Communicating a story is never trivial or obvious. Every month, a new tool or strategy to visualize ideas used by the students at Istituto Marangoni Firenze is selected and commented on by the Editorial staff of I’M Firenze Digest. For November, the students in question are Camille Bersier and Natalia Bermejillo – both alumnae from the Master programme in Fashion Styling, Photography & Film at Istituto Marangoni Firenze – who worked separately and as a team to create different photoshoots and stylings.
by Amira Rossi. Images by Natalia Bermejillo and Camille Bersier. Cover image: A Whole Beautiful Mess, 2021. Styling and Creative Direction: Natalia Bermejillo. Photography: Paolo Colaiocco
A fashion stylist’s talent lies in their ability to adapt their aesthetic vision to every story and context. The only way to do this is to refuse any limits. It is the never-ending search for the new, the contemporary, theavant-garde. It is the excitement they feel when facing the complexity of humanity, as their profession requires them to portray it. Never tired of looking for inspiration, the best stylists work to tell their own story or that of others, and they strive to communicate a message. These are just some of the secrets about being a great fashion stylist, i.e. a fashion storyteller. And that is exactly what Camille Bersier and Natalia Bermejillo do: they are storytellers. Through their photoshoots, they managed to tell and represent multiple stories, sharing their specific point of view and their sense of beauty. What unites the two students is certainly a sense of nostalgia projected into the future. This can be easily seen from the series Back to future, to which they contributed. “We live in times where escapism and technology had never been so relevant and a part of people’s lives” Camille Bersier explains. That’s exactly what the article is about: escapism. Their work shows a World War I soldier wearing clothing from that time, in a futuristic, galactic setting. The main character is therefore a historical figure, but because of the change of times, he looks like an alien. The two girls are connected more than anything else by the strength of their images. Blue and pink lights. Black and white filters.
Original world war memorabilia, but also ethnic and modern items. Contemporary and diverse models. Pure eclecticism. Courageous representations in every respect. Photos that do not hide, but show themselves unintimidated as objects that need to be observed, understood, interpreted. Think about the past. Look forward to the future. Express yourself bravely in the present.
When living in a world where change goes so fast, the balance of humans, cities and nature has become more and more complicated. Manifattura Tabacchi in Florence hosted a residency for artists that reflects on this balance, culminating in a collective exhibition to explore the relationships between human beings and their environment1. Six artists questioned the role of art, giving it a new ecological essence, combining action and imagination. I’M Firenze Digest met three out of the six artists – Antonio Bermúdez Obregón, Federica Di Pietrantonio, and Violette Maillard – to discuss their works, sustainability, and the impact of new technologies in their artistic research.
by Sabrina Morales Echart and Marines Salcedo Gutierrez. Cover image: detail of Federica Di Pietrantonio, not so far away, 2021. Photo credits: Leonardo Morfini, ADRYA
I’MF: Your project at Manifattura Tabacchi, Bargaruda I is an experiment on movement and sculpture: a motorcycle that is passing through a transition from hydrocarbons to electric energy. The work condenses the different disciplines of creative thought, science, and engineering, blurring the lines of what should compose art and what art stands for. When did you come up with the idea for Bargaruda I? How much did your stay at Manifattura foster your collaboration with individuals outside the art world to develop your project?
VM: The idea for Bargaruda came about in 2019 and took shape during a residency at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, as part of the first edition of the Italy China Prize held by MAECI, MiBACT, Istituto Garuzzo per le Arti Visive, the National Art Museum of China and Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Pechino. The aim was to create an electric car inspired by Siluro Ricotti by Alfa, and to come back to Italy by car/sculpture. While Covid happened, I tried to develop a “simpler” version by planning an electric conversion on a classic Gilera motorbike. MT has been a key element to partner with local institutions like UniFi and Museo Piaggio.
I’MF: Your project for SUPERBLAST, Nature is not green, invites the visitor into two opposing landscapes, streaming live from a jungle in Brazil and a cultivated forest in the Netherlands. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea behind this contrast and how you developed it during your stay at Manifattura?
ABO: I come from a tropical area, a former Spanish colony, where nature embodies extreme violence. Since the earliest Spanish travels, nature has been extracted and its representation imported and imposed. Nature has been the plunder of colonial wars and landscapes have been enslaved until this day, sold by pieces, victimized and even sequestered. Many European countries find some ecological comfort by promoting reforestation, re-wilding, bio-politics, and eco-friendly legislation within their own borders, but there is common negligence and voluntary abandonment of their ex-colonies and the global south in general. In 2015 the Royal Dutch Shell PLC oil and gas company extracted close to 20,000 barrels (1.5M worth) of crude oil from the Amazon Forest every day. The presence of this company in the Amazon goes back to the 1930’s, when a town called Shell was founded in the Ecuadorian Amazon; billions of barrels of crude have been extracted since. The Royal Shell is now the main private funder of the Staatsbosbeheer reforestation programme in the Netherlands, stating to have planted 5 million trees. In any event, both natural landscapes are now connected by political or economic reasons. I developed this idea during my stay at Manifattura, first as a conversation between these two landscapes, and then as the construction of a third landscape, a dark but inhabitable threshold between the two forests. In this time of virtual experiences and remote presentness, it was possible to bring these two places together into the same space, to witness a Zoom call between the ancient South American rainforest and the young European woods.
I’MF: At Manifattura Tabacchi, you used digital reality to create an alternative relationship with our environment. In your work not so far away, you explore urban, natural, and fictional landscapes, analysing their representations in the video-game culture. Can you tell us how you developed the idea behind it and how it changed during your stay at Manifattura?
