HILLARY: “The Hillary Clinton Emails”: an Interview with Francesco Urbano Ragazzi

by Mara Sartore
May 2, 2019
Mara Sartore

We interviewed the curatorial team Francesco Urbano Ragazzi on the exhibition they have organised at Despar Teatro Italia “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails”, by artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith during the 58th Venice Biennale.

Mara Sartore: We started our collaboration many years ago when I was still directing Circuito Off Venice Short Film Festival, after that we collaborated with yourself and Miltos for the first Internet Pavilion, and then My Art Guides were media partners for the exceptional Jonas Mekas show at Burger King…could you tell us about how you have evolved as a curatorial duo, and this year presenting for the Venice Biennale Arte –  HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails?

Francesco Urbano Ragazzi: Let’s start with a memory … It was 2004 and for Circuito Off you invited the founder of Dogma 95 to Venice. Not Lars Von Trier, the other one – Thomas Vinterberg, the director of Festen! It was a significant meeting: at that particular moment, almost ten years after the Dogma manifesto, the revolution in cinema’s accessibility had already changed our relationship with the language of images forever. The same revolution that Miltos Manetas theorised and experimented with in those same years with Neen and the Internet Pavilion. As early as the 1960s, Jonas Mekas himself had foreseen and lived a media dimension of everyday life with his film diaries and the New American Cinema Group. Certainly Mekas remains an absolute pioneer in this sense, and his way of practicing poetry and reality on paper, on film, on the web and on any other medium, for us will always be an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Kenneth Goldsmith is another god of the internet: the one who since 1996, through UbuWeb, has created a bridge between analogical and digital culture, making available to all copies of masterpieces of the avant-garde cinema, visual poetry, video, literature and contemporary art. Kenneth is also the poet of Uncretive Writing and Printing Out The Internet. HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails is once again a celebration of the times and daily media, in the form of poetry and political literature.

MS: After Burger King you have once again chosen a mass/pop location in the guise of a supermarket, again located in a wonderful Venetian building – Teatro Italia. Could you tell us about the contamination between the concept and the space?

FF: We are interested in understanding what public spaces mean today and how art can also define a private space as public. The Auditorium at Cern, The Black Sea, Internet Point in Hamburg are just some of the unconventional places in which we have developed our exhibition projects, in the belief that art is the institution of itself. Places of consumption interest us in particular because they express the stratification and the moral values of our times. We try to introduce a slight psychedelia that deviates from its primary nature without erasing it.

This return to Venice immediately led us to the Cinema Teatro Italia, a building built in 1916 in reinforced concrete, with a façade in Venetian Gothic style and completely frescoed inside. Before becoming a supermarket with a museum appearance, it was a cinema, a university and an abandoned building. The presence of the Kenneth Goldsmith exhibition will reactivate this story by mixing different eras and identities, and accentuating the public-private dialectic. It is precisely this confusion that we want to question and inhabit.

HILLARY marks the first tangible public appearance of the emails that Hillary Clinton received and sent from her personal account when she was Secretary of State. These documents, which are among the most important of our century, were first disclosed in PDF format by the U.S. Department of State and then from WikiLeaks through a searchable archive. All the questions that have been raised around them concern the relationship and the boundarys between public and private. In the exhibition the ambivalence between privacy and transparency, propaganda and truth will become monumental. Or rather, anti-monumental …

MS: You defined the exhibition as “an anti-monument to the folly of Trump’s heinous smear campaign against Clinton” could you explain further what you meant with this statement?

FF: HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails is an anti-monument because the 60,000 sheets that will be part of Kenneth’s work are a monster of reduced dimensions. And because this monster does not look very different from what we face every day in our inboxes or the other accounts connected to it. Yet this material – which was categorised as Unclassified and for which Senator Clinton was never indicted – was at the centre of a huge media debate that made it hot. Some say that the run-up to Hillary Clinton’s election against Trump had its heaviest setback here. And indeed a significant anti-Clinton campaign was organised off the back of these emails, or rather from the ghost of these emails. With Hillary at Despar Teatro Italia we chase away every phantom and completely demystify this correspondence, transforming it into a complete and searchable archive.

The public will then be able to discover burning truths, gory details or simply see the banality of their lives.

MS: How did you meet and start collaborating with Kenneth Goldmisth and how have you developed the exhibition together?

FF: Kenneth first spoke to us about Hillary Clinton’s emails in New York in the autumn of 2016, when we inaugurated the Jonas Mekas exhibition in the Missoni flagship store. Almost three years have passed, and a series of intense work sessions followed between Kenneth’s loft, the visits to Venice and a series of lunches and dinners with a high theoretical content in the most disparate places between Europe and America. Meanwhile much of the dialogue has grown in its habitat or origin: chat, mail, skype, facetime, messenger. And the words have become actions, journeys, designs, contracts, the collaboration with Despar and Zuecca Projects, the artist book we are to publish with NERO, the partnership with you!

MS: The exhibition is also enriched by a dense cinema programme. What is the fil rouge of the film screenings?

FF: We selected only a few directors from the vast UbuWeb Film and Video section: Peggy Ahwesh, Alex Da Corte, Cheryl Donegan, Lev Manovich, Alix Pearlstein, People Like Us, Christine Rebet, Sara Sackner, Leah Singer, Stan VanDerBeek, Jennifer West, Jordan Wolfson. And then we added the works of Six Doors, an online exhibition dedicated to vertical videos that we have edited in recent months for the new digital space at the Center d’Art Contemporain Genève: Sophia Al-Maria, Johanna Bruckner, Shadi Habib Allah, Bek Hyunjin , Sabrina Röthlisberger.

The fil rouge of this selection, which crosses through different approaches and generations, is a re-appropriation of the aesthetics of mass consumption in which the advertising principles are disregarded through poetry, irony, the visionary and subversion.

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