Giulia Bruno and Micol Roubini
Curated by Daniela Persico
4 May – 5 June 2021
As I cross the threshold of Casa Testori, my memory inevitably evokes a phrase that for many years dominated the entrance hall. This phrase, a quotation from Giovanni Testori, not only revealed clearly the extent to which the man and the art he created (as writer, playwright, artist and critic) were indissolubly linked. I always had the premonition that these words from the past would have a precise bearing on our future. On the wall was written: “I assure you, however, that what has always helped me to live and, more than that, to accept life with all its curses, is the return home. We make these forays outside – which can also be violent or destructive – but the return home lends an ineffable warmth to the experience of the excursion itself. Because returning does not mean forgetting, it does not mean shrugging off the violence and destruction. It simply means returning to a place that welcomes you, that receives all that pain and nastiness, giving them a sense…”.
Casa Testori is therefore a place that bears this memory. A place of sense, as family homes used to be, even when the geometric layouts exuded severity and the gentle elegance was hidden at the back, among the fertile wonders of the garden. At the same time, however, it evokes an inner journey, a movement, a dialogue between the ego of the walls and the ego of the person returning within them. Testori could draw upon the centrality of family and faith as a means of reconciling this duality. For the contemporary artist, dispersed in a notionally united Europe and uncertain where to seek an empathetic base for their memories, this same duality is a challenge.
Collasso analitico [Analytical Collapse] is more an ongoing process and a wide-open inquiry than an exhibition. It gathers the work of two cosmopolitan artists, Giulia Bruno and Micol Roubini, both born in Milan but with roots that have led them elsewhere. Giulia Bruno has for many years been a close collaborator of Armin Linke. She has crossed the globe in search of a utopia linked to her family story: Esperanto. In one sense, this is a language able to reconnect various nations, crossing the frontiers. In another, it is the language of resistance. It was born in non-aligned countries, creating new communities in the name of a project of universalism. Micol Roubini started from an old photo of a house and a list of objects. These were the most prized testimonies, cherished in her Milanese flat, of her grandfather, who fled from Ukraine after the extermination of their family, stopping first in Russia before arriving in Italy. These few documents were to guide Micol Roubini across Europe, to eastern Ukraine, a country that has changed its national identity five times in a hundred years and which is now undergoing a delicate phase of transition. Once again, the rush of euphoria accompanying a new political setup has subsided. What remains are the questions provoked by the end of the 20th century-style utopia. Only by taking heed of its debris can we interpret our role in the present. The work of these two artists, so different in their results, yet so similar in their work-methods, teaches us that this requires dedication and analysis. We need to launch ambitious challenges and face them with the proper modesty. We must find time for research and we must leave other people the space to tell their stories. There are times when we need to invent a new language. There are times when we need to recover a native language that has always been suffocated. The field within which all this happens is that of the moving image. This is the strongest means of analysing the relationship between the person filming and the person filmed. It can document a journey of discovery in the world, teaching us, if only for one fleeting moment, to define ourselves.
ANALYTICAL COLLAPSE. INSTRUCTIONS FOR A VISIT
Crossing the threshold of Casa Testori, whatever the occasion that brings us there, always means entering a house – the one once inhabited by Giovanni Testori and his family – even before entering an exhibition space. And it is precisely the act of entering the house that we would like to suggest to the visitor who will take advantage of the last days of the “Collasso analitico” exhibition to visit. It will be like following in the footsteps of the master of the house, hundreds and hundreds of which return to their home, each time receiving an “inexpressible warmth […] from that place that welcomes” – this is the expression Giovanni Testori used to describe the return to the family, as the curator Daniela Persico recalls at the beginning of the catalogue.
Having crossed the threshold, therefore, we would like to suggest to the visitor another expedient: that of transgressing the correct order of visit to the exhibition as indicated in the plan on the room sheet (where the numbered progression of the rooms would have him start in the studio to the right of the entrance and end in the dining room to his left).
If you trust the writer, try instead to place yourself immediately in the middle of the path, in room no. 6, i.e. at the base of the stairs: this is the centre of the great house, where the two wings of the ground floor are ideally joined, as well as the lower and upper levels of the house (but also the internal spaces of the various rooms and the external spaces of the garden). At this point, if the visitor pauses for a few seconds, he or she will have an instant perception of the “analytical collapse” enacted by the two artists Giulia Bruno and Micol Roubini: there is no doubt that he or she will perceive the babel of voices and languages coming from the protagonists of the video-installations located in the adjoining rooms (including the cellar), which converge and mix together, inhabiting the domestic space that welcomes them. As if by synesthesia, the sounds will be reflected in the tables of visual representations of the spectrum of audio signals, laid down by Giulia Bruno next to Testori’s library, right at the base of the stairs.
For a moment, perhaps, the mass of mostly indecipherable phonemes from the videos, alternating with the angry barking of a dog, will project the visitor into the condition of bewilderment felt by those who, on emigrating, lose their homes and languages and wander the world begging for new ones, in the hope of finding at least a vague resemblance to one or other of their identity roots.
It will then be clear that the central theme of the exhibition is reflection on language as a factor of experience – and not only of knowledge –, that “[…] beat of the word towards the possibility of existing, of saying, of being a thing, no longer an allusion, but a concrete reality, real and totally embodying” (and it is again the echo of Giovanni Testori, which reverberates from room 10, the veranda, where Giulia Bruno presents the video extract of an interview with the writer on the theme of his theatrical language).
Walking through all the rooms gravitating around this ideal centre, the visitor will discover how language is intertwined in the works of the two artists with the themes of memory, of the sense of belonging to a community and, therefore, of the construction of personal, social and political identity: “language as the home of being”, to quote Martin Heiddeger – with an expression surprisingly similar to the one written on a wall in room no. 1, the studio, which reads: “Beyond technique, beyond the image, one is crossed by utopias. May language be our home.”
Under this sort of invocation written on the wall, in the studio, four showcases collect the personal materials from which Giulia Bruno and Micol Roubini – both born in Italy but with family roots that have pushed them in a cosmopolitan direction – have drawn inspiration for their artistic research (revealing the figure of their respective grandparents as a common starting point): for Giulia Bruno travel notes in notebooks, family photographs, some books by Pasolini and Eco, but above all the Fiat technical manuals printed in the 1960s in Esperanto – the “free language” of many workers active in Turin during the economic boom, including the artist’s own grandfather. For Micol Roubini, a photograph dated 1919, showing her maternal grandfather’s childhood home in Jamna, on the border between Ukraine and Poland, and the Polish and Italian customs documents from 1957, the year the family moved from the Soviet Union to Italy.
From these premises, the rest of the rooms contain a series of works by the two artists (mostly video installations) that are methodologically similar in their shared need to give body to language through images, yet different in the results of their work. In Giulia Bruno’s case, an analytical process of metalinguistic reflection on the phenomenology of language as technology. For Micol Roubini, on the other hand, a poetic act that marks the fragility of memory and the fluid nomadism of language.
If we want to close with the same play of symmetries between the house and the works with which it opened, we will recall here just two other works, one for each artist, ideally placed at the extremes of the N-S diagonal of Testori’s house: in the fireplace room, 23.500 grammi (500 grams) by Micol Roubini is a packet of 1287 sheets of tissue paper – a poor material for packing and transporting objects – resting on a thin iron plate, almost as if to emulate the loading platform of a weighing machine. The title refers to the exact measurement of the missing weight of the objects that Roubini’s grandfather brought with him from Poland to Italy, registering them in the various customs offices with a numbered list, but which never reached their destination. Lying on the walls of the same room are six metal displays holding six sheets of tissue paper carved in such a way as to reveal the Glossolalie, i.e. the translations (no longer biunivocal or corresponding) into Russian, Polish and Italian of the names of some of these objects, the meaning of which thus fades in the shadow cast by the carving of the tissue paper on the wall behind.
At the opposite end of the house, in the veranda, Giulia Bruno presents the untiring research of the Atlante Linguistico Italiano, an ordered and systematic collection of Italian maps, on which are reproduced, for each national place explored (called “Punto”), the corresponding dialectal translations of a concept, a notion or a phrase, collected from the living voice of the speakers thanks to the work started in the fascist period by Ugo Pellis and now continued by Professor Matteo Rivoira of the University of Turin.
ARTISTS TELL THEIR STORIES
Finding a space, a shape, an outline in which to place oneself and feel “belonging to” becomes a decisive moment in which definition and non-definition dance incessantly together.
My place has always been the image.
The image of the lost, the image that is not held back, the image that hides meaning or chases after it, the image that brought me into the world and that reminds me of everyday questions. Origins, meaning, language, power, economy, market, identity and culture.
We live in a world where semantic separation is as confusing as self-definition. Artist, biologist, photographer, filmmaker or simply me.
Technology, processes, city space, human space, language as technology, as artificial or natural landscape, the border as infinity or as limit have always been the questions of my research and my processes. How to not contain, to enlarge, to go beyond and then return to deconstruct.
The image as a form of redefinition of an edge that slips continuously in search of a narrative that remains in the background: the noise of life.
I have lived in Berlin for many years and in all this time my thirst for knowledge has taken me all over the world, thanks also to the long collaboration with Armin Linke and Giuseppe Ielasi: forests in the Amazon, in Papua New Guinea, in Indonesia, in Jamaika, in Korea in search of a process, of the discovery of the functional mechanism of social dynamics, insatiable in a sort of Ulyssesian journey, perhaps now anachronistic.
I was fascinated by political and economic dominance and how this also acts on language through exchange, a “free language”, a particular or universal process, publicity, image.
I have loved and followed Esperanto, this marvelous language that stands as a linguistic right of equality, of transcending all borders, and I have travelled to be in conversation with the speakers of the language, with thought, with the roots of a dream and with the reverse in society and with the implications and difficulties here too of definition and containment.
In a global world where the internet and the flow of data submerges and conceals, how do we defend a right? How does one access widespread equality? How does one become a citizen of a world? Where does the undiscovered and the unseen remain?
ARTISTS TELL THEIR STORIES
I work as an artist with film, video, sound and material installations, which lie between art and cinema. My practice is closely linked to the need to investigate the complex network of relationships and processes that are established between man and the territory he inhabits. The changing balance with which, through a language, a culture, an economic system or social structures, the very idea of space, landscape or the borders of a state gradually take shape. The specific relationship between a given place and the set of traces and fragments of histories that constitute its memory and at the same time its removals.
I am interested in territories on the margins, considered as such from a perceptive point of view, even before the geographical one, in a reflection that in my research almost always starts from one or more representations of the “real”: if the starting point is at least partly documentary, however, the finished work does not follow reality, but is rather the result of a long process of mediation and contamination between different areas. This gap, which in some cases is slight and in others more marked, allows me to give voice through images, sounds or more structured narratives, even to the unexpected, the fantastic, the surreal, and it is the specificity of each project that defines the means with which it will be developed, not vice versa. While maintaining this specific mode of research on several fronts, in recent years I have focused more on the filmic aspect. What has always fascinated me, and is one of the greatest challenges in cinema, is the power that what is ultimately nothing more than a process of synthesis can achieve. We are inside a circumscribed structure, with internal rules of fruition and a precise time frame, yet the experience of this new reality can bring us back to the world with greater awareness, to nourish our critical spirit and, at times, to try to make sense of our actions.
Collasso analitico closes Pocket Pair, a cycle of exhibitions coordinated by Marta Cereda and launched by Casa Testori in 2018. The title of the cycle takes up an expression from poker that indicates the situation in which a player has two cards, of equal value, and must bet on them. In the same way, the curators are betting on emerging talents, two artists of equal value, to give life to a high quality two-person exhibition, set up on the ground floor of Casa Testori where they are free to meet, even within the individual rooms, to visit each other, to dialogue closely.