Flavio Favelli, Afgacolor, 2019, neon, 21 5⁄8 × 65 × 4".

Flavio Favelli, Afgacolor, 2019, neon, 21 5⁄8 × 65 × 4".

Flavio Favelli

In his exhibition “Afgacolor,” Flavio Favelli proposed an alienating, intense, and surprising path, inviting us on an emotional journey into the recent history of one of the countries that feature most dramatically in the contemporary news: Afghanistan. The fact that Favelli has never visited the country in person served as a warning against giving the exhibition any journalistic or illustrative interpretation.

Favelli’s work has always moved easily among techniques, materials, and methodologies. Here, viewers encountered (among other things) a neon work, a sculptural column made of metal trays, and assemblages of Afghan carpets (hung on the wall, they evoked the tapestries of Alighiero Boetti), as well as painting-like works—the artist considers them collages—featuring sheets of postage stamps, and paintings with inscriptions in Arabic over enlarged reproductions of objects such as an Afghan passport. But there were also spaces in the exhibition that were rendered inaccessible by obstructions. On this occasion, Favelli seemed to have wanted to immerse his work in obscurity, as if by converting it to black (conceptually and materially) he could keep its dramatic rhetorical symbolism at a distance and enhance its evocative power. The gesture recalled the emblems of subjugation and violence (such as the swastika or the eagle) that another Italian artist, Franco Angeli, filtered through the physical superimposition of dark veilings in his work of the 1960s and ’70s.

Favelli describes Afgacolor, 2019, the piece that gave the show its title, as an “assemblage of signs.” The work re-creates in three dimensions the logo of the Belgian-German company Agfacolor, famous for its color-film products (used also in the 1930s for Nazi propaganda meant to compete with big Hollywood productions). Via the simple exchange of the second and third letters (conjuring a Freudian slip, an unconscious denial, a cultural distraction), Afgacolor reveals a missing dimension of contemporary Afghanistan, a country repeatedly repressed by wars and invasions, as well as by the presence of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The neon tubes give material form to the unresolved and broken history of a mysterious and distant place, torn to shreds and ignored, but at the same time inevitably present in the panorama of our times. In this way, the work is also emblematic of the contradictions of the globalized world, where contexts come to bear in the media both before and more forcefully than when they appear in the physical world.

The press release further contextualized the works in Afghan history, mentioning the killing of President Mohammad Najibullah by the Taliban in 1996 as well as the country’s completely black late-nineteenth-century flag. The images, writings, and objects brought together here encapsulated the dramatic contrast between old and new, archaic and contemporary, run-down and glossy, which coexist in their contradictions. In these works, Favelli both moves away from and re-creates the memory of various events, places, and people through a form of empathic Conceptualism, making a connection that is at once intimate and collective. He encouraged viewers to reflect not only on the inescapable continuity of history as conflict and wreckage through space and time, but also and above all on the regenerative power of cultural memory.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.