Genoa, Italy

Cesare Viel

Pinksummer, Museo D'Arte Contemporanea Di Villa Croce

Cesare Viel is interested in relationships between verbal language and the body, which he expresses through many different media, from prose to video, performance to photography. His recent exhibition at Pinksummer presented the most recent results of his research, while the Villa Croce offered a retrospective overview that showed Viel’s to have been some of the most interesting work to have emerged in Italy during the 1990s.

The gallery show had only three elements: a large black text on the wall; a carpet on the floor on which another phrase was legible; and a small iPod affixed to the wall facing the text. These present three possible relationships between the body and writing. The carpet requires people to bend down to read and thus engages the body, tying the act of reading to a downward movement. Yet the writing on the wall necessitates a vertical axis, an upright posture that allows for an easy relation with one’s body. The iPod transforms writing into voice, that of the artist telling a story, which one must mediate through earbuds. These isolate the listener, enveloping him or her in an artificial environment—all the more so as listening to a story implies introspection on the part of the listener. The story and the two phrases (printed and woven, both in script) refer to a single theme, an unidentified person’s unexpected arrival at the artist’s house during a moment of leisure. Thus the carpet reads TI SENTO PASSARE QUI VICINO / DISCRETA PRESENZA SILENZIOSA (I feel you passing nearby / Discreet silent presence). The voice describes unspecified acts expressed through abstractions; the event remains improbable, and the only clear reality is that of the words and their evocative power.

A carpet like the one on display at Pinksummer was also shown at the Villa Croce, but in this case the phrase written on it was the same as the show’s title: MI GIOCO FINO IN FONDO MA IL FONDO NON HA FINE (I bet until the end but the bottom has no end), a sort of untranslatable pun that evokes the interminability of the artist’s search. The videos and installations here demonstrated Viel’s interest in contemporary literature and in the practice of writing, often using quotations or aphorisms written out on simple sheets of paper or reproduced on banners to be hung in the city streets. For Viel, language is about identity and the cultural definition of sexuality. Androgyny has been a recurrent theme (Viel disguised as Virginia Woolf, reading passages from To the Lighthouse, or shown in a video where he speaks in a female voice), while other works deal with the social and collective response to this questioning of identity. Operazione bufera (Operation Storm), 2003, presents a small room, furnished with armchairs and theater lights. The public stands along the walls, while a performer sits backwards and blindfolded on a chair—in the same position in which one of the Chechen terrorists, asphyxiated by gas, was found after taking the audience hostage in the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002. Throughout the performance, the artist’s recorded voice can be heard reading excerpts from newspaper articles describing the terrible event. This is a dramatization in the Brechtian sense, based not on emotional shock but rather on rational engagement, yet it carries all the more impact for that.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.