ARTE LAGUNA PRIZE
CATALOG 21.22 and CRITICAL TEXTS
It is certainly very difficult to write a critical text these days, a text that refers to a group of works that were selected at a time when we were still unaware of what would happen in the next two years.
Even the artists, who conceived these works in their studios around the world between 2018 and 2019, were faced with themes that the pandemic has transformed, if not wiped out.
A little less than two years ago, technology and social media were judged in a different way: society was accused of using these means to the detriment of a more natural and traditional sociality, of favoring an alienation and a perception of a distorted reality, based on the artifice of a shot published on Facebook or Instagram, deceptive mirrors of a “filtered” reality” and in constant search for a false perfection.
These same media have proved to be, during the long pandemic period and the various lockdowns, almost the only opportunity to keep in touch with other human beings, to defeat the imposed isolation.
The loneliness of urban areas, individualism, withdrawing into our own shell as if we were otaku (exponents of a Japanese subculture in the nineties, which saw some young manga fans voluntarily isolate themselves from the world) was forcibly imposed on us. The pandemic and its consequences have, in short, invaded our minds, making us forget everything around us.
Inevitably, artists, who are and remain the primary interpreters of the reality in which they lives, were strongly affected, almost violently by what was happening, sometimes , involuntarily making some themes or some researches outdated, not because they are – in fact, gender discrimination, problems relating to the environment and its survival, economic and social differences have remained and have not been erased but actually exacerbated by the pandemic – but they have been, in a certain sense, set aside like dust put under a carpet so as not to be seen in the face of what seemed to be a more important problem, because it was experienced as the real danger for the survival of mankind.
It will be noted how, in the section of the works conceived for the the 2019/2020 edition of the Prize, there was still a spirit and an impetus towards joy and hope, still a certain cheerfulness, which these nearly two years have weakened. The danger, before the end of 2019, was mainly represented by the cultural clash between the West and Islamic extremism, supported by the general insecurity generated by the multiple terrorist attacks in France, Spain, Belgium, England or Germany. No one would ever have expected our safety to be endangered by a subtle and devious enemy, which spreads through the air we breathe: death comes right through the vital element for us … It is also significant that this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers and that in these days, the withdrawal from Afghanistan shows us images that we were no longer used to see. This exhibition will inevitably be, for the works conceived and imagined in years so close, but extraordinarily distant for everything that has happened in the meantime, an ideal bridge between two eras. It will mark the boundary between two worlds, between two ways of thinking and seeing reality. We will have the privilege of understanding how this break, this wound that we all carry on us, has changed the artistic approach, highlighting which will be the issues still unresolved and hidden under the carpet and which the new challenges that art will have to face in what we hope we can define the post-Covid 19 era.
It was a pleasure to join the Jury for the prestigious Arte Lagune Prize and to look through the wide range of international cross-artform submissions, the quality and diversity of work was excellent. It really excites me to see proposals from all over the world, and importantly as a curator I am able to encounter new talents. Applying to open calls such as the Arte Laguna Prize truly is an essential part of raising your profile and visibility as an artist.
The programme of the Arte Laguna Prize offers the opportunity to recognise the work of outstanding artists working across various artforms including photography. Here I would like to highlight my thoughts about the photographic works. As a jury member it is fascinating to see the range of ideas and approaches throughout the submissions, exploring multiple subjects from long-form documentary to wider cultural, economic and political concerns to conceptually driven series, be it digital, analogue, generative, performative and beyond.
From the many hundreds of ideas submitted we saw intelligent and engaging photography from around the world, the ideas and techniques ranged from the fascinatingly surreal AI generated urban views from Van Den Ouden, through to the sublime moonlit mountains of Yarid Bandilli, the giant fabric cyanotypes of Brigitte Gaggl, the levitating trees of Marcel Stahn and the faceless suburban buildings of Thomas Schlareth. The subject matter explored through the works of the finalists charts the time that we are in through a contemporary manifestation of politics, family histories, landscapes, mental illness, climate, relationships, loneliness, conflict, control and the sublime are all considerable subjects that have been explored in detail within the works.
One project that has particularly left a strong image in my memory is the work of Kriss Munsya Dreams Tonite. Highway Reflections, The Eraser this powerful, visually arresting and emotionally powerful image is rooted in the impact of a family road trip. The work combines experiences of the past with possibilities of the future. A transformational narrative that centres on a black man revisiting racially charged traumas, that in the past he felt were normal, but in the present have new meaning, and the importance of working with memory to share the lessons that he has learned. The resulting image is aesthetically beguiling yet politically pointed, intelligently arresting, complex and immensely important.
With so many valuable thoughts and expressions submitted it was a serious responsibility, a pleasure and a challenge to select the finalists. As with most jury processes it is a challenge to view the work online, to appreciate the depth and nuance of ideas and intention. However our judging process enabled us to read, think and revisit all of the submissions in order to appreciate the works. I understand that for every artist their work is genuinely very important, and I encourage all artists at every stage of development to apply for opportunities such as this one, to keep going with their work and to have or continue to develop the confidence to find their own voice and strategies to communicate visually.
As a juror selecting works for the Arte Laguna Prize, I was looking for something authentic or with a special aspect or detail approached in a way that I might not have seen before. This could be a subtle nuance or a spectacular revelation. Mainly I wanted to see something that is genuine to the artist. I am interested in all kinds of practice, the key thing is for the work to be true to the originator and the subject. The work also needs to provoke in some way, through ideas and/or composition as a single image or as a series. I am very interested in the politics and ethics of the content of the image as well as how the works communicate and make me think. The finalists have all demonstrated exceptional points of view I would also like to point out that all of the artists that we have selected have shown us the richness that is made possible by going in deep rather than wide.
What are we talking about when we say: “Design”? It’s about the world as we know it: in fact, everything around us has been (more or less well) designed. We could sum it all up with a famous quote: “From the spoon to the city”. However, today this is not enough: design claims (or should claim) its own emotionalism, its own poetry that goes beyond the utility and necessity of things. And such freedom, such emancipation from the bonds of function and form, also finds its own space and reason in the participation in a competition like Arte Laguna Prize. Not having to deal with the industrial constraints of serial production and marketing that is based on numbers, design lies (comfortably?) halfway between art and publishing. Therefore the type of the object freely ranges from tables to chairs, from containers to sofas; the materials vary from woods to papers, from metals to plastics; the finishes and surfaces from the rawest to the most precious. “It is not possible to assess an innovation by asking the opinions of potential customers,” wrote Donald Norman, who at the time was a professor of cognitive science, in his essay Emotional Design in 2004. “People claimed that they would appreciate certain products that later turned out to be a flop in the market, or they claimed that they were not interested at all in products that later became commercially successful. The mobile phone is a good example. We wish the same luck to this new design on display.