artists disguised as these animals, this time shot in Milan’s 17th-century Palazzo Litta. Enacting the production of reality, Fischli and Weiss demonstrated that to be contemporary means to perpetually come back to a present where we have never been before. To be contemporary means to resist the homogenization of time, through ruptures and discontinuities. Anri Sala’s presentation of his film Long Sorrow, at the Circolo Filologico in 2005, was just such a rupture, bringing Berlin to Milan by way of jazz saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc—sounds as part of a language that is not yet controlled, a haunting form of disorientation within a space whose history seems to suggest the ordering and capturing of language and knowledge. Agamben takes us to astrophysics to explain that darkness in the sky is the light that travels toward us at full speed, but which cannot reach us, as the galaxies from which it originates recede faster than the speed of light. To discern the potentialities that constantly escape the definition of the present is to understand the contemporary moment.
It has been as a spur to produce highly ambitious solo shows by some of today’s most fascinating artists that the city has best served the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s mission; the city as a magnificent ready-made, the artist as a keen competitor, not to be outdone. There is more than a little heroism and romanticism in this idea of the single artist confronting the city; that is, confronting and engaging the accumulated residue of millions of lives lived throughout the course of the city’s history. The Fondazione Nicola Trussardi has stayed true to the ambitions and visions of the artists it has presented; stayed true to this heroism by reinventing the idea of the solo show and transmuting artists’ dreams into reality.
My interest in the Foundation’s strategy of venturing into unusual, often overlooked and logistically challenging places stems from my own obsession with presenting art in odd locations, which began with my earliest experiments in 1991, shows such as “The Kitchen,” which I curated in the kitchen of my apartment in St. Gallen, and has continued with exhibitions at the museum Casa Luis Barragán in Mexico City in 2002 and at Casa-Museo Federico García Lorca outside Granada in 2007. I am often reminded of the suggestion once made by novelist Robert Musil, that “if art still exists, it is where we least expect to find it.”
Pushing the boundaries of what we do is the most important thing of all, and pushing art’s boundaries within the city is what the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi regularly achieves. The visions of the artists, as well as of Beatrice Trussardi, the Foundation’s President, and Massimiliano Gioni, its Artistic Director, have continually surprised me with their uncanny ability to defamiliarize the urban setting. Their projects ask us to bear witness to the past, as in the aesthetics of simultaneity of production that Tino Sehgal posited at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Villa Reale, but also demand that we consider, and constantly reconsider, the future. If we agree with Sehgal when he says “I hope that the 21st century will be less sure of itself,” then perhaps the best thing that we can offer the future is uncertainty. And as Paola Pivi says, “see you in the future.”
London, February 2010