Project Description

“… RIDIVENTA STRACCIO, E IL PIÙ POVERO TI SVENTOLI. / … BECOME A RAG AGAIN, AND LET THE POOREST WAVE YOU.”

ALLA BANDIERA ROSSA, PIER PAOLO PASOLINI

Contemporaneity is characterized by a series of threats that are financial, environmental, and social. The fabric of society has been visibly torn apart in the last twenty years, but the seeds of its collapse can be traced back to the neoliberal and patriarchal exploitation of our lands and their resources. At the same time, the devaluing of selfless behaviors that united people through a sense of collectiveness has given rise to a landscape of exasperated individualism. Gender, race, and class return as topical issues because what once was the contractual marriage between all citizens (or at least the majority of them) and the nation state has been abandoned in favor of a state that no longer has obligations and can no longer be held accountable. The rags return as white canvases upon which stories of betrayal, fight, and hope can be written.

Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part I is one of five sections of Lanfranco Aceti’s installation titled Preferring Sinking to Surrender that the artist conceived for the Italian Pavilion, Resilient Communities, curated by Alessandro Melis for the Venice Architecture Biennale, 2021. The five sections are: Tools for Catching Clouds; Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part I; Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part II; Sacred Waters; and Orthós. These sections (singularly and collectively) create a complex narrative that responds to this year’s theme of How Will We Live Together? set by Hashim Sarkis, curator of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale. 

The works of art — realized as a series of performances and sculptural, video, and painting contributions — are part of the installation at the Italian Pavilion from May 21, 2021, to November 21, 2021, (the opening and closing dates of the Venice Architecture Biennale).

Texts, images, and videos will be uploaded until November 21, 2021. If you wish to receive updates as the works of art unfold, please subscribe to the newsletter.

The installation visually explores issues of resistance and resilience in the context of contemporary social upheavals, focusing in particular on gender as well as historical, anthropological, and matriarchal inheritances of the meaning of existence and care in communal settings. The works of art, aesthetically positioned in the traditional realm of sculpture, are used by the artist to produce a photographic and video socio-political commentary on the contradictions and dysfunctions of contemporary societies as well as the continued marginalization of those who do not neatly fit within endorsed gender stereotypes or categories. These are the people who continue to propose — despite patriarchal aggression towards collective values and resources — an idea of society that is inspired by matriarchal communal values. They hold together — in spite of or perhaps because of their being different — the meaning of a socially based existence as an alternative to capitalism. Their refusal to conform makes them objects of scorn, exclusion, and exile. Nevertheless, it is their existence within societies that has held and continues to hold together, like the pink rope in the sculptural installation, values that are necessary to respond to ever more threatening global crises.

Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part I is a monument to the resilience of all those who have been practicing values of care and collectivity in hostile social environments and who have been pushed aside in increasingly patriarchal and capitalistic societies. It is a testament to the meaning of resistance and survival in spite of and despite societal frameworks of oppression, exclusion, and ostracization.

The works of art are inspired by matriarchalism, resilience, and resistance. They speak of other fantastic and yet unimagined genders, societal systems, and symbiotic relationships as alternatives to hierarchical patriarchalism, individualistic capitalism, and parasitic enslavement. They are rooted in Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of phyla (community) and examine and reveal the social and anthropological inheritances and legacies of matriarchalism in Italy. These can be traced back to a spring in the Appennine Mountains in Italy where the Osco-Sannitic Godess resides, who the artist prefers to refer to as the Great Black Mediterranean Mother. The Romans, who called her Mefitis, relegated the Goddess from her previous status of presiding over and celebrating the entire cycle of life to an odoriferous and infernal role. Aceti has come to understand, by analyzing the millenarian developments and incarnations of the Goddess who is now a Black Madonna presiding over the spring and the mountains, that the concept of phyla can also be applied to culture. While Gould used architecture and art to explain evolutionary biology, Aceti is using evolutionary biology theory to understand modes of political action, democratic engagement, and social diversification.

Diverse localized cultures and what the Romans called gens, groupings of people with their own slightly different understanding of life and reality, form the basis  — under matriarchal social structures — for the richness of diversity and the emergence of cultural groups able to survive upheavals and dramatic alterations of the landscape. This is in opposition to a patriarchal millenarian experience of an increasingly centralized and data driven experience of the nation state as exploiter of the weaker.

This is a theory that Aceti developed and argued for as an organic methodology of culture when writing his doctoral thesis at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, and revisited during his recent time at ACT @ MIT. The artist’s aesthetic and cultural theoretical approaches find new vigor in this installation that argues for the people’s right to be diverse in order to preserve the richness of humanity and its possibilities of survival.

Gender issues are at the core of our understanding of society in a patriarchal structure that is and continues to be familiar, familial, and familistic solely within a capitalistic understanding of the economics of family itself. It is to the god of economy that even the family can be sacrificed by the pater familias. It is revolutionary to reimagine how different society could be if gender did not matter, relations were based on care, and family was not tied to blood but to a sacred bond sworn in front of The Great Black Mediterranean Mother, who was and is oppositional to the patriarchal nation state. This matriarchal re-interpretation of society would be subversive solely because it challenges the established patriarchal notion of family, its basic economics, and the processes of enslavement that tied and continue to tie people’s lives to being owned and being sold (materially or virtually). The separation between the state and its citizens is symbolized by the ripped wedding linen sheets that constitute the rags from which the flags of the installation are made. They are testament to a social contract that the state has ripped apart by evaluating citizens on the basis of their economic value as the sole criterium for existence. The works of art in this section continue developing Aceti’s discourse — started with Tools for Catching Clouds — on the inherent failures of contemporary as well as historical democracies, and build a monument to the uncelebrated people who promoted and carried values of social cohesion and experiences of extended families, based on values of acceptance and care.

The white flags of the installation become in this context of sociopolitical inheritances the tools from which to reimagine a diverse path and a diverse utopia even if the fabric of society has been torn apart. They are the rags from which a new revolution can be started by stitching upon them past inheritances, new utopias, and a will to continue to exist.

The rag/flag is the white canvas upon which untold stories can be narrated and yet-to-be-imagined futures can be written. In this context of sociopolitical confrontations it proposes the idea that the community (phyla) can separate itself from the rest of the body politic and from a nation state that has never recognized its values or protected them. It is not cut off for economic evaluations by the rest of society to benefit the few — Aceti edited a volume titled CUT analyzing the issues related to the cutting up of a social body solely on the basis of economic evaluations. In the works of art of Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Aceti returns to the topic of democracy and people’s participation and proposes that it should be the community that cuts itself out from a ‘democratic body’ that does not acknowledge its right to existence. The community should move away from the state to redefine itself and its existence — independently of a patriarchal nation state and a world in crisis — in the hope of survival.

Image Captions:

Lanfranco Aceti, Rag and Drab,  2021. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 100 cm. X 67 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Working Nine to Five, 2021. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 100 cm. X 67 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Running Right, 2021. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 100 cm. X 67 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Running Left, 2021. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 100 cm. X 67 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, After a Long Day at Work,  2021. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 100 cm. X 67 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, You Said: You Are Not a Man, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, He Said: You Are Not a Man, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, They Said: We Are Not Men, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, One Step Behind, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Supporting Role, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Heavy Lifter, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Knotted, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Lopsided, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Twisted, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Insistence, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Persistence, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Resistance, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Fringe Group I, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Fringe Group II, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.

Lanfranco Aceti, Fringe Group III, 2021. Triptych. Cement, steel, ripped linen sheet, and pink clothesline. Photographic print. Dimensions: 67 cm. X 100 cm.