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Comizi di Donne – Nuova Repubblica Napoletana, by Marco Messina

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Comizi di Donne. Female condition and the Pasolini’s approach to social issues
Opening 8th of April 2022 h 7.00 pm

Marco Messina “Nuova Repubblica Napoletana”, site specific sound installation
Curated by Maria Teresa Annarumma
Sound system designer Alberto Gaetti

Photo of Studio F64

Marco Messina is famously a member of the group 99 Posse, and as a composer, for theatre and film, he has throughout his life been engaged with protest, social activism and resistance. The work that is to be installed at the Purgatorio is even for him a radical and challenging new step. It is no less than an epic of the suppressed history of Naples, and of the sound of the city today, it traces a story that is too often hidden and lost beneath the long settled conventions of fiction and documentary that reduce Naples to stereotypical drama. From the lyrics of traditional music to the exhortations of Marx and Engels, Messina builds a work that has the sense of a manifesto being made for a new republic of Naples: the republic of women and of the true message of their stories, vivid and urgent. This is no exaggeration, fierce and passionate it is a diary of love without illusion, a construction of sound and space, a collage of impressions and an assertion of a kind of faith. More than a collage it functions as a tapestry in its interweaving of disparate threads, stories, songs, clamorous outcry, the sound of work and fragments of a world that does not cohere and which is always pulling apart. This is Messina’s testament to his place, to memories and hope, and to the present. Like me he is conflicted in his relation to the city and the people but more than me he believes in the will to protest, to speak out and to contest, in the belief that something can be done. Like many others I don’t know if I can go on in this belief, and think of leaving, but I watch, fascinated and uncertain.

The installation follows on and is in conversation with the first two parts of the Comizi di Donne project in which we have tried to open a space to get closer to an understanding of Pasolini in his relation to history and society, from the perspective of our present, a different world which makes some things more opaque but which liberates meanings that were closed or were heavily policed in his lifetime. We began from Pasolini as a point from which we could come to an attention to the true experience of shared and long hidden lives.
I have described it through the developing of our project as a way to the heart, the pulse, of Pasolini’s poetic, a poetic which is throughout his life focused on the histories and lives of the people who have been supposed in the official record to have been almost without significance, the people written out of history, and yet who have carried the world and its stories through all of time. The people of a slow history who, largely unrecorded in their day to day lives, nonetheless sustained a deep culture of profound connection, connection one to another in the common good, and together to the natural world. Pasolini believed this deep history, and the being that it informed, to be disappearing in his lifetime. The poetic he shaped to speak to this was capable of crossing medias, and of crossing social and political division, even when it was contentious and was drawn into hard and even fatal political conflict. It gave attention to those who were put to the margins, those at the border. And over time this came to be not so distant from the lives of many people, and possibly not so distant from us. This is then a story of the deep meanings and potential of relation.
In fact, if at the time of Pasolini the illusion of a collective social and economic improvement was vigorously encouraged in the politics that followed the second war, making a significant part of the society unaware of the true, and even devastating, consequences of what was really happening, his work was determined to break the hold of this illusion. To denounce the fake empire that was emerging and that had the appearance of familiarity and security, and to build in its place a new awareness of a world that was in fact dramatically changing and was abandoning many of those who had trusted in it.
From this I have come to consider his work, however contradictory it may sometimes appear, not only as a guide to a socially engaged art but also as having a bearing on the imagining of possible societies and revolutionary alternatives to what has been almost continually affirmed through the last 50 years. The conventions of a politics of market priorities, the hollowing out of the common place, and the complacent toleration of cruel inequities, but even more the conception of the single person as being separated from the common and shared space of thought together and of clearsighted attention. Even in writing this I come again to why Pasolini still matters so much today.
The sound installation by Marco Messina as well as being of powerful significance in itself serves as a turning point in our program as it carries us from a thoughtfulness about Pasolini, his life and work, to the present of women, our protagonists, women who are still after so long under the pressure of an unequal society, a society that is still based on the exploitation of female work and on pervasive cultural and sexual oppression, just as the working class has been since Pasolini’s time. The world may have changed in so many ways but the inequalities have only become greater, and with accelerated ferocity, as wealth and power are concentrated in a narrower and narrower stratum of society and the poor are increasingly cut adrift.
In fact, this crucial passage in “Comizi di Donne” is not only about bringing in to new practice Pasolini’s understandings of engagement, his passionate activism in his work, it’s also about finding inside the “grammar” of art the conceptual frame to realize a contemporary understanding across media of his vision of the society in which he and we live, based on the belief that art can draw revolutionary perspectives. Because of that, to produce a sound installation inspired on the one hand by the example of Pasolini’s social engagement and the struggle of consciousness, so often searching and unresolved, that informed his work, and on the other by our own lived experience in our no less conflicted present is to attend to shared experience, our common place. To be thoughtful about the possibility of our present, however confusing it may sometimes be.

