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Viatico / Yolluk

"Viatico" is an old fashioned Italian term for anything given to someone who is leaving. It could be as simple as some words of recommendation, some food, a gesture of blessing, the gift of a special object or talisman: Anything easy to carry, rich in either utilitarian or spiritual value, enlivened by the memories of the life left behind, that could help or protect the traveller in the difficulties and dangers of the journey.

For the ancient Romans viaticum were the travel rations but also moral support given to the traveller. Medieval Christian tradition calls viaticum the last rites administered to those about to die and to start on the "last journey". Up to our time, the Italian word viatico maintains all these concepts, and the sense of comfort and protection blurs on a somehow sombre aura.

Today's idea of the journey, leaving aside the ordeals of those uprooted by war and famine, has ceased to be metaphorical and symbolic. The idea of a physical journey that is also an initiation has vanished with the popularization of fast travel. Being able to move at high speed, looking for awe inspiring moments, short circuits the expectations into a festival of sensory consumption. The idea of pilgrimage has been substituted by leisure time and vacation. Many commonplaces about contemporary life suggest the struggle of being stuck in a generic place of ephemeral contentment. Just think of those white sandy beaches shadowed by tall palms we see in travel agency brochures: It is always the same dull landscape of a conventional happiness. You can never travel further than your dreams, but your dreams are someone else's and transformed into a commercial commodity. It is as if the real journey never starts at a time in which travel is widely available.

The theme of this exhibition is to look at art as if it were a viatico for the journey of everyday life. Art-objects are what we would firmly hold in hand to defend ourselves against the loss of meaning caused by all dangers of the day, above all by the continual pressure for the transformation of desire into a profitable commodity.

To investigate these concepts and ideas, we have invited Elisabetta Benassi from Rome, Letizia Cariello from Milan and Delfina Marcello from Venice to show their work at Siemens Sanat Gallery. The three Italian artists research and penetrate everyday experiences. What is ordinary becomes extraordinary: It is only the way you look at things which makes the difference. Attention, patience in observing. Details are enhanced, similarities underlined. Their work is accessible but also full of mystery and can be read with varying degrees of depth. It quietly unsettles and challenges. It gently leads the viewer through a journey that could also become a difficult initiation. Again, it all depends on the viewer. From his or her attention, personal experience and willingness to go to a deeper level of understanding.

Elisabetta Benassi makes use of video, exploiting its potential to convey narration in order to stage short stories with strong emotional content and symbolic charge. Her stories often refer to Italian cultural mythologies and traditions, but are given a more universal version through the artist's personal, intimate reading.

A new work on show is Per Una Lira io Vendo Tutti i Sogni Miei (For One Lira I Sell All my Dreams, 2009), actually a real Italian coin transformed. Taking away part of the metal, the artist carves the typical shape of Italy inside the small coin. The title of the work comes from a popular song of the 70s by Lucio Battisti. Selling one's dreams cheaply is an act of surrender to the burden of reality - last shore for an artist! - or maybe an act of extreme self confidence who is making up dreams can afford to even sell them cheaply.

Benassi often prefers to show her video as large-sized projections, to allow the viewer to physically enter the scene.

One of such scenes is Mirage #3 (DVD, 3', 2005) a silent narration playing andante largo with a slow sunrise, which the viewer discovers to be actually the detail of a street lamp. Which is also a source of light, but how different is the feeling! The gentle surprise - no special effects here, only the natural progress of the camera lets the viewer discover the full picture. The artist observes the illusions in everyday situations - and therefore plays on our ability to reconsider visual records in a changing context. And to give a different judgement accordingly. "As often happens in my work, reality changes according to the point of view, so the magic and surprising apparition is at the same time a loyal and uncompromising image of the surrounding world" (in the artist's own words). Things are often not at all what they seem to be ¢ï¿½¦ but this being "something else" gives them a feeling of peculiar loneliness. In a statement from personal correspondence with us, the artist states that she is: "interested in showing something in the negative, as a loss, as something missing".

Letizia Cariello works with different media, such as photography, drawing, embroidery, sculpture and installation. The presence of written or embroidered numbers recurs throughout all her work. These numbers are calendars - to remember dates, maybe the birthdays of dear ones? - or lists of things to do, maybe shopping? But the mysterious poignancy of these lists also comes from their unpredictable order. You cannot tell what their meaning is: the series of numbers run before your eyes as the reciting of a magic spell: unintelligible, but powerful, and intimidating. For the show, works on photography, a small sculpture and one installation have been selected. Small scenes start from everyday data and situations and take on an allegorical significance.

