At the realm of the Artissima International Fair of Contemporary Art since 2017, Ilaria Bonacossa is someone with quite a bit of experience in the art field; she worked at the Whitney Museum in New York and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Torino. In this particular Italian city, she will also stay as Artissima’s Director until 2021, as it was recently confirmed.
The two seem a match made in heaven: Bonacossa is thoroughly invested in the fair, not only through obvious consulting and direction, but through her involvement in several on- and off-site projects as well. One of these is Artissima Telephone for instance, which was conceived by her and curated by Vittoria Marrtini; at OGR - Officine Grandi Riparazioni, the exhibition will examine the use of the telephone as an art medium. Another show is Abstract Sex: We don’t have any clothes, only equipment, based on the theme of the fair itself - desire - and taking place at a fashion boutique in Torino. The project, curated by Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti and Guido Costa, spans many media and promises a diverse artistic experience.
Of these and many other things we talked to Ilaria Bonacossa, to get a grasp of her vision for Artissima 2019, and to pick her brain about what the fair contributes to culture and the art market at large.
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Widewalls: Where did the idea of desire/censorship as this year’s theme of Artissima come to be, and how will it fit in the concept of the fair itself?
Ilaria Bonacossa: The desire/censorship dichotomy arose in response to a sensation of a challenge to freedom, of a more closed world with its boundaries and at the same time its dizzying transformations. Desire seemed like a liberating, revolutionary ‘line of escape’, capable of confronting the status quo and of opening the way for the unpredictable visions of artists.
Today, there are more meters of border walls between countries than in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, and the physical barriers are joined by digital ones, which control the flow of information and images. Anyone who uses social media is ‘controlled’ by the algorithms, which supervise images and words to ‘protect the public’.
I wanted a theme that would stimulate heterogeneous reflections on contemporary ambitions and utopias, and on the complex relationship that exists in contemporary society between images and their control, and how art should come to terms with these polarities.
Desire/censorship as the fil rouge of this edition of Artissima is central not only inside the fair but also in the special project Abstract Sex: We don’t have any clothes, only equipment. Tangentially, it is also the source of inspiration for the third edition of the Artissima Experimental Academy, conducted by the Iranian artist Setareh Shahbazi in the spaces of Combo Torino and at the fair, and it will be the focus of the talks coordinated by Anna Daneri at Meeting Point by La Stampa.
Widewalls: Also under the umbrella of the theme is the “Abstract Sex” exhibition at Jana. The title alludes to a lot of explicit content, but how explicit will it be exactly?
IB: Poised between an action of piracy and an exhibition, Abstract Sex: We don’t have any clothes, only equipment aims to disarm the traditional representations of desire, featuring photographs, videos, works on canvas and paper, and objects on loan from galleries taking part in Artissima. The exploration of the territories of desire might involve stumbling upon unexpected items, hybrid devices and weird machines like the objects scattered throughout the itinerary of the exhibition, embodying the convoluted agencies desire has had in recent history.
Some of the works on view evoke the close relationship between contemporary forms of pleasure and globalised forms of consumption. Others explore techniques of appropriation and cross-dressing as emancipating moments of production of subjectivities that elude the dominant cultural categories.
Finally, the show focusses on the body as a porous wrapper for the meeting of different organisms and interests.
How explicit all these works and contents will be or will not be, it’s exactly what the exhibition aims to point out: desire and censorship are both fluid and ambiguous concepts, with unstable boundaries shaped by the history of ideas and customs. The exhibition gets beyond these limits, acting in such a way that scandal can give way to thought, investigating desire rather than displaying it.
Widewalls: What is the significance of this particular exhibition space?
IB: Jana is a fashion boutique in Via Maria Vittoria that has always been something more than a space for shopping, rather it has been a historical reference point for artists, writers and other cultural figures in town. So the exhibition somehow links to this specific history, bringing back to life the experimental and artistic side of Jana.
Besides, the idea of building the show inside a fashion shop was a stimulus to think about the ambivalent role that fashion itself has had in the construction of the concept of desire and how it has dealt with concepts such as body and identity. The challenge was how to come to terms through the installation of different works with a space loaded with symbolic value and connected to several subtexts of the exhibition, such as seduction, sexuality, gender, dis-identification.
The subtitle of the project also refers in a certain way to this dimension. Borrowed from the film Deserto by Jacopo Miliani (2018) it says, “we don’t have any clothes, only equipment”.
Widewalls: The “Hub Middle East” is new geographical focus this year; how much are you yourself familiar with it?
IB: I’m profoundly fascinated by the Middle East and its complex history, deeply related to Italy since the Roman Empire. I would say I am afflicted by what Edward Said labels as Orientalism.
