There is a history of movement that repeats itself mechanically, a history of automatism and shifting of function that ranges from how children learn to understand objects and language, through repetition, to kinetic art. It sweeps across autism and certain moments of negative and emancipatory thought, as in the case of Georges Bataille and his concept of dépense . It is a history of the pulsation and expenditure of energy.
In recent years, Italian artist Lara Favaretto (Treviso, 1973, lives and works in Turin) began to write a personal history of generosity and obsolescence through a work that focuses on an ambivalent treatment of the two opposite poles of aesthetic experience: on the one hand the durability of the object, on the other the ephemeral nature of the event. This investigation of hers, as in the work of artists like Robert Smithson and Gino De Dominicis, tends towards an acceleration of the end and to absorb entropy in order to finish the job that art has engaged with. It assumes the form of objects, installations or events all united by the careful planning of their collapse. The sculptures and installations continue to possess a significant performative nature that includes the mechanical nature of movement, casualty and wear. The interventions, with their limited life span, often just a few hours or a single day, show their transitory but ephemeral nature in a paradoxical manner: through the use of heavy machines and instruments that suggest intense work, and equally intense dispersion of unproductive energy.
In many cases, the rotating movement is what determines this negative kineticism, infusing a dimension of limited time into the sculptures and installations so that, sooner or later, their existence is forced to come to an end.
‘È così se mi interessa’ (That’s how it is if it interests me), 2006, is a handmade rope suspended from the ceiling at Franco Noero Gallery in Turin. The rope contains the artist’s hair, which was cut after 12 years of rasta growth and swings around itself incessantly like a lasso, wearing an increasingly deep and evident mark on the wall it hits with each turn.
The idea of the mark and the mechanical nature of the movement are not without implications in any of Favaretto’s works. As it requires to be set into motion, otherwise only a potential mechanism, it exists only in relation to the person looking at it at the precise moment in which the experience of the movement takes place. And despite the fact that in many cases the possibility for the public to interact is removed a priori, what we see is an object that senses a significant devaluation of the very idea that there is an intrinsic value to things and actions when they are not established in a vital relationship with the surrounding context.
This form of scepticism, which seems to dominate like a basso continuo throughout Favaretto’s work, is the result of extensive research: the search for a reason for actions, the search for a function for art that we could define as ‘anthropological’, in other words, seeking a conversion of different types of human knowledge into a shared grammar. This theory, it seems to me, closes with a mark, a mark that is often formless or even simply a stain, a corrosion.
In the case of ‘È così se mi interessa’, the mark left on the wall is the result of friction between the rotating mechanism and the architecture. It is a mark that scratches, like a last attempt to prove an existence, while at the same time, accepts the impossibility of permanence. Most of Favaretto’s work is filled with this kind of angry melancholy, a desire for empathy mixed with frustration and refusal. It also has an ambivalent relationship with sharing, belonging and memory. Most seem like objects of affection, but a painful affection to such an extent that it becomes necessary to anticipate mourning, to distance them. Even their slow corrosion becomes necessary.
‘Cominciò ch’era finita’ (It began while it was already over), 2006, is a perfect example of this desire to share those borders of voluntary negation. The exhibition space is dark and dominated by a large installation with a form that echoes a shrunken circus tent and a turning motion that echoes a merry-go-round. The 32 military tents that are sewn together to create her tent are constantly abraded by the rhythmic rubbing of the fabric against a load-bearing column at the Klosterfelde Gallery in Berlin. Over time the fabric will tear more and more, thus creating spirals through which the illuminated contents of the structure become visible. But the circular motion is too fast to make it possible to clearly distinguish the form of the objects assembled within this kind of imploded magic lantern.
This was the case when I saw this work for the first time after it had been opened for nearly two months. Today, more than two years later, I imagine that the interior will be different and is verging toward total consumption over years to come, as the work’s activity will move towards completely wearing out the tent. I ask myself what will become of the resulting enigma as it is condemned to turning around itself until infinity? Will what was once the object of amusing fascination, wind up as a relic of a mystery and proof of an ending?
These are works that have absorbed the performative dynamic and that explore concepts of time, duration and loss on a reduced scale. Other works offer the same experience, defined as the ‘near conclusion’, on a more spectacular scale and of a more public dimension. ‘Confetti Canyon’ is an intervention that has been executed by Favaretto several times in Italy since 2001, and was brought to MOCA in Los Angeles one last time in 2005, for the exhibition Ecstasy: In and About Altered States . The work consists of an event that lasts a few hours during which three hand-triggered cannon-like devices shower the crowd with confetti, creating a sort of improvised carnival that is unexpected and off the calendar, and thus misunderstood.
