Palermo - Interviews

The Body of Energy: Blanca de la Torre in Conversation with Stefano Cagol

1 month ago

During the opening of Manifesta 12 in Palermo Stefano Cagol realised a large scale projection on the façade of the former monastery in Piazza Magione. He is also taking part in the group show “Cassata Drone”  which runs until September 21st – alongside works by Maria D.Rapicavoli and Raqs Media Collective. The curator Blanca de la Torre has interviewed Stefano Cagol to find out more about his different projects in Palermo.

Blanca de la Torre: You decided to work in one of the most iconic squares in the city and also the location of the Manifesta 12 headquarters, a piazza that is in fact not a real square but the negation of a urban settlement at the core of an overlapping of memories and cultures. Could you tell us about your interaction with this special location?

Stefano Cagol: In Palermo I presented “TBOE. The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, a project that is continuously evolving and is always in dialogue with the environment. I decided to interact with my own body heat and with the wall of the centuries-old monastery, the former Convento della Sapienza that survived demolition, now alone in the middle of Piazza Magione. I started an exchange with the empty building, giving it back my energy – “the ‘warmth character’  creates chaos and love”, as Veit Loers wrote about “TBOE”. I embrace the ancient edifice, moving my hands over the bricks and the empty windows with grills, touching the surface with warm hands and cold ice, and leave invisible traces that become evident and prolonged tuning the vision into infrared waves (here a videoclip). I visualise heat as an expression of energy, of life. I bring to light the exchange of energy between people and the environment as a metaphor for the persistence of our passage, of our actions and choices.
This is what art does: it offers different visions and gives out energy. The action of making visible warmth and energy – Andreas Beitin states about the project – “can also be viewed from a sociopolitical perspective because it also figuratively reveals the force within the individuals of a society”. Tobia Bezzola describes “TBOE” as a “thermopoetic research”, while Andrea Viliani as “a research-based manifestation of exorcism, a technology-driven exercise in sorcery, a social-oriented act of faith or, finally, just a simple revelation of basic contemporary digital… ghosts”.

Blanca de la Torre: You were invited to participate in Manifesta 12 by the Danish nomadic curatorial platform Arts & Globalization in “Art & Connectography. Remapping the Global World through Art Practice”, curated by Rikke Jørgensen and Valentina G. Levy, also part of the collateral events, but you stated that “TBOE” is an on-going project. Could you tell us how this project came about? And why did you decide to bring it to Palermo?

SC: I presented the project “TBOE” to the VISIT programme of the Innogy Foundation and received the VISIT #10 award in 2014 with the idea of dealing with energy, a term already used by Aristotle in philosophy but a concept elaborated in physics just in 1619 by Kepler in his “Harmonice Mundi” because it is as important, vital, present, as it is invisible, immaterial, intangible. So I started an expedition in scanning and giving shape to energy exchanges, I realised this with the support of the Foundation as a transnational travelling project that crossed Europe from Norway to Gibraltar, presenting the project in many museums and interacting in each venue, with the public and with the environment encountered along the way. After this first, intense phase I decided to continue and develop the “TBOE” experience and Innogy Foundation chose to support my participation in Manifesta 12. I received support also from Autonomous Province of Trento – a rendez vous for the region that hosted Manifesta 7. I also collaborated with KaOZ, the venue of Arts & Globalization for Manifesta, from where I made the impressive projection.

BdlT: You are also participating in Cassata Drone”. What are you presenting there? Could you tell us about the venue and your interaction with it? Did you realise any performances, which I know is usually part of you practice?

SC: The exhibition “Cassata Drone was conceived by g.o.stuppia, and curated by Giovanni Rendina. The venue was completely unexpected: an apartment on the sixth floor of an early twentieth-century building in the district of the Kalsa. I decided to project my “TBOE” visions onto the walls creating an exchange with the landscape. I used special screens to block the sunlight but not the view to the sea from the arched windows and projected the video with infrared images: a silent dance slightly touching a building of the same age of the venue and the wild and crazy graffiti drawn invisibly with snow by the Norwegian students on the wall of a school, revealed by the infrared eye.

According to the method of developing “TBOE” in progress on a site and time specific basis, I also realised an improvised performance in Piazza Borsa with the students of the Istituto Comprensivo Arenella of Palermo.

BdlT: I think you were precursor of what is now the critique of anthropocentrism, a theoretical line that has become very influential in art, while you were already working on this direction a decade ago. Actually, I see that some of your projects connect to the idea of the so-called “hyperobjects” described by Timothy Morton, one of the main thinkers of the OOO (Object Oriented Ontology), who intersected this 21st-century philosophy with ecological issues. I refer to your striking participation at the 55th Venice Biennale with a melting ice block, but also to “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe” 2006. Could you tell us more about your vision?