On the other, hand I remember Okwui Enwezor’s documenta in 2002 and how Atlas Group was for me a revelation of a poetical fictional documentary format that has, since then, brought to life great projects by artists such as Emily Jacir, Akram Zaatari, Rayyane Tabet, or musical experimentations by Hassan Khan or Tarek Atoui.
The Hub Middle East focus at Artissima 2019 was born as an answer to the fast transformations in the world of contemporary art coming up in this region on the one hand and from my desire to discover more on the other. Born in collaboration with Fondazione Torino Musei and thanks to the advisors Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath (founders of the curatorial platform Art Reoriented), the project sets out to offer an overview of the galleries, institutions and artists active in a geographical area of central importance for developments in contemporary society.
Widewalls: At Artissima 2019 there will be an important anniversary: 10 Years of Back to the Future. Could you tell us more about the research that will be presented here and its findings?
IB: Back to the Future is the curated section of Artissima, focussed on the rediscovery of pioneers of contemporary art, presenting artists who have played a central role in the transformation of formal languages, and whose work still influences contemporary practices today.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, research has been conducted to evaluate the success of the artists following their participation in this section, based on two criteria: annual sales at auctions and the number of exhibitions each artist has in the years following the edition of Back to the Future in which their works were featured. The data, sorted in macro-categories (genre, origin, media, etc.) and presented in infographics, offers an overview of the artists who have taken part in Back to the Future since 2010.
Widewalls: Artissima is also renewing its partnership with OGR. Where did the idea of the telephone come to be? How did you gather the artworks?
IB: Artissima Telephone aims to investigate the development of existing technologies, and how they have reformulated the notions of public and private, physical and digital space, intimacy and sharing.
In particular, the show further develops last year’s investigation into ‘sound’, and at the same time, it’s a response to the obsessive relationship we all have with our mobile devices, objects that are increasingly connected and function as essential go-betweens of contemporary social relations. The use of the smartphone, considered nowadays something more than a simple vocal device, has led to the loss of a designated place for phone calls, making everyone’s life public somehow. Awareness of total receptivity and mobility transforms mobile phones into social technologies capable of uniting digital spaces and confirming our presence, simply by remaining connected.
The exhibition project created with and for the spaces of OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni, offers a survey of the use of the telephone as a means of artistic expression. Together with Vittoria Martini, we have selected works from the proposals of the galleries taking part in the fair. In the Duomo at the OGR, a heterogeneous selection of works that use the telephone as a device or as a conceptual medium will allow viewers to have the now paradoxical experience of having to go to a precise place and to pick up a receiver to listen to a specific work, even though they all have constantly activated smartphones in their pockets.
Widewalls: Who are Artissima’s collectors?
IB: As the only fair in Italy to concentrate exclusively on contemporary art, Artissima is the preferred event of established as well as new collectors from all over the world who are looking to discover the new trends in contemporary art. Every year, the fair puts the focus on specific artistic topics, anticipating the trends and attracting new collectors.
For example, three years ago we presented a new section, Disegni, devoted to the practice of drawing and providing a high-level showcase. This medium is going through a period of renewed popularity, gradually reflected on the market, especially among new collectors.
This year, the fair will feature Hub Middle East, a new project that sets out to offer an overview of galleries, institutions and artists active in a geographical area of central importance for developments in contemporary society. During the fair, the presence in Torino of the most important representatives of museums and galleries, as well as collectors, will provide a versatile cutaway view of the most interesting contemporary developments in that territory.
Moreover, our VIP programme of hospitality and participation is considered one of the most exclusive on the international art fair scene. Inserted in the unique context of Torino, it offers exceptional moments, special previews, visits to private collections, for an absolutely unforgettable stay in the city.
All this allows the fair to attract new collectors each year, amongst the most important on the international scene. And our galleries’ vision allows collectors to acquire works by artists before they reach their peak prices on the market.
Widewalls: After three years as Artissima Director, how would you describe your experience so far?
IB: Artissima is not just an art fair; it is not only for collectors but for art lovers in general, offering a cultural proposal inside and outside the context of the fair.
Since my appointment in 2017, I have tried to emphasize this 360-degree approach, focusing in particular on the curatorial and experimental character of the event, and opening it to specific consulting for the production of innovative projects and special initiatives, with the goal of widening the audience for contemporary art. At the same time, the fair has boosted its international position with a high-level market proposal, involving museums, cultural institutions and curators in its programmes.
I can say that I am pleased with what has been accomplished thus far, but there are other projects in the works. Artissima will continue to support and broadcast contemporary art, encouraging galleries that conduct research and invest in artists who can help us to imagine the future. It will do this by offering the public cross-disciplinary projects capable of informing, amazing and amusing, all at the same time.
In collaboration with our partners, we will imagine new front lines of experimentation, open to the surprising possibilities triggered by the mixture of different worlds.
Featured image: Ilaria Bonacossa, Director of Artissima Fair. Photo credit: Giorgio Perottino / Artissima.