‘Confetti Canyon’ is a seminal work which underpins the central concept of Lara Favaretto’s entire oeuvre: the concept of gratuity. Starting with the intrinsic nature of carnival—a parenthesis within the context of productive activity, a place for symbolic inversion of hierarchy and suspension of the rules—the artist has developed over the years, an indepth study of the anthropological structure of this kind of celebration. She has attempted to transfer this discourse on the momentary inversion of authority and dispersion of control, from the anthropological to the artistic one, particularly in reference to the status of the art object as a finished product. While many of her installations are positioned somewhere between an invitation to hilarity and its immediate negation, her public interventions highlight the contradiction inherent in the concept of sharing itself. Favaretto seems to interweave considerations of democracy with a pensive melancholy, a playful vitality with the bitterness of an irremediable solitude, an urgent need to participate with an equally inflexible feeling of individualism.
‘I poveri sono matti’ (The poor are mad), for example, suspends a typical gypsy caravan 20 metres or so from the ground by a crane. Out of this relic flows the sounds of a popular polka that became famous during World War II, the most famous version of which is the German one entitled ‘Rosamunde’. The Anglo Saxon public knows it as ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ and it is the same song mentioned by Primo Levi in Se questo è un uomo (If this is a man), the account of his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp first published in 1958: ‘A fanfare begins to play near the camp’s gate: it plays ‘Rosamunde’, the well-known sentimental song […] But once ‘Rosamunde’ is finished, the fanfare continues, playing other marches, one after the other, and then we see the squads of our fellow prisoners as they return from work. They walk in columns five by five; they walk with a strange gait that is unnatural, hard, like stiff marionettes made of only wood. But they walk keeping time scrupulously with the fanfare,’ (translated by Anne Ruzzante).
The transformation of the human figure into a hand puppet, its movements restricted and a fixed expression, was a tenet held throughout the avant garde of last century. It served as a symbol of the impossibility of communication, of identity-related neuroses and relational problems, an expressive value conferred upon something that has no ability to express.
‘Plotone’, 2005, an installation at the most recent Sydney Biennial, consists of a formation of compressed air-tanks that, connected to a timer, periodically releases a chorus of party whistles. The artist describes the work as follows: ‘An army betrayed or defeated stands still. Always in uniform during a compulsory stop. Compelled to their confined position, like civilian soldiers frustrated in waiting, in a silence interrupted only by single breaths.’ This constant and oscillating transition between psychological and inorganic, individualistic and relational, grotesque and melancholic, is the central movement around which all of Lara Favaretto’s work revolves, marking the transition between human and mechanical now bereft of existentialist connotations. Instead it revives this dichotomy within the context of a more contemporary discourse on what it means to be able to ‘communicate’ and share effectively today.
‘I poveri sono matti’ was conceived originally for the Museo D’Arte Contemparanea Castello di Rivoli in Turin in 2005 and exhibited again in 2008 in London for the exhibition Perplexed in Public organised by the Lisson Gallery. It is a fantastic apparition that, in its marvellous machineness, dominates the urban horizon for a few hours like a small miracle. This vision is surreal. The heavy machinery is in full view. There is that same sense of ‘giveaway’ that you experience when seeing a movie set in the street with all the tricks of the trade laid bare. We are perfectly aware of the mechanics that make all these things possible, and yet despite this we feel a sense of amazement that lies somewhere between the joy of fun and the notion that perhaps miracles can happen. Believing things are possible even when reality proves the opposite, is another important aspect of this artist’s work. It is a message loaded with a strangely vital scepticism—while it might accept the inevitability of the end, that does not necessarily imply the end of hope.
In this regard, it is worthwhile to remember Favaretto’s contribution to the series of projects commissioned by Frieze Art Fair in 2007, when the artist orchestrated an official invitation to the Queen to visit the fair, to which she received an equally official refusal from the Queen’s personal secretary. In this consciousness-shattering, carefully planned and thematised naive form of spontaneity set against the officialdom and power attached to high iconic definition, lies the same dynamic that exists between Favaretto’s objects turning on themselves and the architecture that is their host. This frictional dynamic knows perfectly well how things stand, and yet continues to twist obstinately, prefiguring its serene demise.
Perhaps it really is true that ‘the poor are crazy’ as they are able to imagine, and to dream, in a state of absolute necessity, possibly the only state in which it is possible to invent.
Alessandro Rabottini is curator at Galleria d‘Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo