An important solo exhibition by Stefano Cagol is taking place in Trentino. “La forma del vento” (The Shape of Wind) is an anthology project consisting of recent works and works the artist developed in relation to the place that hosts the show, the San Michele Castle in Ossana, ‘perched on a windy rock in between valleys, overlooking the river; a place where history is characterised by ancient mines’. Burning snow, lumps of earth that escape into the air and a land that is still being hurt today can be interpreted in multiple ways: themes linked to the great changes of the present, particularly climate change. Stefano Cagol explains his initial research for this exhibition by highlighting the continuity and connection with his past and future work. Now, as a winner of the Italian Council competition with the project The Time of the Flood. Beyond the myth through climate change, a long artist residency awaits him in Berlin and Tel Aviv / Jerusalem, supported by the foreign institution Momentum as project partner, and in Rome and Venice, where the support is given by IIFCA Italy-Israel Foundation for Culture and the Arts as the cultural partner.
Elena Giulia Rossi: Your solo exhibition “The Shape of Wind: Perceptions of Climate Change” is currently on view at San Michele Castle in Ossana, Trentino. Can you talk about this project and how it relates to the Castle and to the territory?
Stefano Cagol: I designed this exhibition starting from the castle’s multiple connections with nature: links which go back to its history or which are inextricably linked to its unique architecture, which has come down to us unchanged, together with its notable medieval features.
The history of the castle and the stones with which it is built tell the story of rocks rich in metal and the area’s ancient mines. The strategic position, between two valleys (Val di Sole and Val di Pejo), places it in the middle of some of the most majestic Alpine mountain ranges – Ortles-Cevedale, Adamello and the Dolomites of Brenta with their fast disappearing glaciers. Finally, there’s his majesty the wind which, for hundreds of years, has been the castle’s real unchallenged sovereign. On the summit of this rock and even at the top of the tower, the wind always dominates. In the village you cannot feel the breeze but, as soon as you climb up, as soon as you enter those walls, it can be felt; it caresses you, hits you, blowing from one direction, then the other, becoming stronger; it is always present. Wind is precisely the element that gave the exhibition its name, that provided me with most food for thought. Masses of air always move around us, yet we don’t pay any attention. We only take notice of the wind when it manifests itself in destructive ways, even in these areas up in the Alps, especially in recent times. I believe the wind is the perfect metaphor for describing how we perceive climate change: it’s happening, but we only take notice of disastrous events. Climate has never been monitored as it is now, yet the relationship with nature has never eluded us as much as it does at the present moment.
You’ve worked for several years on topics that focus on climate and also borders. Recently we’ve witnessed increased media attention around these subjects. In what way do you think art can help us become more aware of the topic?
Climate and borders are two sides of the same coin. Retreating into yourself means not being in a relationship with what surrounds you, not even nature. Essentially, humanity suffers from selfishness, a blind and self-destructive selfishness, as we’re consuming the earth under our feet. As long as our garden is green and in bloom, everything’s fine. Never mind if elsewhere the desert is spreading or if the ice that my father called “eternal” is melting. I’m convinced art is a privileged medium given its capacity to translate very technical concepts through the effective universal language of feelings, symbols and metaphors. Art must communicate and must encourage thought. Recently I saw the climatologist Luca Mercalli and I was struck by his activism, the way in which he warned us about the really dramatic prospects we face, urging a change in humanity’s direction because the process currently taking place can be compared to the impact of a global war. He bitterly concluded his speech, however, by highlighting how the problem is being ignored by decision-makers and by people themselves. Jeni Fulton has spoken of my works as “aesthetic activism”.
How would you define the collaboration and dialogue between art and science?
Art and science do the same thing using different codes: investigating and anticipating what is taking place through data or sensations. Consequently, it seems inevitable that there are different points of intersection. I’ve carried out experiments with the elements, such as setting snow on fire in a video now on display at the Castle, developing a still ongoing project “The Body of Energy (of the mind)” and creating works using a thermographic camera. During a residency in the Ruhr Valley, I was given the opportunity to confront my ideas with a geologist which led to the creation of the series now on display, “New Experiments on Vacua”, a title which refers to the physicist Blaise Pascal.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to the subject of climate. Over time, several terms have become fashionable when referring to climate change: greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, climate change, global warming. Today, some researchers agree to the use of the term climate crisis. Others prefer the expression geological revolution of human origin (Christophe Bonneuiland). How important do you think language is? In what way do you think this influences citizens’ behaviour, especially when filtered through the media?
