Badly Buried

Alessandro di Pietro. Tomb Writer, 2021. Photo by Domenico de Conte.


Artists: Jacopo Belloni, Irene Coppola, Alessandro Di Pietro, Giovanni Giaretta, Eleonora Luccarini, GianMarco Porru, Agnese Spolverini, Massimo Vaschetto, Ilaria Vinci

C0-curated with Jade Barget and Naz Cuguoğlu

Coordinated by Lucrezia Calabro Visconti and Michele Bertolino

Dates: October 2 – November 28, 2021

Palazzo Re Rebaudengo, Piazza Roma 1, Guarene

Beneath the Palazzo Re Rebaudengo, there lie underground tunnels. Nobody knows where they lead or what they hide, but some say that if you listen carefully at night, you can hear voices and see shadows turning quickly around the corners. Beneath the cover of domestic space, these tunnels might stand for how the fantastic is merely hiding in plain sight.

Badly Buried is a descent—a dive below to what lies beneath. Beyond secret tunnels that serve as our gateway to the subterranean, we begin to discern the underground as a shapeshifter: it is the soil, the subconscious, a mine, a sex dungeon, a cave, or a grave. It is a space where both the material and the imaginary coalesce.

The appeal of the underground has shaped mythology, epic poetry, and popular forms of literature across time. From 24th century BCE Egyptian myth of Osiris’ descent into the underworld to become master of the Afterlife, to Jean Valjean’s fall into the clammy sewers of Paris, that hide the wretched, in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in 1862. In Notes on the Underground (2008), historian Rosalind Williams surveys the subterranean as conceptual terrain, charting a genealogy of tales so ancient and universal that their fundamental structure—the opposition of surface and depth—may well be rooted in the structure of the human brain.

Descending into the underground and its inner worlds is an act of searching, of contending with the unknown, the abject, and the internal; of opening passages and holding space with the monstrous. Journeying downwards, the exhibition asks: What knowledge arises from the act of descending physically, psychologically, and socially? Emerging from the underground, what narratives do we uncover? What can obscurity reveal?

Having crossed thresholds between worlds, knowledge resurfaces in the form of performances, installations, and moving image works investigating notions of labor, secrecy, pleasure, monstrosity, and death. The works bring us from the bowels of a BDSM dungeon to a pixie’s bathroom, from the depths of the subconscious to the earth, and back again.

Jacopo Belloni’s sculptures and installations bring esoteric practices, rituals, and contemporary spiritual practices to the historical space of Palazzo Re Rebaudengo. Ilaria Vinci’s works are speculative in their nature—making use of fantastical realist narrations, she imagines alternative realities, while Alessandro di Pietro’s “TOMB WRITER” turns the palazzo into a tomb, where dead bodies return to the earth—a cyclical way of thinking about time.

While entering the room that holds Irene Coppola’s work might feel like ascending above ground, the scars she surfaces from recent history tell another tale. Using industrial materials, Coppola plants a ghostly orchard, where tropical plants silently testify to the violence of warfare and colonial intervention. Climbing further puts the viewer in front of GianMarco Porru’s “MALEDETTA.” In this three-channel video installation, we witness a hypnosis session where a voice offscreen reveals, in spellbinding detail, how Medea—a magician and master in the art of potions and poisons—turned into a monstrous figure as a result of forces far beyond her control.

Journeying into the underworld also means looking inward, into our own depths. For Badly Buried, Eleonora Luccarini nosedives into the abyss of her multidimensional self to wrestle with her alter ego, Leonard Santé, while Massimo Vaschetto explores BDSM culture wherein, resembling the katabasis motif in literature, sadomasochists descend to underworlds and return physically, emotionally, or spiritually transformed. There, the artist finds resonances with Christianity.

Sinking deeper into the underground of the Palazzo, Giovanni Giaretta’s media archaeology practice excavates fantasies of the cinema cavern and the minerality of our digital devices. Beneath slick surfaces, the extracted materials seep through. These excavations and extractions take us further down to the bitumen mines of Abbateggio, where Agnese Spolverini tells a story not only of hidden labor and oppressive working conditions, but the immense sympathy and solidarity needed to sustain life in this hostile environment.

