Zimmerfrei, Tomorrow is the question, 2010, digital photography on cotton paper, wood, 100 x 70 cm, courtesy Monitor Gallery (Rome), Rome, Premio Terna 03, Museums Award, Premio Terna 03
Zimmerfrei was formed in 2000 in Bologna. It is an artists’ collective formed by Massimo Carozzi (sound designer, born in Massa in 1967), Anna de Manincor (filmmaker, born in Trento in 1972) and Anna Rispoli (director, born in Bassano del Grappa in 1974). It is a plural identity that has given rise to a number of projects born from the hybridization of the various areas of knowledge and experience of each member of the group. Music, film, theater and video are the basis for a complex artistic language with which they explore reality to trace how much unreality it contains. “ZimmerFrei is perhaps an investigation into the possibility of vision,» suggested the artists in an interview in 2011. Landscapers of the present study and record the interstices of the contemporary world starting with reflections on time, on movement, identity and duality. The mixed media work of the collective has been featured in many public and private spaces including the MaXXI-National Museum of XXI Century Arts (Rome), the Mambo – Museum of Modern Art of Bologna (Italy), Galleria Monitor (Rome), The Front Room Gallery (Brooklyn), the GNAM – National Gallery of Modern Art (Rome), the Italian Institute of Culture in London, the Fokus Museum in Innsbruck and MAMM – Multimedia Art Museum (Moscow). Their work has also been presented at many events and festivals. These include: International Film Festival of Rome, Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, Visions du Reel – Festival international du cinéma documentaire Nyon, Budapest Architecture Film Days, Docucity Film Festival in Milan and the Santarcangelo 13 International Festival of the Arts in Santarcangelo di Romagna. Zimmerfrei has received numerous awards such as the Salina DOC Festival award (2014), the Gotham Prize (2012), first prize in Italian Visions – Doc (2009) and the award for Best Film at the Videopolis Festival (2007).
The digital photography, part of the series Tomorrow is the Question, which in the Terna Prize 03 (2010) won the Museums award in the Megawatt category, was taken on Coney Island (NYC), portraying an extended family group and, in the background, the representation of the transitory, all that remains of Dreamland, an ambitious amusement park from the beginning of the 20th century. «With Tomorrow is the Question, we began a reflection on the family’s transmission of knowledge and destiny.»
What is the role of the artist in the current system of art and society?
At the beginning of the 20th century, it can be said that being an artist was something precious and elitist. By the end of that century the notion of creativity had expanded to such an extent that it contained all the arts and human talents. The manifesto of the time was: anyone can be an artist. From Duchamp onward, the very idea of «art» has gone through a process of general democratization. At this time of great economic and employment crisis, in which skills become meaningless and specialization no longer makes any sense, works are born and die within a few years and it is all pulverized, you sell added value like selling smoke. There is a general lack of security, but that’s what artists have always lived through: the dark side of the artist’s profession, not the bright side, which is the creativity, the exceptional and the freedom, but rather the unknown. One day you wake up, the world has changed and whatever it is you do may not make sense anymore. You get up and you find that your engine, your inner source, has stopped running. Everything could end on any given day. These are the risks you accept in the moment when you study, aspire and try to become the artist that you feel you are andtry to turn it into your profession. But today this dark side is being forced on people who have not chosen it as their calling. The role of the artist is almost reversed: maybe he or she is the only one who does not panic when they say that nothing is certain, that there is no work and the money is gone. I would not wish on anyone the experience of this feeling of dread, without them having wanted it. But if it is something you have chosen, it can be exhilarating, rather than paralyzing. Maybe artists at the moment have a role to play in providing testimony or reassurance: it is not only about this world, these rules, this company. Life and the future are still in our hands.
The Terna Prize, in one of its early editions, published a forecast of the state of the art world from 2010 to 2015. The results showed what is now the current scenario. Among these, there was also the fact that the crisis would have caused the dominating rules to be subverted, as well as more social involvement in art. Is this really what is happening?
When it comes to feelings I am always more positive and optimistic, but when I start to reason and answer questions I am more cynical and pessimistic. If you say to me «Is this really what is happening?» it seems to me that in the world of art, the general economic crisis is doing a little of what it does in other areas: exacerbating hierarchies. So it seems to me that the big names survive, the ones who are at the level of financial investment or the star system. On the other hand, production, circulation and collections by art lovers, that is, normal people, are all severely constrained. As for social commitment, we have tried several times to carry out works in the public space, thus with a social value. But public art is not synonymous with social commitment. The research to broaden the field of art or the basin of its users seems to me to conceal other reasons: when squeezed economically, this world tries to give reasons which seem to be as plural as possible, about the elite wanting to become public. On the other hand social commitment is also a big mask: it means giving the name «social commitment» to something with which to wash away their own privileged status in the name of the common good. It is a moral justification, but I don’t think that the content has changed: the role of art is not to make everyone happy or to solve social problems.
What did your participation in the Terna Prize mean for your experience and research?
The Terna Prize has been launched by a company, a huge company. When we attended the awards ceremony and the exhibition for a moment we looked at it from the outside. For me it was interesting to ask, «What is Terna looking for? What do they see in us? What really matters to them?» It makes sense also to look at the work of others and above all the fact that wewent together to the Moscow exhibition meant relating personally with other artists. We are used to working as a group, but very often artists work in isolation, sometimes with a sense of great pressure and competitiveness. The most interesting thing out of Terna’s project is the objective of creating a common experience. It is much more important to go to a place and have an experience together, rather than set up an exhibition: that is what we already do. This is, in general, the limitation of competitions compared to exhibitions themselves, when your work is chosen with a curatorial intent.