Bastone da Viaggio (Travel Stick) is an installation developing a poetic narration very much in tune with the theme of this show. The travel stick, loaded with disparate objects, reminds us of illustrations of orphans in children's books, leaving a sad present and embarking on a life of adventure, the sole friend and consolation their loyal stick and a small bag of basic personal objects. A shell, which refers to the Pilgrims' long way to Santiago de Compostela - a Catholic Spanish shrine whose patron saint's symbol is actually a shell; small stones in a bag, to mark the way left behind, so as to make a return possible; shoes for walking, inscribed with words to remember that the final goal of any journey is understanding, and words are what convey understanding.

In between installation and sculpture stands La Grande Spolveratrice (The Great Duster), set against a wall. Different, incongruous materials such as brass joints, cut-outs of old wallpaper, a cotton apron and several oyster feather dusters create an image perhaps never seen before: a headless winged housewife, able to clean at super-speed - or to fly? - an unlikely creature in between one of those crazy machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci and a Japanese cartoon superhero.

On a white shelf, two small porcelain jugs are linked by the handles with some thread. Not Even a Drop is the title; resounding of mothers' recommendations to untidy kids. The two jugs are tied tightly by the handles, kept together as if in fear of them being separated, and lost to each other forever in the meaningless ocean of spare objects. The image of the same two jugs, but bigger in size, greets the visitors at the entrance of the show; in this case it is a large format photograph. Further ahead in the upstairs' room the visitor will be surprised to see the real objects which appear in the photo, how small by comparison. A comment on the disloyalty of images. An almost baroque surprise effect.

In between allegory (the synthetic meaning of an artwork) and chaos (the explosion of sense in all possible and impossible directions) Delfina Marcello narrates her delicate stories. In the film Delacroix   Paris, she records in an almost documentary way the existence of three women in a Venetian palace. Two women are young workers from ex-Eastern block countries: A health carer and a domestic assistant for an elderly lady. Everyday actions reveal the loneliness of the three women but also their silent emotional bond with one another. Time flows at an inexorably slow pace even after the death of the elderly lady. In the sequel that Marcello is right now shooting for the Siemens Sanat exhibition - On Water - the camera follows the life of one of the two young women playing a prostitute in Venice. The beauty and stillness of Venice do not bear fruits of happiness and serenity.

Marcello's films are emotionally charged and have no dialogues. There are no professional actors and her work concentrates on everyday actions even when the story sets up extraordinary situations.

In the film Love Accessories, Marcello plays herself with a dog and a lemon tree. A woman, an animal and a plant are the three basic ingredients for recreating a sort of minimal Garden of Eden in her own apartment. Though the setting is staged, the objects are charged with emotion that is never quite released. As a critical commentary of this same work, but autonomous on its own, a series of stills taken from this film - Love Accessories I, II, II, IV, V and VI - are presented besides the projection. The original visual material taken from the video is transformed, it looks as if it is lacquered, immersed in a strange light of improbable colours. The action represented in motion takes value from the quality of the movement: gentle or brisk, speedy or slow, etc. The representation of an action in a still image is different, more abstract and cerebral. Although taken from the same visual material (these photos are stills from the video), the aura and the resulting narrative are very different. It seems apt to say that the relationship between still and moving image is as the one of poetry with prose.

The element of surprise we feel when appreciating art is to be found in the missing link which lies between the original idea or, maybe better, the initial "feeling" and the resulting product or "art thing". It always seems to be a kind of miracle. From this miracle art takes its strength and its aura.

In the multiple reflections of two - and three-dimensional images, in the dialogue between an installation and its enlarged size photograph, or between a video and the printed still images taken from it, we see how artworks are able to morph into ambiguous commentaries about the concept of leaving; and they may finally become tools for travelling, shamanic objects and consoling devices.

An art aiming to elude consumerism may carry within itself a contemporary version of the timeless ideas of the viatico and of the journey as initiation, everyone's life a path to be protected and enlightened. Art as a travel companion suggests that the viewer/traveller may be allowed to move beyond the surface of reality seemingly without movement from one physical location to another. This exhibition itself is a journey: The transportation of the artworks and the artists themselves from Italy to Istanbul. A dislocation of meaning, a trans-lation. Art which has been selected, also bearing in mind its transportability: DVD's, photographies, small or light installations. Cabin-Bag-Art. And which contains in itself its own blessing: Art is the precious viatico for all of us in the journey towards an uncertain future.

Vittorio Urbani