Nothing stays underground for long when they are badly buried. The soil will erode, bringing secrets, suppressed knowledge, and social underworlds to light.

Click here to download the exhibition booklet.

Where We Are: When the Storm Comes?

When speaking of revolution, we often forget to mention the many moments of waiting and merely surviving. Experiencing the mundane means that you have survived another day – there is nothing to report because you have evaded surveillance.

Hương Ngô, We are still here / Chúng ta vẫn ở đây / Narito pa rin kami

Where We Are: When the Storm Comes? is an online zine in three languages, done in collaboration between feminist publishers Gantala Press and Bar de Force Press. This project is an attempt at documenting everyday life and feminist responses to being locked down or surveilled, as part of our respective country’s solutions to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gathered here are projects that question and critique the rhetoric of resiliency and the strategies of discipline, silencing, and censorship that pervade the so-called New Normal for both the Philippines and Vietnam.

In Grey Time

Alee Garibay

At Patuloy ang Gulong

Art Cube, March 7, 2020

Alee Garibay, Pansamantala (2020)

The phrase “at patuloy ang gulong,”can be heard in an air of resignation to fate, which comes with the understanding that what goes up must come down. “Gulong,” the Filipino word for “wheel,” can be interpreted as the wheel of time – the natural cycles of creation and destruction. Alee Garibay ruminates on these natural (and man-made) cycles over the seven works that make up her 8th solo exhibition, At Patuloy Ang Gulong, which is a response to the eruption of the long dormant Taal Volcano.

The Taal eruption on January 12, 2020 buried homes, businesses, and farms, and displaced 40,000 residents of the surrounding towns, many of whom are still taking refuge in evacuation centers. In the immediate aftermath, Alee joined other volunteers in cooking food for the evacuees who fled from Batangas to Alfonso, Cavite.

Depicting the human cost of these cycles, Alee points out another interpretation of the title, wherein “ang gulong,” (the wheel) can also be read as “anggulo,” or an angle. Playing on this notion of angles, she cites Katsushika Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt. Fuji as having inspired these renditions of Taal.  This can also be further parsed into “ang gulo,” or chaos. Every turn of phrase, angle, or distortion of the title only paves the way for a different story.

Alee cannot help but paint a bleak picture of the loss and helplessness for the little control we have over nature’s hysterical strength. We are, after all, powerless to make the volcano stop. The aftermath of destruction can be sensed in Alee’s ghostly figures that cut and float through the ash-colored landscape, popping up like jumbled memories in the mind’s eye of a sleep-deprived, grief-stricken refugee. But life an also be seen stirring beneath the grey surface in the hopeful faces shown in portraits like Handa (which hangs in direct opposition to Karamay, the only other portrait in the series), or foregrounded in Dumaloy (a landscape with figures doing a native ritual in which Garibay’s son, Alon, makes an appearance).

The richness of language and its capacity to breathe new life into the stories we tell runs deep through these works. Salin for instance reads as “to translate,” but also “to change vessels”; Timbang suggests both the burden of bearing weight and balance achieved when we take only what we can carry. These titles lend another layer to the figures populating Garibay’s landscapes, and their attempts at showing composure over grief, and the need to carry on with daily life.

The shifting meanings of the Filipino word “pansamantala” can suggest the temporality of one’s conditions, as in “Pansamantala lang ito,” or “This is just for now” or, by changing the prefix from “pan-” to “pag-” in the case of “mapagsamantala,” the meaning changes entirely to that of exploiting or taking advantage of – both scenarios all too familiar to Filipinos.

Still, Alee sees disaster relief and response not just as a moment of desperation but a reaffirmation of community, finding reassurance in knowing that in times of need we still have one another to turn to. Dressing her characters in 19th century Filipino as well as ethnic clothing, Garibay draws from a time in which people had to rely on their immediate community for survival, lending an air to the works that is nostalgic but not escapist. 

Much has been written about the Filipino people as resilient, but these tales of resiliency have recently been colored by the reality of resiliency coming of being prone to abuse – a pliancy that is as damaging as well as defensive. We were resilient amid foreign presence and eventual invasion and we continue to be resilient at the continued abuse of those in power. 