FD: Over the past few years, my research has been focused on how certain kinds of human attitudes, in particular the ones born from virtual/digital experiences, have an impact on our ordinary behaviour and thinking, without a rigid overall superstructure. It’s not surprising for someone from my generation, but it’s something that I almost feel as a personal, intimate duty to explore deeper. The process I had planned for not so far away was meant to be a solitary wandering through mainstream video games, feeling myself connected to Goethe in his Italian travels, both for his emotional state and for his empirical/scientific method. However, the residency led me to organise some playdates, where I could somehow meet other unknown, lonely wanderers, and share my experience with them in a more collaborative way.
I’MF: The SUPERBLAST residency focuses on the relationship between humans and the environment. We live in a world heavily dependent on technology, yet we criticise its perversion and disruption in our natural habitats. Do you think it is possible to develop a balance between our technological advancements and their sustainability, or should we work towards changing this endless growth paradigm?
VM: I once saw a cat turning on a light. And then the cat opened the freezer, took out some surimi, unwrapped it and ate it. I guess he liked the fish pretty much, without considering the techs around it. Two electric catfish kissing each other; could they produce electricity, or a storm, just through their attraction? I am interested in understanding how nature would develop a passage from hydrocarbons to electric, from dinosaurs to catfish, from surimi to cigars.
ABO: My work is critical about all green policies, eco-friendly legislations and all other hypocritical ways of greenwashing this “endless growth”. That’s also why my work is called Nature is Not Green. I wouldn’t know if it is necessary to change the paradigm or if it is possible to achieve some kind of balance. All I know is that all this “progress” in terms of ecological responsibility is being rapidly transformed into the best marketing tool.
FD: From Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopaedia: TheEscape Rope (Japanese: あなぬけのヒモ, “Hole-Escape Rope”) is an item introduced in Generation I. It is used to escape a cave or a dungeon. From Generation I to VII, it is a consumable item; in Generation VIII, it is a Key Item. When used in the overworld while the player is in a cave or a dungeon, the player is warped to the last Pokémon Centre they healed in (or the player’s house, if they have never healed in a Pokémon Centre). I honestly think that there’s no escape-rope, as in Pokémon sagas (what a shame by the way!).
I’MF: When it comes to artistic research, do you think that the rise of new technologies has changed your creative process? For example, digital technology was believed to interrupt our creative process, as it would restrict us to interact with a screen instead of having an organic relation with the natural environment. Do you think that digitisation and new technologies have challenged your relationship with nature and the development of your creative processes?
VM: For me it goes back and forth. I do appreciate nature and I do create tangible things; my main medium is sculpture, even if the process to get there goes digital sometimes. Take Bargaruda for example. I collaborated with Syde Srl technology; they 3D scanned the Gilera 150 Sport I retrieved from 1960 and thanks to them there was the digital material to plan and print a 3D electric conversion with the engineers at Linea and the Moving Research Lab at UniFi. The result is a physical sculpture that would start a journey and become ephemeral, creating a disappearing act.
ABO: I believe that through technology you can easily access all things natural that are known to humanity. It doesn’t limit our interaction with the natural environment. On the contrary, technology has always been about expanding the limits of our senses; the remote presentness of the body is at the core of my creative process.
FD: My origins can tell a lot about that. Since I was a kid, my father, as a software engineer, has always shared his interest in technology with me. I learned about it in a natural way; it was not demonised as an obscure or non-human tool. That’s part of the reason why I have never chosen technology to tell stories; it is just something that feels really connected and appropriate to the way my personality has developed over the years. Of course, digitalization and technology have changed my relationship with nature and widened my view of the world and its dynamics. I find it deeply fascinating, because it puts me in a position of questioning reality every day, finding new possible views of the past and what will come next.
I’MF: Do you think it is correct to say that your work was developed in dialogue with specific landscapes, natural or otherwise? And, if so, how much did their specific nature influence the creation or your work?
VM: Living in Bellosguardo surely influenced my perception of the world in the most Galilean sense of it. This work is better intended as a discourse, or a movie without a camera. The analogic movement of Bargaruda from Florence to the National Circuit in Monza would pass through the Museo Piaggio in Pontedera, marble quarries and the city of Parma, among other places. I believe there are some Warburghian dispositions of shapes and content that are recurrent and that can be found in this movement in both natural and artificial landscapes.
ABO: I think my artistic research is about unravelling landscape and nature semantics. I believe that nature as a human-modified entity has many behaviours, and these behaviours can be understood as clear signs. For me, a landscape is almost like an ancient text that ought to be deciphered. In that sense, my work would be closer to some sort of archaeology than to dialogue. I’m there to point at signs and to see nature as a cultural construction; nature is just culture in disguise. Anyway, I think that this binary way of conceiving the world is unhealthy. Everything is natural, everything is artificial, and everything is culture.
FD: I often have the feeling that our ordinary life follows a specific path, and at the same time, as a Conditional Statement in the phpprogramming language, something is left behind in the infinite ways of how your life can develop, because you must choose, second by second and so on. That doesn’t happen in the virtual world. In Real-Life Simulation, as well as in Digital Identities and Virtual Panoramas, the unique privilege of choosing can be reiterated as much as you want, a SandBox full of possibilities to explore, to fail, and start again. How much can your personality and emotions take from that? It’s kind of funny that there’s no real game over. Part of my research fools around with media-archaeology, where there’s a lot of what we are that we still don’t know (hardware + software). There’s something sublime in finding, somewhere really far, online icebergs.
