Italian Video Art, A Review: The curator of the exhibit Electronic Body reports

by Gianluca MARZIANI

The topic of which I write arrives in the nick of time (perhaps I should say in the “flick” of time in honor of the filmatic subject). What follows is a general exploration of Italian video art, the subject of a fortunate concomitance with the exhibition I have just curated for the Rocco Guglielmo Foundation. Entitled Electronic Body, the show gathers together 16 artists using the video medium exclusively to express a range of issues, approaches and visions.

In the catalogue for the exhibition, I have written that “Fluency guides the rules of engagement of video art”. Ideally, if we were to divide artistic mediums into three stages of matter, we would have a general formula: solid for traditional media (drawing, painting and sculpture), gaseous for digital and liquidity for film. In fact, the video art of the last thirty years has forced the three stages to create a continuous hybridization (installations, video installations, multimedia and combined systems) that create a fourth stage containing many internal variables. The same video, by its general fluid nature, encounters solid and gaseous elements that lead to a greater spatial and object awareness….”

In an age where access to technology is easy and affordable, the art of video/film (combining the widespread use of digital and, in a few cases, film) becomes experimental and opens new paths. In fact, I think video art (being harmonious in its approach and methodology between filming or drawing, projector or monitor, basic set up or installation) has only just begun to show a little of its true potential. The very freedom of the web makes it easier to liberally blend ambitious and popular media mixing technologies, expensive productions and ‘low budget shorts.’ It is impossible to limit individual trends to such a non-conforming context; at best, we can recognize certain general commonalities within the environment and cultures where artists grow their craft. As a good example of this, Salvo Cuccia, De Serio and Zimmerfrei have few similarities, but all three investigate the real world, the deadlocked societies and challenging and difficult lives that the artistic eye then transforms into archetypes of a broken humanity.

In general I would say that the following Italian authors approach these extreme elements with ease: the masters of cinema (Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Jean Rouch, Roberto Rossellini, Derek Jarman, are those who come to mind), figures of radical theater (first and foremost Carmelo Bene), philosophical and literary works, documentaries, musical trends, the world of television – these and others become reasons to reflect and rethink, without worrying about semantic bases, combining the differences in a conscious and well thought out manner. It is not because “the Blob” was born here (a heterogeneous example of imagery that gave new meaning to editing); nor is it because Italy has great cinematographers and editors, two roles that shape and give form to words and images.

To describe what the essence of being a liquid language means, is to flow from all sides, creating a system which circulates among all forms of art. The results can be grouped in this way: creative video (multiple forms of realistic works), reworked video (revised and re-formed from previous works) and interpretive video (multiple works of a narrative matter). The strength of video art lies in its compulsive core, without homogenous stereotyping, and to an imagination where each individual project becomes a unified style and open resource, one world to unify all other worlds (all other creative languages) and finally creates that significant fourth level of creativity.

Now, the most important question would be: Is Italy a competitive country in this field of video art? I would answer yes, even if we are limited to producing low-budget films which others can produce on a grander scale through support from foundations, museums and forward- thinking companies. While on the one hand the result is a lack of solid realism, it also goes to show what Italian talent can do with a limited budget to bring success to the market. It is sufficient to note some well-known names as evidence of this success: for example, profoundly meaningful iconography, typically tied in a cultural context to memories, histories, antiquities and treasures. We can look at the example of Studio Azzurro in their video installations, from where theater, cinema, music and literature flow. Their projects involve immersion and complexity; we use all five senses as if the film was in a metalanguage between the past and the future, on the edge of metaphysics of a high philosophical value. From Canecapovolto to Antonello Matarazzo and Alterazioni Video, one can see the multiplicity of elements that mark the destiny of forward-thinking imagination in film. The film transforms into an open world, similar to the chaos of daily life where contrasts and differences create open dialogue and communication.

The ability to create flowing imagery with high-impact painting is connected to deep iconography. From here the flowing icon: a process of aesthetic synthesis that transforms images into an actual work, giving it a universal and metaphysical aspect. With the strength and ideological spirit of each individual frame, expression and compression combine naturally and organically into a powerful vision. The film, therefore, becomes a significant development with respect to the nature of filmmaking. Masbedo, for example, is one of a duo who worked on the quality of grand cinematography, creating narrative films in which images and sounds meld to become incredibly dynamic films. Even more cinematographic are the approaches of Alessandro Bavari and Matteo Basile’, artists with a prophetic eye who invented a surreal world which transformed the human body and natural landscape into a radical vision.

Within the confines of the abstract mental imagery of Theo Eshetu, a visionary who has an ability to sense and feel the beauty of a project, lies the confirmation of the value of a mental vision and the means to transform the documentary reality of a geometric prism, visual effects and inescapable palindromes. Visible abstraction and internal journeys burst to life in the work of BIANCO-VALENTE, a duo who visualized the cerebral and synaptic processes weaving throughout the human body, the environment and the universe. Another example of this approach is GRAZIA TODERI, a hypnotic visionary who has the ability to film a stadium or city as if looking at a painting in the darkness of the infinite cosmos. Through the metabolic pattern methods of Marco Agostinelli, we are able to filter the videographic flow with a personal system of semantics, a type of interpretive language which overlaps the original fragments of film-making, creating a psycho-emotive flow around the real world. We are given the opportunity to delve deeply into a wide range of artistic visionaries throughout a multitude of websites.

While there are obviously many film- and video-production visionaries (although few use video means exclusively), some of the more outstanding solo artists are listed below. The general video scenario is full of many variables, resulting in a rich variety open to all tastes, and the discoveries and insights of every person, no matter how strange one’s taste or curiosity may seem to be. However, one thing is absolutely certain: the future of Italian video is sure to hold some beautiful surprises.

Gianluca Marziani is a Columnist for the Italian Journal.