Critics often underline how Joseph Beuys' works have a documentary aspect about them hidden in the materials and colours the artist used, in those thick grey felts or in his muted browns. The old objects assembled and employed in his artworks ended up having a memory-enhancing value, prompting viewers to try and make sense of what they saw, decoding it through their lives and experiences. Franca Pisani's work is gifted with the same "documentary" value.
Part of a generation of artists unafraid of breaking the boundaries and following their own paths, Florence-based Pisani has worked throughout the years using different media, such as painting, sculpture, installations, visual poetry and mail art.
A new exhibition entitled "The Courage of Inspiration" will open at the end of the month at Hamburger Bahnhof's Halle am Wasser 3 in Berlin. The event - based around a series of themes such as plurality, multiculturalism, nature and feminine identity - features new works by Pisani, conceived a bit like Beuys's thinking and spoken forms, set to provoke thoghts and make us ponder about how we mould and shape the world we live in.
"The Courage of Inspiration" includes indeed a series of large canvases covered in primitive symbols and graffiti, images trapped in Plexiglass, and a series of grey busts with visually striking details in vivid red. The former invite visitors to go back to their origins, rediscovering them and contemplating the genetic code of humanity, while the latter hint at a more optimistic future, characterised by new energies and by the revitalised power of imagination.
What's the background to this exhibition?
Franca Pisani: I had the honour of being invited by one of the seminal state galleries dedicated to modern art in Germany, the Halle am Wasser at Hamburger Banhohf. They own a very important Modern Art collection that also includes key installations and works by Joseph Beuys and the idea for "The Courage of Inspiration" came from this fascinating figure. When I was an art student I read a lot about him and contemplated the highly imaginative universe created by this well-rounded artist and shaman. This man who could have been my father served as a pilot in the Second World War, was shot down over the Crimea and saved by a group of indigenous people who covered him in animal fat and felt that preserved his body, making him discover that nature saves. This strong link with nature in his life has showed me the way I'm currently following in my work. I sort of entered the simple yet complex magic of nature since exhibiting at the 54th Venice Art Biennale, as part of the Italian Pavillion with my installation "La leggerezza di essere in due" (The Lightness of Being in Two) composed of two figures, one standing, one sitting in a wheelchair, with their heads wrapped in reeds from the natural reserve of the splendid Orbetello lagoon, managed by the Italian branch of the WWF. The reserve is a safe haven but it also represents a sort of new way of thinking and culture in which humans are aware of their limits and limitations.
Can you take us through a virtual tour of the exhibition?
Franca Pisani: The exhibition in Berlin will reunite 110 destructured canvases created throughout a year. They represent a series of mind thoughts and mental notes, one overlapping the other like branches of a baobab tree, and also mix past and present while they hang in a large wall installation. The genetic code of this installation is represented by a series of bi-faceted characters locked in plexiglass boxes that hint at dichotomies such as public and private, while affirming their existence together with nine sculptures, all of them busts in terracotta, representing female identity, memory, fragility, and intellectual and spiritual power. The research behind this exhibition revolves around a series of themes including ecological conscience, multiculturalism and new and old languages. Paintings, sculptures and installations represent the courage of inspiration because the freedom of thought and of using one's imagination help us conquering once again a reality that is not pre-arranged by others.
In which way do the plexiglass and the terracotta pieces interact with the larger installation?
Franca Pisani: The paintings, sculptures and installations analyse a political system that has evolved into an art system. The nine terracotta busts featured in the exhibition are elevated to imaginary characters. Some of them have half-closed eyes not because they are afraid of looking around them, but because they have an eye looking inward to see and grasp the best parts of themselves, but also the mystery hiding inside them. Terracotta is a sort of forgotten material and represents a difficult balance between man and nature. While moulding this material an artist must indeed take care of various issues including gravity, or the shrinking process that takes place during firing. Life is injected into the thirteen plexiglass pieces via the double faceted shroud on which I traced primitive marks and symbols. All the artifacts meet and clash with the main installation.
In this exhibition you return to art intended as artifact, can you tell us more about this concept?
Franca Pisani: My return to art intended as artifact is a way to reject any ideology and the constrictive art market as well, while rediscovering the pleasure of physical acts such as touching materials and colours. Art galleries have lost their aura, they aren't shrines anymore, but outside art galleries society has changed, and there is a world full of colours and energy.
So far you mainly employed natural materials in your work, but in this exhibition you also used plexiglass which is a synthetic material, how do you reconcile it with your passion for nature?
Franca Pisani: Plexiglass represents the technological shock entering into my works and hitting my characters. At the beginning I wasn't sure about what I was doing, but then I realised that the role of the artist is also that of confusing and creating a certain level of shock even when entering in a well-organised environment like a factory producing such materials. In this case the artist represents an element that breaks into the precise and well co-ordinated routines of the workers there, realising that his or her job is trying to annihilate the dullness that too often suffocates human beings.
One of the themes you tackle in your works is feminine identity, what does it represent to you?
Franca Pisani: This is a key theme for me. It was thanks to what I call "female synergy" that my art came out of the clandestine dimension. One day while I was in France for an exhibition, I met one of the most amazing persons I ever encountered in my life, Marzia Spatafora. She wanted to collaborate with a woman artist and we teamed up and grew up together, strong and stubborn though surrounded by male ostracism. I remember that once in Pietrasanta, a famous sculptor complained because he didn't want women to be part of an exhibition. When I think about it, I still feel like screaming. If I am the artist I am today it is also because of Marzia who has been a dear friend in many fights. Women have embedded in their DNA this sense of becoming, growing and understanding, and this is why men are scared and tend to annihilate women's potential by taking advantage of our sense of fagility as well, that should be a resource and not a weakness. Looking for our primitive origins in my works allows me to eliminate certain differences, reach the true essence of humanity and discover that, after all, our ancestors are very near to us when we scratch the surface of the fake reality in which we live and finally realise that women genuinely represent the evolution, the change and the newness in this big and vast world and in the art universe.
Is the title of the exhibition a message to visitors?
Franca Pisani: The title hints at the fact that only by being brave, by keeping your head high and your chin up, you can go through a wild art system that badly needs to renovate itself. We need an injection of courage at different levels: artists must go back to work in their studios; galleries must create culture, welcoming and educating both professionals and amateurs to look at real art and not at ways to make quick money; critics must follow art with a firm and stubborn mind. Magazines must also help rising more interest in art and museum curators must go and visit artists and discover them, while government must turn into the first buyers and supporters of art and artists.
Are there any contemporary artists that you particularly like?
Franca Pisani: I don't think there is one particular artist that I like the most. All contemporary artists excite and move me in different ways. Other people like listening to music or reading a good book, but I feel an almost obsessive need to fill my eyes with art. I love embracing the new and the visually exciting; I never put any constraints on my mind, but I try to open both my mind and my heart to every kind of art. I wish I was also able to visit different artists' studios, but I think that the loneliness of our society has managed to enter even creative environments, making in some cases almost impossible to meet in real life, outside the virtual dimension of Facebook.
The Courage of Inspiration by Franca Pisani, Halle am Wasser 3 - Hamburger Bahnhof, Invalidenstr. 50/51, 10557 Berlin, Germany, 30th May - 28th June 2013
All images courtesy of Franca Pisani
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