Antonio Bermúdez Obregón is a Colombian artist. He lives and works in Bogotá. Federica Di Pietrantonio is an Italian artist. She lives and works in Rome. Violette Maillard is a French-Italian artist. She lives and works in Milan. Sabrina Morales Echart and Marines Salcedo Gutierrez are undergraduate students in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
1. SUPERBLAST residency, a project by NAM – Not a Museum, was hosted at Manifattura Tabacchi in Florence between 5 May and 5 August 2021, while the public exhibition was visible from the 16th to the 18th of September. The exhibition shows the work of the six artists that won the international call: Edoardo Aruta, Antonio Bermúdez Obregón, Federica Di Pietrantonio, Iper-collettivo, Oliviero Fiorenzi, and Violette Maillard.
Five years after the release of The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, the same authors are releasing a much-needed sequel about how our brains are being affected by the current digital age. With The Extreme Self: The Age of You (Walther und Franz König, 2021), Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist deal with the most valuable resource of the modern age – YOU. This book opens your eyes to the current relativity of truth, the weaponization of feelings, and the morphing of individuality.
When you begin reading The Extreme Self, it feels as if you’ve picked right were you left off in The Age of Earthquakes. But that feeling changes quickly. The Extreme Self sets a darker, more serious tone compared to its older brother. Where the previous focus was very broad, The Age of You zooms in on… you. Its exploration of the Internet’s effect on our minds reveals many things that we already knew, but refused to internalize. Simply put, this book is a perfect encapsulation of the current zeitgeist. If you’ve been feeling less and less like yourself, you’re not alone. The more time we spend creating personas online, the more we fragment ourselves and create what the book calls “the extreme self”. This self is part of us, but it is not us, and we are not it. The extreme self lives in the cloud, and the cloud is endless. The individuality we know is changing, and it will continue to do so until the word loses its meaning. The extreme self is a very scary thought, but ultimately too real to ignore. The fact it is made entirely out of data and lives in the cloud does not help when you consider that we don’t know what either of those two things look like, and if we did, would that matter?
As its predecessor, the way this information is presented is phenomenal. Both heavily inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s 1967 visual essay The Medium is the Massage, the imagery allows for the condensing of huge ideas into small bite-size pieces, perfect for our ever-decreasing attention span… just like scrolling a newsfeed. This helps the reader visualize these complex ideas and creates enough breathing room for internalization. The Extreme Self: The Age of You forces you to ask yourself, who are you? You’ve certainly changed, morphed, and although you’re still you, are you fully YOU? You are now navigating this age as a dual entity; can you handle it? The question we should be asking ourselves is not how we can adapt to so much so quickly; it is if we can.
If art is a magical universe, artist Elisa Sighicelli is an illusionist who plays with scenes from reality to create non-existent dimensions, thanks to her use of light and print manipulations. Born in Turin, Elisa Sighicelli has travelled around the world to study textile design, art, and sculpture. Her works and solo shows have been exhibited internationally, including at Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Palazzo Madama, Turin; Palazzo Fortuny, Venice; MCA Museum of Contemporary Arts Australia, Sydney; Gagosian Gallery; 55 Walker (Bortolami Gallery, Kaufmann Repetto, Andrew Kreps Gallery), New York, and Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong.
by Giacomo Donati, Elena Tortelli & Viktoriia Stanieva. Cover Image: Elisa Sighicelli, detail of Untitled (8990), 2019, direct UV print on travertine, 100 x 74 x 4 cm. Courtesy Rossi&Rossi, Hong Kong
I’MF: As an artist, you work with different media and materials, with photography and installations. What was your background and your education in art?
ES: I studied first textile design and then sculpture. When I was a student, I did my BA [at Kingston University, London] in sculpture and I worked with plaster a lot, but I then started to do installations. So, I would take photos to document these objects in the exhibition space. That’s when I realised that I liked working with light, so I thought that maybe photography was one of the most effective media for me.
I’MF: How has your approach to photography evolved in your practice?
ES: I’m interested in working with the space of photography, so that the image can create different spatial planes inside the photograph. Yet, I’m also interested in the relationship of photography with the real space that the viewer inhabits. For instance, for my last exhibition at Castello di Rivoli1, the doors I used to install the works were already there. I added the photographs of the apartments of Villa Cerruti to create a trompe-l’oeil effect. So, the room represented in the photograph could extend into the real space and, consequently, the viewer inside the room, with imagination, can enter the photograph.
I’MF: Since you have worked with so many different media, are you also inspired by artworks and techniques from the past?
ES: I recently worked with Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. I was really impressed by the Toro Farnese; it was originally a Hellenistic sculpture, and now we only have a Roman copy at the archaeological museum of Naples. I try to photograph these sculptures as fragments, so you don’t see the whole scene. Therefore, I can offer a glimpse into the narrative without telling the whole story. As the result, it was interesting to see how these different bodies come together in one space, so there’s a leg of a bull, a leg of a person, an arm… The composition is extraordinary.
I’MF: Considering you work with different supports, which was the most difficult to work with?
ES: I work with them depending on the subject of my photograph. I used marble to print the statues on the same material that they were made of. And I print on polyester satin because it is luminous and fluid, so I use it to create the impression of the reflection of glass or to make plastic coincide with the fabric. In the end, the photograph becomes the object.
I’MF: Where does the making process take place? In your studio?
ES: In my studio, I just use my computer to work on files with Photoshop to make them exactly the way I want before printing. The printing process happens in the workshops where they have the right machines, where I also work with textiles.
I’MF: How do you choose the right support for your art piece?
