If Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27) opens with the author ‘having gone to bed early’, Francesco Vezzoli’s earliest memory is about staying up late: in 1974, when he was three years old, he watched the variety show Milleluci (A Thousand Lights), the first ever hosted by two showgirls, the flamboyant divas Mina and Raffaella Carrà. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the artist has retraced his youth for the exhibition ‘TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli Watches Rai’ at Fondazione Prada by rummaging through the archives of Rai, the Italian public broadcaster. But it’s not all glitter and nostalgia: in Italy, the 1970s were ‘the years of lead’, a decade marked by terrorism, radical movements and austerity measures. Vezzoli remembers the era through a selection of black-and-white newscasts. One in particular sheds a darker light on the year 1974, reporting the bombing that killed eight people and wounded over 100 during an antifascist demonstration in Brescia, the artist’s hometown.
Politics, arts and entertainment cross paths throughout the exhibition. Designers Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag of M/M (Paris) transformed the show’s expanded title, ‘Televisione 70’, into angular columns, seats and partitions, rendered in black, white and RGB (red, green, blue) and inspired by Rai’s test card. They also devised a system of moving screens, so that rooms appear to shift from night to day, while moving images are projected onto paintings and photographs, like overlapping memories.
The first section, introduced by Mario Schifano’s Paesaggio TV (TV Landscape, 1970), presents a selection of videos featuring artists alongside examples of their work. They range from Alberto Burri and Giorgio de Chirico to Fabio Mauri, who is shown explaining his profession to school children, while the blank screen of his Il televisore che piange (The Weeping TV, 1972, an unannounced ‘performance’ broadcasted during an afternoon programme) sobs in the background. It’s a male-only parade, but it’s the only one. Feminism takes centre stage in the Fondazione’s Podium, where Carla Accardi’s fluorescent paintings on transparent plastic – including Rotoli (Rolls, 1966-71) and Tenda (Tent, 1965-66) – are juxtaposed with footage from documentaries on the women’s movement, projected to cinematic proportions. In 1970, Accardi founded the radical collective Rivolta Femminile (Female Revolt) with Carla Lonzi and Elvira Banotti, advocating equality, freedom of choice and rights to divorce and abortion. The third section opens with the voyeuristic La spia ottica (The Optical Spyhole, 1968) by Giosetta Fioroni, an installation that asks viewers to spy on a young woman in her bedroom. Vitriolic works by Tomaso Binga, Paola Mattioli, Libera Mazzoleni and Suzanne Santoro on clichéd representations of the female body sit alongside the soft-porn imagery of TV shows like Stryx (1978), where a half-naked Grace Jones sings a traditional Neapolitan tune in the shower, with a comically terrible accent. The impending hedonism of the 1980s and the Berlusconi era were already on their way. Vezzoli’s Trilogia della Rai (Rai’s Trilogy, 2017) is on view in the cinema, a 15-minute video montage of his favourite TV memories, including excerpts from Rai series produced by Bernardo Bertolucci, Federico Fellini, Ermanno Olmi and Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.
Vezzoli had already tackled the realm of TV in a 2004 exhibition at Fondazione Prada, where he ‘translated’ Pier Paolo Pasolini’s documentary on sex, love and gender relations, Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings, 1964), into a reality TV show titled Comizi di non amore (Non-Love Meetings, 2004). Here, Vezzoli reconstructs, historicizes and successfully queers an entire decade of Italian culture. Documenting a freer and experimental version of public broadcasting raises the issue of how public opinion is shaped and regulated. Vezzoli seems to have learned from Umberto Eco’s Towards a Semiological Guerrilla Warfare (1967), proposing ‘an action to urge the audience to control the message and its multiple possibilities of interpretation.’ When Eco wrote that essay, he was working for Rai.
‘TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli guarda la Rai’, runs at the Fondazione Prada, Milan until 24 September, 2017.
Main image: Carla Accardi, Grande trasparente, 1975 sicofoil on wooden framework, installation view, ‘TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli guarda la Rai’, 2017, Fondazione Prada, Milan. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada; photograph: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti