The Sudden Outpost catalog 2009


Filmic and other peripeteias

Multiple roots

“This is not a multicultural era anymore, but a global world, Creole from scratch. My bet is that artists are inventing this new global modernity”, says Nicolas Bourriaud. “Radicant defines an organism that evolves while its roots grow, as opposed to radical, which means ‘belonging to its own roots’. While Postmodernism relates to origins (where you come from, from which community), Altermodernity relates to the development of one’s own roots that are mobile and temporary.”

With respect to this, Carola Spadoni is a radicant, belonging to that mobile generation that travels through the globalized world and creates its own roots here and there, generating multiple identities. The universal homogenization of Modern was followed by the recovery of one’s own roots in Postmodern. Now, “a new modernity is emerging, reconfigured on a globalization era – with respect to its economical, political and cultural aspects: an alter modern culture” (Bourriaud). Neither an International Style nor a Genius Loci, but diverse and sometimes mutant identities (so much so that is almost impossible to use the definition of identity anymore) and constantly focusing on the context in which they operate.

“Multiculturalism and identity are going to be overtaken by creolization” (Bourriaud): a sort of permanent hybridization, a perpetual and widespread crossbreeding. These roots that move fluidly like water plants partly match that rhizome model anticipated by Deleuze and Guattari. This globalizing network of several countries involves the crucial issue of translations (“This new universalism is based on translations, subtitles and generalized dubbing”, says Bourriaud). The transformation started in the mid-90s and continued fast thanks to Erasmus projects, spreading of the Internet, low-cost flights …

It was quite easy to spot an Italian artist up to now. Will this still be possible in the future? I remember once hearing Gianni Kounellis (whom I think is the most Italian of artists) saying: “We had to pack our bags and travel and we have lost our sweetness…”. Now, Carola Spadoni says that “the growth of aerial roots strengthens the traveling” and she has “rediscovered various sorts of sweetness as an ‘emigrant’ in America, as well as during a long journey through India…”.  The artist stands between rootedness and uprootedness.

