by Elena Magini
Senza Fretta, Simone Forti’s first major exhibition in an Italian museum, was conceived as a focus on the hybrid practice of the artist, whose research ranges from dance, film and drawing to sound and writing, with a political slant that is, at the same time, also personal.
Internationally acclaimed as a key figure in the development of performance from the late 1950s to the present day, Forti’s work is based on experience, movement and the improvisation skills of the body in relation to language and objects. In particular, it is the physical expression practised through dance – a dance rooted in primary movements and everyday gestures – that is the fundamental key to her work.
Throughout the exhibition at the Centro Pecci, some of the artist’s best-known performances (Cloths, 1967; Sleepwalkers, 1968; Scramble, 1970) were reenacted on a weekly basis, together with works staged for the first time on this occasion (Song of the Vowels, 2012; Rollers, 1978–2021). The pièces were performed by a group of performers, heterogeneous in terms of age, gender, origin and training, selected and trained for the exhibition by Sarah Swenson, Simone Forti’s long-time pupil and collaborator.
The conveying of the performative experience and hence its teaching, through workshops and laboratories, is a fundamental element of the artist’s practice, who views the staging of her performances as a “passage of knowledge between bodies.” The reenactment of the performances constantly raises ontological questions about the originality, transmission and temporality of the work; in Simone Forti’s practice, the reactivation of the performances makes them a “dynamic organism” that remains active over time, still accessible to a changing community; the museum, even in the single act of an exhibition, becomes a sort of guarantor of the work’s dissemination, an activator with respect to the specific community created around the work, and a means of documentation aimed at creating a living archive of the performance.
notes by Luca Lo Pinto
The title of the show
The title – Senza Fretta – of Simone Forti’s exhibition at the Centro Pecci in Prato was produced when I went to see Simone in Los Angeles to discuss the show. Knowing that Simone often chooses titles by randomly opening a book of poems by William Carlos Williams, I asked her if we could use the same method to find the title of this exhibition. So, opening the book at random, she put her finger on these words which, translated into Italian are “senza fretta” (no hurry), and straight away it seemed an ideal title.
Structuring the show
Simone Forti’s practice and all her work are not immediately translatable into the classic language of an exhibition, and, as a result, they challenge it. Simone as an artist defies classification. If her research is presented in a literal way, it risks losing its vitality of language and its methods of expression. First and foremost, I discussed with Simone the appropriateness of looking at the work from a different angle, using the News Animations (1980 – ongoing) – which is not only a series of works but corresponds to an authentic practice – as a sort of Trojan horse through which to look at all of her research in a more general sense. We also responded to the specific limitations of the exhibition space in order to make the exhibition performative, as though it were a live show which is not, however, constant, since the other dimension of the exhibition is defined by the simultaneous presence of videos, drawings and works on paper. From this perspective, we worked a lot on the sound.
Sound and video
Sound is the element that acts as the Leitmotiv of the entire exhibition. It is a sound track specially designed for this project, consisting of a collage of experiments that Simone Forti has carried out over the years: instrumental recordings, songs and readings from an autobiographical book. Its aim was to make the exhibition experiential and immersive. The videos themselves are projected following the architecture of the space, so as to integrate them as naturally as possible. The Centro Pecci is completely curvilinear, and there is nothing functional or regular about it. Hence, the only key was to move in response to its peculiarities.
The role of words
The use of the word and critical attention to language are essential in Simone Forti’s practice, particularly in the News Animations. The first performances, the Dance Constructions (1960–61), were an attempt to produce a hybridisation between the body, movement and sculpture. In the News Animations, a series that began in the mid-1980s, the use of words becomes more explicit in pursuit of an expanded language. Both in the drawings, where the word always appears in an evocative form, and in the performances, the News Animations draw their inspiration from reading the news published in newspapers. Taking her cue from the headlines or from articles, the artist generates a chain of associations in which words and movement become tools that, intermingling, produce a precise way of working in reaction to what has been read and shared. This is not simply a series of works but an authentic practice, initially developed in the laboratories and workshops that Simone held in those years and that she has continued to pursue.
Simone Forti and her influence
Summing up Simone Forti’s research is not easy and attempting to summarise it in a linear way would be contrary to the spirit that animates it, as it is a poetic work that lends itself to being read by everyone in a heterogeneous manner. This is the most engaging aspect, especially when you are lucky enough to see the live performances. Focusing on the News Animations series, the exhibition at the Centro Pecci brings out a more political and social – albeit not militant – dimension of Simone Forti’s practice that had not yet been explored, even though it has always been present from the outset. Think of a performance like Huddle (1961), which features in the exhibition as a video, in which a group of 6/7 performers create a sort of structure, which is constantly in motion, and can be interpreted from many different perspectives. Another performance in the exhibition is inspired by the observation of animals in zoos: the caged animals are confined in a space that deprives them of their freedom and of movement. Simone’s role in the history of contemporary art is crucial: if we have finally arrived at a propensity on the part of museums and the public to languages other than those of the visual arts, it is also thanks to her. It is a common phenomenon today to see figures in museums working with sound, dance and moving images. From this standpoint, Simone was one of the artists who pushed the boundaries between disciplines the most, and who did so at a time in history when this was by no means a given. Today she is finally enjoying the recognition she deserves, although it should be pointed out that her originality had been celebrated by the artistic community from the very beginning. Simone’s influence is as monumental as her work appears fragile and ephemeral.
Addressing social issues
The political and social dimension in Simone’s work is present but never explicitly, which is why I find her work deeply poetic. This can be seen simply by watching the News Animations videos. The news items she chooses to activate are always related to the themes of war, climate change and racial conflicts, covering a time span of the past forty years, ranging from the Cold War to the current conflicts. The idea of activating the news is an invitation to us to use our bodies to express ourselves freely instead of passively accepting what is conveyed to us, especially today, given the limitations imposed on the freedom of the press and the proliferation of fake news.
The relationship with young people and her legacy
Throughout her life Simone Forti has always taught, always interweaving relationships between different communities and generations. Although the works on display belong to different periods, they all share the same vitality, particularly the performances which are no longer done by Simone, but by other dancers through a kind of oral tradition. There is a joyful aspect and at the same time a challenging of the very idea of dance and movement, but also of the idea of sculpture, which runs through and embodies all of Simone’s poetics. A deeply personal approach influenced by dialogue with other artists. Right from the outset, Simone has collaborated with musicians, directors, choreographers and dancers, such as Charlemagne Palestine, Peter van Riper and Hollis Frampton. Simone’s practice clashes with and challenges all the paradigms of both art history and the art system. Suffice it to think of the reflections that are prompted when research of this kind enters a museum collection; it forces the institution into a radical self-interrogation since it eludes the conventionality of what is traditionally considered to be a work of art.
The exhibition at Centro Pecci
Simone Forti has never been interested in producing objects, but in working critically with movement in an expanded form. For this reason, Simone has rarely come into contact with the language of exhibitions and it is only in the last 10 to 15 years that she has begun to exhibit more continuously in museums and galleries, although her direct involvement is rare. In this case, I wanted her to be involved in the conception right from the start, even though, for health reasons, she could not physically come to the museum. Compared to previous exhibitions – in particular the more all-encompassing 2014 exhibition at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg entitled Thinking with the Body: A Retrospective in Motion – the exhibition at the Centro Pecci is not a retrospective, but attempts to adapt the exhibition medium to Simone’s approach, without distorting it, by trying to maintain a performative dimension, allowing the element of liveness to be applied together with the language of the work, the exhibition and the museum.
notes by Sarah Swenson
A movement artist
I think most of us have a traditional idea of what a choreographer is. If we were to say, for example, of Simone Forti that “she is a choreographer,” people would imagine that she creates specific steps that have to be performed in a certain way, and everyone has to be very precise in the way they perform them, and they have to be the same every time. (It is a kind of stereotype of what a choreographer is, or maybe, what it was considered to be in the past. Today, however, that definition is changing.) This is not what she does. Because there are so many different types of movement, not just the movement of the body, but for example, the movement of textiles, which is exactly the movement of this piece, Cloths (1967). So a “movement artist” does not create movements exclusively for the human body. Another example is Onion Walk (1961), where an onion is placed at the mouth of a bottle, it sprouts and nourishes itself until the green growth becomes heavier than the bulb, and it falls off. The fall is movement, but so is the growth, this invisible, slow progress is also movement. Simone writes, and writing is also a form of movement. This is why Simone Forti defines herself as a “movement artist”.
Sources of inspiration
The sources for Simone Forti’s works are extremely varied. She could be prompted by a dream, a memory, or by a desire to fulfil. For example, Huddle (1961), which Simone created when she came back from California, where she had been on Anna Halprin’s outdoor dance deck, in the midst of nature, with trees, water, and rivers… and arriving in New York there was nothing like this, it’s all concrete. I think she just wanted to use her body – if she wanted a mountain to climb, she was going to do it with what she had available. So, in creating Huddle, a sculpture made of human bodies taking turns climbing over each other, she gave vent to a desire, a physical desire that she wanted to fulfil. We know that Cloths stems from a dream she had, in which someone told her “go away” and she did not want to go, instead hiding behind a curtain. This is the origin of Cloths. Another example, she told me that when she created Hangers (1961) she felt depressed. But remaining suspended, and feeling her own weight and mass, it was enough.
Collaboration for the exhibition
Conducting the installation together, as was the case at the Centro Pecci in Prato, required collaboration between the curators here, the representatives of Simone, Simone herself, the representatives of a museum like MoMA, and myself, depending on the pieces that were to be included. Collaboration depends on many factors. I think collaboration is the main thing, because there are differences between what Simone wants, what the curators want, and what can effectively be done. For example, at the beginning they wanted some Dance Constructions (1960–61) for the installation in Prato, but we couldn’t do this because of the pandemic, so we needed flexibility in order to create something new in the end. Things change constantly, and it has been a long process of give-and-take and therefore of collaboration.
The role of music
The role of music in Simone Forti’s work is not the same in every piece. She has done some pieces in which there are no intentional audio elements, and yet sound is created, and others where the sound has been included for a purpose. For example, in Slant Board (1961) the activity is climbing with ropes, but when a rope is released, it falls, striking the board and creating a particular sound. The piece was not created for the purpose of sound, and yet sounds are made. For Accompaniment for La Monte’s 2 sounds (1961) and La Monte’s 2 sounds (1961), on the other hand, she heard the music and decided to do something very simple to accompany it. That music is a cacophony, but the piece itself is very still. Simone wanted the spectators to listen to the music. The performer remains very still, and does nothing but listen, so the spectators, in turn, are encouraged to listen. This is an example where the inspiration for the piece was this music. Another example is Scramble (1970) in which the sound is the noise of footsteps. So, the intention is not the same every time – we have the audio of Cloths, the recorded voice, sometimes there is a “whoosh” when the cloth is thrown forward. We also have Platforms (1961), from Dance Constructions, in which the performers whistle, so the sound has intention, but it is not the only element. I don’t think anyone can identify a single source. In Censor (1961) however, also from Dance Constructions, sound is the primary element. Simone is really multifaceted, she doesn’t just do one thing, she makes sound, movement, she writes.
Imitating animal behaviour
We know that Zoo Mantras (1968–2010) comes from Simone’s habit of observing animals. The bear for example: when we worked on this and she told me about this piece, we tried to behave like bears, or to follow an element of the bear behaviour. But – because these animals that she observed were in a zoo, they were confined. So this behaviour that she observed might be the result of confinement. So, it wasn’t necessarily the bear in the wild – although it could be – sometimes we would watch videos of bears in the woods. “Emulating” is the best word, emulating the animal. We try to imitate the physical behaviour of the creatures, but at the same time it is an abstraction, because we are not those animals, but we try to bring out the essence of their movements, their activities. We can only approximate.
Dance Constructions: the origin, not the synthesis
The Dance Constructions are not a synthesis of the work of Simone. They were the first pieces she created and everything else came afterwards. Yes, they are probably her most famous work at an international level, but they do not, by any means, sum up the entirety of her output. Partly because they are a unique creation. There is nothing else like the Dance Constructions. They are works of sculpture and movement at one and the same time. And they exist in both time and space. Simone produced them very early in her career, very early in her productive life, at the beginning of the 1960s. And many and varied ingenious things came later. I would like to add that we don’t talk enough about her unique qualities as a performer. Simone should also be known for this too. It is a very important element of her greatness.
