How to piss in public
September14 - November 19, 2017
Curated by: Noor Mertens
How can one, as an artist, resist while continuing to produce work? How can one work within an art world that they despise, but in which they nonetheless function? Central to Stefano Calligaro’s practice, from the start of an idea or gesture to its physical outcome, are the questions of WHY and WHAT one produces as an artist. As Bertolt Brecht puts it in his poem The Doubter, about a man whose basic attitude is one of constant doubting:
…who are you? To whom /
Do you speak? Who finds what you say useful? And, by the way:
Is it sobering? Can it be read in the morning?
According to Calligaro, the difficulty of art lies not in its complexity, but in its irrelevance. The fundamental attitude of his work is the act of questioning itself: questioning art’s appearance, its morality, its aesthetics, its functionality, its usefulness.
For Calligaro, answers lie in absurdity. He constantly offers up strategies that (mis)use mediums such as Twitter or Instagram so that ‘normal’ actions become absurdly exaggerated. Another ‘response’ is given in his rejection of a certain virtuosity - be it within a medium like painting, writing, or even Photoshop – so as to not fall in love with one’s own artistic mastery or craftsmanship. The so-called products that come from Calligaro’s hands are the result of ‘quick thoughts coming from other quick thoughts transferred quickly on various surfaces.’ By doing so, he circumvents the all too finished, polished product.
The entire project presented at Kunstverein Langenhagen, which also includes a publication consisting of e-mail correspondence on the above-mentioned topics between Calligaro and artists Kurt Ryslavy and QS Serafijn, evokes the dynamic between so-called artistic freedom and power relations that is constantly at stake. As with the artist himself, the institution is also faced with questions of what is seen and what is not, what has value – be it symbolic or economic – and who decides. The artist cannot shed this dynamic, and it equally infects the art institution. There is no escaping; the institution is just as entwined with the art world as is the artist.
Calligaro sees the exhibition as a parasite of space and context; the institute is temporarily dominated by the intervention of the artist. This act doesn't stop here, for the exhibition includes more than what can be seen in the space of the Kunstverein: it is the correspondence between the artist and curator; it is in the artist’s clothing; in the publication that appears together with this project; it includes the posters on the advertising columns in the streets of Langenhagen; it is the spam sent from the Kunstverein to a number of other art institutions. With this expansive set of actions, the exhibition is more comprehensive and more ambiguous than the visitor might think at first sight. Yet at the same time, through the work it becomes clear that this show, like any other, isn’t democratic or completely public. Much of the 'exhibited' is only visible to a few. Calligaro lays bare the tension that a place like the Kunstverein, although public, is not a ‘free’ or ‘autonomous’ space, however much one would like to believe.
Calligaro’s exhibition is something other than a simple sum of objects that together form a coherent whole. It is consciously incoherent, emanating out from the artist’s daily life. “I'd like this show to, yes, ‘show’ something, but I want it to be me and my incongruent interests and processes all together instead of a clear display of general subjects interesting to others. I like to think of art as something close to what we are and not to what we want to represent.”
*Photography: Andre Germar. All images courtesy of the artists and Kunstverein Langenhagen