ES: Well, we live in a very exciting time to be able to experiment with new technologies. It is very exciting to see how we can now work with any material. For example, when you work with inject UV printing you have no limitation except for the thickness of the material, that should not be thicker than 4 cm for the machine I used. One of the first materials I used with this technique was plaster board, to print a photograph of the reflection of the sun onto a wall. The surface in the photograph is a piece of wall, so it is plaster again, like the support that I chose for it. Then I painted the light areas and highlights with fluorescent paint, so in the final image it looks like the brighter areas are glowing, as if the light was coming directly from inside the work.
I’MF: Do you have any advice for young curators, creators, and textile designers?
ES: In my opinion the most important thing is to go see as many exhibitions as possible, read as much as possible, know exactly what is going on. For me, it was knowing everything about the art world and then doing my own thing. In addition, try to create your work starting from something that you like and enjoy. When I was a student, I admired Richard Long’s process. He loved to walk, and he made the subject of his work the walking itself. I think it is amazing when you can combine your passion with your work. That’s why I change all the time: with every project, I try to start from the beginning, as if I had never done anything before. To keep every project fresh and open minded. Also – this was a piece of advice that one of my teachers gave me from my BA – you should try not to make your work after those that you see in art galleries in the present moment, because by the time you finish your work it will be not relevant anymore. You should make your own thing even if it’s totally different from all others. It should be something that excites you, otherwise everyone will be bored.
Sustainability is finally becoming a huge concern in arts, technologies and especially fashion, as everyone should be responsible for it. Future generations may be left with nothing as we are taking away normal human rights such as access to safe and clean water with our lifestyle. The hidden cost of fashion is an environmental crisis. We rarely think about it, but water is the origin of life; it is what our bodies are made of, the essence of our nourishment, the hidden spirit of nature, but it looks like we are unable to perceive its value, as if we could not fully grasp how serious things would get if we were to lack it completely. Despite knowing it, is the industry doing anything to reduce its impact on the environment? Current fashion textiles are polluting aquatic ecosystems. Action must be taken now to explore innovative bio-textiles and future technologies. If not, our beautiful bodies made of water will just turn into a fleeting memory.
by Jasmin Kusumaningsih, Maria Sofia Frenandez & Anoushka Redemeyer. Illustrations by Jasmin Kusumaningsih
What is a sustainable lifestyle? By definition, it means to be able to maintain something at a continuous safe rate, preferably with products that are manufactured with ethics, economics and the environment in mind. So far, fashion has acknowledged that textiles are problematic and non-sustainable. Irresponsible and excessive usages could have destructive effects on nature, which humans survive on. Whether it is cotton, polyester, or synthetic fibres, companies have not been using them wisely. In 2019, the United Nations has confirmed that 7,500 litres of water are required to make a pair of jeans1. Imagine the lake nearest to you disappearing within a blink of an eye and multiplied by the amount of clothing manufactured by brands, sold by retailers, and collections released within a short period of time. One by one, they would turn poisonous and toxic. According to the UN, around “80% to 90% of wastewater is returned to the environment untreated,” it causes detrimental effects on aquatic nature and all habitats involved – including us2. The most harmful effects of textiles on the environment are caused by post-purchases. During washing cycles, our garments undergo an intensive cleaning process, causing tears and leading to un-filterable micro-plastics being released into the environment. Plastic, making up about 60% of the material used for our clothing worldwide3, inevitably ends up in the ocean.
Young people are now becoming more aware that we are causing this, and fears are growing larger inside themselves. With the rising demand for sustainable sources, more brands have grown aware and designed their products to be more environmentally friendly. Levi’s recently launched a waterless capsule collection to be more sustainable in bio-textiles. They are focusing on innovative techniques that make jeans durable. This is done by using cottonised hemp. Compared to cotton, it grows quicker, uses less water, leaves behind cleaner and healthier soils. Is it really that sustainable though? Is it a bluff? Is this just a way of pulling the wool over our eyes? A lot of work goes into the making of cottonised hemp. For now, the world-known denim brand has made a lot of progress statistically: 4.2 billion litres of water were saved since introducing Water<Less®. According to the company, 6 billion litres of water are reused and recycled. 75% of their cotton now comes from more sustainable sources and is organic4.
Biomaterials have also grown in popularity among new start-up brands. The recent introduction of 3D-printed biomaterials can potentially reduce the need for water usage5. These bio-fabricated textiles tend to grow from live microorganisms, such as algae, yeast, and fungus. While making traditional textiles would pollute large amounts of water, 3D printing biomaterials does not6. They have the common characteristic of being self-regenerative with only small support creating huge interest. Companies have been competing to create better textiles. New York-based AlgiKnit produces bio-derived yarn from kelp. They are great as water filters and support marine ecosystems. The Californian start-up company MycoWorks produces mycelium mushrooms that grow into moulds. Over the past few years, brands like Iris Van Herpen used them for haute couture shows that ended with a standing ovation. The same trend was followed by Stan Smith’s Mylo shoes from Adidas. Their versatility results in various shapes, colours, textures, and finishes. Problem is that making one sneaker would take two weeks, and one garment could take even longer to be completed7. Regardless, there are many things to improve before it could be implemented commercially. In the few past years, numerous brands have shifted into a more conscious and ethical lifestyle with better types of fabric, water usage, and processes. Could our future and home be saved? There are still many improvements to be made, from production to the consumer’s mindset. However, as technology is making giant strides on bio-textiles, natural water sources have a chance of surviving. This way, our bodies made of beautiful clear water will not just be a fleeting memory. Maybe.
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.
