VOLCANO EXTRAVAGANZA 2016 - Fiorucci Art Trust's annual festival on Stromboli
"I Will Go Where I Don't Belong"
Curated by Camille Henrot with Milovan Farronato, presented by Fiorucci Art Trust
15-21 July 2016, Stromboli, Italy
Artists: Gabriel Abrantes & Benjamin Crotty, Anna Boghiguian, Jacob Bromberg, Giulio Delvè, Joana Escoval, Yona Friedman, Amira Ghazalla, Camille Henrot, David Horvitz, Isola e Norzi, Ragnar Kjartansson, Maria Loboda, Martin Murphy, Mike Nelson, Ben Rivers, Rachel Rose, Sven Sachsalber, Walter Sutin, Orfeo Tagiuri
16 April, 2016
Stromboli, Aeolian Islands
Tonight I am lying awake. The light of the moon that covers my bed is turning everything a milky bluish white.
I am not sleeping, and the copy of Joyce’s Ulysses that you sent me is staring back at my sleepless eyes. Like Sisyphus, I will not surrender to the idea that I may never finish it, whilst I know that you have, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you have more than once!
Did you know that it was on this day, in the year 1178 BC, that Ulysses – too ambitious to surrender – returned from his sea-borne Odyssey? As he sailed in to port, it is said that he sighted Venus in the pre-dawn sky, a rare point of celestial significance that marks out this very day 3,194 years ago. You once told me that simply opening a door and crossing the threshold can presuppose a risk, a danger in the distances. I think Ulysses would have certainly been attracted to this.
It was here – amongst these very islands – that the God Aeolus gifted Ulysses the wind to continue his journey south, guiding him safely through the Straits of Messina. And whilst he mentions the house of Aeolus, and an island with an impenetrable copper fortress, why not the volcano? Maybe his ears were still so blocked with the wax used to drown out the sound of the sirens, that he could not hear the frequent eruptions?
La Nera – as the Strombolians call this island – is female. She is also the volcano. La Rotonda, the name that gives form to this place, is too. I remember, but I might be wrong, that during one of our conversations you referred to this volcano as a feminine principle and these Italian nicknames seem to support it.
Whatever sex it has, Ulysses’ journey past it took him home safely, but others have not been so lucky; the Aeolian winds and the deep waters of this sea have caused many shipwrecks here. Now resting in the depths of the abyss, they are where they do not belong and the abundance of jellyfish gives them life only fleetingly.
How powerful it is to think of those ships, setting out on their brave expeditions, the subsequent and intentional pilgrimages, until the inevitability of the surrender to the force of the ocean. Abandon. Rest. A beautiful metaphor for human life. Perhaps this is why you have been, for some time now, collecting vintage prints and postcards of ships exposed to the currents, to the tides and to the might of the elements.
I think of those who may have arrived in them, and of others who did not make it. To escape to an island, to be washed up on its shores: Were they welcomed? Did they stay?
Many of the people who today call this place home – who you met while walking through the narrow paths infused with jasmine flowers when you came two summers ago, and whose shadows we chased in the early winter afternoons of last year, when the sun had already set behind the volcano – all of these people were not born on the island. Whether they chose to come here or they chose to leave somewhere else, they are all immigrants and expatriates in one way or another.
Unlike Ingrid Bergmann’s Karin, they do not want to escape but nor do they intend to stay here forever. They are in transit. They are exiles; existing in a place to which they feel they belong, but also to which they do not. I’m wondering what you felt when at 18 you spent a full summer here on these rocks. I know it was not Stromboli but Ginostra, its twin village eternally separated by the old and the new Sciara del Fuoco. I am sure it was an important experience for you. This is where you practiced your Italian. You must have certainly been isolated on the island; staying in a village with I believe no more than 30, 40, maybe 50 (at a push), souls and with just one communal social moment: the evening reunion in the churchyard to watch the sun plunge into the sea, only to disperse back to the intimacy of their private realities.
Perhaps, it is since that summer that you have been overlaying your beloved memories of Bretagne with the wilderness of this island? Their scenarios, their storms and that common simulacrum that gives the impression that you are at the end of the world. And now you are coming and bringing Jean Epstein and his Finis Terrae!
After so many years of engaging with this remote land, I am comfortable with the landscape and am welcomed by its inhabitants. Yet, unlike you, I never really felt shipwrecked on its shores. I believe that deep down, after the experience of your youth, you have many more things in common with the Strombolians. I can see you in my mind’s eye in the wild garden of Aimée, surrounded by her beloved cats and discussing with her the idea to create a museum of recycled objects and ephemera in Stromboli and comparing her accumulation to the one of Yona Friedman. Or on the terrace of Giovanna’s house, surrounded by her husband’s nautical relics when you were imagining the projection of Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe. Of tying small ribbons with poem verses written in Braille according to Japanese tradition. Like messages in a bottle. Your fascination with Stromboli must be linked to your one for Japan; two islands connected by their intense seismic activities and their volcanoes.
But now the dawn is breaking and I can hear the sirens approaching. As I gaze out of my open window I can see the wind of Aeolus shaking the small boats in the harbor. The dockers are moving rhythmically back and forth on the jetty; a mysterious dinghy is scanning from right to left across my view, forgetting to turn off its lantern; fishermen approach the shore with the fruits of their pre-dawn harvest. And above this emergence of activity, a murmuration of other patterns appears in the sky – do you think it is an omen?
