Press Release

From April 22 to June 10 2012, the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea presents a collective exhibition, VIOLENCE. Art Decoding Violence, for the XV edition of the Biennale Donna organized by UDI – Unione Donne in Italia di Ferrara and the Gallerie d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Ferrara.

Continuing the theme of the preceding three editions, the Biennale Donna once again sets itself the task of identifying and exploring socio-cultural, behavioural and geopolitical issues and questions of identity, as interpreted by some of the best known female contemporary artists. Curated by Lola Bonora and Silvia Cirelli, the exhibition follows the work of seven well-established international artists who have long focused on the theme of violence, which unfortunately is still a current issue. VALIE EXPORT, Regina José Galindo, Loredana Longo, Naiza H. Khan, Yoko Ono, Lydia Schouten and Nancy Spero describe situations and experiences very different one from the other, exploring the practice of violence in its broadest and most disparate context: from the individual to the family, from cultural to political and social.

Without limiting form or identity, exhibition establish conceptual dialogues, sometimes outspokenly, and others suppressed, presented through a variety of expressive languages like sculpture, photographs, drawings, videoart and installations, including site specific works made especially for the Biennale.

The visitor is met by a dramatic piece by the Pakistani artist, Naiza H. Khan: life-size sculptures hung from the ceiling which seem to advance in a threatening manner. These are unusual armours, which take the fabrics and forms of common feminine lingerie, yet transformed into cold armour, both intimate and dramatic, that protects but also restricts and oppresses. In this series of sculptures, like in the photographs they inspired, the artist highlights the paradox within Pakistani society. Khan beats at the barriers commonly imposed on the female world while revealing the ambivalences of the physical and spiritual constraints placed on women in her country. The exhibition continues with works by Yoko Ono, a Japanese-American artist who for years has dedicated herself to themes of peace, human rights, and violence. These can be seen in the two videos coming from the famous and controversial work, Cut Piece, which echoes a performance made first in New York then in Paris. Immobile and on her knees, Yoko Ono invites on the stage the spectators to cut her clothes into pieces, until she is left almost naked. The human body gives way to cold cement in the site specific installation by the Sicilian Loredana Longo, where a simple floor is transformed into a dramatic cemetery of lost and abandoned clothes. Always attentive to current issues, Longo once again amazes by rooting her work in history and, in particular, the sensitive issues of workplace fatalities and the emancipation of women. This piece is inspired by the terrible fire in the Triangle Shirt Waist factory in New York on March 25th 1911 in which 146 women perished in the blaze (that being the number of tiles that make up the floor in the work). The shirts are trapped in the raw cement, constantly trampled and violated by the passing of visitors, who, as unwitting “torturers,” emphasize the precariousness of the scene.

Showing surprising expressive power is the work by VALIE EXPORT, one of the artists who in the late Sixties was committed to breaking the rigid stereotypes about women’s sexual and social functions. Kalashnikov, which is the title of this monumental installation, is a tower over 3 metres high made out of 105 rifles. The guns are reflected in waste oil at the base of the sculpture, clearly referring to the bloody wars waged on account of business interests, in particular those involving petroleum. Supporting the installation are two dramatic videos showing brutal images of war in Iraq and executions in China. Equally provocative are the works by the Guatemalan artist, Regina José Galindo, already well known for extreme activism and performances denouncing the hard realities of her country, where violence against the weak is increasing, and sadly, often goes unpunished. The artist is notable for the emotional charge and creative vehemence that marks her as one of the most active voices in contemporary protest.

The exhibition continues with a video installation by the Dutch artist, Lydia Schouten, focused on her experiences during a several month long residence in New York at the end of the 1980s. The non-stop violence and criminality on the streets of the big American cities made a big impression on Schouten, leading her to create a complex work that takes as its starting point the daily news, reporting items of assaults, murders and crimes that really happened during her stay. The dark and surreal atmosphere, exacerbated by the turquoise light pervades the environment and the density of the photographs, videos and objects that make up the installation, heightens the feeling of distress that the artist wanted to recreate, giving the spectator the same state of fear and anxiety experienced by the victims of the crimes recounted. Closing the exhibition is the eccentric genius of the American, Nancy Spero, a uniquely talented artist who died a few years ago. Her talent is represented through a selection of drawings and a cutting edge installation which is being shown for the first time in Italy. Spero emerged from the art scene in the Sixties, courageously joining the intellectual struggle against political violence and sexist male dominance. As radical feminist, Nancy Spero was one of the most important voices in the feminist and pacifist movements and is still considered one of its renowned exponents.

The exhibition, organized by the comitato Biennale Donna of UDI (composed of Lola Bonora, Anna Maria Fioravanti Baraldi, Dida Spano, Anna Quarzi, Ansalda Siroli, Antonia Trasforini, Liviana Zagagnoni) and Gallerie d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, is curated by Lola Bonora and Silvia Cirelli, with the support of the Comune di Ferrara, the Provincia di Ferrara and the Regione Emilia-Romagna.

A bilingual catalogue in Italian and English will accompany the exhibition containing reproductions of all the works shown and biographical notes on the artists, together with critical essays by Lola Bonora and Silvia Cirelli.

During the Biennale Donna there will also be a number of related initiatives on the themes of the exhibition, such as film shows, literary events and debates