Cinema is close by

“I grew up in a family of cinephiles who worked in film” says Carola Spadoni. Her grandfather was a sound man and worked with Rossellini for a long time, her uncle a boom operator, her mother a TV director. She grew up listening to stories from the sets of Ben Hur and Bicycle thieves. “My family talked about Robert Mitchum or Katharine Hepburn as they talked about relatives or friends: cinema was not separated from the everyday life.” Then the passion for the masterpieces of noir cinema, literally devoured on the private TV channels. As the artist says: “cinema is close by.” Cinema is in the blood, it’s always been and will be. So, when she was nineteen years old, after finishing high-school, Carola Spadoni moves to New York and studies cinema at Brooklyn College. Then she works as camera assistant in many independent film productions and as cinematographer for some short films. In 1996, she’s the co-founder of Open Cine and organize in a small playground in Little Italy a screening series of Italian classics films and b-movies: spreading the knowledge on cinema is part of her project. She shoots her first short films and her first screening in a gallery is also in New York at the John Weber Gallery, on January 1998. After ten years she goes back to Rome. She looks at the visual arts, the American experimental tradition and the New Hollywood of the early 70s, with the first works by Bogdanovich, Coppola, Spielberg… But her interest in cinema and its whole history involves all her work as a filmmaker. Neighbors (1996) is a short film in which, through windows, we can spy on the intimate moments of some neighbours in New York: it’s the classic theme of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, as well as a typical American theme of many paintings and films. In 1997, she makes a videofilm with the significant title Al Confine tra il Missouri e la Garbatella/Freddy and Victor Blind Date: the meeting (defined by Cristiana Perrella as “weird”) in an open-air café between a daughter and a father played by poet Victor Cavallo who meet for the very first time. It’s a shot and reverse shot game, halfway between the American myth and the soulful Roman style. “In the dialogue we used autobiographical references, and the intimacy between us was also helpfull” says the director who plays the daughter. Victor Cavallo stars again as the main character in the following Giravolte/Freewheeling in Roma (shot in 1998 and completed in 2001), almost a sequel, a ride through the city on a clapped-out moped, visiting three places that don’t belong to “normal” life: a homeless shack under a bridge, the souk of Porta Portese, and the all night bar in the wholesale food market quarters. Each location offers a narration cue: the suicide attempt while cooking spaghetti on the Tevere riverbank, the surreal election campaign of a candidate for the city mayor, the unexpected arrival of an American couple – played by Raz Degan and Drena De Niro – at the night-time bar. However, there is not a common plot just as there is no time and space continuity; it doesn’t even look like these three moments are three parts of the same day. Cristiana Paternò considers the choice of the cinemascope format – kept as a priority within the small budget – “stylistically crucial”. Apart from the wandering adventures of the ride, “freewheeling” may be referred to the way the camera spins and its evolutions, but also to a concept of time that does not respect a linear narrative sequence, not even within the same tranche de vie. The poem recited as a sort of background noise halfway through the bar scene (actually shot in Rocca di Papa) is a real love hymn for a contemporary, antiheroic, anti-monumental, multiethnic, post-Fellinian and post-Pasolinian Rome. In the bizarre presence of a trout, in the bar, Cavallo says that he’s finally met his 19-year-old daughter, letting us think that this is a possible sequel of Freddy and Victor Blind Date. While this small feature film is “genre-free”, shown at the Berlinale 2002 in the Forum section, the following Dio è Morto/God is Dead, on of the winner in 2003 of the DARC Award for the Venice Biennale, is a work on the western genre, which Spadoni leads off the rails. The main character is a cowgirl, a sort of Calamity Jane, who walks wounded and, in the meantime, struggles to get rid of her clothes. Just remember that even Sergio Leone made the following statement regarding women and the western genre: “If you cut her from the film, in a version that goes on in your head, it gets much better. The main problem in the desert is survival. Women were an obstacle to survival! Women usually just hold the story back”. The inspirational models are the atypical western Missouri (Arthur Penn, 1976); Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) where the clash is between the saloon-owner Joan Crawford and the cattle-queen Mercedes McCambridge; A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), by the beloved Sergio Leone, a fake spaghetti-western with a political theme. Three films that turned inside out the rules of this genre. The physical feeling is conveyed through the sound, the breath that almost touches the viewer, the sound of the steps. This is her first installation work and the artist is looking for a diverse spatial contest, a cinema mise en espace. Spadoni shoots on super 35 mm film, then transfers to digital and in post splits the frame in half, in order to achieve a projection that is as horizontal as possible: through the intervention on the film process, the splitting of the frame, she changes the format to an unprecedented 32:9, to compose the space of the installation. Live Trough This (2006) originates with shots of the audience at a concert combined with the shots of an open-air screening of the lovemaking scene in Zabriskie Point (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1970) on which the artist casts her glance. Also in this work, Spadoni seems to look for a physical feeling beyond that of the media representation of perfect bodies, focusing on sweaty bodies, in a state of ecstasy. Of great importance is the music composed by the band Zu for these images. The installation in the Hangar Bicocca (Milan, 2007) consists of a central screen and two side screens: the spectators shall not look for a central position to the images, but move within with their own bodies, watching them from an unsafe distance. A different video installation is echo’s bones (2007) that, presented at the Auditorium in Rome, opens a window on an opposite space within the architecture that hosts it. The locations are two: the large fissure of the Cretto of Burri in Gibellina and a deserted Sardinian dance-hall dominated by a large “Kill Time” sign. A real “non-place” that needs to be circumnavigated to enter the depths of the fissure, its own small canyons used as a perfect location for the loved western genre. In a sunny high noon, imaginary steps resound: in this lonely scenario, there are no human beings (“Whereas, generally, many scenes are almost too crowded in my works,” says the artist). The editing creates a single circle; the loop – used so much in contemporary art for exposition needs – finally makes sense. Carola Spadoni works on the structural elements of the film language.

Suddenly, an outpost

The outpost mechanism is used in the middle of a desert or in a war (it is also a warfare term). It is a place from which you can watch everything around you. But, in this case, the outpost too becomes “radicant”, temporary, unstable. The Sudden Outpost, the exhibition held in the Cesare Manzo gallery in Rome, is originated by the need to find new parameters and marks a new stage in the work of Carola Spadoni. This stage comes from the widening of a dimension that became more and more installative  in the latest film works. Through banners, embroidered blankets and fabrics, assemblages, photographs, light boxes, a super 8 and a video, the artist leads us on a path through Italian, American and Indian popular culture.

