During the lead up to this second installment of the Venice Biennale Performance Programme, we are releasing a series of conversations between Aaron Cezar (Delfina Foundation) and the participating artists.
Episode 3 of Delfina Foundation’s Interviews series features artist duo Invernomuto.
Aaron Cezar: You two have been working together as Invernomuto since 2003. How did this collaboration arise?
Invernomuto: We come from the same area, the countryside, about an hour south of Milan. We got to know each other better during our studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, in the art and new media department. Having backgrounds in punk/hc and hip hop, it was natural for us to work together, in the same way, you start a band or a zine. We created a unit that was something in-between a graphic design studio, an experimental audiovisual collective, and a visual art duo. Our first project was a magazine called ffwd_mag, which we curated and designed. We then started to work with moving images and sound, slowly progressing to more complex installations and performances. Working as a duo is about removing ego, and at the same time building something truly solid: it’s the result of constant negotiations and discussions.
AC: Many of your projects take their starting point from a particular ‘cultural reference’ – a tv show, a piece of music, a site, or an object. Can you talk about your process for exploring histories, myths, and meanings through them?
IM: For many years the starting points for our research were observations of our native landscapes, obsessively documenting the architecture and the soundscape – digging in a liminal countryside with not much to offer. We somehow developed an alchemical attitude, trying to transform banality into something more valuable. These microscopic obsessions took us along many unexpected paths. The landscape is a witness, in our case, a silent one; it was our mission to make it audible, to let it scream. Live role-playing games, medieval reenactments, oral histories, folk sculptures and architecture, to us these are all ways of performing the landscape and transforming history.
AC: In recent years many of your projects have explored lines of inquiry that around Italy’s links to global cultural production and political contexts. Can you share examples of this?
IM: Again, that exploration of our familiar landscape leads us to discover – or better rediscover, particular elements that could reverberate bigger narrations.
For instance, in our area, the term “Negus” – which gave name to one of our most ambitious projects – was used as a denigratory term to describe unusual looking people, some sort of clownesque or messy character. This term originated from the aggressive Fascist propaganda developed during the occupation of Ethiopia. In Amharic Negus, instead, means emperor. This was a little epiphany: a slang word was testifying one of the biggest amnesia and crimes in the Italian history of the XX century, the fascist attempt to colonize Ethiopia.
Talking to old people like Trabucchi’s grandfather, we discovered that in 1936, to celebrate the return of a wounded soldier, the community organized a macabre celebration in the main square of our hometown: they burned a puppet depicting Haile Selassie I, the last Negus of Ethiopia.
We observed this story through the lens of Rastafari, floating on the bass frequencies of reggae, dub and dancehall. A local expression took us to Addis Ababa and Kingston; we invited the dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry to lead a counter-ritual in the same square where the effigy of Haile Selassie burnt almost a century ago.
AC: This leads us on to Black Med, a work first initiated for Manifesta 12 (2018). You describe this project as a “platform,” what do you mean by this?
IM: The term “platform” refers mostly to this project’s online presence. At Manifesta Black Med started as a bi-weekly broadcast of commissioned mixes, presented together with video loops. The idea was to open the conversation about the Mediterranean to musicians, scholars, and djs we felt connected to this ongoing research. Platform, for us, is also a definition that serves the purpose of conceiving the work as an open entity.
We are planning to evolve the online platform into a real interface where users worldwide can actively engage the conversation about sound and the Mediterranean. The main output of the project, though, is a series of performances in the form of listening session. Those are based on a live performed musical selection supported by projected slides containing theoretical texts and backstories referring to the musical pieces, grouped by elegiac themes. The first 3 sessions – conceived for Manifesta 12 – explored different journeys of sound movement throughout the Mediterranean, touching topics such as alternate use of technology, migrations, peripheries, and interspecies.
AC: Finally could you tell us what we might expect from your performance in Venice?
IM: In Venice we will premiere the 4th chapter of the Black Med listening sessions. The closing weekend of the Biennale occurs in the middle of a two-months residency we’ll soon commence at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai. We will expand our research around sound crossing the Mediterranean towards eastern routes, to include a detour in the Gulf area. In this session we will explore different ideas of futurism, but we will also undertake unexpected trajectories between Europe and the Middle East, trying to deconstruct older tropes of Orientalist gaze.
Invernomuto’s participation in the performance programme of the 58th Venice Biennale of Art is supported by Alserkal Avenue. The programme is commissioned by Arts Council England and co-produced by Delfina Foundation and the Biennale as part of Meetings on Art.