Looking to the history of sound works in contemporary art, while it can often be seen as a radical choice there are two major characteristics above the others which are relevant to our purpose here: the use of “found” sound and what it opens to, and the capability of sound to create an alternative architecture of the space in which it is installed.
An architecture in the sense of the perception of space and of our position within it, of sound shaping an awareness of the space that we inhabit, and of a heightened sense of our own presence, most significantly together with others, in that space.
The modern history of sound works has conventionally been seen as beginning with Luigi Russolo in 1913, although a conscious articulation of sound beyond music in changing perception long preceded the twentieth century, whether it was in the shaping of the acoustic characteristics of space in religious buildings or in the complex interrelationships of media in the “gezamptkunstenwerk” of the 19th century. The sound works of the modern period are no less diverse in their meanings and purposes. The need for many was to open the space of the sound with the thousands of possibilities which come from the world around us: it can be a mixture between tradition and contemporary understanding of it for a composer like Halim El Dabh who started his research in the ‘40s, or it can be the catching of the sound from urban situations as it was for Max Nehaus from the ‘60s, but, in every case, it is possible to see the profound will to amplify and open the space we inhabit to the world around us.
The breaking down of orthodoxies in attention to sound and presence in the experience of music has been extensively explored in the work of composers from John Cage and La Monte Young to the Japanese minimalist composers of the last decades, both within and outside the traditions of classical and contemporary music. To this can be added the development of the use of so called “found sound”, recorded sound of everyday phenomena, which is by now become a familiar element even in popular music, evident in the sample structures of hip hop and rap.
While this may very often just add another element in a rhythm pattern it can also act as a changed attention to the sound of the world around us. It’s most significantly about the working of attention and the consciousness of a different sense of time and space that is opened in this attention, and with it the opening to the possibility of meanings that before were hidden or were unexamined.
However, while there has been a history of experiment with sound through the last hundred years, it is significant that until very recently there has been little crossover between mediums. The simple fact is that the separation between mediums has trapped much experiment within disciplines that knew very little of each other. Even within music sound experimentation has existed largely at the margins, and sound in the museum and in exhibition spaces, aside from occasional concerts, or the clattering mechanisms of Jean Tinguely, finally happened as an unconsidered effect of film and video entering the museum. Until today it would be difficult to describe a consideration of sound as a familiar constituent of exhibition making, excepting regarding the containment of intrusive sound, the control of ambient sound, or managing the interference of the soundtracks of juxtaposed projections.
But something else is happening, and has been happening now for some time even if it is not in the mainstream. I believe that sound works have a powerful potential to translate concepts from abstraction to lived experience in a very direct way, maybe more directly even than with performance art: in fact, sound works can transform space, transform place, developing its own meaning when it is able to shape the architectural structure through the construction of the sound. To shape new and sometimes profound meanings. It has the power to transform each exhibition space into a common space, a place of shared attention, precisely because of its relation with the world around us, and the connections which are created between the audience.
As noted before I have used throughout our project as a matrix the work and interpretation of Craigie Horsfield regarding Pasolini, and later Grotowski, and significantly Horsfield’s work on relation. It was the sound works of Horsfield from the 1970’s coming out of contemporary art rather than music, and ideas of relation, and of Horsfield and Reinier Rietveld from the 1990’s and 2000’s, that opened the way to the revolutionary potential of sound as a radical step towards our purpose and the revelation that awaits in the voices of the women.