Undoubtedly, the media affects the spread of terms, concepts, phobias or, in contrast, negates their existence by not giving these issues enough emphasis. In 2006, while we were in the middle of the frenzy caused by bird flu and a possible pandemic, I presented “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe” at the 4th Berlin Biennale, a work highlighting how fear had been fomented by the media: rather than speaking of bird “influenza”, we should have discussed the influence of the media.
Climate issues are a mosaic of factors and effects but, as I mentioned earlier, we didn’t have as many mediums to explore these as we do now. We never spoke about them as we do now; yet, we still struggle to understand what we are discussing: there are people who negate the existence of a climate crisis and there are people who negate the fact that human beings are at the origin of this ongoing process. The British-American philosopher Timothy Morton defines climate change as a “hyperobject”, stating that it’s multiform, changing, unstable, slippery and, for this reason, difficult to grasp even though everything is permeated by it – it’s hyper.
Some time ago, during the symposium “Critical Ways of Seeing” at Goldsmiths University in London, you coined the term BE-DIVERSITY which refers to “new ways of being and sharing the self: a claim and a safeguard relating to the specificity of being individual, in opposition to homogenisation…”. What does “individual” mean today?
To think with one’s own brain. Today we are especially influenced; technology and the Web allows us to view the experiences of others, acquire their competencies, know their opinions, but all this doesn’t become an instrument of knowledge and exchange with which ideas can be developed. On the contrary, it becomes the end goal of intellectual activity. Descartes’ proposition “cogito ergo sum” should be reversed: “I am, therefore I think”.
It appears to me that new terms are being developed to describe the hybrid nature we inhabit. You spoke of the slippery quality of Morton’s hyperobjects; the young critic James Bridle speaks of a “dark age” and places our existence inside a “grey area”. Taking these new modes of perception into consideration, how do you think the contemporary gaze should change to better adapt to the time to come?
By penetrating the interstitial area, crawling between the folds. For my part, I create art in the real world, not only in the glass sphere of the white box. My projects circulate in public spaces through workshops and via the Web, unexpectedly reaching out to passers-by; travelling becomes a part of the artwork and invites people to spontaneously participate, continuing for 20,000 km or for years. For this reason, Alessandro Castiglioni defines my projects in the same way as hyperobjects, which gives the title to my solo exhibition, currently being shown at MA*GA.
On the day of the exhibition launch at Ossana Castle, you decided to involve the student movement which has emerged with Greta Thunberg. Can you tell us how it went?
In deciding to exhibit “Perceptions of climate change” in a small village in the Alps, recognised as the “greenest village in Italy”, it was natural to invite the Trentino group of Fridays for Future. When we met for a coffee for the first time, we immediately clicked: I felt they wanted to focus attention on a big issue but, at thjke same time, were overcome by a feeling of impotence in their attempt to put forward an antidote.
What advice would you give in order to begin to think critically again? How can we work towards this aim while, at the same time, keeping reality in mind – a reality of which information is an integral part?
The important thing is not to have answers but questions. We are used to searching online for answers to our doubts and immediately finding the solution. We are so used to this mechanism that we can find the answers we want, the answers we prefer. Consequently, objectivity and critical engagement have disappeared, suffocated by a superimposition of information, as you rightly call it, which may be right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. As a result, information no longer forms us.
In a recent essay (Novacene) James Lovelock states: “What is revolutionary about this moment is that the understanders of the future will not be humans but what I choose to call ‘cyborgs’ that will have designed and built themselves from the artificial intelligence systems we have already constructed. These will soon become thousands then millions of times more intelligent than us.” How do you respond to this vision? Do you believe that an equilibrium between man and machine can be built in relation to the wider framework of the Earth’s ecosystem, where to include climate change?
Imagining a future in which a cybernetic society such as the Cylons (see Battlestar Galactica) develops is both fascinating and, in some ways, comforting. As always, however, we overestimate our role, thinking ourselves as creators of a superior race, even if they are then responsible for our own extinction.
I am convinced of one thing: we will be survived by Nature in the future. When human beings disappear from the face of the earth, Nature will survive, even if we are poisoning and robbing it – time will regenerate everything. This time cannot yet be imagined by us but it can transform a tropical ocean bed into a Dolomite-like mountain range, 3400 mt. high.