In this new episode of our monthly column on the impact of technology on contemporary art, fashion, and visual culture, the author reflects on the use of robots and automatons in contemporary art as a mirror of the fears and uncertainties of today’s society. Following the work by artists such as Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Goshka Macuga, Jordan Wolfson, and the play “Uncanny Valley” by Stefan Kaegi, the article develops different narrations on the use of robots; although the topic is addressed in different ways and at different levels, they all evoke the same feeling of strangeness that visitors experience in front of robots, a situation of discomfort, sparking reflection on the aim of contemporary art museum spaces as a stage to provoke. Is the production of an android enough to create a new identity?
The bot is the evolution of the automaton, the puppet, or the toy, like the doll. The doll is apparently a harmless object placed and forgotten in bedrooms. Right there, it makes us wonder if it can have a soul and why it triggers disquiet. Rainer Maria Rilke also posed these questions in his short essay of 1914 entitled Dolls: On the Wax Dolls of Lotte Pritzel: ”But we soon realised we could not make it into a thing or a person, and in such moments it became a stranger to us, and we could no longer recognize all the confidences we had heaped over it and into it”.1 Inanimate objects are always at the crossing line between reality and fiction. They create an interval, an interlude between dream and life. Between fear and comedy. The robotic bodies move in a mechanical way, and evoke unease, surprise, and even laughter. Their dramatic nature can be transformed into comedy by observing their repetitive movements. It is not so much the object itself that is laughed at, but how close it can get to the human being. The factor and the level of resemblance of androids to living beings have been addressed and studied by scientists such as the Japanese Masahiro Mori, who came up with the “Uncanny Valley” theory in 1970. For Mori, this valley is a terrain for which an anthropomorphic object, such as a robot or a mannequin, is accepted according to their resemblance to human beings. The more they look like humans, or like something familiar, the more people will feel a sense of discomfort.
Mondo Cane, an installation by the duo Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys that filled the Belgian pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, is a perfect example of how thin the line could be between the comic and the disturbing. It shows an ambiguous world, remodelled on an imaginary reminiscence of the past. This folkloric universe is divided in two areas, inhabited by puppets and automatons. In the centre, the humble workers and craftsmen like a shoemaker, a mason or a spinner, carrying out their individual jobs in the costumes of a remote era. Standing still, with a more hyperreal appearance, they seem to be waiting for something and to be inhabitants of a more populated city. Inside, the mechanical movements of the bodies repeated endlessly, reaching the ridiculous. The gestures of everyday, mundane work serve to downplay and approach a form of comedy. They thus become a reconstruction of memory; they become ghosts. This process also occurs in the sculptural work Female figure (2014) by American artist Jordan Wolfson. Instead of labour, costumes and pop music motivate the android’s gestures. Here, too, the mechanical movements, in a pop atmosphere, seem to be detached from the subject, creating a new disorientation. The android recalls a hypersexualised figure with her costumes and provocative movements. She faces a mirror, surrealistically doubling herself and the aseptic space around her. Her face is revealed half-covered by a frightening Venetian mask. The narcissism of the protagonist turns into fear for the viewer. The theme of the double figure, such as the twin, recalls the words of Sigmund Freud in The uncanny (1919): “The uncanny is that sort of frightening which goes back to what has been known to us for a long time, to what is familiar”.2 In this work, the robot protagonist and the viewer are disturbed by the reflection, because they see something familiar but do not seem to accept that image and its monstrosity.
Freud’s essay also exposes the fear one may have when confronted with inanimate objects accidentally mistaken for animate. In the installation To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll (2016) by Polish artist Goshka Macuga, created specifically for the spaces of the Fondazione Prada in Milan, the confrontation with such a humanised non-human becomes even more disturbing, because it is apparently harmless. The robot, which seems to represent an ordinary person and a sacred figure at the same time, recites a monologue in front of the visitors, mixing quotes and extracts from famous speeches, films, and books. From Greek philosophers such as Plato to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, through to Napoleon and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, revealing an obsession with the end of time and human extinction. These figures that move and speak on their own evoke the world of theatre. They seem to be controlled by wires or people who cannot be seen, who stand on the other side of the stage. In art, androids are often placed in a place shared by the visitors, so that the illusion of their reality is not interrupted. The viewer can stop and observe these different forms of intelligence and become aware of their own body and mind again. They then realise that they are facing a real opposition. What becomes important are the new possibilities that these mechanisms create in art and in our lives – just think of the new inventions by a personality like Elon Musk, with the current Tesla Bot project. We are entering a future beyond our time, where humans remain behind the stage so that the illusion of reality persists until it settles in our world. The human being becomes the interval that maintains the illusion. Like an intermission between the parts of a play, which allows the spectator to confront the real world for a moment again.
The world of theatre has brought us to the piece entitled Uncanny Valley (2019) by Swiss director and artist Stefan Kaegi. An ambiguous play that deals with the theme of androids, in this case using one as the main and sole actor. The director collaborated with German writer Thomas Melle, whose voice and physical features were reproduced by an animatronic copy of himself. The play raises new questions about doubles, such as being able to recreate a form with human physical and intellectual features. It makes us reflect on how far technology can go on stage and in the real world. At one point, the android addresses the audience: “Can the original get to know itself better through its electronic double?”.3 From a psychological point of view, it creates tension and unease because it also reflects on the theme of our physical vulnerability and the thin line between life and death. Immersed in the play, even the boundaries between the I and the outside world become less clear, as when something removed returns. Lastly, we get to reflect on the obsessive need of today’s society to create a new identity, a copy of ourselves, and due to technological development and the spread of social media, the digital copy seems to become the original, the truth. All the works mentioned in this article, on the other hand, double the space-time around them, creating stories and situations in the present time and beyond the physical world to reinvent it. The act of making art serves to imagine a time that does not yet exist and to deny the present moment. A time that contains both our desire to change and our fear of what we might become. Through their creations, artists try and emphasise the dangers of the future, of a utopian world that can put us in danger. That is why art, unlike science, prefers to imagine, to remain in illusion.