The inspiration for the Dance Constructions
I could answer the question about the origin of the Dance Constructions only partially. I remember she was married to Bob Morris, and they were living in New York. And according to Simone, it wasn’t clear who was influencing whom in that situation. Simone had a notebook and she simply drew some of her ideas, with the Slant Board, which had a 90-degree angle, and the ropes, what we now call the “hanging pieces.” She had a concept of something substantial: wood and rope, that could somehow be used by people, but she did not know how to create it. And she says that Bob said: “I’ll make it for you,” and he made it from pieces of wood he found on the streets. I have an image in my mind of Simone sitting on the bed drawing. What is the source of creativity? It really is unknown. When you get an idea and people ask you, “where did your idea come from?” You can’t always pinpoint it. How can you explain when a person produces an idea? It’s really difficult to explain how it happens. Sometimes, as in Cloths, the idea comes from a specific dream, but most things emerge from our minds, but we don’t know exactly from where. I think it’s related to Simone’s leaving rural northern California and coming to New York, a new city, and wanting to use her body, climbing the Slant Board with a rope and feeling her physical body. Holding the weight of your body for ten minutes is really difficult, a great effort, but a serious attempt to ground yourself. And once you are tired you rest, it’s fundamentally human.
Sarah Swenson’s News Animations
Each of the News Animations (1980–ongoing) is different, it depends who does it, and it depends, sometimes, where we are chronologically. But the News Animations are always political. In this case I was thinking about the past year, the significance of the history of the United States and how we have ended up in the situation we are in now. This is not a new idea for me, but it means that now, more than ever, we have to look back and to say (very belatedly, in my opinion) that what happened was not right. There are so many things we have to face, as you can see, we are a divided country, and half of us don’t want to think about or accept our bloody history, while the other half says that we have to do something NOW. In my process, I have made a timeline which runs from 1492 to 2021. I write down thoughts, I read, I have transcribed facts, readings, I have mixed them up…
Relationship with the spectators
This is the easiest question you have asked me so far! I think the reason why Simone’s pieces appeal to spectators is because they are recognizable as something that they as people have done, are doing, or can do. For example, in Scramble (1970), there are people simply walking and running. Many of Simone’s pieces contain everyday activities, such as walking, running, falling, climbing, hanging, speaking… she is not a dancer doing something virtuosic that no-one else can do. So virtuosity is understood in another way, with another definition, in Simone’s works. Doing these simple actions means that we have to let go of much of what we have been taught, and learn to do it in a natural way, more like children. So as to walk normally, run normally, talk normally. The hardest thing for some people, especially trained dancers, is to let go of their technique and do these very ordinary, simple things that are part of having a human body. There is no training. The training is to let go of the training!
Reenactment: an in-depth reading through a Pompeian lens by Stella Bottai
In the context of Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological matters, Simone Forti’s retrospective, Senza Fretta, offers an opportunity for discussing the theme of reenactment – a term whose English version is maintained in Italian as well. Indeed, in performance studies this is preferred over its possible translations such as ricostruzione (“reconstruction”) or rievocazione (“re-evocation”), by virtue of the central presence of the word “act” in the etymological composition of the noun. A series of actions – acts, movements and ephemeral events whose matter is time and whose tool is the body – are indeed the fulcrum of the critical and in-depth scientific study that the reenactment establishes between an original performance and its subsequent presentations and experiences.
Proposing that it is possible to identify a parallel between the reenactment in the performance context and the history of Pompeii itself – which is not only a physical place frozen in time, but also a set of actions with which we come into contact two thousand years after the eruption, and that keep the site renewed on a daily basis – Pompeii Commitment questions the modalities and effects of that prefix re/ri which, like a spark – or, rather, like a volcanic lapillus – triggers a temporal short circuit between past and present, original and copy, author and performer.
As Martha Buskirk, Amelia Jones and Caroline A. Jones explain, re/ri is an “infinitely flexible and loaded prefix” that displaces our experience of the work of art in the strange direction of its possible re-creation, and which can shake up any sense of familiarity in a new context of representation. In this sense, the reeneactment of Forti’s performances within Senza Fretta becomes a case-study, addressed chorally in the following pages: a new video documents Simone Forti as she shares a series of unpublished reflections on the transmission of her practice, accompanied by two new interviews with Sarah Swenson, collaborator of the artist, and Luca Lo Pinto, co-curator of Senza Fretta.
As Forti herself says: “It’s hard to be real”.
1 M. Buskirk, A. Jones, and C. A. Jones, “The year in ‘re’”, in Artforum, December 2013.
https://www.artforum.com/print/201310/the-year-in-re-44068 (last access 3 November 2021)
Andrea Viliani interviews Sarah Swenson
Based on your many years of experience and collaboration with Simone Forti, can you tell us how the re-enactment of an artist’s performative action is structured and what it requires from a practical perspective?
I can say that much of what I understand or know about Simone’s work has been absorbed over time, these past 24 years. That is, the “teaching” or “learning” process of the solos and group pieces is not really so much of instruction, it is of doing. And also, much of what I “know” has also been understood as much through our deep friendship and dialogue, and not always in studio work.
I’ll address first the News Animations (1980–ongoing), which is different from Zoo Mantras (1968–2010) and of course very different from Dance Constructions (1960–61). I had two separate conversations with Raffaella and Luca, but they had the same thing on their minds: transmission. I said to Luca that the News Animations, for example, had never been taught. Because they are not a piece, they are a practice. Simone had never said to me, “this is how you do a News Animation.”
Over the years of studying and working with Simone we did countless improvisations using many different scores – scores being a couple of simple rules that give an improvisation a small amount of structure. Many of these improvisations involved speaking and moving. One of those practices she calls “logomotion,” the speaking emerging out of the moving. But I have heard her say she doesn’t want logomotion to be a “thing,” you know, not to give it a label or a codified technique. And a News Animation is a form of logomotion, I would say, however the News Animations practice has a specific provenance, which has to do with her father reading the newspapers when they still lived in Italy, and seeing what was coming. And then later she picked up the habit of reading newspapers herself, after her father, Mario, died, she felt a sort of obligation. So News Animations are different – having some connection with the political, they would be about what is current, with a historical component, perhaps interspersed with everyday life, while logomotion can be about anything.
Which elements of the historical action are maintained, and which change?
Simone’s own process of preparation involves, or had at times involved, doing some writing immediately before a performance, which I also did years ago; whereas these days I write down thoughts and observations over a longer period of time. And that’s it.
So I can’t say that there is a strictly defined way of approaching a News Animation, nor a “correct” way to perform it or prepare for it, and each of us who do them will possibly, maybe even likely, have adapted the practice in some way. What is preserved is the intention to expound on a current political situation using movement and language. Often but not always, an “arbitrary object” is brought to an event. Originally, Simone brought and played with newspapers, but when she didn’t have them, she brought an arbitrary object. Mine was the large cloth. What mutates is the same element as with all of Simone’s pieces that are performed by others – they are always changed by the individual, the environment, the culture where they are performed. Newspapers haven’t stopped being important for Simone as you can see in Zuma News (2014), for instance.
How has the artist collaborated in the re-enactment of her performative actions? How much room for interpretation and improvisation do you, your collaborators and the performers have?
The idea of “re-enactment” is not the right way to think about what Simone’s collaborators are doing with News Animations, at least, because once performed, they are not intended to be repeated. Each one is an original new one. But for other works, for instance, Zoo Mantras, we did quite traditional rehearsals, where the manner of execution was very specific; in which she explained and demonstrated the qualities and energy of each animal’s movements, and how we should explore adapting our bodies to mimic their movements as best as possible, in that our body structures are usually quite different.
The other pieces, such as Scramble (1970), Rollers (1978–2021), Cloths (1967), e Song of the Vowels (2012), are improvisational pieces although they all have specific instructions, and are taught. Sometimes some lightly compositional choices are allowed.
Do you think that, compared to the value traditionally assigned to video-photographic documentation, oral and relational transmission is, in the case of an artist like Simone Forti, more relevant during the re-enactment of her performative actions?
I’m not sure if more relevant is quite the term, I prefer more important to describe its success in conveying the values of a given work of Simone’s. There has been a certain amount of discussion already about whether any of her work can or should be taught by video, and now, ZOOM; and every time we keep deciding that the relevant live, in-person, interpersonal teaching experience is not only superior, but necessary.
Could we define these re-enactments as “casts” or “memorials” of the original actions, which in turn could be defined as “matrices” or “palimpsests”?
