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The current art scene in Sicily

Abstract: How would you describe the creative identity of Sicilian art? Flexible, open, independent, free of local and provincial restrictions. Through its artists, Sicily nowadays confirms its role of primary importance in the world of contemporary art, thanks to an altogether new ability compared to the past to promote itself and gain a reputation, to frequently migrate to the centre of the action, to take up new challenges and arouse curiosity and interest. Artistic currents and forms of expression mingle and continuously blend, displaying an inquisitive spirit and designer orientation, often shared as part of a creative teamwork approach. From Palermo to Scicli, many young artists have devised no-profit platforms to exchange feedback, productive cells open to both local and international art, often acting as springboards for fruitful endeavours on the territory and innovative outreaches to the wider audience. So everything is OK, then? No, obviously not. The art system is still quite fragile. The result is a Sicily full of life but yet unable to manifest itself, promote art and grow.

In recent decades, an attempt has often been made to outline a profile of Sicilian art, striving to understand how this borderline territory, these Western outskirts on the margins of the art scene, have responded to trends and isms that were developing elsewhere. The question is which currents and movements have penetrated the island and how and when, which and how many artists have chosen the way of innovation over the continued establishment of solid tradition. The results of this evaluation, as you can imagine, have differed from decade to decade, but up to the end of the 90’s, we have surely witnessed mass migration of artists to the happening venues of “integrated” art, those cities in Italy, Europe and even Northern America, where the art system offered visibility, support, and advertising opportunities. Those who decided to leave have often also opted for a language of research and change, adding a number of stylistic currents to the system that have become the benchmark for scores of generations of artists. To name a few, consider the abstract signs of Forma Uno, with Carla Accardi and Pietro Consagra at the fore-front, the conceptualism of Emilio Isgrò with his essentialism, the environmental sculptures of Schiavocampo, the post-pop of Filippo Panseca with his eco-friendly machines, the dynamic monochromatic art of Pino Pinelli, the spatial art of Turi Simeti with his exterior vocation, the trans-vanguard of Mimmo Germanà, up to the decorative textures on wallpaper of Francesco Simeti, the audio-visual work of Seb Patanè, the video-art and photography of Domenico Mangano, the pictorial installations of Pietro Roccasalva and Francesco Lauretta, or the socio-political reflections with subversive incursions of Adalberto Abbate.

In the past two decades, we have witnessed a substantial change of course: the ultimate landings and an approach bridging to the future have changed. The immediateness of digital technology, in my opinion one of the most functional motivations to the decision to “stay on”, as also a bond with one’s homeland and the sweet savour of this Mediterranean latitude, have been the springboard that has driven certain artists to  return or stay on in Sicily, in spite of everything. Andrea di Marco, a talented painter from Palermo who died six months ago at the age of 42, had returned to his native city after the mafia’s terrorist attack on judge Falcone. In his own words, because “the thought of leaving the most cherished friendships and ties to themselves… and this gnawing sense of guilt” made him feel a part of the tragic political affairs that swept the entire nation. The expression “in spite of it all” continues to be as stereotypical as it is dramatically urgent, in light of the economic-political dynamics of recent years, the system’s idiosyncrasies, with the consequential setbacks for the territory and its cultural programmes.

Staying (Loredana Longo, Canecapovolto, Sebastiano Mortellaro, laboratorio Saccardi), returning (Alessandro Bazan, Francesco De Grandi and Fulvio Di Piazza) and arriving (Stefania Galegati, Aleksandra Mir) are verbs familiar to the latest generations of artists who work on the island; they have configured a new creative, flexible, open, independent identity, free of local and provincial restrictions. The scene appears as a stage walked by a broad number of actors, some of whom lead stars, others deuterogamists, in the sense of a conscientious and intriguing juxtaposition outside set patterns and trends in a land with a strong egocentric drive. Many struggle to break free of fashion trends that are in reality lacking conceptual and aesthetic soul, but many others are willing to reinvent themselves, to venture outside their home to seek dialogue with different and foreign realities, eager for artistic confrontation. Globalisation and localisation are two concepts we stumble upon continuously and, after all, the international landscape includes many artists who frame reality from a perspective tending to embrace broader topics, in Shanghai just as in New York, while not straying from the compass mark of local themes, with a glance on individual and collective memory.