The works in At Patuloy Ang Gulong bear this complexity of resiliency in the face of structural oppression and exploitation, painting at the intersection of nostalgia and critique to show just how far back in time that exploitation stretches but also how it continues, rolling into the present, immersing us in its urgencies while reminding us of how they pass, but not without what are now incalculable losses. And still, life must go on, the world will keep turning, and in every frame the volcano still makes its appearance. We dust the ash off and push forward. 

The Spectacle of Surveillance

AUSLÄNDER RAUS! SCHLINGENSIEFS CONTAINER (Austria 2002, Paul Poet) Official Trailer from Paul Poet on Vimeo.

Christopher Schlingensief and Paul Poet
Auslander raus!
Site Specific performance and installation/Documentary video/Installation
Dimensions variable – one week/90 minutes/Dimensions variable
2000/2013

I had myself readmitted to my Master’s program this semester, under the condition that I have to take two extra courses, as a penalty for overstaying in the program. One of those courses is an art criticism class. This is an exercise in “interpretation,” from that class.


Ausländer raus! Schlingensief’s Container (tr. Foreigners Out! 2000) is a sculpture and performance that took place over the span of one week in Vienna, Austria. As the name suggests, the performance itself took place inside a shipping container, which in turn was installed on the grounds of the Vienna State Opera House. Auslander raus took its final form as a 90-minute film drawn from a 24-hour online stream of the lives of 12 actual asylum seekers. Both were directed by artist and documentary filmmaker, Paul Poet.

There are layers to this work, the first being artist Christopher Schlingensief’s casting of the twelve who would be made to live in the container for a week. Filmed in the summer of 2000, the show was realized as part of Vienna’s Wochenfest, which directly translates to “weeklong fest”, but falls within the grander tradition of European summer festivals – held to celebrate things we who live closer to the equator often take for granted, like blue skies, sunshine, and not freezing to death while walking down the street.

The twelve Schlingensief casted were, as mentioned earlier, actual asylum seekers–a fact that bears repeating because of the inherent absurdity of the phrase wherein, yes, Schlingensief actually did play with the fate of twelve people who are compromised not only by global capital, but by historical and political circumstances over which they had no control. Yes, these manipulations (and probable transgressions) were broadcast for the highly-literate and overeducated Viennese audience of the Wochenfest. Yes, this played out inside a concealed container van which for an entire week stood before one of Vienna’s proudest temples to high culture – an eyesore erected by an international artist as if to besmirch the Opera House’s legacy.

I had the good fortune of seeing some remnants from the afterlife of the work: first as an installation at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, where the container itself was installed behind a wire fence, with clips from the film being shown on screens. The second time was during a workshop with Viennese curator, Kathrin Rhomberg, who used Poet’s documentary (which we viewed in its entirety) as a case study in public engagement.

Watching the material filmed inside the container, it seems obvious that Schlingensief is not only courting the audience’s incredulity, he is pandering to that visceral reaction; a sensation from which the viewer might find that Schlingensief’s medium is not simply performance, as his materials were not just the choreographed bodies of actual human beings living human lives. The dominant material in this case is performative: it is the crowd’s appetite for racism and their need to respond to it, whether in the affirmative or as resistance. This cannot be choreographed, rather it develops alongside an existing system, moving according to a socialized choreography. 

As a large scale, multidimensional form (or illustration) of Social Sculpture (to borrow from Joseph Beuys), the crowd in this case was as integral to Schlingensief’s container as it was to the rest of the Wochenfest, as indispensable as the presence of a ruling elite might be to an institution like the opera house, or like the Culture with a capital C that a Cultural Capital like Vienna would hold so dear. What Schlingensief’s container appeared to point out–in simpler terms that appealed to oncoming populism–were the shared roots between both racism and high culture; where to sustain the illusion and prestige of the opera house, some (or many) must be kept aus.  

In the year 2000, the same year Schlingensief and Poet collaborated on the many layers that made up Ausländer raus!, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), under the leadership of Jörg Haider had been elected into the National Council of Austria and formed part of the new government. To say Haider had Nazi leanings was an understatement. Under Haider, Austria was not only being led by, far right extremists, they were seen as colluding with them, which would then lead to diplomatic sanctions imposed by other national councils within the EU. 