Marco Messina “Nuova Repubblica Napoletana” (New Neapolitan Republic) 2022, is a multi-channel soundwork of hours built up through found sound, recordings of the voices of women and men, and through acoustic and electronic composition. It takes the form of a complex, interweaving, narration. Installed in the hypogeum of Purgatorio ad Arco it makes an impassioned and prophetic proposition. It acknowledges the understanding – held through generations of faith, perseverance, and the belief in a coming world – of the souls in purgatory waiting to be raised to heaven through prayer and, of profound significance here: through the care of the women who attend to them. And it asserts a parallel meaning in speaking to the understanding that through ages, across time and through history, generation after generation of women have fought to be heard, and to be acknowledged, in their caring, their love, and their faith, waiting for their release into their full being. Their release into a world that no longer denies them. The coming world.
This is the revolution it prophesies and speaks to. Over four hours the work builds to an epic of hope and dismay, of joy and loss, of endurance in the face of sometimes seeming impossibility. Messina takes the world he grew up in, the world he lives in, the modern world he inhabits, with all its contradictions, and shapes from it a story that is at once clear sighted and engaged. A story that does not escape into fantasy or false hope, or into bitter resignation.
In doing so the installation is constructed from sound to create a different perception of the architecture of the building, of its material, of the space, and the sense of being present for the audience. Making a new space from the stuff of the existing world, new meanings from the words that surround us and that we have used, familiar words made unfamiliar, as though to say “it is here, it is already prefigured in what we know, and it may become”.
Messina’s fragments of sound and memory, his recollection and his vivid perception of the world around him, and the way in which they weave together, touch on our own recognitions, things that we too have known, a sound-world that we too have experienced, and their meanings are made new in this rearranging, this weaving that does not, and cannot, resolve an unresolved world but which finds deep and unconsidered connections in it. In its working it may bring us to an unexpected awareness of our shared experience, of place, of our everyday, and of what we have in common.
The sound work, it’s “working”, what it does as well as what it is, draws attention to the experience of the city beyond the walls as being shaped and understood in terms of the lives of its inhabitants, their past and their present, that is: of ourselves. The narration may find its form through the path that each of us as visitors choose to take through it, how we listen, through our attention and the associations and recognition we bring from our own life experiences to it, and in our physical movement in following the story through this new space.This is not from chance, the work feels as though made in a fervor, a fire, passionate and engaged, the outpouring of belief, of politics, of protest, an assertion of the significance of small and unconsidered things in the experience of the everyday, and the rage that comes unbidden to the surface at the loss, the wasted lives, the inequity that does not end but only becomes greater. And there is something more.
In its detail the formal structure is sewn together by the sound of a group of women working “bobbing” lace, together they share in the work, and talk to each other, it is intricate and nuanced, the filigree of thread growing between their hands. On the base of this collective making and the rhythm of the repetitive sound of the women’s work – women’s work that is so often repetitive and overlooked, work that sustains society and yet is so often unacknowledged – there builds the counterpoint of their voices. Messina gradually draws in the threads of sound, of stories, and half remembered phrases, fragments of music, that come together to create a fabric as intricate as the lace. Here are intimate accounts of life, fragments of other histories, storytelling from popular song, stories of place, of life, and of family, of generations and of the contested present. And from this he fashions a manifesto and a premonition. From the fragile and ephemeral material of sound, using the stuff of the everyday, and of too often unconsidered lives, the overlooked world of the city, of Naples, there emerges the sense of other possible being, waiting, even within this present.
There is a beautiful symmetry to this, from the everyday, from mundane things, from the stuff left out of history – the same world that Pasolini struggled to give voice to, the world which for so long has been disregarded – Messina creates a powerful call to action.
“Nuova Repubblica Napoletana” concerns the personal and collective experience of a space where we may look to ourselves in front of an historical struggle and present reality: as the past lives together with the present of women in Naples and in the world. In the midst of everyday life, the life which goes on outside the walls of the Purgatorio ad Arco, the sound work gives time for recognition, and thoughtfulness, speaking to the creation of a possible alternative world, and revolutionary action in the dramatic time that we are living through, a time of pandemic and distant war. It speaks of the coming republic, the new Neapolitan republic, a republic born from women before us, as we all are, women and men, the republic which acknowledges our story together.

Maria Teresa Annarumma

“Nuova Repubblica Napoletana” is produced by Opera Pia Purgatorio ad Arco O.N.L.U.S.