Lateral Incursions

An Open Dialogue Between the Visualand Performing Arts

Angel Moya Garcia

Today, art is made with everything and everywhere, without linguistic or territorial boundaries. It is a “diffuse” way of doing that arrives at an absolute mimicry with the world, without being obliged to conform with a criterion of language and environment: it appears to us as a practice “outside itself”, untied from the specificity of a single discipline, not corresponding to any predefined technique and/or theory[1].

The contemporary arts have the merit of being intrinsically hybrid, intersecting, converging and chaotic: they are able to investigate socio-political and cultural dynamics on a large scale, leveraging and focusing on different perspectives, which bring into play the most disparate expressive languages. What we could call transversality appears in our present as something nomadic and – to use a term as relevant today as it has ever been – precarious. The very meaning of the term “transversal” – as “oblique”, “crossing”, “placed sideways” – makes it a metaphor for a dynamic thought which continually coincides with experience.

However, we cannot consider this nomadism between languages or between experiential modes exclusive to our own present.. In a 1989 essay, Greil Marcus traced what he defines as the Secret History of the 20th Century[2], finding numerous points of continuity and contact between experiences regarding different fields, starting from Dadaism, passing through Situationism and the Lettrist International, up to punk and the Sex Pistols. Similarly, the Viennese secession was justified by its motto of total opera; a concept, however, taken from the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner, who in turn clearly identified it with Greek tragedy. To speak of Gesamtkunstwerk or Greek theatre shows us only half of the figure; to reach the other half, it is necessary to make the philosophical, historical, logical, scientific and artistic leap that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century thanks to Joyce, Freud, Heisenberg and Duchamp.

We see, therefore, how a certain inclination to look laterally returns in cycles, escaping from more or less apt labels, classifications or categorisations, which circumscribe and limit the scope of action of determinate practices. This ultimately means investigating or considering all “the arts” in order to establish the dynamics of change in mass society. Yet, criticism tends to persist in defining new parameters or creating nomenclatures to frame the possible interactions between the various articulations of the contemporary arts. In this sense, the interstices, convergences and intersecting lines in different practices tend to hide or be hidden behind definitions or methodologies such as multidisciplinarity, hybridisation, contamination and, indeed, transversality.

These labels are the result or the essential condition of criticism in the postmodern, understood as the transcendence of a knowledge anchored to the specificity of any single discipline. After the loss of the grand narratives and the consequent super-specialisation, there remains the need to find a way to palliate the lack of diffuse understanding. With this in mind, perhaps we could move from criticism to the broader branch of cultural studies, in which the plural realities of contemporary arts are taken into consideration. In this sense, transversality would become neither a new category nor a concept to be theorised, but an experiential practice, an existential condition generated in relation to our history of ideas. Moreover, rather than transversality in a broad sense, we can speak of a “transversal doing” both in art and in criticism, as operational modes that in their actions cross, touch or meet more languages, or of “transversal experience” that invests the public experiencing a transversal artistic-critical doing.

The current situation forces us to get over the pretence of definition; it encourages us to create – through philosophy, art and science – concepts in order to break through the chaos, cross through it and learn to live with it. Transversality allows us to do so, to go beyond any barrier and to try to connect, question, propose new paradigms, avoiding escape as a means of constructing a surrogate taxonomised world, in which everything is in its proper place.

This questioning of our own language would allow us to engage with other areas and acquire adequate tools to read the methodological complexity of contemporary cultural design. The misunderstanding arises from the overlapping of language and thought, etymological research and mental processes. So, to quote Rosalind Krauss, we need to “abandon language and be abandoned by it” [3], so that in it there might appear the revelation of a shapeless, polymorphous, elusive proceeding.

The cyclicality mentioned above and the return of the need for these lateral inclinations have been revealed in an overbearing way in recent years, even if not a completely generalised one, both on an international and national level. If we want to look at the practices, exhibitions or projects that have characterised the last few years, we cannot help but mention Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors at HangarBicocca in Milan in 2013, in which the music, the temporal dilation of the performance, the duality of reality and representation, and the principle of collaboration, were so well fused as to be inseparable. Even more present in the collective imagination of the last decade, especially on Italian soil, were Faust by Anne Imhof at the 2017 Venice Biennale, a total work in which formal and figurative planes overlapped, from installation to music, from painting to liveperformance, and Sun & Sea, the performance– work by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė, presented at the 2019 Venice Biennale. These were paradigmatic examples of the urgency of not limiting oneself to a specific language and opening up not only to whatever other artistic category, but above all to any field of knowledge or human research, in order to analyse and reflect on the different spheres of contemporary art, thus disrupting any sectoralism in the current debate.