What should Italy have (that it does not already have) to encourage creativity and make our country even more competitive at international level? And which country do you believe to be the best from this point of view?
Italy is very different because there is no independently sustainable self-employed status, which would be a great achievement for all workers, not just for artists. It is necessary to cultivate a more up-to-date mindset which is able to look as much at what is contemporary as what is our heritage. Our heritage cannot increase without investing in the present. We have only placed what is old within the system and all the rest we have left to the discretion of each individual. Since there are so many Italian artists dispersed throughout the world, they will never die out, but there is much more potential than what is cultivated. The issue is to take the lead in seeing that contemporary art in terms of value and as an investment is equivalent to what is being (or would be) done for our Heritage.
Regarding the best country, I would say Belgium simply because it is the one with which we have the closest relationship. Well, what Belgium does to support creativity is also done in other countries: the Scandinavian countries, France and Germany. One of us, Anna Rispoli, went to live in Brussels, and after two years there, making a career out in the open, paying taxes, without being a citizen but simply a resident, an Italian living in Brussels, she has to all intents and purposes become an artist from Belgium.
In what direction has your most recent research evolved? Can you tell us about any future projects and plans?
Our production is increasingly geared to the production of documentary films, environmental installations and sound works. The reference is less and less about the work of art, we are moving increasingly towards larger devices, which are the cinema, listening to music, the city, the web, which require the sharing of experiences and not the fact that they produce a physical object. We work with productions which either we seek or which are proposed to us, starting as commissions and becoming co-productions. We work either with a theatrical production, producing one project to perform live, more often sound rather than performing, or a film production.
We cannot say too much about one of them but it is a documentary film about an island in the north of the Netherlands called Terschelling. The title will be Temporary Island. It is a documentary made with some of the inhabitants of the island on the idea of «experimental geography.» For the Dutch the fact of artificially constraining the territory is completely normal; to them their nation was created from the dikes – but this island, in particular, is as if it were an object of land art that evolves as the terrain for biodiversity experiments or landcraft, in balance between conservation and transformation of the landscape. The film starts as a geographical film; then, it becomes a western and it ends as a zombie movie. We worked on it for an entire year and the launch will be in June 2015 at the Oerol Festival. Another project, which is very different, features a combination of film and performance: Family Affairs. Through the European network Open Latitudes we will be taking it to eight different cities in Europe and in each of these we will involving the people who are part of «intermittent families,» that is, composite or reassembled family groups which are highly mobile in both geographical and social terms. We are not interested in the political-sociological angle. We are interested in obtaining a portrait of future life, how the children born today grow up and how they imagine their lives (time, love, space, work). We could call it «peoples cape.»
In an interview with Katia Anguelova in 20091 you stated that «the new cities in the collective imagination are Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai.»What would you say today?
Those of 2009 I would update as follows: Mumbai, Shanghai and Seoul, instead of Dubai. But the cities in our collective imagination are rather: Buenos Aires, Beirut, Brussels and Bologna (all cities beginning with a B).
How, in your opinion, have the boundaries between public and private changed?
It is as if these words were turning inside out, like a sock: first it all rolls down, then it turns around completely: the inside becomes the outside and vice versa. The private has become public domain and what is public is being privatized. We can see it from a Marxist perspective: we are all realizing that our private life is part of the system and is not working properly and this whole life you work for will never come back. Each of us is building antibodies to save ourselves or to be able to live in this new condition.
Terna is a company that deals with providing energy to the country. Its commitment to the Terna Prize focuses on transmitting energy to art and culture and creating a network for supporting and developing talent. Do you think that the Terna Prize formula is still relevant for the promotion of art? Do you have any suggestions for the next edition?
Terna could invest a hundred times more and it would still not be noticed. So I think it could increase the power of the electricity meter. The formula could be even more effective if it engaged with existing high quality elements, like some international residencies for artists, acting as a sponsor. The residencies are important learning experiences, rather than the prospect of an exhibition, a catalog or a small sale or acquisition. For me it is very interesting when a very horizontal application allows you to access a highly professional context. One example is ISCP (Brooklyn, New York). The American residencies are supported by grants. The residences are always paid for, even when you are selected through merit because of your CV. Still, it can be important to have an institution, a gallery, a foundation or a prize behind you. We, for example, went with the Seat Pagine Bianche Prize. The residency is not just an exhibition, but is also educational and productive.
1 Katia Anguelova, Ilaria Gianni, Paola Nicita, Se dico “futuro” a cosa pensi? Arte e critica n. 60, sett-nov 2009
2 Katia Anguelova, Ilaria Gianni, Paola Nicita, If I say “future” what do you think about? Arte e critica no. 60, Sept-Nov 2009
(cover 1 – 2) Zimmerfrei, Tomorrow is the question, 2010, digital photography (3) ZimmerFrei, Marseille, 2013, photo by Roberto Beani (4) Zimmerfrei, Quando. Foresight, 2010 (5) Zimmerfrei, Le stanze sono libere, 2011, photo by Chiara Balsamo (6) Zimmerfrei, Senza titolo (di un dio minore), listerner, photo by ZimmerFrei (7) Zimmerfrei, La beauté c’est ta tete, 2014 (8) Zimmerfrei, Radura, 2011, photo by Matteo Mezzadri.