Marinella Senatore was born in 1977 and lives and works between London and Berlin. Her artistic work is characterized by a public invitation to participation. Senatore analyses the creative power of communities in giving birth to an exchange between history, culture and social structures. In questioning the artist’s authorship and the public’s “passiveness” with respect to her work, the artist creates sharing and social commitment platforms in the public sphere.
Her work has been recognized by and exhibited at international events, among which the Lyon Biennale (September the 10th 2015 – January the 3rd 2016). Marinella Senatore — invited to a residency by the Veduta platform — has worked with the Lyon suburban communities, notably the ones in Vaulx-en-Velin and Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or, which are socially and culturally very different. In the following interview, the artist talks about the creation and sharing experience with these communities, who confronted the Biennale’s subject “La Vie Moderne” (“Modern Life”) and created a namesake song (an abstract of which we are publishing with Senatore’s permission).
“La vie moderne”, Ralph Rugoff and Marinella Senatore, Lyon Biennale 2015.
Michela Alessandrini: Define “community”.
Marinella Senatore: I will use Zygmunt Bauman’s words, whose definition of community I consider exemplar and strongly equivalent to my thoughts: “Some words have meaning; some words, however, also have a feel. The word community is one of them. It feels good: whatever the word ‘community’ may mean, it is good ‘to have a community’, ‘ to be in a community’. […] For us in particular, who happen to live in ruthless times, times of competition and one-upmanship […] the word community sounds sweet. What that word evokes is everything we miss and what we lack to be secure, confident and trusting. In short, community stands for the kind of world which is not, regrettably, available to us – but which we would dearly love to inhabit and which we hope to repossess.”
MA: Define “storytelling”
MS: Telling stories is a key component of socialization processes and relationships in general, a component that then reaches out to the whole community. The idea of narration implies a connection with both biographical and collective memory, with desire and aspiration, but also with one’s own reality and environment.
MA: Define “relationship”.
MS: Exchange between individuals and their connection activated though numerous factors.
MA: Tell us about the project you created for the 2015 Lyon Biennale.
MS: During the initial scouting phase with Jeremy Deller, I identified groups and individuals that gave me the chance to offer a rather alternative way to read the city: Lyon seen as a city of resistance, of revolution. From there, I created an installation and a series of performances, both at the opening and during the whole Biennale, with a choir of blind people that in that moment was keeping the memory of the silk workers’ struggle – a very strong industry in the city – alive by singing the songs from that same struggle, dating back to the turn of the century, and with two group of readers that were reading their books during the opening of the exhibition and inviting the spectators to take other books to read them together. A new collective memory was therefore established, based on a collective experience that gave a very clear view of the city’s multicultural diversification through the books.
MA: How did the idea of a residency in Vaulx-en-Velin and Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or come about?
MS: I was invited by the Lyon Biennale’s Veduta platform to take a residency period in order to become familiar with some of the city’s neighbourhoods, to meet something different from the “tourist city” that pertains to the collective consciousness. In the end, I chose to work with these two locations because I realized that they could offer me a privileged standpoint to understand the local community. The first one is a definitely multi-ethnic area with a very high immigration rate and several problems, mainly connected with the tragedy of unemployment, while the second one is a very different place, inhabited by mainly French well-off families. The gap between the two areas is strongly symbolic of what is happening now in Europe in general, which has been noticeable for a long time in South America: a great difference among classes, an increasingly poor middle-class and a completely different relationship mode, even towards culture.
MA: How did you select the people you worked with?
MS: During the territory mapping phase, me and Jeremy Deller met several dozens of groups and individuals. My modus operandi is usually to include in the project anyone interested in being a part of it. Notably, this time I gathered the reader group from the two towns; a number of young rappers enrolled from the street by a Vaulx-en-Velin association who undergo a musical training period that may become their dream or even their job, the dance and the musical conservatories, and finally the choir from an association of visually impaired and blind people from Lyon. Together, we created the whole project.
MA: What is the song “La vie moderne” about?
MS: Written and performed by the rappers and the conservatory musicians and opera singers, it addresses what modern life means today, characterized as it is by movement, by the nefarious results of colonialism, by the lack of socialization, by the still strongly present class struggle, by the unequally shared access to opportunities and the questioning of social structures.
MA: The best memory you have of this experience?
MS: The opening and the performances!
MA: What did you learn?
MS: I constantly learn from the people I work with, not only with regards to the places I don’t know, but also to life. In meeting them through the artistic experience we live together, a very strong personal exchange occurs that continues once the work is finished. It very difficult to leave the communities at the end of the projects, therefore to me it’s very important that the relationship with the participants should somehow continue even after.
MA: What do you find particularly interesting in the suburbs?
MS: I work with anybody interested in being included in the projects I propose and then build with the participants; therefore I am never focused merely on the suburbs or on specific city areas. This being said, the work and the multiculturalism of the several communities you can come across with in city suburbs are very interesting elements to me, as long as the people are those interested in taking part in the project and sharing their reality.
MA: Do you feel you have a responsibility towards the communities you involve in your projects?
MS: Definitely. I respect and protect them and I am responsible for anything that happens while we are working.
MA: You ask a lot of the people you work with. Do you believe you give back as much?
MS: In the words of Michelangelo Pistoletto: “To me cooperation is a human relationship that is not about competition but about sensitive and perceptive understanding. I’m interested in surrendering a part of me to whoever is willing to surrender a part of him/her”.
*Community – seeking safety in an insecure world, Zygmunt Bauman, December 2000, Polity.
English translation: Fulvio Giglio