Franco Vaccari

Spazio Oberdan

As part of the Trigon ’75 biennial organized by the Neue Galerie in Graz, Austria, Franco Vaccari invited people to walk up a flight of stairs to the top of the city tower. Standing along their path were a series of people—giants, very short people, identical twins—and a little monkey. “Anyone who came to look was actually followed constantly by the gaze of the motionless people they met along the stairway,” Vaccari explains in the catalogue for his recent exhibition at Spazio Oberdan, describing how his Esposizione in tempo reale n. 12: Viaggio—Trip Lucido (Exhibition in Real Time No. 12: Lucid Trip), 1975, was an attempt to reverse the gaze. Directions to spectators—following a practice inherent in many Conceptual experiences—and role reversal (looking/being looked at) are two recurring elements in Vaccari’s work. The artist uses the term exhibitions in real time to describe these projects, which are, in effect, created by the direct participation of his audience. For the first such work, Esposizione in tempo reale n. 1: Maschere (Masks), 1969, which took place at the Galleria Civica in Varese, in northern Italy, the artist distributed masks of the segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, to visitors in a darkened room. Vaccari moved through the crowd, at times suddenly shining a flashlight on someone and taking a photograph. A common reaction was for the person to instinctively seek protection, covering his or her face with the mask. Thus, the observer became the object of observation, like an animal hunted down by the camera, ready to take refuge behind the impersonality of the mask, in flight from the artist’s invasive power.

The retrospective at Spazio Oberdan, “Col tempo: Esposizioni in tempo reale, fotografie, film, video, videoinstallazioni 1965–2002” (With Time: Exhibitions in Real Time, Photographs, Films, Videos, Video Installations 1965–2002), presented documentation of Vaccari’s exhibitions in real time via ninety photographic works, two video installations, nine videos and films, and twenty-one books. A new work was also included: Positioned by the entrance of the show, Esposizione in tempo reale n. 36: Biomassa (Biomass), 2007, calculated the total mass of visitors to the gallery. But the meat of the survey lay in well-known works such as Esposizione in tempo reale n. 4: Lascia su queste pareti una traccia fotografica al tuo passaggio (Leave on the Walls a Photographic Trace of Your Fleeting Visit), 1972, which was shown at the Venice Biennale. The installation featured a photo booth bearing an invitation to visitors to leave the images they made, a sort of fragment of themselves, on the walls of the exhibition space. The Biennale project led to Photomatic d’Italia (Italy’s Photomatic Kiosks), 1972–74. Inside approximately one thousand kiosks scattered throughout Italy, Vaccari placed posters publicizing his research for a film and invited people to leave behind the photos they took in this “private space immersed in public space.” This feedback, this quality of public experience, is fundamental to Vaccari’s work—an open process that cannot be determined or guessed beforehand. A recent piece, Espozione in tempo reale n. 34: Buio, nebbia padana, suoni, luci (Darkness, Po Valley Fog, Sounds, Lights), 2005, took place in an industrial warehouse outside Modena, where, once again in darkness, visitors were invited to pass through the space with flashlights. In the dark immensity of the site, they were left to themselves, ready to cross paths by chance, in fortuitous encounters.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.