An exhibition to reflect about our contemporary cities and their commodification
The city of Naples is living a vibrant moment of public exposure and appeal, becoming one of the most tourist cities in Europe. Influent travel guides, such as the Lonely Planet, in 2019 defined it as the “coolest Italian city to be right now”!
Only a few years ago, the public imaginary, above all internationally, associated Naples with a crime, danger, and rubbish. What happened? Have people suddenly become more audacious? In a way, this can be true. Globalization led to a dramatic homogenization and flattening of our cities to the point that we are starting to look for and chase “authentic” experiences and emotions.
We choose to travel towards places where we can feel a sense of strong identity and resistance to the universal dynamics. Naples is one of these. Before people could grasp the high potential of the city in this sense, the market did and made a brand of it. The universal rules of the market strategically magnified desire and fascination for a place being different. Even the Art couldn’t resist to such a call and, drawing on the abundant source of Neapolitan icons, customs, cultural and social peculiarities, contributed to the definition of an imaginary made of stereotypes ready to be sold in the forms of mass tourism, fashion, gadgets, movies, food that rarely aim at enhance the city’s economic, social and cultural system.
This scenario triggered the cultural and artistic agency of the exhibition Vendi Napoli e poi muori – Sell Naples and die, held by Galleria Fonti and curated by Lorenzo Xiques, ended last November.
Inspired by the Gennaro Ascione’s homonymous novel, the exhibition sees a group of five artists dealing with the concept of “napoletanità”- a word used to express the Neapolitan spirit and attitude – as a pretext to deeply investigate some aspects of the territory through an anthropological and psychological lens. The works displayed are preexisting ones or commissioned for the event.
The artist Maurizio Esposito presents two photographs, Vesuvio, 11 luglio 2017, and Ghost Trees, which tell the story of a territory wounded by a great fire in July 2017. This territory is a 2.700 hectares pine forest on the slopes of the Vesuvio, the “famous” Vulcan of Naples, where the author grew up with his family. His project represents not only a testimony and denunciation of a tragic event whose causes are still unknown but, above all, the author’s commitment to take care of that violated land through his photography, which means his attention. Maurizio didn’t take the pictures during the fire because his priority was to help extinguish it. This work has been selected to be shown in Tokyo next February at Roonee 247 gallery.
Gianluca Panareo displays The doors of the Mountain King’s Hall, a part of the performance made in 2017 in which some “scugnizzi” – a Neapolitan name for street kids – were invited to throw balls on metal plates of abandoned typography in Naples. The artist recorded the noises produced through sensors connected to the plates and made an “orchestra” of noise music. The sound of shutters hit by balls from the kids is a very part of the noise of the city. “That noise, that energy imprinted, from anger would become a reason for joy and fun, the driving force behind my installation”, says Gianluca.
Giallo Napoli is the title of the site-specific work by Sven Sachsalber. Giallo (yellow) Napoli is a famous color of ancient origins, used in a different form of art, from paintings to fashion, and proposed as an icon and precise color as it was a kind of brand. He produces a monochrome of the size of 150x100 cm made of a grid whose thousands of boxes are filled, day by day. By exhausting research, with a yellow oil color that recalls the Giallo Napoli, trying to reproduce, scrupulously, the brilliance it is associated with. According to the artist’s research, that color has never been registered and patented, yet it is present in commerce. “It doesn’t yet belong to anyone, except to its own city”, says the artist.
The artist SAGG NAPOLI produced two site-specific interventions, the graffiti You are canceled, and the video-installation Shout out to nonna who loves me for who I am. She uses different media to shout out her disappointment for the appropriation, by the market and the mass production, of cultural, social, and historical values of Naples. The graffiti says: “Use my city as a theme park I cancel you my culture as a costume I cancel you”. Her practice uses narration as a tool to explore the complex socio-political reality of the South of Europe.
In closing, Constantin Thun shows his work Untitled (ampoule of San Gennaro’s blood), which is one of the dozens of postcards the artist sent to his friends around Europe during his stay in Naples in 2015. The images printed on the post-card – usually representing famous icons and landscapes of the city - seems to lose any importance, becoming only a background for his artistic agency. He uses to engrave some words on his postcards, which are used in speech therapy for the functional re-education of communicative and cognitive disabilities, very typical of our digital age that makes the problems of communication grow.
I could visit this exhibition as soon as I came back to Naples from Tokyo a few weeks ago. Bored by questions such as “how was the sushi?”, I felt a sense of revitalization seeing this project, which talks about a city in a renewed language, freed from logos and built on care and research. It is a project about all of the cities, territories, and identities.