SC: I confront diverse global issues, intersecting politics, ethics, science, history, culture, nature from an individual yet broad point of view. I’m pleased you recall “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe”, as I consider it a critical moment in the course of my research. I drew upon the fear of pandemic which came about in 2006 surrounding the avian influenza. Mass media generated the alarm and the virus in my artwork became a metaphor for the “hyperinfluence” of the media. Crossing the Mitteleuropa, from the Italian Alps, I arrived at the 4th Berlin Biennale with a white van with black capital letters: “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe”. The van was empty; the topic was heated. The day after my arrival all the headlines in Berlin read “Vogelgrippe im Berlin”. Was it the “real” flu arriving or was it “mine”? I am drawn to these multilayered visions/messages that are totalising in their simplicity and always have an ecological undercurrent.

BdlT: As a result of this holistic vision, your practice is full of oxymora: you pass from a powerful light beam, recalling “The End of the Border” winning the Terna prize, to the invisible traces of energy you visualised in Palermo, and from ice to fire referring to “The Ice Monolith” and to the video with the Arctic on fire exhibited in the occasion of the COP23-UN Climate Change Conference at the Ministry for the Environment in Berlin. Could you tell us more about your practice? What tools do you use in order to engage with the public?

SC: I work on borders: both physical and mental, borders between personal and public opinion, between humankind and nature. The idea of border is in my DNA as I grow up in Switzerland, a melting pot nation, and was born in Trentino South Tyrol, a cross-border region. My tools are both technology and nature. I force the limits of the engagement of the public and of the institutions, using propaganda, playing in the public space, including the transnational travelling process in the projects. And involving the monolithic museums in-progress, “on-the-road”. This attitude has been connected by Jeni Fulton to the Institutional Critique and referring to my practice she coined the definition “activist aesthetics”.

BdlT: What’s next? Any other projects planned?

SC: With a new project titled “The Walls Book, I will participate in the Off Biennale Cairo opening at the beginning of November; the chief curator is Simon Njami, artistic director Moataz Nasr and curator of my section Valentina G. Levy. In Cairo the wall is taken as the extreme and the most evident symptom of borders. Both the impassable barriers and the invisible borders on maps are drawn by the most powerful one, try to force the balance, to write a preferred history, to underline the prominence. A series of images of border barriers around the world – e.g. in Cyprus, Belfast, Tijuana, Israel – are modified in a radical black and white vision that removes the geographical identity of the specific wall and underlines the pure essence of the division. They are printed on billboards and hung in public spaces in different areas of Cairo – “walls on walls”. After Cairo I will deal with a very amazing building: the Reggia di Caserta, more details coming soon. Then I’m working on a project in Kochi during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and I am present also in two on-going exhibitions, both in Germany: the grand inaugural exhibition “Aftermieter. Lodgers curated by Veit Loers at the new Haus Mödrath in Kerpen-Cologne on view until November 15 and the exhibition “All’idea di quel metallo” curated by Peter Ungeheuer in Berlin at VDB – Verband Deutscher Bürgschaftsbanken until April, 2019. In the frame of the latter exhibition I will do a solo special screening on September 29 during the Berlin Art Week.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Stefano Cagol, 2018, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen Stefano Cagol, 2018, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • From the right: Blanca de la Torre, Stefano Cagol, Giulia Pilieci (Arts & Globalization team), “Art & Connectography”, Manifesta 12 collateral, June 16, 2018, Piazza Magione, Palermo From the right: Blanca de la Torre, Stefano Cagol, Giulia Pilieci (Arts & Globalization team), “Art & Connectography”, Manifesta 12 collateral, June 16, 2018, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, propaganda, badges, edition of 1000, Piazza Magione, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, propaganda, badges, edition of 1000, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, badges, edition of 1000 Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, badges, edition of 1000
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, installation view, “Cassata Drone”, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, installation view, “Cassata Drone”, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “Stars & Stripes. Redouble”, 2013, installation view, “Aftermieter / Lodgers”, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen Stefano Cagol, “Stars & Stripes. Redouble”, 2013, installation view, “Aftermieter / Lodgers”, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen
  • Stefano Cagol, New Experiments on Vacua, 2016, photo, “All’idea di quel metallo”, VDB, Berlin Stefano Cagol, New Experiments on Vacua, 2016, photo, “All’idea di quel metallo”, VDB, Berlin
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Walls Book”, 2018, billboards, Off Biennale Cairo Stefano Cagol, “The Walls Book”, 2018, billboards, Off Biennale Cairo

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