For the News Animations, no, because as you’ve seen in the Centro Pecci exhibit, they are all completely different, for all the reasons I stated above – we don’t re-create or re-stage a News Animation that took place in the past. We do try to capture the spirit of the stream of consciousness though, one thought leading to another, and the awareness of current events, that are usually linked with some aspect of history, as political stuff always is. What will happen to News Animations in the future? They are carried on by some of her long term collaborators. Some of us teach improvisation workshops and convey her approaches to speaking and moving. It does take practive though, and I wonder who has the discipline to stick with it. Will I ever become someone’s mentor?
As for the Dance Constructions, it is rather more strict. There are specific instructions for eight of the pieces that are taught, while one of them, See Saw (1960), is not longer taught and is recreated new each time by an invited artist, who can do with the see saw whatever they wish. The Dance Constructions each have two or three specific instructions on how they should be executed. There is basically no room for experimentation. They are improvised, but within a structure, so that there are certain actions that can be performed – but not any way you feel like. The rules are designed for certain outcomes: energies, atmospheres, environments, actions – all using only ordinary human motions. I find it so interesting and admirable that the concerns of our previous performers change so little. The investigation is infinite, endless. For instance, so much of Simone’s work, especially the Dance Constructions, deals with gravity, weight, weight transfer, structures. Yesterday we made a new video of all the moments in her daily life that deal with these very things. Standing up, sitting down, finding balance, taking a step, navigating objects, pulling, pushing. Now, all her motion is impacted by Parkinson’s. So her experience has become almost glacially slow, granular, cellular. I keep learning the same lessons over and over, and still, it seems new.
Can you tell us about your experience, your preparation, feelings and emotions rising from the decision of re-enacting Forti’s Illuminations with Charlemagne Palestine at the Centro Pecci?
I was surprised, delighted, and honored to be invited to perform Illuminations (1971) with Charlemagne. We had never met, but of course I had seen Illuminations before. The closing was a real tribute to Simone and I was so happy that she was there to witness it all. This exhibit was a great challenge to pull off. It was made so difficult by Covid emergence, Covid laws, the loss of the Dance Constructions due to Covid, numerous postponements, ecc. The exhibit felt re-invented. Trying to do New Animations in Italian was a real stressor for me, as well. So at the closing, to perform Illuminations felt so easy, so natural, and so pleasureable. You will probably be disappointed, but honestly there was no preparation, no rehearsal for Illuminations. I understand that some spectators found this unbelievable. But if you’ve never had the experience of improvisation, not lived a life in improvisation, I can understand that it must seem impossible to move so much on impulse and instinct and not on something prepared. I spoke with Simone the day of the closing, and she simply said what I already knew – “start with circles.” I didn’t have to think about it. Neither was Charlemagne thinking. It wouldn’t work with anything pre-determined. We just let it happen. Truly the best way to explain all this is, simply that, I understand. After all these years, that’s what it comes down to. And I think that’s what it takes, time. Now we are in an age so much of immediacy and instantaneity, satisfaction from a click. I wonder how many younger people today will stay with a mentor, an elder, invest time. I’m happy, honored that Charlemagne trusted me, and Simone trusted me, and she was so happy afterward. Her joy means everything to me.
Andrea Viliani interviews Luca Lo Pinto
Why was it important for you to reactivate a series of Simone Forti’s performative actions in your solo exhibition at the Centro Pecci?
Simone’s work revolves around movement and has a very important performative dimension, so it was essential for the exhibition to take these elements into account. We agreed with Simone to stage lesser-known performances rather than the more famous Dance Constructions (1960–61), in particular: Song of the Vowels (2012), Cloths (1967), Scramble (1970), Sleepwalkers/Zoo Mantras (1968–2010) in addition to the News Animations (1980–ongoing) and a new performance titled Rollers (1978–2021). Song of the Vowels and Cloths are characterised by the interaction between movement and sound and also exist in the form of props or score drawings, which were on show at the exhibition. The fact that Simone could not be physically in Prato had an impact on some of the decisions taken. On the occasion of the exhibition at the Centro Pecci, Simone has chosen to entrust Zoo Mantras – previously performed by Claire Filmon – for the first time to her close collaborator, Sarah Swenson. While the Dance Constructions are works already designed to be performed by others, for Song of the Vowels this was something new and a precedent has been set in Prato that will have an impact on the future life of these works. The same News Animations are almost always performed by Simone, sometimes in collaboration with other performers. It was a privilege to be able to witness the live re-enactment of some of Simone’s works and, more generally, of her practice, truly a living material, intrinsically performative.
