What can you say in print over, under and between the official lines?
From April–September 2018, Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art students took part in OVERPR!NT, AG!TATE, ACT!VATE at Centre de la Gravure. An exhibition in three parts, OVERPR!NT stemmed from years of collaboration between European art schools which are all part of the Printmaking Union. Throughout history, the very materiality of print has played a central role in proclaiming and protesting, agitating and activating. Framing print as a vehicle for rebellion and resistance, OVERPR!NT examined editions as seditions and prints as means of counter-information – from pamphlets to samizdats and posters to clandestine press.
As part of the programme, students and alumni of the Printmaking Union conceived artworks, publications and performances that directly addressed the public and surrounding city of La Louvière. In August 2018, students Fabio Dartizio, Maria Federova, Tiffany Jane Howe and Aleksandr Tishkov took to the streets of La Louvière for the performance Sun and Flesh. Conceived by Dartizio, the work saw the artists stage a protest, proclaiming “No more art!” with megaphones, flags and smoke bombs. First devised as a religious ceremony along the Folkestone promenade, Sun and Flesh is a series of performances involving collective forms of language for public spaces outside the gallery or museum. Here, we speak to Dartizio about the work, the response it received from the locals and its continuation in his own practice.
The first Sun and Flesh performance took place during the Folkestone Fringe. Can you explain the development from this performance to the one in La Louvière?
Fabio Dartizio: When I was a kid every summer, me and my family visited a small village in the south of Italy. It’s quite common there to organise religious ceremonies to celebrate, let’s say, “Christian heroes.” You can see sculptures carried around the streets and in the sea. Probably the image of Sun and Flesh started from that memory. In several of my works I refer to the desire to be separated from the Earth and the idea that art, as well as life, is a lot about how much you can believe in the presence of something behind a seen image. The first episode of Sun and Flesh utilised the form of a religious ceremony and took place along the Folkestone promenade and the second was a staged protest through the streets of La Louvière. Both started as blind faith and ended in violent tragedy with love and disillusion as their two drivers.
Can you talk a bit about the importance of text and the spoken word in the performances? Slogans are inextricably linked with forms of protest – repetitive, easily repeatable calls to action. Each performance adopts a sort of rallying cry, but its meaning is often paradoxical and clouded. Are they meant to be picked up by the general public? Are they supposed to understand what they are joining in with?
Sun and Flesh indirectly addresses established systems of knowledge and belief – in particular art and religion – without providing overt information or exhaustive explanation. The overall intention is use this framework without resolute content, to express questions rather than giving answers to the public, not to clarify but instead create confusion. In Sun and Flesh text and the spoken word court uncertainty. It’s like saying “We need to talk!” and then, after feeling even more perplexed, “We need to talk again!” If we were able to communicate without any languages, there would be no miscommunication – my slogans are the manifestation of this radical stand. Moreover, I like the alchemy of the words, the way you can associate them.
Where do the slogans you incorporate into the performances come from?
“No more art! No more art! But art remains our faith!” is adapted from a verse by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud: “No more gods! No more gods! Man is King, Man is God! But love remains our faith!” The verse is part of Soleil et chair (Sun and Flesh), a poem written in 1870, in which Rimbaud laments the diversity of life that has disappeared with the rise of Christianity and the abyss that now separates man from nature. During the second episode, we used the phrases “No more art” and “Raise your flag for fiction.” The latter is inspired by a recent marketing campaign by Carhartt, the US based apparel brand. Carhartt was founded exactly 100 years before I was born – but this is just a curiosity.
OVERPR!NT was a celebration of the medium of print – print as means of counter-information, rebellion and sedition. Can you explain the role printed material played in the performance in La Louvière?
The protest in La Louvière aimed to shock, surprise and discomfort the audience, without providing enough information for them to fully comprehend what was happening. The flyers we handed out, instead of clarifying the intentions of the performance by providing a rational answer, literally added questions which ranged from the inane to the profound: “Why is beetroot delicious?” for example, or existential doubts, like “Why is there space?” or “Why are we here?” The questions were actually a poem written by one of our performers Tiffany Jane Howe. She thinks that our feelings should never be disregarded because they can allow us to access information that is not visible. For me, generally speaking, I think there are two type of spectators: “The meaning hunter” who reads all the available information before looking at any artworks and their counterpart “The sensitive” who emotively experiences art, considering only a title and three lines of text. What we printed for La Louvière was somewhere between these two positions – to avoid literalism but without evading ambiguity.
What reaction were you anticipating from the general public in La Louvière and what sort of reactions did you receive?
The police made us stop using the smoke grenades. La Louvière is a small town and a former coal mining area; we were unknown to the locals and people were surprised and saw us as outsiders. But, to look at it another way, we perhaps gave those police officers and in general the locals, a story, at least for the next few days: “Do you know what happened today?” and then a new narration starts, unsolicited and outside the art galleries or museums. I find it in bad taste when art adamantly asks the public to participate, or even provides directions to people kindly waiting in line to participate. Where exactly is the public if its response is coordinated by a hierarchy? For me that’s no longer “public.” During our performance, an old man, drinking a glass of white wine, asked me very quietly: “Are you a surrealist?” Two kids at the window waved our flayers when we performed on the second day. No one asked or was expecting anything from them but, through the synchronisation of life and performance, they participated.
Each Sun and Flesh performance has had different participants and performers. Is it a collaborative process?
The main team is composed of myself, Maria Fedorova, Tiffany Jane Howe and Alexander Tishkov – all from MA Fine Art. Sun and Flesh required various skills – graphic design, textile fabrication, woodworking and text editing. Technically speaking, I needed help – different tasks require different skills covered by different professionals. If a work is complex then an artist simply can’t cover the entire process alone. So, a special thanks to: Andrés Cacho, Kang Gao, Kazuki Mabuchi, Zhang Quing, Fella Folkestone Hairdresser, Laska MakeUp, Richard Gasper, Prof Graham Ellard, Taro Shinoda, Yoshinori Takakura, Pauline Emond, Sean Tay, There Bénédicte, Marc Hulson, Jean Pierre Muller, Madelene King and all the people who facilitated, supported and made Sun and Flesh possible.
The role of the artist and artistic identity is a central topic in Sun and Flesh. You said that “The artist takes on the role of romantic hero or authoritarian god.” Why is this an approach you are interested in? What role do you think the “artist god” can play that others can’t – i.e. politicians, authoritarians?
On one side it is a tool to both demonise and celebrate the western dramatic icon of the artist-genius, which has been mass-constructed throughout the last century on three main traits: being white, male and tormented. The artwork tackles various issues relating to dynamics of power, authority, success and failure. In Sun and Flesh I perform a grotesque self-caricature. On the other side, I was convinced that art does not believe in power or recognise power in any of its manifestations. However art is an explicit demonstration of what absolute power means, and how it works because it so often retains authority by secrecy. The question is no longer: “Do you like art?” or “Do you understand art?” but “Do you believe in art?”
What are your plans for the next incarnation of Sun and Flesh?
To fly over people heads. Blind faith, violent tragedy, and a sort of absolute redemption at the end… it turned out to be quite expensive though. In general, the team is growing, and we are working to stage it in different public locations in London and internationally through VR technology. The process is long, and relatively complex.
OVERPR!NT ran at Centre de la Gravure et de l’Image imprimée from 28 April–16 September 2018. It was accompanied by three printed gazettes, sponsored by Creative Unions. The exhibition was curated by Jean Pierre Muller.