An attempt to educate the gaze to conceive a panoramic view of reality, through the analysis of boundaries and the identification and deeper investigation of convergences and intersecting lines in the different practices of contemporaneity, understood as a potential rhizomatic, which contains within itself those principles of connection, heterogeneity and multiplicity of which Deleuze and Guattari spoke in A Thousand Plateaus [4]. This is an urgency that – albeit with different needs, objectives and poetics – we find also and indeed especially in the Italian context. From this point of view, the coherence in reading Italy by way of the various artistic disciplines highlights how the resulting image cannot be limited to a unilateral perspective, but must proceed and be recomposed and approached only by looking at the whole of all the arts, each of which becomes the bearer of a colour of the full spectrum that must be observed in its entirety if we are to understand the complex articulation of the phenomenon that it portrays.

It should be emphasised that in the Italian panorama, the productions that have had a greater importance from this perspective have been concentrated in certain festivals, Drodesera, Xing, Santarcangelo, Romaeuropa, Short Theatre, the festival of the Due Mondi, and in the great gallery-institutions. These bodies are able to support and activate international collaboration in order to promote Italian artists and, above all, to create exchanges of perspectives, concerns and approaches, which intertwine seamlessly with the investigations carried out by the centres of production, experimentation and research scattered throughout Italian territory. One of the most evocative projects of the last few years was the recently concluded retrospective dedicated to Chiara Fumai, Poems I Will Never Release. Through a vocabulary of threat, revolt, vandalism, violence and boredom aimed at triggering uncomfortable situations and giving form to collages, it unleashed environments and actions able to promote her anarcha-feminist ideals. Certainly one of the Italian artists who most anticipated and then projected this lateral gaze was Marinella Senatore. She encapsulated years of research in her project Costruire comunità, realised in the Manica lunga – Castello di Rivoli in 2013, with a sequence consisting of the experimental School of Narrative Dance, a creative writing workshop and a set for film and photographic productions. Virgilio Sieni’s entire production fits into this same perspective of working with and on communities, through the dialogue between the space and place of the body as a representation of a path necessary to glimpse the new city built on intergenerational relations, welcome and listening to the other, in a dimension dictated by the collaboration between individuals. Or we might think about La vita nuova by Romeo Castellucci, presented in 2020 during ArteFiera, a work focused on the relationship between African and Western communities and on how they live almost parallel on our territory. Together with relational aspects and the study of the identity/alterity – individual/ community pairing, we come across a fundamental strand of research on elements of tragedy that enter seamlessly into the present, becoming mirrors in which to reflect on ourselves, for example the Tragedia Endogonidiaof the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, which attempts to reconstruct the original mechanism of tragedy, or Motus’s recently begun process on Euripides’s The Trojan Women with their Tutto brucia – a hybrid work between dance, music and theater.

These are dissonant research projects in which fluidity, the contamination between different languages, the trespassing from one material to another, from one technique to another and from one expression to another, become the epicentre of a galaxy in which self-referentiality, egoism, autarchies and the potential narrowing of the visual field are erased. On this course, Italy seems to emerge as a traumatised field of ashes, looking too much like the rest of Europe, the rest of the West. A field of ashes that, in the Italian panorama, explodes thanks to the awareness of a suffering present that must be modified, altered, reconstructed, healed. A convalescence that can end only through the constitution of a community in which diversity becomes a political and ideological weapon and in which foreigners, the excluded, the marginal and the invisible can contribute to shaping a possible reality that prevails over any established myth, over any postponed utopia, over any handed-down tradition.

In this perspective, we can see how the history of art is criss-crossed by moments, instants or points in which there emerges the urgency and the need to look elsewhere, not to be satisfied with remaining trapped in the domain of reference in which one has been pigeonholed. That is, lapses of time in which the rationality of choices, the orientation towards the markets of reference, the fidelity of expectations or the respect for forecasts to represent or even predict certain cultural revolutions are beaten down. From this point of view, Italy has always anticipated certain political, economic and cultural dynamics which much of the rest of the world then adopted as a frame of reference. It remains to be un-derstood whether, in this context and in the current situation, the art system and Italian artists will be able to recognise the urgency of the present, or whether, conversely, the examples that are already in operation will remain merely isolated elements within a context that continues to avoid looking elsewhere.

[1] G. Celant, Artmix. Flussi tra arte, architettura, cinema, design, moda, musica e televisione , Feltrinelli, 2008.

[2] G. Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Harvard University Press, 1989.

[3] R. Krauss, Teoria della storia della fotografia, Mondadori, 1996, p. 84.

[4] G. Deleuze, F. Guattari, Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, 1987.