The video consists in two parts that match the two elements of the title: The Sudden & Outpost. The Sudden, shot for the exhibition, in interiors, is inspired from one of the classic Vito Acconci’s videos (Theme Song, 1973). The artist uses the same shot with the camera always at the ground level. As in a synecdoche (a part for the whole), we see the artist’s legs bouncing towards us in a sequence of restless movements that the artist defines silly,  startling and giddy . These images alternate with the ones shot in a small home-made set, which includes necklaces, pieces of leftover fabric, shot in Super 8 and video with the traditional stop-motion animation technique. This soft theatre, after several metamorphoses, explodes on the notes of The Mountain of Madness, played by the Californian band Magic Lantern. Outpost, shot (also in stop-motion) in 1993 in Arizona and unreleased up to today, is a journey through the American imagery of the frontier: the Route 66 (the one celebrated by Kerouac and Ed Ruscha), the Petrified Forest and the red land of Sedona, a prelude to the latest stage of the artist’s work.

In the central part, we find ourselves into a kaleidoscopic Pow Wow, the ceremonial and ritual dance of the Native Americans. The perfect point of view to watch the work is by laying on the ground.

It is a whole narrative assemblage, a work based on the typically American idea of patchwork. The references are the roman and newyorker background, the journeys, the cultural passions and the past experiences. All the vicinities and contradictions that this path opens up.

Wrapping paper is the background of this sudden outpost where the banners resume slogans, symbolic or banal sentences, of recent memory and contemporary, always irreverent and sharp. The wrapping paper embraces the space like a shell, cutting out a mental world as if a cranium, welcoming the most diverse events. An uninterrupted trail is given by the low horizon of the landscapes printed on the lower part, those of the American western genre.

The fast American landscapes of the light boxes are prints of the Outpost Super 8 Kodakrome frames, a kind of film that Kodak does not manufacture anymore: like many other artists today, Spadoni is fascinated by obsolete technologies, coming from a recent past. This is what the image with the writing “Super 8 Motel” refers to, the stop-motion frames are quick, interrupted, slightly burned.

The Mandala n.2 made of fabric (silk, shantung, cotton, tulle) and photograph prints is mounted on the wall (at the MART in Rovereto, for the Eurasia exhibition, the same concentric form, larger and with different colors, was placed on the floor, the Mandala n.1): some of the photos were taken in the capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur, and feature images of tools for measuring time, while others were taken in the Thar desert. One of Carola Spadoni’s working strategies is to put into new context parts of previous works: an example of this are the photograph prints from God is Dead, the anti-western film with the silent female lead. Just like the combination of commercial, preserved and found materials. In the great cosmos of the wrapping paper, there is a comet made of iron wire, trimmings and macramé, with the nucleus made of stills from video taken from Live trough this (2006), and the tail showing a detail of the Native American ceremony. For the first time with the Mandala n.1, the artist has “touched by hand” something and this was a great discovery. It brought her closer to crafts, it surely brought her to work with other people again, but within a more quiet and thoughtful context than in film-making and with a different mental approach. The spring up was the journey to India in 2005 and a small votive mandala that was given to her as a present. “My work is going in a new direction,” says the artist. “Now, I wouldn’t make a feature film produced in a traditional way”. And, as a matter of fact, the new video is intentionally low-fi and the very choice of using stop-motion characterizes the artisan-like working enviroment. Spadoni chooses again to compose a narration, of this mix between Arizona, India and the memories (the slogan about the Italian politician Aldo Moro, but it might as well be Monopoly or any other game…), but this time in a different way, because it is addressed to a specific audience, the art audience.

Go for the heart, Ramon. The Heart

The banners are another matter altogether. A craft-ready made mixture with a pop slant. A woollen blanket with letters embroidered with a silk yarn (imitating the hatching used in cartoons to represent depth) and Afghan embroidered fabric is the equivalent of a discourse about the 70s in Italy: the writing on Aldo Moro looks light-hearted, the blanket is for children, but the meaning is the exact opposite. “dead by heroine, dead for labor, whothehellcares if aldo moro is dead”. In a sort of a child’s rhyme there is all the desperation of Italy during the years of terrorism: the deaths due to drugs, the exploitation of labour and the deaths on the workplace, the victims of terrorism, the bitterness and the cynicism. But there’s also an antidote to all this, which is also typically Italian: the creativity and the irony. Tragedy and comedy. An almost civil war, but also the most unique Italian cultural moment. “will pick up iron will clean basements” refers to the activities of the Roma people and the new poor, to the new multiethnic city, the cotton tape embroidery on fake mink traces the sign in an elementary school handwriting, using the colours of the Italian flag. “deadoralive”, sewn on jeans, refers to a crucial theme: the struggle for survival.

