View of “Dora Budor,” 2021. Photo: Simon Veres.

View of “Dora Budor,” 2021. Photo: Simon Veres.

Dora Budor

While Salento, the heel of Italy’s boot, is known for its coastline and baroque architecture, until the mid-twentieth century the region’s economy was centered on tobacco. At the industry’s peak, more than half of the subpeninsula’s population was employed in its production, and the majority of workers were women. Today many former factories and masserie, or traditional farmhouses, are being converted into restaurants and boutique hotels. Advertisements for these spaces often focus on the authenticity of the restored architecture and on the inclusion of original production equipment and tools that have become decorative elements.

In her exhibition “Autoreduction,” New York–based Croatian artist Dora Budor looked at this aspect of Italian agritourism to explore the conditions in which things are dissected, reassembled, and repurposed, and the methods of labor involved in these processes. The title refers to a collective anticapitalist strategy to unilaterally reduce the cost of something generally considered to be essential, usually by nonpayment. In Italy, this famously played out through large-scale rent strikes in Rome, Milan, and Turin in the 1970s. In the manner of the tabacchine, who worked and organized collectively, Budor invited friends and interlocutors Noah Barker, Niloufar Emamifar, Michèle Graf, Selina Grüter, and Ser Serpas to collaborate on what she called a “solo show that is not.” (Most of them also spent some time living in the Progetto space, formerly an apartment.) Best understood as one work in many parts, the exhibition considered the life cycles of objects and ideas and asked how collective action might be possible amid shifts in value under capitalism.

For Budor’s part in the exhibition, she relocated conveyor tables from a disused factory, where they had sat decommissioned for three decades. Following the show’s closure, they will be restored and used as dining tables in the hotel set to open in the former factory. Progetto shrank under the scale of this industrial equipment. Filling the width of the gallery’s first room and the entirety of a doorway in the last, the tables interrupted the flow of movement and limited access to the private areas of the bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom—creating a tension between the domestic space where Budor lived during her residency and the productive space of the gallery. A counterpart to the rusty table was a cartapesta model of it crafted by the studio of maestro Mario Di Donfrancesco. A papier-mâché-like alternative to crafting objects in plaster and stone, cartapesta is a technique that master workshops in Lecce have cultivated for centuries. Much like its original, this table replica bore the signs of the hands associated with the labor of its making.

In Barker’s Constellation #2 and #3 (all works 2021), the openings of empty bottles burnished with gold foil corresponded with foil disks on the ceiling, whose placement the artist determined with the help of a mini projector. Like constellations, the disks mapped out specific symbols of Italian industry, such as the six-legged dog in the logo of Italian oil and gas giant Eni. Graf and Grüter’s Pocket Liner 8 and 9, which the pair made by splicing and remixing words from paper receipts, reimagined the language of consumption into poems. Their performance The Besieged Courtyard—in which they read in Italian and English, in their own translation, the story of that name by Giovanna Zangrandi (1910–1988), a partisan who wrote about the internal conflict between her socialist upbringing and her fascist education at school—examined moments of untranslatability, whether in language or in cultural ideologies. 

Like Graf and Grüter’s performance, Emamifar’s A Partnership for the Future was presented in the building’s courtyard. It took the form of a lecture examining the commoditization of empty space through the legal designation, sale, and leasing of air rights, exploring how, in contemporary neoliberal real-estate development, air has entered the market as a tradable asset. On the roof, Serpas’s site-specific installation Isn’t Anything offered a portrait of the region by recontextualizing local objects that were once trash. As an ideology, autoreduction reassigns value that a collective public has deemed misplaced; as an exhibition mode, it shifts the accent from the individual artist to collective activity.