The prospect of our extinction can be considered, above all, the outcome of the exponential growth in population we are witnessing. Climate change is only one of the elements that constitute our interaction with the ecosystem and imagining ourselves leaving any kind of legacy is the result of an anthropocentric vision.
I admit that it was the extreme Northern part of the Arctic to open my eyes to the power and essence of Nature. I was still strongly tied to a vision that focused on mankind and its cities when, in 2010, I had the opportunity to create my first artist-in-residence beyond the Arctic Circle, along the Russian-Norwegian border. Here Nature manifests itself in all its immeasurable greatness. It may come across as banal, but human beings are tiny in comparison. I was completely alone, in the fjords of these endless frozen lands where snowflakes are like needles and darkness never ends; I operated using SOS signals and searched for answers in Nature, in other people, but nobody replied; I tried to penetrate Nature with the light of a torch and the heat of a fire, but it remained impenetrable.
While I write, I find myself at Karlsruhe’s ZKM for the exhibition “Writing the History of the Future” which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the museum – the exhibition consists of the museum collection which also includes my work – and I wonder what will be left of the colossal amount of digital data that we are storing. I imagine a moment in time when all these will disappear…
You are currently having your work on view in a variety of institutions and events, such as the exhibition at the Ossana Castle we talked about, and ZKM in Karlsruhe. Now there is another important news. You just won the Italian Coucil competition with the project The Time of the Flood. Beyond the myth through climate change. This will bring you around the world. Ca you talk about this project?
The project with which I won the Italian Council competition is entitled “The Time of the Flood. Beyond the myth through climate change” and it is a residence project – I believe the only one put forward by an artist awarded a prize in this edition and which opened, for the first time, to this kind of opportunity. The aim is not to create an artwork, but to do research: I actually ask questions and confront myself, as much as possible, with the outside. In this case, starting with partners such as Momentum and the IIFCA Italy-Israel Foundation for Culture and the Arts, and collaborating with Giorgia Calò and Rachel Rits-Volloch. I will spend four months in Berlin, later moving to Rome for one month and then to Israel for two months in order to go to the origin of the myth, taking onboard many other interactions in progress with institutions, museums and cities. The form and method of the journey has been part of me since 2006, with projects such as “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe”, “Power Station”, “The End of the Border (of the mind)”, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)” and, now, “The Time of the Flood”. These itineraries usually have a beginning and an end, but sometimes they might even be open-ended. My studio-atelier is not enclosed in a place, but is out there. Moving means continuously asking questions and continuously calling everything into question.
Stefano Cagol. LA FORMA DEL VENTO. Percezioni sul cambio climatico/THE SHAPE OF THE WIND. Perceptions on Climate Change
Castello di San Michele, Ossana, Val di Sole – Trentino, ITALY 28.06 – 16.9. 2019
Stefano Cagol (Trento, 1969) is an Italian artist. He participated in the 2nd OFF Biennale Cairo, Manifesta 11 in Zurich, 55th Venice Biennale, 2nd Xinjiang Biennale and 1st Singapore Biennale. In 2019 he is winner of the Italian Council, is taking part in the exhibition “Writing the history of the future” at ZKM in Karlsruhe and MA*GA Art Museum in Gallarate is devoting to him a solo show. Among awards, he is recipient of the Visit of Innogy Foundation and the Terna Prize for Contemporary Art. He studied at the Brera Academy in Milan and obtained from the Canadian Government a post-doctoral fellowship in video art at the Ryerson University in Toronto.In his video, photographic, installation and performance works, Stefano Cagol deals with so-called hyperobjects, global issues such as climate change, energy reserves and changes of borders perception.
images: (cover 1) Stefano Cagol, «La Forma del Vento», 2019, installation, streamer flag (2) Stefano Cagol, «New Experiments on Vacua», 2016 – «The Ice Monolith», 2013 – «Trigger the Border», 2013, photographic works (3) Stefano Cagol, «Eterno», 2019, video work (4) Stefano Cagol, «La Forma del Vento», 2019, video work (5) Stefano Cagol, «New Experiments on Vacua. Luftleerer Raum», 2016, video work (6) Stefano Cagol, «Bouvet Island», 2019, installation, folded aluminium (7) Stefano Cagol, «Trigger the Border», 2013, photographic work (8) Stefano Cagol, «Over Two Thousand», 2007, video work