From the point of view of where we are now, there are two ways to achieve technological maturity: one passes via a freedom from opulence, the other passes via a freedom from want. Both have the same goal, which is a social restructuring of space so that it may make everyone constantly feel that, wherever he/she is, walks and lives, is the center of the world.
From the Archive to the Homage
Dynamo is dedicated to the memory of the cyclist Marshall Walter Taylor (1878-1932), whose story is the point of departure for this exhibition. Dynamo is also the name which, over the course of time, has been given to Consani’s archives, begun in 1996. The most recent apparition to emerge from the archival work has to do with this athlete’s story.
There is a single thread that binds the contents of these archives. Foremost there is the private history of the artist’s family rendered in documents, photos, and amateur videotapes of friends and family members. Later the archives began including outside elements. Among the various collections there are some that stand out: for example there are a series of personalities who became famous very briefly – sometimes after a t.v. appearance or after having won an important sporting event — before returning to obscurity.
Marginal characters, whose notoriety stayed in a restricted, local, provincial circle of relations. Therefore a minor history in the Kafka-esque meaning of the term. This dimension is not tied to models of power, which have been crystallized by official discourse; which disobeys its inherent violence and transforms its meaning into pluralistic, deterritorializing and multidimensional terms. Microstories blossom from this archive, becoming a collective narration, a plural voice and a shared memory. They are not seen as isolated from the world. They, too, participate in the construction of history. The fragment of that which would once have been called the history of the subordinate classes.
As an example, take a look at the group photo titled “Fourth State” in which the artist’s father can be seen. Recalling Pellizza da Volpedo’s famous painting of the advance of proletarian rule, Consani applies the titles to this souvenir of a company outing, which snaps the employees posing against the background of an anonymous town square. Here one picks up a sense of questioning proletarian memory, the class to which the artist belongs.
The athlete’s photograph is like a logo for the exhibition. Taylor was the first Afro-American athlete to win a world title. Racially discriminated in the USA, in 1899 he won the world one-mile cycling championship, going on to victories especially in Europe as well as in Belle époque Italy. In several American states laws were even passed to require white skin as a necessary condition for competing in track races. The most absurd thing is that this exclusion continued, at least on paper, until 1999.
Strategy of Schism
Upon entering the great hall of the EX3 space, viewers are faced with a wall blocking any view of the background. They neither see nor notice that there is another room behind the partition.
In fact a long plasterboard wall divides the large rectangular hall in half lengthwise, creating a slightly smaller room than what was there before.
The front room has been darkened and left entirely empty except for a floor lamp, alone, on the right. It does not emit a constant light, the intensity comes and goes. In fact it is powered by three bicycles in the next room, where the necessary energy to light it was produced by three pedallers on the day of the inauguration. Therefore the light is directly proportional to the physical energy produced by the cyclists, to their physical labor.
In their absence there is only darkness. Several hours later the doors are opened to the next room. The bicycles are available to the public, anyone can get on and pedal to produce energy. The dividing wall doesn’t have anything to do with border or customs politics which are either obsolete or instrumental to globalization.
Even though all our time has a measurement and a limit. This is why we are driven to seek what the landscape architect Bernard Lassus called the de-measurable. Just like those little gardens in the most unthinkable places of the city, in which the residents fancy finding the wild wood, the forest, with its incommensurable quality since it lacks dimensions. Lassus defined them as landscape-designing inhabitants.
More simply the dividing wall impedes the direct view of the pedallers and removes the light source from the font of energy. This one energy circuit is divided between two rooms, which can only be seen in alternate moments. In this way, we can admire the floor lamp in one room without seeing what goes on in the next room and vice versa. They are a landscape of schism.
But isn’t that what happens continually in the constant enclosure of our daily lives? When we flip the switch we see the light but not the energy source! We could say, moreover, that we are incapable of perceiving most of the phenomena surrounding us. For this reason we isolate objects in empty rooms. To make them visible, but their isolation is a defect of our perception. We have become accustomed to seeing objects disassociated from their context, without any signs of their roots. But light, color, movement, imagination form a continuum that unites them. By separating the objects, we live in isolation.
The minimal object therefore becomes disassociated, similar to a single planting which separates the cultivated field from its context, the seed from the earth; iit can be likened to a mother who rents out her womb. Only a passing of time will allow the re-estabishment of a relationship.
Nativity and Source
Let’s go back to the wall. On the front it is white and smooth. Instead the back (visible from the other room) is unfinished. Therefore the perspective is reversed, from the cyclists’ position. Let’s look at the wall. It reveals the supporting structures. It makes a precise reference, to the Nativity crêche by Greggio in the nave of the Upper Church of Assisi, an iconostasis behind which Giotto’s fresco of the holy Nativity unfolds. Here we are refering to the presbytery where women were not allowed to enter. Further along a pulpit and the structure of a wooden crucifix can only be seen from the back. This helps us to understand how this place in Florence has becomes separate but unalienated from the source of its energy.
