Sali e Tabacchi – Verso la foce di Roberto Alfano
By Debrina Aliyah
Street Art, La Pianura and Going Back to One’s Roots: A Conversation with Roberto Alfano
The Emilian plains, which we fondly refer to as the pianura, could easily be an abstract concept, for it has long inspired works of literature and art that straddle between the intangible and ethereal. But it is a very real place of agricultural and industrial excellence and generations of families who bear witness to the evolution of a natural landscape that could not be more human, reflecting the mirage of those who inhabit it. This issue, we invite you to take a walk with us across the rugged plains.
The essence of a land, its strange inflection of the above on the below, seen through the eyes of a certain Stefano and his three dogs. Miraggio Inferiore (Inferior mirage) is an exploration of the self, set against a fascinating yet complicated landscape, the Po Valley and the Emilian plains. From blindingly thick fogs of winter to the inescapable scorching heat of summer, artist Roberto Alfano invites the viewer to follow an infinite gaze across the horizon through seemingly childlike drawings and site-specific installations, while the brilliant pen of Piergiorgio Caserini connects the dots of a passage into the imaginary. Here, Alfano takes us into his world.
DA: How was Stefano conceived?
RA: Well, the idea was to have a character that functioned as an element that governed other figures. In the beginning, I had imagined a girl with a muzzled dog, but somehow or other, we knew it would have to be an adolescent figure from Bassa Lodigiana. And so, really, the character of Stefano came to life as a matter of function, as a narrative element. While working on him, he then became this significant figure, almost a friend with whom we spent weeks together in this space.
We then began constructing everything that would define his character, a young person with a troubled childhood. A person who kept his helmet on all the time, alluding to the question of a sense of security. It’s an element that, in all its simplicity, isn’t exactly all that simple.
And so the story begins, his journey in search of his identity, a journey that is simultaneously mystical, dreamlike, and hallucinatory that reflects the indelible role of the territory, Bassa Lodigiana, where I’m from, my home, my origins.
DA: And the dogs?
RA: The dogs express a part of Stefano’s identity or, in some way, introduces it. Stefano isn’t precisely the dogs’ owner but more of an entity that allows himself to be led by the dogs. So everything that happens to him, the hallucinations and visions, is beyond his control, but everything ends in a positive epilogue.
DA: Do you see yourself in him?
RA: Yes, and no. I would like to be more like Stefano. He’s courageous and determined. And there’s a level of affection beyond compare, which is his strength. I’ve left memories of me on him. The numbers on his outfit are part of my story, the dates of birth of my family members, phone numbers, and things that mean something to me.
Stefano brought with him an array of ideas and content that perhaps if we could sit down for hours, I can present them to you, but that’s a story for another day.
DA: You slept in one of the installations, in the barracks. What was it like?
RA: It was unpleasant, bluntly put. At a certain point, I felt like I was behind and that if I weren’t present 24/7 at the gallery to find a solution, the exhibition would never materialize. After a night of intense work, the nightmares began when I tried to rest. I was highly stressed; it was uncomfortable, the cold and humidity were unbearable. It was like being in the worst place on earth, and then the visions and hallucinations happened. I saw figures, a woman with strange features on her face. I later understood that it was perhaps connected to the work, in the spirit of the barracks we built. There was already a lot of turmoil inside me, and sleeping in there amplified the emotions. I lived the worst part of me that I had forgotten. But the experience helped me refocus on the work to be done and made me realize just how important it was to narrate a story instead of putting up another exhibition of paintings hung on a wall and ordinary sculptures.
DA: This three-way collaboration between you, Piergiorgio Caserini, and Matthew Noble. How did it all play out?
RA: It was a continuous dialogue of how the exhibition would take form, and our work together brought the linearity of how this story would be told. Even the disagreements were essential, but working together brought a particular dynamic.
Piergiorgio surprised me because he could capture and extract elements, details that even I couldn’t from my work. Of course, there came the point when I became aware of the narration, or it’s more a fairy tale really, that is actually very enjoyable — and poignant, because I was stressed out, and I was in a fragile place.
DA: Are there plans to incorporate art therapy in this exhibition?
We’ve left the drawings on the wall open-ended because we wanted to explore the possibility of a project that involved children. Having them come and finish, or continue, the narration. I’ve always worked in the field of art therapy with different groups of disadvantaged individuals. We try to incorporate an educative element, but sometimes, it’s just purely to be in a social environment to encourage creative exchange. Like when we painted a wall in a nursing home with its residents. We danced, we laughed, and everyone had a great time.
MIRAGGIO INFERIORE, Roberto Alfano’s solo exhibition curated by Piergiorgio Caserini, runs till 29th April, 2022 at ArtNoble Gallery.
by Piergiorgio Caserini
We asked editor, curator, and writer Piergiorgio Caserini to send us a list of some of his favorite books on the Pianura, which he also referenced to curate the Miraggio Inferiore exhibition at ArtNoble.
So, in the spur of the moment, to better understand the Po Valley that we have experienced, how it evolves, and how it shapes our way of looking at it; indeed, Celati is one of the authors that cannot not be named. From the journey along the Po in Verso la Foce to the collection of oral histories in Narratori delle Pianure and the Quattro Novelle sulle Apparenze (Four Novels on Appearances) – here we might as well go back to the inferior mirage that is the starting point of Roberto’s exhibition. Remaining in line with the appearances and the mirages of those horizons, we should also include Il Poema dei Lunatici, by Ermanno Cavazzini: a crazy and paranoid plain, like the deserts that Canetti speaks of in Massa e Potere. But there is also Cesare Zavattini, who dealt with the plains’ landscape, and in particular, Ligabue, who recounts the events and life of the painter, from the shack in the poplar grove to success, in the conviction that we are all, in one way or another, beasts. Obviously, the more recent Pianura by Marco Belpoliti, which tells the story of the rich cultural, artistic and literary panorama of the plains. Then obviously Ghirri. All of them have contributed to trying to rewrite, to bring out from these lands that were seas, and then swamps, myths, fables, and glances that have been overtaken by industrialization. All narrators of the plains, teaching us how to observe by getting lost. Suppose we want to go a little further, compared to literary works, to understand how to describe a landscape or a horizon in the plains in the time of highways. In that case, there are L’orizzonte Negativo by Paul Virilio, Il principio territoriale by Alberto Magnaghi, Pour una ècologie de l’attention by Yves Citton, and Geoanarchia by Matteo Meschiari.
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