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- Prisons of the Inquisition at Steri | 5 and 7 July, 2018 – Palermo
- What will happen
The artist will be present at Lo Steri during opening times for three days in a live drawing event. The public will be able to watch him work, interact with him and ask him questions while he works at his drawing desk as he does every day.
Inspired by the only novel by Elias Canetti – Nobel Prizewinner in 1981 – the performance will create two works of art: one is physical, and consists of the ongoing exhibition created during the three days of drawing, and it will remain on display after the three-day event. The drawings will primarily be portraits of the prisoners of conscience whom Costantini follows on a daily basis in his campaigns, which are either autonomous or in collaboration with associations, families and institutions. The artist was actually deeply moved by the Palazzo itself, the work of Giuseppe Pitrè and the words of Leonardo Sciascia; with the curator of the event he conceived a project whose starting point was a place repressed, rediscovered and loaded with suffering, in order to speak of the present.
The exhibition will be divided into three chapters: A Head Without a World / Headless World / The World in the Head. Beside every image, a quote from the novel will decontextualise the image, creating a self-contained narrative.
Evoking the scope of the novel, which was written in the years immediately preceding the rise of Hitler, Costantini questions the role of the intellectual and the artist in relation to his or her era.
Alongside the physical work created specifically for Lo Steri, the artist will also create a flow of information / diffusion / action from the portraits on Twitter and other social networks. On Twitter in particular, he has a following of more than 60,000, most of whom are interested in human rights on a global level. And so, as with all Costantini’s recent work, drawing becomes not only a fetish and an object of art, but a denunciation and a tool for activism. A voice for those who lack voice, bringing the cell walls of Lo Steri – and of all the Lo Steris still existing in the world – out of the cramped cells in which people are imprisoned. Which is actually what all the drawings in the Palazzo demand.
Auto da fé
Three visual chapters
by Elettra Stamboulis
Artist and visual activist Gianluca Costantini presents a three-day performance at Lo Steri – Palazzo Chiaramonte.
The palazzo was famously the place of detention and action of the Inquisition Tribunal until 1782, when the viceroy Caracciolo closed it once and for all, and told his friend D’Alembert the news: all the documents contained in the palace were burned, but its history has been reconstructed from the Spanish national archive, which retains the correspondence between the Palermo tribunal and the Supreme Court of the Inquisition. But it is not the inquisitional purpose – latent in a new way in the contemporary context – which is the focus of Costantini’s artistic practice, but the evocation of another act of penitence / betrayal, unique and memory-ridden: Elias Canetti’s only novel, Auto da fé. The titles of the three days are actually the headings of the three sections of the book, which was banned by the Nazis in a period that culminated with the burning of books, so beloved by the novel’s protagonist that he attempts in vain to remain untouched by the world. The question – which will certainly not receive an unequivocal answer – relates to the artist as a whole: is it possible to live in precarious times shut away in a studio, devoting oneself solely to one’s own extreme research? Can we hold the world, and its morals, outside our own actions?
A Head Without a World
Has digital proximity to the library of the world led to a kind of isolation from the world? The character of the Sinologist at the centre of Canetti’s novel lives enclosed by his library and in his own religion of memory: he refuses any connection with the present and with life. He not only represents one of the admirable prophetic figures of great literature between the wars, but also a strange premonition of something that Canetti was surely unable to see unless by evocation.
Starting with this reinterpretation of the novel and reconstructing the signs that, despite the destruction, still bear witness to the suffering and pain of the never-ending and hopeless present experienced by the detainees of the Tribunal of the Holy Office in Palazzo Chiaramonte, Costantini will use drawing – the very medium that the forced penitents managed to access despite their privations – to explore, depict and stimulate reflection on our Head Without a World in the digital age. A time in which the world and its geography seem accessible, but only in appearance.
The first phase of the project will address the question: who are today’s prisoners, the detainees without a voice? What does it mean today to draw those who are imprisoned? The artist will put out a call via the internet for individuals and stories which he will then illustrate.
The figures depicted on the walls of Lo Steri have various purposes: evidence, prayer, curse. But all without exception confront us with the separateness produced by detention: a silencing of life which seems to regain its sound only through drawn signs. Today this silence remains unchanged and drawing can continue to constitute a tool for making noise: Costantini will spend several sessions over three days drawing – as he has every day for years – the faces, words and stories of the countless men and women unjustly detained in the prisons of the world. For three days, Palazzo Chiaromonte will become a visual loudspeaker. The stories and words of the unfairly detained will resound through the artist’s Twitter profile, which has 60,000 followers, but will also become visible objects, present in an exhibition created live. A solitary artist, voluntarily detained in a space remodelled for the present day, like an antenna receiving the voices of those whose voices have been taken away and turning them into drawings, delivering them to the world and enabling their circulation.
The World in the Head
While the artistic act lies in the flow, in perception and in its existence in time, as well as in its morality, the final work will effectively be not so much – or not only – the drawings made, but their iteration online, the stories that emerge thanks to this artistic activism. The exchanges with the families and the associations that support a cause, and their lives. A world in the head of someone else, who ultimately is no longer an individual, but a virtual place for storytelling. At the end of the three-day performance, the exhibition will also consist of the testimony of sharing, of messages received, of exchanges created.
Curated by Elettra Stamboulis