On June 29, 2021, Istituto Marangoni Firenze presented “Past, Present and Future Continuous”, a graduate show by Multimedia Arts students Léa Colombier, Alexandra Konopleva, and Yuyang Pan at Manifattura Tabacchi in Florence. In this article, Elizaveta Reznikova, curator of the exhibition and Istituto Marangoni Firenze Arts Curating alumna, recalls and retells the story of the show as “an exhibition that invites us to have a fluid perception of time through moving images while reflecting on the current ecological crisis.”
by Elizaveta Reznikova. Cover Image: Photograph by Camilla Riccò
“Past, Present and Future Continuous” is a voiceless scream, a metaphor for a wounded planet. As a curator, I sincerely believe that the topic of ecology has now become extremely relevant in our cultural discourse, as most of the future political issues will be related to the environmental agenda, affecting people all over the world. The future of our planet can unite us across state borders, regardless of political views.
Therefore, it was paramount for both the artists and I to let the viewer perceive the world around human beings not only vaguely, but rather as concrete, active, and interdependent categories. We wanted to help the spectator get closer to the notion of ecological imbalance, mostly caused by human activity, that many of us refuse to notice due to its abstract, massive scale and impersonal, distant dimension.
With a reflective, political, and ironic approach, the exhibition traced an imaginative timeline starting with the beginning of the current biodiversity crisis. The sixth mass extinction that we are experiencing today, to the point of projecting ourselves into a dystopian future inspired by Andrej Tarkovskij’s film productions. The few survivors will collect the legacy of the contemporary anthropocentric attitudes that define humankind. Humans of the future will be forced to rediscover the basics of interpersonal communication through a slow, difficult process of re-education towards other beings and the environment.
The different videos reveal all the value of this passage of time, from Colombier’s anthropological point of view to Yuyang’s autobiographical one.
With amateur videos on VHS, Pan Yuyang’s research addresses how traumas from the past can affect the present (It’s better to push something when it’s slipping, 2021). A beat welcomes and greets the audience, evoking both a metronome and a heartbeat as symbols of the passage of time and the transformation of life. This evocative sound, edited on family films, invites the public to be aware of all the steps in their life, because our path is a continuous chain reaction provoked by past events.
With digital environments and 3D-animated entities, Léa Colombier represents the ghosts of our future: the consequences of our social dynamics that widen the gap between humankind and the environment by encouraging individualistic attitudes (Instead I wrote on a rock, 2021).
The core of her installation is represented by a science-fiction ethnographic film. A retro videogame offers a guided tour to a dystopian sanitised island, informing us about protocols to follow. Like some sort of out-of-order database, an electronic voice asks us questions looking for new languages and life forms, as a nostalgic archive affected by melancholy for an extinct world. It revolves around a dystopian future, yet it talks about the darkest derivations of the human condition, from territorial to social and psychological issues, providing a transversal perspective on contemporary challenges.
The environmental crisis is also central in the work of Alexandra Konopleva. With her multimedia installation Is There Life on Earth? (2021), she underlines how the topic of extinction is still marginalised in our society.
At the centre of her installation, the painting Silence Had Fallen features seventeen animals that became extinct due to human activity. The work is painted with saturated colours that change under the projection of blue lights. Even though the projection itself shows no movement except for the change in colours, the light combinations create an illusion of different animals appearing at different moments. As the artist explained, the idea for this surreal illusion was inspired by the idle fantasy of seeing these animals move one last time.
Finally, Konopleva’s 3D animated short film Is There Life on Earth? explores the life of a Dodo skeleton, who becomes a symbol of human-induced extinction. The film takes an object-oriented ontological approach, where we see humanity through the decayed eyes of an angry Dodo skeleton who was the last of its kind, looking at the viewer through its empty eye sockets from an undisclosed moment in time.
“Past, present and future” refers to the fluidity of time, with different periods that keep intertwining with each other: the past affects present and future events, and this action fuels some forms of life. On the other hand, the dystopian scenes created by the artists suggest alternative ways of being, in contrast to the traumas of our present.
As for the theme of the fluidity of time, it cannot but arouse great interest among the artists presented here; after all, this was one of the themes behind the creation of entire dream-like universes in which viewers can participate, something that lies at the very heart of art. Both the artists and I decided to reveal it as some sort of group therapy for our common, timeless ecological trauma, where art would play the role of a mediator. The exhibition tries to detect non-obvious connections, to combine different types of knowledge and interests, and to instil an ecological mindset into both our present and our future.
Léa Colombier, Alexandra Konopleva, and Yuyang Pan are Istituto Marangoni Firenze Alumnae. They graduated in Multimedia Arts in 2021.
Elizaveta Reznikova is an Istituto Marangoni Firenze Alumna. She graduated in Arts Curating in 2021.