Texture with Humans’ Features
This chapter of the column devoted to the encounter of practice & theory in performance art is going to be crossed by the artificial HABITAT of Italian artist Anna Franceschini. Unlike what I did in the first essay, where the HABITAT was introduced to indicate Cristina Kristal Rizzo’s body of work, this time the term will be articulated through its Latin root, the verb “habere,” to have. A habitat is also a “habitus”, a dress or a habit, an environment that surrounds. Indeed, Anna Franceschini’s attitude is a touch that dwells on the veil of things and bodies, like a dress whose threads have the ability to weave its phenomenological appearances with their formal structures. Looking at the trajectory of her productions over the last five years, I will focus on her particular way of dressing the image of the moving body, during her performance interventions.
Anna enjoys shaping her sophisticated photographic gaze and experimenting with the cinematic quality of a series of specific scenic elements activated by a theatrical approach to light composition. Elegant ordinary objects, anthropomorphic female showcases, wigs, photographic props and dancers’ bodies are equally distributed and articulated to suggest a critical dynamic around the performance agency of the conceptual pattern that defines both the details and the whole of her installations, films or performances. “How would one call them, then? Human installations? It sounds a promising category or genre in the way it implies a hypothetical sacrifice of the bodies involved in the work – probably entailing a more accurate meaning than the term “performance […]” Anna said in a recent interview about her solo show CARTABURRO presented at Almanac Inn, Turin. In that occasion, Anna redesigned three “furniture – cum – video”, tited respectively ARABESCO, DEVALLE and POLAROID (2018), where she combines the eclectic approach of the archive of the Italian architect Carlo Mollino with her way of displaying the display. She presented three concrete surfaces and screens where a series of anthropomorphic displayers and a filmed female body move in a slow, hypnotizing circular choreography displacing the perception of the function of both the object and the performing subjects.
Anna and I started working together in November 2014 on the occasion of THE DIVA WHO BECAME AN ALPHABET a performance conceived for Vitrine, a solo show series curated by Anna Musini at GAM, Turin. At the same time – during Artissima – her first pop-up shop window was installed at Stratta, historic café located in Piazza San Carlo. It is probably on this two-dimensional plane of projection that objects and bodies, or parts of them, are scarified to their detached images, left free to exhibit the scents of what will be sold (out). From both sides of the real or imaginary storefront glass, looking at the rippling gestures in the artificial beauty of the displaying, the viewer’s gaze is often caught in a “flâneur” attitude similar to the scroll-down activity on our devices. Indeed, the Italian expression “far flanella” was the maitrasse’s reproach to those customers who spent a lot of time at home without consuming. The term flannel here referred to the fabric used for our pyjamas and its true origin: the French verb “flaner”: to waste time. Almost ironically Anna leads us to reflect on the “phenomenology of identity, in the way a new alternative identity is staged and shown” while ordinary gestures are repeated in an apparently comfortable uniform movement: the coherent projection plane of her touch.
A screen-dress designed by MARIOS was the cinematic device of our first performance in Turin. After that occasion, we continued to work together with DISCOLITE, which takes its name from a manual accessory used to redirect light in photography. Anna decided to move it with the intention of flattening the elegant body postures to their two-dimensional appearance. Frame by frame, we composed a moving decoration that referred to the origins of the modern dance and film industry. The animated choreographic sequence is still re-edited and performed in various venues until the latest version, entitled JET SET, and showed in Venice and Milan in December 2019 on the occasion of XMAS PERFORMANCE NIGHT OUT, produced by the Swiss Institute. There, three discolites were transformed into three big hats – wigs. A substantial amount of artificial blonde hair was knitted into three circular shapes. The artist has often chosen this type of wigs for her recent installations. In one of her latest works entitled VILLA STRAYLIGHT (2019), the blonde wigs were rhythmically hung on a pre-cinematographic machine that produces a constant lazy loop. The circular mechanical dance of the wigs affects the consistency of any attempt to define the perturbing mirror effect on our human body.
A similar apparatus appeared in Venice and Milan where the big wigs, moved by our human features, followed a sort of post-drunk, lazy and fragmented motion. The title, JET SET, underlines the ironic mystery of the images projected by the composition. The performance usually lasts the time of a certain number of repetitions defined at the moment by the continuous loop of predefined movements that are re-enacted at the limit of boredom, but for a predetermined purpose. The shaking curvy yellow lines of the hair and our coated bodies allows a paradoxical interference where the dancers, the objects and the audience contribute to materialize a sequence of spectral images lightened by the superficial atmosphere creates by the “flâneur” shared attitude. As during a session of Butoh dance – the Japanese technique born after World War II – Anna’s props and set of displaced dances recall an indefinite archive of images and gestures without reframing a defined identity, allowing the images to evaporate from the bodies and to destabilize the genealogy of the human features. The superficial texture flirts with different conceptual layers woven together by Anna’s blow while the female image of the body questions the ephemeral consistency of its “publicity”.