Matteo Lucchetti: Visible and Socially Engaged Artistic Practices

Schermata 2015-10-16 alle 13.08.55In anticipation of the forthcoming 2015 Visible Award: Temporary Parliament, expected on the 31st of October in the Liverpool City Council, we are publishing our conversation with Matteo Lucchetti, in which he introduces Visible.
Visible is a research project on contemporary art and its involvement in the social sphere, launched by Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto in cooperation with Fondazione Zegna and curated by Matteo Lucchetti and Judith Wielander.
Lucchetti is an art historian, independent curator and art critic.
 He has been resident curator at AIR, Antwerp; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris and Para Site, Hong Kong. His main curatorial projects are: Don’t Embarrass the Bureau (Lund Konsthall, Lund, 2014); Enacting Populism in its Mediascape (AIR and Extra City, Antwerp, and Kadist Foundation, Paris, 2011-2012); Practicing Memory in a time of an all-encompassing present (Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, 2010).

Visible and Socially Engaged Artistic Practices

Conversation transcription below

Michela Alessandrini: Thank you very much, Matteo Lucchetti, for this interview. I would like you to talk about Visible.
Matteo Lucchetti: Sure! First of all, thank you for having me. Visible is a research project on contemporary art dealing with social engagement and artistic practices, which I started in 2010 with Judith Wielander within the framework of Pistoletto Foundation, and with the support and continuous sponsorship of Fondazione Zegna. The initial idea was that we wanted to redefine to a certain extent what social engagement in art could mean, moving a bit away from certain labels such as “public art,” “participatory art,” “community based,” but without denying them, the meaning they have and the importance they had within the discourse that was developed around art in the social sphere and in the public domain. It rather wanted to expand a little on how the idea of social engagement could actually have different interpretations and discourses cohabiting within the same space, depending a lot on the contexts from which this engagement by the artists could begin.
We wanted the project to describe a scene that was to a certain extent global, but also, by doing this, understand the specificities of the locals and the context from which every practice comes.
The first step in this direction was the book edited by Angelika Burtscher and Judith Wielander, Visible: where art leaves its own field and becomes visible as part of something else, where nine curators from all over the world — from Gabi Ngcobo from Johannesburg to Hu Fang from China to Raimundas Malašauskas from Lithuania and so on — were asked to define, through the choice of five practices, what social engagement meant for them. So it was really about trying to have different versions to start from. From there, we then discussed how we wanted not only to create a network where these practices could intertwine, but also to do something that could support and enable them, considering that they are mostly developed away from the traditional ways of contemporary art production.
How often do artists engaging in this kind of projects lack funds allowing them to continue, evolve and have a greater impact on the context in which they have been developed?
We thought about creating a production award, an award that could not only support a practice through a money prize of 25000 euros; we also wanted to give visibility — of course, it’s all in the name — to a lot of other practices and try to connect them, to bring them in the same environment to gain visibility while also entering within a space of confrontation where people from a certain place — like Cali, for example: the first winner of the award was Helena Producciones, developing a festival of performance in Cali for more than fifteen years — could get to know that for example in Malaysia there was somebody else using the festival format to address the specific topics of disfranchisement within society, of the disconnection between certain parts of town and the main centres, of the lack of structures for artist and different contexts to get together. The festival became an opportunity for two different collectives operating in very diverse contexts: two distant projects could meet through Visible, they could get to know about each other.
The idea of the network, of course, was there. On the other hand, another thing that we had always been discussing since the very beginning was the idea that, if you establish an award, a prize for social engagement, you cannot avoid engaging yourself in reconsidering the format through which you create it, so you cannot take the traditional format of an award and build it around social engagement in art.
Since the very beginning, we had the idea of creating a jury as a public event where these practices, the discussion around the assessment of the practices, could actually become a collective learning process on the artistic and social change these practices are producing, for the people taking part in the jury. This confrontation I was referring to earlier on could really happen within the jury itself. In the first edition, we simply weren’t ready to do it, so we used the traditional format and we had a jury with Okwui Enwezor, Ute Meta Bauer, Hans Ulrich Obrist and, of course, Michelangelo Pistoletto from Pistoletto Foundation and Andrea Zegna from Fondazione Zegna, therefore let’s say we organized the first edition in a more traditional way.
From the second edition onwards, we were ready and solid enough to give it a try with a public one. So we involved Charles Esche as the chairman of the jury — with the Van Abbemuseum, of course — with whom we developed a new model for the jury to happen. We wanted it to be inside the Van Abbemuseum because we thought that this kind of practices, for different reasons, were not finding so much space within the museum context because the representation of what the project is doing within a specific context can lack appeal and turn out to be not so interesting or fascinating and therefore fail to attract audiences. On the other hand, creating a storytelling out of that work can be expensive and it may be a pity for the work to focus on how to fit within a museum.
This is a big issue, I think — how do you bring these kind of practices within the exhibition format? We thought that maybe the best way to create this bridge between the art system with its most acknowledged spaces — such as a museum or a contemporary art centre — and these practices happening within the social domain, was to establish the jury in the museum itself. Therefore, with Charles we worked on making the jury a public event: not only could the audience intervene in the conversation among the jurors, but also actually vote for the winner.
The idea is that you spend the whole day together, you assess every single practice, you delve deep into every project, one after the other, and then as an audience you also become part of the assessment process, and as such you might have a different background that could enter into the assessment phase in order to share new sides of certain aspects, which an expert curator or an artist might not consider at that specific time. This was the second edition of the Visible Award that led us to grant an award to The Silent University by Ahmet Öğüt.
Now we are working with Chris Dercon and Francesco Manacorda, respectively the Director of Tate Modern in London and Tate Modern in Liverpool, to make this third edition of the jury even more exciting and more public, I believe. In fact, I can give you the news that we have received a positive answer from the City Council of Liverpool, so the jury will meet in the premises of the City Council. The idea came from the discussion with Francesco Manacorda about how interesting it would have been to really involve the structure where the daily Parliament meetings take place and transfer this idea of a temporary Parliament for Visible into the space of the City Council, where daily conversations and decision making processes are taking place on a daily basis. Therefore, we will use the premises of the City Council.
The news is also that we will have a series of experts such as artists, curators and theoreticians, mainly from the UK scene — because we are really trying to engage as many different institutions as possible in the UK that have been working with this kind of practices for a long time, from the Showroom to Situations and many other non-profit organizations, or even theoreticians like Andrea Phillips but the idea is also that we are going to have other types of experts, actually users, of this type of projects. For example, we are now trying to involve participants from Home Baked|2up2down — the project developed by Jeanne van Heeswijk within the Liverpool Biennial in 2013, which actually started much before but came out publicly in 2013 — or other users of the projects that were produced by Situations in Bristol, as well as other institutions that are producing this kind of artworks and projects. The concept according to which the notion of expertise has to be broken down through the idea that expertise doesn’t only come from universities, museums or the art system but also from other segments of society where these projects are having an impact or creating a dialogical space through the project itself is already embedded within the concept of Parliament. This is what is going to happen this year, on October 31st. We will also cooperate with the Liverpool Biennial, which is organizing a one-day seminar whose topic is the legacy of community arts today on the 1st of November.
We are also cooperating with L’Internationale network through the John Moore University, with which will organize a workshop day on the Uses of Art. Therefore, I believe that the idea is actually to play with the jury, with Liverpool’s local scene and the institutions that are doing amazing things on a daily basis, to match our different programs and create a program to really become an environment where people interested in the social engagement of artistic practices should come together.

English copyediting: Fulvio Giglio