“Go for the heart, Ramon” is the unforgettable line delivered by Clint Eastwood to Gian Maria Volonté (aka John Wells) in Sergio Leone’s A fistful of dollars (1964). Everybody agrees that this film marks the birth of spaghetti western, a genre (born when Americans not only had left Rome, but also produced less and less western films) that apparently represents a combination of the American and Italian cultures. Among the previous examples: a western film produced in Italy in 1913, directed by Leone’s father and starring his mother; the comic book Tex; some American classics like Shane (Gorge Stevens, 1953) and Warlock (Edward Dmytryk, 1959).  But first of all, the contamination is clear because the film is a perfect remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo the Bodyguard, which was made from Dashiell Hammet’s novel Red Harvest (1929): a translation from one language to another. The commedia dell’arte was also mentioned, particularly with respect to Goldoni’s Harlequin the Servant of two Masters, but – in the end – it was clarified that this title was mentioned by Tonino Valerii of Jolly Film, when the Japanese director sued the company for infringement of copyright. In the legendary finale, the stranger appears from the smoke after an explosion and instigates Ramon to aim for the heart. The latter had the following theory about weapons: “When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with the gun is a dead man”. But now Ramon’s rifle shots do not kill, thanks to a steel sheet that works as a bulletproof vest (a trick derived from a target shooting session). At that point, the magnificent stranger (this was the initially intended title) challenges Ramon to a duel, but the weapons need reloading and the gun is quicker. The plot structure is the same as a classical tragedy. Japan, Greece, Shakespeare and western: a great combination! Leone wants to make a realistic (or neorealistic, perhaps) western film. The film was shot with a very low budget, Eastwood was chosen because he was cheap, but the film’s success is huge and unexpected. The great innovation is bringing the character actors, the supporting characters of the typical American western at the centre of the film, mainly using close-ups. Like Fellini, Leone believes that cinema is a matter of faces. In a world of passions, Eastwood, the most laconic of Hollywood stars, puts up his poker face. All is life is summarized in a sentence: “It’s a story too long to tell”.

The more I think about it and the more I believe that the real precedent for Carola Spadoni’s contamination of media, languages and cultures is really Sergio Leone. He successfully mixes American English with Italian with a Roman accent, creating characters that are halfway between a Roman scoundrel and a western hero. “When Sergio played the scenes on the set, he transformed the character into a Roman parody” (Franco Giraldi). In his biography, Chrstopher Frayling wrote: “he wanted to recreate the magic he enjoyed when he went to the movies as a kid for the benefit of the adult audience of the 60s”. Some characters are “very Roman”, says Morricone. The locations are hybrid, too: the film is set in Mexico, but shot in a part of Spain that reminds Southern Italy. It has a wholly “multimedia” approach: Ennio Morricone’s music (they were schoolmates back in Trastevere), as a matter of fact, is much more than just a soundtrack. Eastwood has even said that Leone’s films made western movies “opera-like”. Clint Eastwood’s costume in A fistful of dollars is unforgettable: poncho, sheepskin vest, jeans; a style that will become typical of the 60s and 70s. It almost looks like one of Carola Spadoni’s possible sources of inspiration for the materials used in the banners.

Don’t get sweet like Marsala!

Go for the heart, Ramon is embroidered with tulle and cotton tape on fake leather, and represents a fierce and challenging attitude towards conventions and convictions.

But the aspect that Carola Spadoni shares with Sergio Leone’s cinema in the deepest way is the representation of the epic. After all, even the decision of shooting Freewheeling in Roma in cinemascope aimed to provide her characters with an epic stature. The same epic nature that Spadoni shoots for with the light boxes, with the grand and uninterrupted horizon of the wrapping paper. The aim of the artist is to give back to viewer it’s own epical stature, nowdays lost.

One of the best interpretations of this rich and complex multimedia installation is found in Stay gold, a photo taken in Arizona that the artist has kept with her for fifteen years. It portraits a sort of backstage, the back side of an advertising sign located in a fringe area, a suburban corner with a  dull and charming look. This is one of the typical borderline places chosen by the artist, which are real places and places of the mind at once.

An uncertain and open frontier as a space yet to be discovered. “Don’t get sweet like Marsala!”, said Alighiero Boetti, meaning don’t change, don’t get too sweet, don’t age. Stay gold is an America idiom, a warning not to become harsh and to keep one’s integrity, that goes from singular to plural, for the individual and the community: “Stay like this, golden!”.

Laura Cherubini