BY Luisa Grigoletto in Reviews | 16 MAR 15
Featured in
Issue 170

Nico Vascellari

BY Luisa Grigoletto in Reviews | 16 MAR 15

Nico Vascellari, Autoritratto, HCVV (Self-portrait, HCVV), 2014, 
neon and varnish,
 1.2 × 1.6 m

‘Codalunga’ celebrated Monitor’s 10th anniversary of working with the Italian artist Nico Vascellari. The exhibition’s title refers to the experimental space of the same name that Vascellari founded in 2005 in Vittorio Veneto, his hometown in northeast Italy, whose eclectic programme combines visual art, performance and sound. Numerous collaborations with international musicians such as Arto Lindsay, Prurient and John Duncan have turned the place into an ever-changing creative laboratory, as well as an ongoing artistic project of Vascellari’s in its own right.

Autoritratto, HCVV (Self-portrait, HCVV, 2014), an orange-neon light piece mounted on the wall at Monitor, can be seen as the perfect synthesis of the two things that have fuelled the Codalunga project since the outset: hardcore punk music (‘HC’) and Vittorio Veneto (‘VV’). Vascellari played in punk groups including With Love and Lago Morto (both of which had a considerable national following) and has recently started a new band, Ninos Du Brasil, which blends punk roughness with samba to create a carioca bacchanal.

Aligned in a continuous strip and sealed between sheets of glass, a series of tiny surreal collages retraced the art that decorated the invitations and flyers for the Codalunga events, which Vascellari has carefully collected through the years. The artist’s imagery comprises a fetishistic array of human limbs, animal parts, flowers, pearls, plants, concoctions of lips, varnished nails and fruits. Nearby, the diptych Salto nel vuoto (Leap of Faith, 2014) elaborated on the same themes as Autoritratto, comprising black and white photographs on wood. The first image shows a moment of chaos during a hardcore concert, with a band member, his arms spread out to the side and his body hunched over, ready to stage dive onto the crowd below. The second image depicts a burning anthropomorphic puppet, made of twigs and boughs, in an identical position, surrounded by flames. This picture refers to the archaic folkloric tradition – typical in Vascellari’s home region – of burning votive figures at the beginning of a new year, or at the end of the winter, as a renewal rite.

The other diptych in the exhibition, Into the Infinity of Thoughts (2014), comprises two wooden boards that appear to have been hung unaltered. On closer inspection, Vascellari’s intervention becomes visible: he has rendered each of the random knots in the first plank onto the matching location on the other to produce identical twins. With its use of simple raw materials, and the spangled-sky-like disposition of the wood’s ‘imperfections’, the piece nods to both arte povera and Zen, embracing emptiness and fullness at the same time.

Given the artist’s reputation in the fields of sound and performance, the exhibition was surprisingly silent and discreet, and somewhat modest. There were few echoes of A Great Circle (2005), the performance piece that launched him onto the national scene, or Revenge (2007), the piece with which he won the Prize for Young Italian Art at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Nevertheless, Vascellari still knows how to generate a buzz. Alongside the show at Monitor, the artist staged three weeks of talks with artists, curators and critics, as well as, unsurprisingly, concerts – at the Fencing Academy at the Foro Italico, in partnership with Sky Arte HD. In what was a strictly invitation-only affair, the opening show featured a video performance with Marina Abramovic´, a session with the musicians Arto Lindsay and Ron Morelli, and a collaboration with the visual artist Bjorn Copeland. A phalanx of celebrities, including Ben Stiller, crowded the ground floor. Once again, punk has gone mainstream.

Luisa Grigoletto is a writer based in Rome.