How would you define in critical and curatorial terms the relationship between the original action and its reactivation? Could we define these re-enactments as “casts” or “memorials” of the original actions, which in turn could be defined as “matrices” or “palimpsests”?
Simone Forti’s approach to art, dance and work is anarchic and challenges the criteria we usually adopt to relate to figures like her. The format closest to Simone’s approach is that of the workshop, a collaborative event that triggers a constant re-activation of the dance and movement techniques developed by Simone. I like the definition of memory casts with respect to the reactivation of historical actions. These are casts that stratify each time until the matrix is eventually transformed into something else. This is an intriguing aspect, first and foremost when placed in relation to the consequences it generates in terms of historiography, collection, conservation, and even market. The fact that Simone does not limit herself to merely reproducing something, but sometimes radically transforms it, has even more drastic, extraordinarily intriguing repercussions at an interpretative level. Rollers, for example, is a new performance that stems from a type of movement that has long been part of Simone’s dance vocabulary, contributing to several works over the years. The performers slowly roll from one side of the space to the other, repeating the action several times. It appears for the first time on its own at the Centro Pecci as a complete and autonomous piece, capitalising on the generous architectural space.
More generally, what definition would you give of the “re-enactment” of a performance (as you know, this is an extensive and complex area of methodological reflection, both from an artistic and a curatorial perspective)?
Each re-enactment implies an action of memory manipulation, moving away from a concept of repetition or reproduction. The possibility to reactivate a story and bring it to life in a new dimension is already implicit in the conceptual structure of the exhibition. If I were to exhibit a painting by Lee Lozano in the same space and on the same wall where it was exhibited 40 years earlier, it would be considered a re-enactment; if, on the other hand, I simply exhibited the same object in the same space but on a different wall, this definition would not be applied. The concept of re-enactment is applicable both to objects and to non-objects (performances, scores, concerts, projections, etc.). Often there is a tendency to consider re-enactment as a scientific tool to enable the presentation of historical works in the framework of an exhibition, but I think it is more interesting to start from the assumption that no form of objectivity can exist when a work of art is presented in different conditions from those in which it was originally exhibited.
In your opinion, what elements are triggered by the reactivation of a historical work as interpreted by the curator and experienced by the public?
In the case of this exhibition, the artist is alive and has been actively involved in the decisions regarding the presentation of historical works and performances. When working with artists who are no longer alive, the responsibility of the curator is much greater. On a purely curatorial level, I find it interesting to involve other artists in this process of reactivation because they are often able to offer interesting insights, creating a further level of interpretation that is independent of a coveted but unattainable objectivity/scientificity.
In your projects you often work with documentation materials and the archive dimension, to update their meaning and how they are experienced. So what role do documentation materials and the archive dimension play in the definition of your projects, and in the one you curated at the Pecci Centre with Simone Forti? Could we say that for you the archive, like the performance, is a field of exploration of how to update the past and bring it back to life in the present, developing specific devices and methodologies? If so, could you describe the main ones you have adopted and why?
The archive is a repository of memory that survives in oral, textual, audio and visual form. Years ago, in 2008, Okwui Enwezor organised an exhibition entitled Archive Fever, which analyses the way in which contemporary artists appropriate and reconfigure archive materials with a specific focus on photography.
I like being able to approach an archive as though it were a work of art that I can reinterpret and update, transforming it from a document into a living material. Animating the inanimate has something alchemical about it and is often a journey full of imagery.
For example in 2019, for a group exhibition called Time is Thirsty, it appealed to me to think of the exhibition as though we were in 1992. For the occasion, I asked scent designer Sissel Toolas to recreate the smell of Vienna in 1992, and I chose newspaper articles from that time and had them redrawn by a graphic artist as though they were from the present day, removing the date. In this case, the archive was time itself.
This year, on the occasion of a solo exhibition dedicated to the director and cultural activist, Simone Carella, I suggested to two young filmmakers to work on Carella’s personal archive, commissioning a video that would be a hybrid between a film and a visual essay.
Finally, in Prato, a soundtrack that brought together a compendium of songs, sound pieces and Simone’s readings was produced.
These are three examples of how to activate an archive, aimed at performing memory.