What was a mirage has now come in to focus and the passengers are waiting – waiting both to arrive and to leave. The Scirocco is whipping up the water. I’m not sure if the boat will be able to anchor. You know Camille, and better than me, in Stromboli weather and time are one and the same – il tempo. The weather sets the condition for the time.
So maybe I will leave, or I might have to stay. Regardless, pleasure and pain are coming my way. So I am closing the window, and I wait.
With love and admiration,
16th – 30th June 2016
London and Naples
I started this letter on June 16th in a city on an island and now I am finishing it in a city under a volcano. I have been travelling so much that all my actions are scattered into moments, like small islands in an ocean of movements. I keep losing my possessions - bags, my pullover, my passport, my toothbrush… Like Robinson Crusoe, washed up on an alien shore with none of the things he needs! Dispossessed of all his belongings he resorted to constructing new ones, like the umbrella that was an imitation of the ones he had seen on his travels in Brazil, covered in animal skin with the hair that faced outwards to keep the rain off… I think that in reality he was just making a substitute to aid his feeling of not belonging, his maison absolue.
About Robinson Crusoe Roland Barthes once said that it is a good example that all of the knowledge we need to survive is contained within literature. I think the same can be said of Ulysses – although I am imagining that you did not yet finish it? You know that today is the day that people throughout the world celebrate Bloomsday – for it on was June 16th 1904 that the events of Ulysses were set. I know that you are not alone in having never finished Joyce so it is not necessary to harbor any feelings of failure.
I have been thinking a lot about navigation and shipwreck, and some images of Epstein’s Le Tempestaire come to mind - when the young woman is running along the coast of Brittany against a very strong wind. Devoured by the feeling that a tempest is going to rise, she visits the witch to ask her to swallow the storm to protect her lover who is a sailor. It reminds me of stories my Grandmother told me in Brittany – stories of women who stayed ashore whilst the men left for sea. Women are the real storytellers in history. It is they who have created the narrative of superstition and lore, weaving a blanket of tales that we wrap around ourselves, to find both comfort and anxiety. You know why they say that people who are easily scared are the most intelligent? It is those who see the most - who read the signs - who are the ones that have the most anxieties.
When you first showed me Rosselini’s Stromboli it reminded me of another film of Epstein; Finis Terrae (we are still showing it at the festival, yes?). I know that Stromboli, like Brittany, has experienced isolation and exoduses but also the continuous arrival of migrants to its shores – some who wanted to stay, others to leave. The fishermen too seemed the same in many ways, the lines of their faces; their eyes watery like the ocean; always leaving land and only ever really belonging to a life at sea.
Do you remember we spoke of sailors when we were last together in London - we were in the kitchen and it was late? We discussed the idea that gender is our first real experience of a ‘foreign territory’, which you can only ever experience in opposition to an ‘other’ gender. I told you about my collection of images of Crossing the Line ceremonies, where male sailors dress like exotic women as they make their first crossing of the equator. For them it looks like desiring to be the other sex – like dressing in drag – is part of the same experience as desiring the other sex.
At first glance these images are offensive – a ritualistic folly of men dressing as women to perform tasks that are sometimes abusive – but the history of this practice is rooted in superstition, and the idea of what lies on the ‘other side’ of the equator.
Here it was supposed that everything was upside down; men became women, slaves became masters and people walked on their heads, so in order to be prepared the sailors would make themselves what they considered to be ‘the opposite’. I feel that their fear of becoming women belies a fear of being alone at sea with only men for such long periods of time! I am attracted to this place between fear and desire, what we called ‘the eroticism of distances’. The notion that somehow these men can become contaminated by their thoughts and desires, by their attraction to and repulsion of exoticism, their thoughts like a liquid that spills over. It reminds me of the drawings of Walter Sutin that we will show, where emotions, dreams and desires are like water that cannot be contained.
The flood and the shipwreck refer to an emotional, intimate state of mind but also to the actual human disaster we see all around us. The fluidity between the world and our intimate life is processed through our dreams. I am curious to read the golden book of dreams that David Horvitz is preparing for the festival! Are our dreams actually going to be contaminated by each other’s?
In Agua Viva – which means stream of life, and also jellyfish – Clarice Lispector uses fluidity as a technique for constructing a spineless narrative, from which she brainstorms - words tumbling on to the pages - on domesticity, in an almost mystical dimension. Clarice, like our Yona Friedman, is an immigrant, experiencing both survival and despair. Last time I saw Yona he said to me, "I don't understand why people are pointing the fingers at migrants all over Europe when we are all immigrants from the moment we are born: Crossing the line from our mother’s womb is already a migration!" Being dislocated, having crossed a line, trespassing or being washed up after a shipwreck, we are able to imagine and to construct a place where hierarchy is no longer important. Like the sedan chair that Maria Loboda is making, appearing as a mysterious offering in various locations on the island, revealing the anarchy that follows in the wake of a catastrophe. The idea that a king would still be a king, demanding to be carried around by his serves, even after the shipwreck and the storm has taken everything, seems absurd. The aftermath of the naufrage means that a threshold has already been crossed, and we can become something – someone - else when the social science and order of what came before is now merely a masquerade.
I can hear somebody calling my name. I think I must be on the move again …
I can't wait to see Amira Ghazalla - the famous witch of Dothraki - performing more of the texts we are preparing together with Maria, David and Jacob Bromberg for the performance Buffalo Head. Collectively we can explore all the other possibilities of a traditional Italian folktale, asking participants to vote so that we might reignite a democratic way of storytelling…
And so next to Stromboli and to a place to where we do not belong, but to where we all must go.
With love and admiration,