Wandering through the city’s neighborhoods as a daily practice. Recognizing shapes and objects on the roadside: construction debris, posters, furniture, beds, mattresses, clothing. Objects waiting for the sanitation department to take them away. The city of the contemporary human and its infinite waste, fossils even before time fixes matter. Tired, worn-out objects bearing traces of unchecked consumerism, and small poetic gestures as well. Urban subconscious. Cerulean mattresses with white and silver embroidery, roughly rolled up and laid out on the asphalt, as city fumes turn them into grey clouds. Adverts printed on blueback paper, once hung on billboards, become blue skeins, unintentional sculptures. Broken windows, beers, small monuments to life lived. Shards of thought serving as the city’s punctuation. Things given to all and belonging to no one, not quite waste, suspended in limbo, awaiting judgment. Dried-out plants in empty offices, ads for seasonal workers. Infinite and countless fragments of the neurotic and exhilarating race toward nothingness. Involuntary collection. Walking in the city becomes a game of tracing the scars of acceleration.
My practice is strongly multidisciplinary and includes different media like photography, sculpture, sound, installation.
Hard work soft dreams
Hard work soft dreams is an action in space.
The used mattress covers, materials that recall sleep, dreams, sex, death – objects belonging to the intimate and private realm of strangers, are reclaimed by the artist as soon as they are found in the urban public space, abandoned on the asphalt, in contact with the city’s grime and fumes.
The artist first collects photographic images of these mattresses and then cuts out their surfaces to obtain sindons of strangers, embroidered and stained shrouds.
The work aims to place itself in the contrast between public and private space, between oneiric and concrete. The resulting image is an expanse of mattresses, a “bed with several places”, a carpet made out of humanity, a monument to rest that forces to a direct confrontation with a material that is repelling by nature.
Hard work soft dreams is a shared public space that reflects on the role of living in contemporary cities while producing an urban landscape – a disturbing view given the nature of the materials.
The four words in the title create a sort of slogan typical of the rhetoric of capitalism and personal success. A call to work hard and have soft dreams.
For his solo show at Platea, Alessandro Manfrin exhibits a series of advertising posters recovered from the city, overturned and reassembled as if they were a sky where the viewer’s gaze is destined to get lost, disoriented. Through this operation, the artist leaves the blueback paper of the posters uncovered. Blueback is a material used in advertising signage, in order to cover the underlying posters when new ones are put up, preventing the images printed in each layer from interfering with each other. Now torn, now rolled up and abandoned on the ground. These materials fascinate the artist because of their ability to retain traces of urban life. The frenetic pace of the contemporary city appears transcribed in crusts and ripples of these advertising posters even before the artist collects them to transform them into the wallpaper that covers Platea’s room, now in its entirety.
The advertising posters are subjected to constant change on city’s billboards, under habituated eyes of those who inhabit it. The city that Manfrin portrays is Milan, the place where the artist lives and which is the subject of many of his works prior to those exhibited at Platea. The artist describes Milan starting from those objects that he himself describes as ‘exhausted, tired’. Disused billboards are in fact objects that have lost their ability to attract attention of those who pass by them. Piled up by roadside, the skeins of blue backgrounds are perceived by the artist as the shell of an urban unconscious deprived of its natural ability to produce new desires. Through his wanderings, Manfrin is interested in “tracing scars of acceleration” linked to “a hypertrophic consumerism” that reproduces itself at various levels of urban reality - through people who inhabit it, as well as through the life cycle of objects. In this sense, blue back cards exhibited by the artist at Platea are a skin. The viewer is placed in front of an image of the skinned body of the city of Milan, without any mediation.
The artist collects the advertising posters and then spreads them out under a press, improvised in his Milanese studio. Working in this way, Manfrin makes these torn posters into smooth sheets ready for reuse. At Palazzo Galeano, the blue back papers taken from Milan entirely cover interior of Platea in an unusual position compared to how they are normally hung in cities. Indeed, the advertising images, of which the blue backs embody the back, or the background, are no longer accessible to viewer’s sight. Manfrin performs this action of a reversal of levels, between blueback paper and advertising print, imposing an abundant degree of abstraction on the final image that the artist presents during his solo exhibition. Thanks to the refined effect of almost total overlap between walls of the space and the material used, the perimeters of Platea’s walls limit and compress the potentially boundless and horizon-less vision generated by blue of the paper used. “Blueback” therefore manages to bring together, on the one hand, the attempt to transform into a vision the acrid and unhealthy smell of the city that the artist introduces to Platea with this work and, on the other, the romantic and poetic imagery of “Il un cielo in una stanza”, as the popular refrain of Gino Paoli’s song goes.
The action proposed by Manfrin differs from practices that could be considered similar -among them, one can cite historical examples, such as the Situationist détournements, or the practice of the flâneur of Benjaminian memory, among others- in that it assumes a posture towards the city that is neither rejecting and moralistic, nor does it correspond to a total sense of ecstatic abandon and fascination. The urban landscape is described in the artist’s works through a layering of the multiple places and temporalities that characterise it, now fused into a single image. This is the result of Manfrin’s crossings of the city, during which the artist’s subjectivity is silenced without ever being completely absent. Posing as a collector of urban materials, the artist shows us the spontaneous poetry generated through the use, consumption and finally abandonment of the city’s common objects.
Text by curator Giulia Menegale.
GIULIA MENEGALE: With Deborah, we had wondered about the process of listening to an artwork. She spoke of the concept of threshold relative to Platea's window, what will you tell us about? ALESSANDRO MANFRIN: I envisioned my work for Platea as an environment in which you can dive with your eyes, while your body stays back. The idea is to make one's gaze float on this image. There is no invitation to enter, it is an open door on this vision. "Blueback" is an image which one encounters. MARCO SGARBOSSA: In your work you spread your blueback paper on all the surfaces of Platea’s walls, including the ceiling and the floor. This image makes me think of a sky, a sky which, however, has corners. AM: I am trying not to use the word sky in the narrative of my exhibition. Though, on the one hand, it appears to be the first thing you perceive when you look at it, on the other, the image of a sky does not fully exhaust what this work is about. This is an image made from waste materials produced by the city. Blueback paper tastes like asphalt, it tastes like rain. This sky we get lost in with our gaze, it is a sky made of materials which tell the story of an extremely tired and dirty urban context. MS: So one could say blueback paper creates a vision which is not clean in the broadest sense of the word. By looking at these sheets of paper, we find that they form irregular patterns. Maybe they're random, maybe they're not. AM: We are looking at an image which hasn't been painted. I take materials which no longer belong to anyone. They exist in a limbo of belonging. My role is simply to steal them and bring them to Platea, but I don't interfere by making them more or less sky, more or less dirty and so on. It's the sheets of blueback paper which somehow speak. SG: That of an indoor sky? AM: An indoor sky. LUCA TREVISANI: Does the focus of your work lie in the construction of a space with all its rules-like the ones you’ve just shared with us-or in the poetry and romanticism of Gino Paoli's "Il cielo in una stanza"? AM: It's the encounter between these two approaches which interests me. On the one hand, there’s the seductive power of the poetry of this material, and on the other, there is an analytical focus on what the matrix of this material really is. Billboards are an extremely distinctive and rigid material which follows the rules of the Western capitalist city. But they are also the material which now gives shape to this very room, here at Platea. MS: You said you would not like to use the word sky to describe your work. Would you like to use the word "capitalism" instead? AM: I think so. The sky is the first aspect which emerges from the encounter with my work. In addition to this element, I would also like to tell what blueback paper is and how it fits into a hypertrophic city, such as Milan. DEBORAH MARTINO: With your work, you bring the medium on which the billboards were printed inside the space of Platea. It's as if you were flaying the city, giving its skin a new shape within the display window. AM: What you are saying is definitely present. I take the city's skin and turn it into another casing. In some way these are materials which come from the city's organs, from the underground. Inside this window, they turn into a sky. So my intention is not only to move the materials from one place to another, but also to have them emerge from below, from the dirt. From the asphalt, where I find them. From Milan's stations, where I rip them out. Assembled in this way, it seems to me that they partly disappear. They become a kind of visual white noise, occupying the space by hardly occupying it at all. DM: It’s as if you were expanding the walls of Platea, tearing them down. LT: Alessandro says he is stealing the materials, but I am not sure if that is really the case. For instance, what is an advert once it expires? In my opinion, it is an object which has no clear status, and no clear owner. You, Alessandro, take these types of objects and redevelop them in a very strange way. AM: So far, I have used the term stealing a lot. Maybe because I associate it with how I feel when performing the physical action of taking these objects, with gloves on, and walking away with them, in secret, at night. When I take these materials, I wonder what world they belong to at that point in time and why I might or might not take them. Collecting these materials is above all an exercise in recognizing them, in finding them around the city, in encountering them. I don't think this work is about wanting to redevelop the material in the strict sense. It's rather about moving it into a new space. That cloud with the sky which doesn't belong to anyone can actually be seen, as it is, in the city, in the skeins of blueback paper abandoned along the streets. At Platea, this cloud acquires a relationship with the gallery space, with a new context surrounding it. MS: Stealing involves a change of ownership. You, on the other hand, are dealing with a no man's sky. DM: Is your performance therefore a gift? A gift from the city to you, which you then return to someone else? AM: More than gifts, I always thought of these scraps as the dots and commas of the city. And as such they were part of the narrative of the urban space. LT: If there is a gift, like Deborah says, then your work is a contradictory and complex gift. 