by giovanni gaggia
In the contemporary society the new appearance and the new role of the archive are involved in the construction of a history parallel to the official one. I doubly intervene on a true event, the slaughter of Ustica, with a work that, in some way, might be classified as archival practice, starting, however, from a work that another artist, Christian Boltanski, has already done on those events. June 27, 1980 in Italian skies, there was an aerial battle, and a missile stroke down the Itavia’s DC9 with 81 Italian civilians on board.
Inventarium is one of my most recent projects, it actually is a process begun about five years ago, a journey in reverse from Palermo to Bologna that stars with two different stories, the first is my visit to the Museum of Memory of Ustica in Bologna and the view of Boltanski’s permanent installation conceived around the remains of the plane that fell into the Sicilian sea 35 years ago; the second is the study of blood and its symbolism in private and public unconscious I conducted a while ago. I want to connect these two paths in a single story, a sort of tribute to all those men and women who have fought to ensure that today we know, at least partially, what happened that night and what caused the deaths of those 81 people. Inventarium is a sort of collection of drawings that are also objects, which are words, found in the memory notebook that collects, image to image, all stuff Boltanski has decided to close within nine black leather boxes in which we find those which are elements of everyday life, and that, in some way, composed a sort of first archive, a secret archive that Boltanski encloses in this nine leather element. Nine is a recurring number in the whole affair and it adds an almost esoteric value, it is the number of months of gestation, it is a number that regenerates, is the bearer of life. In this case it is perhaps the bearer of a different meaning … Boltanski decides to not show to the audience the personal effects which would inequivocally bring back to mind the victims because see a notebook, a cup, a teaspoon, a shoe ruined by salt makes us think of the passage of time, and, therefore, of death. But we can’t see really these objects, but photographed, in small size, outside the museum where, again, the archive meaning recurs, it is an archive which goes from object to object, from person to person, so it is an archive of memory.
My work is different kind of archiving, the stories of the victim’s relatives penetrate my drawings. I chose some of these small images and I enlarged them through a meticulous and detailed pencil drawing that can be compared to the drypoint procedure, engraving the cliché scratch by scratch (of course, for me, it means engrave the paper and simbolically on my skin, even if the focus of my work was not specifically remember who is passed away, my thoughts go there). The project is not a form of passive archival because these drawings are done using a paper on which the sign of an heart is impressed. It describe an important part of my work related to the body presence that disappear in an idea of verticality of life, leaving the physical nature and sublimating the blood in different elements and symbols as embroidery and thread. For that occasion I had some pig hearts, the muscle more similar to the human, and I decided to impress them on a very thick paper and left some sort of hematic trace which has changed color oxidize over the years. Around these prints I decided to collect the drawings of objects from Ustica.
But what is the relation between the physical object and its image in this first archival step and later between this last one and the representation of the object image? Which is artist role in this affair? What is the role of the archive as device and serie of archiving practices active both on the object and on its representation? I didn’t have a direct contact with the objects-evidences stored in an archive devoid of one of the fundamental requirements: the preservation of the documents as a function of a public use by the community. Instead, in this first step, in Boltanski’s installation there isn’t this openness. Inventarium gives to the families of the victims and, in general, to a wider audience, a mediated contact with the traces of what happened. Image has a crucial role in this moment, it gives again to some objects a chance to be seen, to live in different ways, just to relive… Boltanski did a very fascinating operation on the secreted archive that somehow becomes almost a sort of archive of the imagination: we are aware that within that black leather there are objects, and each of us is able to rebuild its archive through another very important element: the audio, because around the scrap of the plane there are 81 black mirrors from behind which come out the voices and the sound that helps to reconstruct the contents of the archive and narrate again the story.
The archive becomes an artistic medium like any other, it is a practice that gives me a method, a constant and involves the study, in this case the study of an historical event that brings back to international issues and that today is linked to people’s lives. The use of the archive in artistic practice involves the honesty of the artist. Being a neutral medium by definition, perhaps allows you to show things as they are, minimizing the subjective and personal intervention on trace, on the documents preserved, reducing it to a minimum but this is possible only through a long period of study, a path characterized by the practice of storage.
This is not a static method, but it is always able to speak to the present, ever changing and adaptability in relation to historical events through the medium of art. It is as if the work had a ability of regeneration, without forgetting its previous life… it is as if he had so many lives which however remain close to each other and they are visible… The photograph of the heart, its impression on the paper, its trace, then that same heart I used in a performance during which I cut the muscle in front of the audience and after I sewn up it with three threads, one black, one silver and one gold, symbols of the achemyc scale, and finally the mummification when hematic trace is completely eliminated by the use of chemical substances used for conservation, the tissues change colour and let see the threads used for the suture, then the muscle decay and only the threads remain so i begin embroider, the suture changes state and becomes embroidery: sew up as put in contact, tie together different moments of this process.
During the whole process there are a permanent exchange, an energy flow between me and the audience, we are complementary, as for the archive that need to be continually reactivated by the viewer. After five years my project reaches its natural end. Mr. Pinocchio, 80 years old, strong hands resolute hand tight, lost two sons, thanks me, saying that art is the only possible way to continue their stories. Fortuna tells me of the unforgettable smell that acquired the skin of her husband on Saturday afternoon being in the countryside among the cows – the husband disappeared on that damned flight. Daria tells of an escape to Germany after the tragedy, she says that Italy, the Italian state, offhandedly evaluated what happened as “structural subsidence”. Going on a taxi German June 27 few years later, wet blanket, a speaker remembers the anniversary of the tragedy, when in Italy fell an airliner. What can happen if not, finally, get the truth? We can simply finish the embroidery on the huge tapestry which recite “what had to happen”.
The ninth work of Inventarium is a small installation in which the audience plays an essential role, I produced 81 prints of the number nine, all signed, numbered and arranged in sequence. They are available to the visitors who can take-charge of one of these, take it and if they want, leave a trace in my Ustica memory notebook.
It is as if this project were walking parallel to the way faced by the relatives of victims in the process of seeking the truth, towards the recognition of responsibilities.
Now the work continues its path independently of their creator. For me, I have the feeling that Inventarium has come to an ending and it will end on June 27 when in Bologna i will embroide the last letter of the mantra “what had to happen”.
Giovanni Gaggia was born in 1977 in Pergola (Italy) where he currently lives and works. In 2008 he founded Sponge ArteContemporanea assuming its artistic direction. Giovanni Gaggia’s work is basically a research of balance between performance and drawing. These are the places where his poetic, always relevant to the physicality of the body, has been defined over the years. In particular, it focused on the image of the heart; an anatomical and carnal heart, protagonist of some strong emotional impact actions followed by a more fragile, although equally powerful, marked by the recent devotion to embroidery. Identity, ritual, sacrifice and sharing are the key elements of performance, all characterized by intensive interaction with the other. In these identities involved undergo reciprocal contamination refered to shamanic and initiatic rituals in which the deepest spirit of the human being changes. The essence of the deeds and the references to the sacrifice can be seen as a metaphor of freedom and as an epiphany for the soul.