by Viviana Gravano
text for the exhibition “I’m there, you are here”,
Attitudes spazio alle arti, Bologna
Translations by Marion Sarah Tuggey
Gianluca Costantini’s drawings always live at least two lives, but often many more. On many occasions, groups of activists and individuals, online or in public space, “appropriate” the drawings and give them a new life and meaning. The drawings therefore become vectors of meaning rather than completed objects in themselves, expanding their echo and their meaning through a reuse that is made spontaneously by others, without having to ask Gianluca’s permission. The thread of the drawing unravels and occupies streets and squares, ends up on the web in an almost viral manner and becomes a symbol, but not in the fixed canonical sense attributed to this word, which generally indicates a sign that corresponds to a single meaning, but in the broad sense of a field of meanings that adapt to situations, working on a sort of emotional and meaningful site specificity, which in each context is expressed differently.
Can a drawing therefore become a performative object? Yes, if it is “used” by Eritrean activists demonstrating against the violation of human rights in their country, holding portraits of political prisoners made by Costantini. Can a drawing become an urban intervention, public art? Yes, if an enormous image of Zaky, a young Egyptian student in Bologna who was imprisoned and tortured because he was a dissident of the Al Sisi regime in his country, covers an entire façade of Bologna’s main square, Piazza Maggiore, and then stands under the two towers which have always been the city’s tourist icon. Can a drawing become the symbol of freedom battles on the profiles of hundreds of thousands of people? Yes, if Gianluca portrays the young Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, tortured to death in Egyptian prisons, holding his kitten in his arms, or if he portrays Ilaria Cucchi, symbol of the fight for justice against the abuses of the Italian police who beat her brother to death in prison.
I do think that the correct term for what happens to Costantini’s work is “bottom-up appropriation”, that is, a form of rewriting of the object itself, which does not go through the usual channels of artistic post-production, and which brings into play a dormant value of art, which only its “lay” use — outside the normal strategies of display — can reveal. Costantini’s drawings appear in books and magazines, and can be exhibited as in this exhibition, but they also find the strength to roam the streets, to demonstrate in the squares and thus become agents, with their own autonomy, that they live by redeeming themselves from their own author.
Perhaps for this very reason, Costantini’s work is often censored, his activity declared unwelcome in some countries — where human rights are openly violated — because its dangerousness is not limited to the moment when the drawings are published, but enters into an uncontrollable dynamic that expands beyond the creator himself. And all this in a real, physical world, becoming a flag and a banner, passing from hand to hand in the material sense of the term, and therefore not only in that light world that is the Internet, which certainly serves the dissemination of a certain activism, but which often does not contemplate “the body”. And, for those who are interested in human rights, the body cannot be a virtual and immaterial object.