'Blueback' is literally a gift made of rubbish. AM: It is a gift, sure, but it’s a gift that needs to be somewhat acknowledged. You must decide that it has become a gift, or else it remains rubbish, a by-product, a splinter produced by the city. When I carry blueback paper, it stinks. The material I use has been in contact with urine, smog, the recent heat, the humidity of the rain. The erotic attraction mentioned earlier too comes from the fact that I feel both attraction and repulsion towards these materials. When I load them into my car or carry them on the underground to my studio, I am perceived as a fool for going around with a piece of rubbish. I take care of it as if it were something that must get home safely. DM: How do you position yourself relative to work and the urban context? Is your work a reflection of how you feel within the city? AM: These scraps are a series of spontaneous sculptures. Small, involuntary poetic gestures that are reproduced throughout the metropolis. I don't know how much I resemble them. I think these materials tell the identity of the urban context in which I now live, Milan. MS: What piece of art is not, even in the slightest bit, autobiographical? You clearly don't live in the countryside if this is the kind of work you produce. AM: Of course, I see these materials as a portrait of the city I live in and in which my body fits. They're a part of the routes I take on a daily basis. That being said, my work is closer to a portrait of the city than it is to a self-portrait. GM: How do I know you didn't get those billboards from a village in the countryside? Or from a town other than Milan? AM: Of course the notion of waste exists in the countryside as well as in the city. I believe it's the pace which makes the difference. It's the amount of waste that changes from the city to the countryside. My work feeds on this hyperproductivity of the city. This is why I would not be able to work the same way if I lived in the countryside. The more waste the city produces, the quicker my work gets. LT: What will you do with these billboards once the exhibition is over? AM: I would like for them to remain crystallised forever. During the Platea period this crystallisation will be visible. I don't know if I will then fold them up and put them away, in a drawer. This remains to be seen. GM: That's your collector's side emerging... a fetish for the object. AM: Sure, there is a fetishism in collecting these objects. But when they stop being objects and become work, the fetishism fades away. The space at Platea allows me to establish a certain distance between the blueback paper and the spectator. These objects should not be observed with a magnifying glass, as if they were spectacular fossils produced by the city. GM: Is it a full window display, or an empty one, the one you exhibit for Platea? AM: Perceiving this space as empty can make you feel even more suspended. I chose not to have anything inside the space other than this material because I'd like people looking at this window to experience the instant you're about to fall, when you have nothing left under your feet. That emptiness is what I am after.
The image of a construction site, the façade of the architecture that is crumbling. A sound sculpture composed of five metal elements taken from the street that reproduce sounds sampled in metropolitan stations, a sort of organ that brings together the ethereal and the urban. The photograph of a brick painted white with small hints of color, they look like brushstrokes but they are petals that color the hole as if mimicking the model of a ruined brutalist architecture.
Buildingsss is an exhibition that brings together three works, three media, and three different subjects that embody the same attitude towards observing the urban context and its decay.
Milano palazzii s a series of works about the encounter with Milan’s suburban architecture. The subjects of these images are the parasitic vegetation that conquers the urban surfaces and domesticated flora constricted inside the buildings. The attempt is to return the image of a city that finds its identity in the generative drive of the third landscape and no longer in the squares and vitrified buildings of the central areas. The resulting images are ruined, fatigued, like billboards faded by the sun and time, or graphics on windows of multi-ethnic shops in suburbs. The process starts with photographs taken with an iPhone, which are in turn processed and digitally superimposed as if composing a collage. The images are then printed and transferred onto watercolour paper by means of a chemical ink process. The result can be seen as a cast of the digitally printed image.
Sister zine (Rereading the archive)
Starting by re-reading Sisters Zine, a queer-lesbian-punk fanzine from the late 1990s, I took, mixed and reassembled some song titles, band names and phrases hidden inside the magazine. The result is a poem, a statement, a poster, a love letter, a set list, an image.