1. Rilke, R.M., (1913-1914) Dolls: On the Wax Dolls of Lotte Pritzel in Gross, K. (2018) On Dolls (trans. in English by I. Parry) London: Notting Hill Editions. 2. Freud, S. (2003) The Uncanny (trans. in English by D. McLintock). London: Penguin Classics, p. 124. 3. Rimini Protokoll (2019) Uncanny Valley. Directed by S. Kaegi. [Online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/339074946 [Accessed: 15 September 2021]
Every month, a new video is selected and commented on by the Editorial staff of I’M Firenze Digest to showcase new visual languages and moving image applications for artists, designers, and stylists. We are happy to present a new video project this month, created by Multimedia Arts graduate Léa Colombier, who successfully completed her three-year programme at Istituto Marangoni Firenze. During her time at Istituto Marangoni, she focused her research on science fiction, post-apocalyptic worlds, ethnographic studies, and emotional disorders to understand the parallels between reality and imagination.
by Viktoriia Stanieva. Images by Léa Colombier. Video Contains Flashing Lights. View at Your Discretion.
Inspired by different sources such as Ben Rivers, Richard Long, Camille Henrot, Noémie Goudal, and Marguerite Humeau, in 2019 Léa Colombier worked on a video project titled Artefact. Sounds, collages, texts and archives were all combined to reflect the connection between the past and present of humanity. Ethnographic black-and-white images were put together as a frantic collage and mixed with a thrilling atmosphere of the undiscovered that you would find in the documentary movie. Accompanied with carefully picked sound effects that send shivers down your spine, a mysterious “speculative” poetic narrative imitates the hectic voice in your head, that makes you wonder if you are finally being conscious about yourself and the surrounding environment, or if that’s the start of your breakdown to the unknown.
In her work, Lea speculates on the future possibilities of humans, who can evolve physically and mentally; a future where a new disorder emerges and becomes an instrument to connect with parallel words, where we can expand our knowledge on the unexplainable or the unsubstantiated. This video awakes that intuitive feeling we might experience from time to time, when we wonder about how many storylines and dimensions might coexist with us, yet unfortunately, for some reason, we didn’t get a chance to fully experience them. Léa Colombier enjoys showing what a parallel reality could look like through her visual imagination, allowing, as the artists states, “an unknown, invisible, extinct or otherworldly form of life to be transformed into something real”.
Future Landscape is the title chosen for the fashion show by Istituto Marangoni Firenze in 2021, which took place in conjunction with the 100th edition of the famous Florentine event Pitti Uomo. The catwalk took place on 7 July at the Tepidarium del Roster, in the heart of the Horticultural Garden in Florence. The runway featured the best designers from the 2021 Fashion Design & Accessories programme at Istituto Marangoni Firenze. In the article, the students of the same School recount the event through a heartfelt first-person narration.
by Bianca Magistrali & Amira Rossi. Cover Image: Filippo Barbagallo, 2021. Photo credits: Andrea Cresci | Take Off Production
Everything was expected. It was the July 7 of the current year. Reading my agenda, overwhelmed by a thousand appointments, I noticed one in particular. The Fashion Show of my School, Istituto Marangoni Firenze, would take place that exact day, at 6:30 pm. I had already planned and defined everything for that day, from the public transport I should take to my beauty salon appointment. Everything was planned, except that one thing that would completely and deeply change our routine. Our journey into the future. Towards Future Landscape. You didn’t see me, but I was there. You may not have heard my voice or my applause. You may not even remember what dress I was wearing, or the trail of my perfume. Perhaps you have not noticed the thrills I got at the sight of those gorgeous dresses, the result of months of work and years of dreams. Do you know why it didn’t happen? Because I was not physically there. But, spiritually, I was (as well as behind the screen of my iPhone). I was there, not only because I’m from the same generation as the ten emerging fashion designers selected by the school who had the opportunity to show their collections to an audience last summer. I was there, as were all those who saw themselves in that futuristic landscape with me. Like someone who has seen truth or at least hope behind every seam and behind every thread sewn through the fabrics with anxiety, ingenuity and passion. I was there; we were all there indeed.
Sitting right next to me, was another young student. I looked at her and, in her green eyes, I could see the same impatience that filled mine. Maybe we already knew each other. I wondered what programme she may attend. She was watching me, too. However, despite thousands of hypotheses and theories, a single glance was enough to understand that we would soon become friends in that unique adventure that was about to begin. Savouring the liberty flavour of the Roster’s Tepidarium, we, two students, in front of all this as fascinated spectators.
A reserved front row seat, ready to be teleported to another universe. Filled with emotion and excitement. The goosebumps, the stress and pleasure of the wait, the fear that it might go wrong. Yet, in front of us, the calm, perhaps apparent: a catwalk ready to be walked, and minimal background graphics. Then everything became real. Everything was immanent, alive, vibrating and creating things. The girl sitting next to me and I looked at each other amazed and thrilled. “Where are we?” she asked, but the only thing I could answer was: “Where are we going?”. Our route became instantly clear as the first lights were projected onto a digital wall and the first few models walked down the runway to the beating rhythm of the background music. Ten designers. About thirty minutes of runway show. An unexpected route led by young creative minds, each with their own vision, but sharing a desire for freedom.