Currents and forms of expression continue to blend, displaying curiosity and a designer mentality. If up to a few years ago, art here winked an eye to individual myths, a collective trend seems now to have the upper hand, one of consciously sharing and participating to collective projects with “team spirit”, one that often aims to share idealism, work, approach and an engagement of reality. “Cowork di Re Federico” in Palermo has embraced the communitarian concept, having for some years now webbed a network of young independent artists who share professional skills, creativity, experience to tackle together the touchy subject of work and the shifting job market. Coworkers are offered state of the art facilities with workstations and a common environment in which to share their work time. This programme has extended to the city at a time of occupation of the Zisa Cultural Construction Sites, “I Cantieri che vogliamo” (The construction sites we want), with round tables and workshops organised to discuss and plan with the community of citizens at large the fate of a symbolic place in local culture. The artistic project proposed by the scientific committee designated by the local Council to open the pavilion inside the Construction Sites, meant to become the new centre of contemporary art of the City of Palermo, is much in line with this teamwork approach. ZAC (Zisa Zona Arti Contemporanee) opens to the city as an outdoor space whose “boundaries are constantly shaping” that welcomes all forms of contemporary artistic expression. A group of some 90 young artists and students of the Academy of Fine Arts have been selected and invited to contribute to the great nave of the ex-hangar, with the aim of jointly designing a think-lab, of pooling creative skill to condense inspiration and suggestions, the aim being to design the ZAC project as a team. Of the lab artists, the team Fare Ala, born in 2009 and comprising young artists from Palermo, Spain and France is the one that instantly managed to grasp the concept of the project.  Accustomed to exchanging “feedback on the relation between artistic practice and the social and urban dimension”, Fare Ala has attracted other artists, acting as a melting pot in a particularly new and complex situation. The themes tackled by ZAC have to do with memory, the weaving of past and present, construction site identity, the concept of databasing, topics in a variety of sub-installations, paintings, sound effects and video footage. However, there are also examples of relational/useful art, such as the “fertile zone” of Dessislava Minerva open to collaboration with Gabriella Ciancimino, or “the great theatre” of Andrea Mineo, a stand built with recycled materials from construction sites, transformed into a mutating structure that can adapt to different “settings”, art that opens to the arts. The idea of salvaging the city’s history in terms of artistic heritage thought of as a shared asset is at the base of the “Macerie” (Rubble) project. Now in its second edition, the event was held in the 14th century halls of Palazzo Barlotta di San Giuseppe and in the 18th century Giglio church, historical sites inaccessible to their state of total ruin. The project’s designer is once again the young artist Andrea Mineo, who has succeeded in bringing together a large number of artists who have worked on and with rubbles to create sceneries of sheer visual and emotional effect.

An exceptional observatory on contemporary research is Zelle, a busy and dynamic centre under the direction of artist Federico Lupo. Counting on the contribution of several international young artists, Zelle includes a collection of works on paper called “Sweet Sheets”, in a place where history, fragments of souls, a play on emotions come alive, thanks too to the lightness of the support and to the lingering trails. Palermo also hosts the A Project space designed by artists Giuseppe Buzzotta and Vincenzo Schillaci, a set of stands transformed into exhibition space, but also a residential area, where conceptual building artists create minimalist work, decorating the living space with sombre aplomb.

The no-profit cultural association Erbe Matte, the “artist-run space” Bocs and Parking 095 in Catania are central spots for promoting and organising urban action, site specific events, unconventional exhibitions in the city. On the Saracen coast between Capo d’Orlando and Brolo, the artistic scene is quite thriving and counts on the support of events sponsored by artist Massimo Ricciardo, who designed “Guardiola Contemporanea” (Contemporary Porter’s Lodge), artist residences and workshops, and the exhibition “La rincorsa della lepre” (The hare’s chase) jointly with Tothi Folisi of the Laboratorio Saccardi Group. The events welcomed contributions by Sicilian artists and a broad spectrum of international artists. South-eastern Sicily is preluding to a new horizon in contemporary research. The works of the Barbaragurrieri/group have attempted to analyse the social framework when compared to issues of local microeconomics and the global macro-economy. Clang in Scicli is a space of research, collaboration and innovation established by the artist Sasha Vinci, which will be presenting “Crossing over” in 2013, a series of events that encourage dialogue between different arts.

The Sicilian landscape becomes especially interesting when we touch on photography, in a variety of international spins: documentary, journalist, artistic, inventory snapshots of seemingly useless objects, imaginary landscapes, surreal inventions, an open language that is by now vital in contemporary routine. Young photographers touring the world express their vision in impactful, beautiful images whose theme is Sicily or India, China or Wall Street. The quality and modern vibe of the artistic offer from the latest generations is still lacking a sturdy system, institutionally and privately. But that is another story.

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