by Elettra Stamboulis
text for the exhibition “I’m there, you are here”,
Attitudes spazio alle arti, Bologna
Translations by Marion Sarah Tuggey
Anybody out there?
I think this was the question Gianluca asked himself when he radically changed his way of understanding and making art. He came from an almost Zen school of thought and practice, decoration. From micromosaics, which he executed with a Levantine technique, to panels, comic strips and installations, everything was conceived and created with a suspension of time and space. Space was conceived in a Byzantine way, totally detached from the technique of perspective, filled with decorations and chisels. Time was always available and possible, internalised. The last exhibition that bears witness to this first phase, in an anthological sense, was in 2005, No Border: L’arte del delitto (No Border: The Art of Murder), curated by Serena Simoni in Ravenna.
Parallel to his artistic practice, however, there was the construction of collective platforms, such as inguine.net, or the creation of magazines that acted as a collection of a very broad spectrum of interests. His propensity to bring together people who know how to do things and who intersect his curiosity is certainly something that comes from afar. This is certainly the environment his second artistic identity was born from, the one that is most difficult to label, but which has made him substantially unique on the Italian scene as an artist, activist and journalist… Hard to combine everything in a single label.
Hybridisation is his form. Being in the world and dialoguing with its multiple lives is his practice. Then, of course, there is the technique, but that is as if it were hidden, undeclared. His masters are essentially the same, but brought up to date: his great-grandfather William Blake, whose prophecies he listens to; his grandfather William Morris, both in the form of bringing his work up to date and in the political spirit of Art and Socialism; his father Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he feels he shares not only dyslexia but also a sense of surprise at the world; his older brother Ai Weiwei, with whom he has established not only a virtual collaboration to support news and campaigns together, but also a true artistic collaboration. The multifaceted world of comics, from Joe Sacco to Zograf, from Raùl to Vittorio Giardino, piles up with this. All mixed up and always available.
Still, the world was just a horizon for a long time, a place to collect things and make them into surprises. One day in the 00s, however, something changed: instead of being a collector of reality, an archivist of the ephemeral real, Costantini decided he wanted to act in time and space. He realised, after having experienced the web and its rivulets as a cybernaut from the very beginning, that it could be a tool for change and action.
In Atlante dei Volti (Atlas of Faces), a selection of 400 drawings made in real time during the events depicted are presented in the form of postcards. Postcards are not simply a collector’s vice, they are an active tool of protest and action instead, in the tradition of Amnesty International, which gave it a major award in 2019, and not by chance. There are unjustly dead people, protesters, imprisoned people, simple citizens who want to make their voices heard — and it is not a still life of reality, these drawings have all been tools used by activists, retweeted by those who lobby media and public opinion. These are non-violent actions that emphasise the power of art to bring about change: this is also testified to by Senza Diritto di Replica (No Right of Reply), the installation that recounts the judicial case involving his profile in Turkey. After the failed coup, we all know that special laws have been used to crush and silence any voice of opposition in Erdoğan’s country. And in the dense web of verdicts, there is also Costantini’s Twitter profile, accused of “Attacking State security”. Ultimately, this is a visual narrative work that is also a historical document. Likewise, Quando la destra estrema ti chiama anti-Semita (When the extreme right wing calls you anti-Semitic) examines the processes underlying the politically correct use of terms and automatisms that can also be used in opposite senses: this also happened to a series of historical titles and slogans such as Ordine Nuovo, first a socialist periodical led by Antonio Gramsci, then from 1969 the name of an extreme right-wing subversive group in Italy, but the shift in use of the term anti-Semite to indicate those who criticise Israeli policy is perhaps among the most common and slippery ones. So slippery that they actually make you lose a job.
Finally, the delicate drawings on rice sheets made as a tool for the Hong Kong protests: no other material would have been so perfect indeed.
Fifteen years of art and activism, conferences, comic books, two self-published magazines, thousands of followers and hundreds of lives intertwined with his own. Costantini’s solitary studio seems crowded, while he seems to be everywhere in the world.