Balanced on a thread between reality and multimedia effects. Strong, full colours. Avant-guard. Sensuality. Volumes, cuts, and messages. Femininity and orientalism. Manga and new classical ideals. Technique and creativity. But above all, emotion and style. And dreams that you can touch. Some leveraged the trends of the moment, offering must-have wardrobe items such as blazers and trousers as palazzo pyjamas. Some followed the popular streetwear trend, but with their personal take on it. Others bravely decided to tell trends to “go to hell” by favouring their own background or concept. Yes: to hell! Thinking about it, we didn’t only see fashion, not only tailoring. Artistic influences and reworks were at the heart of this performance. It was supreme. The awareness of a constantly changing world, a world we always need to keep up with, where digitisation is becoming more and more popular, but where the power of the New Human wins.
Yet, as in every journey worthy of its name, the end always comes. You wake up from the dream and reflect. Reflect on what you saw, what you felt. And the two of us now, we’re together. Something has moved. Those ten young designers shook us to the core. We are positively annoyed. Satisfied. Not just of belonging to their generation, our generation.
We looked at each other. Strangers as we were, we became more united than ever. United not only by the flood of sensations that overwhelmed us both in just half an hour. But united by a new hope. The hope of believing in the future. A whole new future. A future where expression will replace the word fear with freedom. Our future. Thanks to all of you ten young fashion designers. Thank you Istituto Marangoni Firenze. Because everything was planned.
Until February 2, 2022, two new sculptures by Francesco Vezzoli will stand in Piazza della Signoria and Museo di Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The project, presented by the Museo Novecento and Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, offers an opportunity for the Italian artist to relate his work and his installations, an ancient-modern symbiosis, to the city’s Renaissance heritage and key symbolic monuments.
by Giacomo Donati. Cover Image: Francesco Vezzoli, Pietà, 2021, Piazza della Signoria, Florence. Photo credits: Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio
Francesco Vezzoli has been mixing classical and contemporary art for years, as in his lion in Pietà (2021), in Piazza della Signoria. This site-specific work “plays” with the statue of Neptune (1500-1565) by Bartolomeo Ammannati and that of Cosimo I (1587-1594) by Giambologna. They dialogue in the open space of the square and they might all seem from the same age, but the lion hides contemporary imprint and intent. It consists of a twentieth-century rampant lion with a Roman head of the second century CE placed in its mouth. At the base of the animal, we can find another ancient, draped statue with a missing head. The result is a contaminated “pastiche” of different ages and styles. A logical continuation in the artist’s practice with ancient sculptures. Piazza della Signoria has always been a political, economic, and social reference point for Florence. There stands Palazzo Vecchio, the main residence of the Medici before the construction of Palazzo Pitti. We are therefore faced with a “continuum” between what is outside and what is carefully preserved inside the palace. The artist from Brescia placed his second work in the studiolo of Francesco I: La musa dell’archeologia piange [The muse of archaeology weeps, 2021]. A headless Roman togato from the I/II century CE, just under a metre tall, on which a relatively large, disproportionate and shiny bronze head is grafted.
There is a clear contrast with the massive and impetuous work Pietà. La musa dell’archeologia clearly recalls the master of Metafisica Giorgio de Chirico and his so-called “Archaeological Cycle” where the painting Le muse inquietanti stands out [The Disquieting Muses, s.d.]. If Pietà dialogues with Neptune, this second workdialogues with the scientific, Mannerist, and alchemic representations in the studiolo, painted under the direction of Giorgio Vasari, according to the ideas of the intellectual Vincenzo Borghini (1570-1572).
To enter the studiolo, we must first pass through the enormous Salone dei Cinquecento, making this small room even more secret, as it was intended to preserve or hide precious and rare objects, now enriched by Vezzoli’s work. An absent-minded passer-by could mistake Pietà for a work that has been there for decades, or centuries; it is more difficult not to understand the mixture of past and present in his second installation, as we are faced with a clear differentiation of materials and styles between the bust of the togato and the bronze head. Pietà, which replaces a previous art installation in Piazza della Signoria, a bare tree by Giuseppe Penone, has quickly become the object of media attention from newspapers to television and social influencers. Francesco Vezzoli’s work has always focused on the mechanisms of the “star system” and the inclusion of internationally renowned personalities in his installations. Inviting Chiara Ferragni to visit his studio and take a picture together in front of the sculptures – especially the lion – becomes a desire to engage her in a performative act, connecting the work of art to the celebrity. Vezzoli is attracted by the world of glamour and fashion, both as a provocation and a criticism to that type of society, and as fuel for his creations.
Vezzoli’s lion therefore not only extends beyond its physical limits, but also embraces everything that moves around it. In a world dominated by the Internet, this happens much faster, perhaps while losing some of its meaning, even with the risk of being trivialised, but then it becomes a relevant topic among the city’s inhabitants, art lovers, and professionals. La musa dell’archeologia piange remains a more reserved, intimate, and elegant work. A thought-provoking installation that reflects Vasari’s extraordinary frescoes on the shiny surface of its bronze head. It also symbolically reflects a space that has become metaphysical with the presence of the sculpture. Looking at it, you realise that it contains something more, maybe something disturbing, as the artwork will reflect the visitor’s own image, slightly distorted, as in a dream.