Lamp and Craftsmanship
The light, designed in 1907 by Mariano Fortuny, was modified and converted by hand. It is a floor lamp resting on a tripod, with a semispheric diffusor inside its white interior. Its pure, elegant lines might make us think of Futurism the way some of D’Annunzio’s more nocturnal poetry recall a kineticism of memory, thus something substantially far from the Futurists. So we can try likening it to certain Spatialist solutions — names like Otto Piene and Aldo Tambellini come to mind– but here they have been completely overturned. We really don’t have much to go by, we must search elsewhere.
Let’s look closely at the subsitution of the incandescent electric light with LEDs hand-welded one to the other; the clear showing that several parts have been touched up or redone by hand; the bright, suspended dome folded towards the center of the large diffusor (an empty and white semisphere that has been covered with white enamel. Let’s look, moreover, at the exterior, very severe and black like evening dress. The lamp and these details seem to nod to Fortuny’s creative talent and to craftsmanship in general, to the homo artifex as described by Richard Senneth.
The interior, painted white like an enamelled plate. The adapter is a piece of iron handmade by a Romanian lathe-worker; he made it just as it is still done in the peripheral areas of the world, where manuality and mechanical creativity continue to transform industrial ready-mades.
Slavery and Domination
Who built Thebes with its seven doors?
Brecht, as quoted by Enrico Castelnuovo…
Aside from the open display of aestheticizing embroideries, Fortuny’s way of working is unique. There is a reason for this. Consani. He believes that Fortuny used slave, or underpaid, labor; that for his productions he employed meterials, such as cotton, produced by slave labor and colonial plantations. This is something that could be verified. But, in any case, it is the artist’s conviction, an investigation that he is carrying forward. This is what is important. It is not necessary to seek a trace that would allow verification of the hidden work that went into each product. It introduces a leitmotiv that can be found throughout Consani’s work: domination. The exploitation of labor, because it is based on relationships of subordination. In one of his films shown in the EX3 video room, to background music by The Ramones, two children are seen playing. The physically stronger child uses force to make the other one get down from a mooring post in a port. Once he has conquered the position, the strong one shows off his certainty and power with a dive. This apparently playful and childish act seems to follow a hidden script. It repeats the refrain whereby the weakest party lets himself be downtrodden by the stronger one. Moreover the exploitation of slavery goes well beyond Furtuny’s individual case, independently of whether or not it corresponds to reality. It introduces a correlation between domination, discrimination and slavery which is enlarged to the economic sphere until it involves a consideration of the control of energy resources and its relationship to democracy. This is confirmed by Consani’s choice of a fundamental text by Ivan Illich, in which the author sustains that even industrial late-modern man, especially in his choices of energy, maintains the old assumptions about slavery. In substance, it is a question of conceiving man as dependent upon energetic slaves whom he must dominate: prisoners, galley slaves or the machines that do the work in their stead. (from chapter on Energy and Equality in Toward a History of Need).
To my mind this is one of the departure points for a reading of Dynamo. We dominate someone who, in our place, carries out a job that produces energy or wealth, but neither to his own advantage nor to that of democracy.
The floor lamp’s support was originally a tripod designed by Fortuny to help him photograph in his studio. So it illuminated his atelier, a stage set for photographs. Functional to photography, the lamp projected a staging effect, a kind of show. If, in Fortuny’s time and circle, photography studios mingled with life – just think of the brilliant aestheticism of the Belle époque, with Eleonora Duse, Luisa Casati, Gabriele D’Annunzio — Consani’s floor lamp tries to measure out its own anti-showiness. In a certain way he juxtaposes Taylor’s athletic talents, courage and determination to these muses of decadent movement. So Fortuny’s object is not used for its beauty but rather, in its capacity as an aid for making photographs, it is a prime candidate to make a show of itself. Thus it introduces a reflection on show and on sustainability.
In homage to Taylor, several Afroamerican young men were hired for Consani’s project but only for the duration of the inauguration. A few hours later anyone could take their places on the seat and pedal, making light in the next room via a green cable.
Engineering and Craftsmanship
This is a refined work of engineering. Consani worked on making this project with a family friend, Engineer Paolo Trull. But it should be pointed out that, in spite of such sophisticated know-how, there is a craftsman’s ability to operate at a level accessible to everyone, in the sense that the artwork doesn’t require a mangement so complex as to be entirely put in specialists’ hands.
If the bike comes off the street and into the art space, that doesn’t mean it becomes anti-functional. Rather, it produces energy. Paradoxically it seems that Duchamp’s bicycle wheel has been set out in the street. At a time when financial economics seems to have become a kind of celibate machine leading nowhere, Consani seems to be seeking an exit. I wonder if it is anti-Duchampian.
What has been Removed
We have seen how the bike’s use recalls a case of inequality which is as exemplary as it is forgotten. In any case, almost as a pretext, it becomes the starting point for a further reflection that doesn’t just deal with racial discrimination but, on a wider level, wants to deepen reflection on social equality, environment and energy. This is why Consani wrote on one of EX3’s wall the following sentence taken from Illich:
Participatory democracy requires an energy-saving technology and free men can make their way towards prodcutive social relationships only at the speed of a bicycle.