This was the political climate Schlingensief was responding to as he led the filming of auslanders forced to negotiate this difficult historical impasse. Done in the tasteful tradition of the UK’s Big Brother series, the container’s resident auslanders were voted not only out of the container, but out of the country–much to the delight of the performance’s FPO-supporting spectators. This way, deportation as spectacle was not only a matter of history repeating, but of humanity bearing witness to its regression in real time. 

This dimension of the work merged spectacle and surveillance, politics and entertainment in a seamless commentary and magnification of how the two really do merge in real life, shining a light on how Austria’s morbid fascination with a racist like Haider was not only increasing his visibility in the eyes of the voting public. This same visibility bore dire repercussions on the lives of those who would have preferred to fly under the radar or would have preferred a more empowering representation. 

And if this sounds familiar, that’s because it is still happening in real time. Schlingensief may have made Auslander raus close to two decades ago, but the ruckus and reflections it generated are still very much felt in the shadow of Trump, in the populist politics of leaders like Duterte, and the authoritarian surveillance and censorship that gave rise to the spread of disease and violence under XI Jinping, as well as the rampant Sinophobia that followed. Auslander raus will continue to matter so long as fascists are still elected as leaders.

Under Haider, “those” were not nameless statistics, but migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers – the very terminology of asylum being rooted in the need for peace, quiet. For a place to recover from the chaos of a world gone mad. The container gave them that space to hide from public view, a container being a literal enclosure. The comforts of being enclosed however could only be felt on the condition of forgetting that someone was filming, which was the very same condition that the original Big Brother such a success. Surveillance then became a precondition for existing, and a laudable existence involved making peace with surveillance.

At the end of the day (or the week, in this case), without surveillance, there could be no performance – only asylum. Only performance however could guarantee permission to stay or orders to leave. What the audience does not see however is the extent to which this performance is also a reflection, a notion which is also at the center of Social Sculpture, defined by Beuys as the capacity of all to live creatively once everything can be seen as art. What Beuys did not include in his definition however was how the impulse to destroy (as in the case maybe not of Auslander raus! But of the FPO itself) could be seen as a creative impulse as well. And in this climate of destruction/creation, we are all fighting for permission to stay in our countries, to feel at home, to be useful to a system we did not design, to continue existing in structures not of our making. In this way, we are all foreigners, and we are all in danger of being voted out.

State of Nature

The Outdoor Murals of Manhattan Parkview Tower

Waterfall

I had myself readmitted to my Master’s program this semester, under the condition that I have to take two extra courses, as a penalty for overstaying in the program. One of those courses is an art criticism class. This is an exercise in “description,” from that class.


In a prime section of a commercial center in Quezon City stands a waterfall. 

Or rather: a painting of a waterfall, a mural to be even more specific. The mural is about 10 feet tall and it extends across the three walls of the space – a vestibule crammed between two restaurants in the New Frontier Theater, a self-described “classic landmark of the ‘60s”. 

At the bottom of the mural, where the wall meets the floor, the artist has rendered a calm river in in acrylic and gouache, pebbles peeking through its surface. This river continues across the floor, where it has been scratched by and scuffed by the shoes of numerous passersby, and is occasionally littered with cigarette butts and other bits of trash. To the sides of the room are plant boxes which also house the bright yellow spotlights used to illuminate the mural.

The waterfall itself at the center of the mural is a valiant attempt at rendering the violent foaming gush of falling water. It is flanked by a forested mountainside, and above that, the blue sky peeking through the slotted windows of the building’s exhaust room. With the exhaust is behind the painting, the viewer might (above the din of foot traffic and your usual ambient mall noise) link the perpetual drone of industrial fans to the roar of falling water. This exhaust room also happens to be the very reason why this painted vestibule cannot be rented out to other commercial tenants. 

To a casual viewer, the work suggests nature, suggests peace, suggests the spaces undisturbed by humanity – spaces that could not be farther from where we are, in Araneta Center. 

If one were to walk just a little further, they would find themselves in Manhattan Parkview Tower; curiously named because while, yes, it is a tower, the park for which it offers a view is nowhere to be found. So while a Parkview suggests the presence of a park, the mural in turn seems to say, “this is the only park we have.”