The column Educating the Digital aims to connect the students and the creative industry. Here, our readers can find interviews with tutors from Istituto Marangoni Firenze, active fashion and art professionals talking with their students about their careers, their approaches to education, and the new challenges provided by digital innovation. As Fashion Styling Programme Leader at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, Riccardo Rubino knows where modern fashion is heading. Together we talked about the importance of developing a unique, sophisticated style together with the passion to constantly observe the surrounding environment and be aware of the current demand.
by Viktoriia Stanieva. Cover photograph by Luisa Ospina, styling: Riccardo Rubino. Courtesy: Riccardo Rubino
I’MF: How would you describe ‘good taste’? What do you think is good taste in fashion?
RR: I believe that ‘good taste’ is something consistent with the idea, the story, or the message behind a collection, as well as to be in touch with the times. For me, it is never about the garments. Good taste should not be about what someone wears, but rather about the message expressed beyond and within an image. It is about how you combine the garments.
I’MF: While working as a stylist, how has digitization changed your job? What types of jobs did you start doing digitally?
RR: When I started my career in the fashion industry about twenty years ago, digital tools were not central to my work. I would browse the Internet like I still do today, but I mostly used magazines and other physical sources for my research. Back in the day, the shooting process was way more structured because everyone had a specific role on set: the stylist would do the styling job, the photographer would deal with photography, etc. It was much more structured and professional because you were asked to do only one specific job, and you didn’t need to have an opinion on the others. Now there’s more democratisation of opinions. Another drastic change came with the introduction of influencers, five to seven years ago: our roles suddenly became even more interconnected and our approach changed, as influencers became the ones to set the rules in terms of content and aesthetics. Everything has changed at a much higher speed because of the industry’s request to produce, and people were looking for something different. Now we can see a change in the way images are directed, usually consistent with a new commercial direction. However, the possibilities are now endless and more jobs were created, so everything has its advantages.
I’MF: Would you recommend any exhibitions, artworks, or fashion works that can visually explain the direction of contemporary fashion?
RR: Right now, fashion has taken two different directions, although they seem to contradict each other. There’s a big comeback to the tactile, which means going back to the roots, whatever that means to you: experiencing, exploring tradition, looking for an artisanal touch. The work of JW Anderson is a good example of this. Among Italian labels, I could mention Fendi’s to craftsmanship and S/S 2021 collection, which shows this return handmade pieces. Then there is a digital side that has developed its own magnificent aesthetic: it’s not a technique anymore – it is beyond technique. For example, Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at the Tate Modern in London shows this unique marriage of analog and digital. So many artists are now trying to put them together, merging two media, and I think that’s the language of today.
I’MF: Do you think digitalization is regressive for our society or it’s a step forward to improve our way of living?
RR: I think it’s up to us; we are responsible for the way we use it and the way we respond to it. I think it’s a potentially huge, very cool tool, but I’m not always sure that people are advanced enough to know how to use it the right way! I don’t trust digitization, but I believe that modern students are the ones who can handle these tools, languages, and possibilities in a clever way. If you can handle and use digital and analog, but at the same time you don’t lose your feelings and your tactility, and if you also apply the culture and knowledge from other disciplines, you will succeed.
I’MF: What sources of information do you use for your research? Which magazines, websites, or other tools would you recommend to students for their projects and research?
RR: I use the internet like everyone, but you need to learn how to do your own research well to find the right information. Also, magazines are helpful, both independent and commercial ones. Vogue UK, though it might seem mainstream, or the ID magazine for street style. Sometimes I just go to a bookshop and look and flip through some magazines. Usually, I buy ID, Dazed, The Face, and I can suggest more specific London publications. As for Italian ones, I like independent magazines like Apartamento and, among institutional ones, Amica. But my personal visual stimulation comes from looking at people, analysing their weird parts, and listening to their stories: I always look at the details that make up that whole. I like to link what I see and hear with what I find on the Internet and on magazines, art, Netflix, etc., as trends are formed by society. It’s the main reason why I like to stay in school: I enjoy working with the younger generations and learning and understanding what’s going on in the world.
Intended as any arrangement of images, materials, and visual information grouped together to evoke or study a particular style or concept, moodboards and sketches are often used by students at Istituto Marangoni Firenze to visualize ideas. Every month, a new visual concept or strategy is selected and commented on by the Editorial staff of I’M Firenze Digest, starting with the ones created by Lorenzo La Commare, first-year student of Fashion Design & Accessories.
by Viktoriia Stanieva. Images by Lorenzo La Commare.
The educational system of Istituto Marangoni Firenze always highlights the importance of looking at elements from the past to form the future of fashion. The campus is in the city centre of Florence, known for its well-preserved Renaissance art and architecture. This helps the student live through the experience of art history and get closer to famous masterpieces to be inspired by the city’s mesmerizing beauty every day. Here we can observe this quivering love and passion for the history of art and fashion reflected through the moodboards of young Fashion Design student Lorenzo La Commare, created for the History of Applied Arts course with tutor Isabella Campagnol. La Commare combined several elements that may look too far from each other at first glance: religious objects, Byzantine frescoes, draping techniques, historical garments, Roman sculptures, classical paintings, and fashion shows by contemporary brands like Dolce&Gabbana and Rick Owens that also use heritage as part of their aesthetics.
Nevertheless, thanks to digital editing tools, it is possible to visually communicate and fuse together all these elements in order to create a completely new image. With the graphic effects, Lorenzo produced a completely new pattern that still shows the initial ideas like long vast sleeves, airy silhouettes, and richness of colours that are mirrored in the frescoes. However, the designs maintain a digital, almost “Matrix-like” pattern, and that shows exactly how we can remaster previous works and use them as a base to create something new, closer to contemporary taste.