About

Work in progress, because everything perishes…

From when I was young I have always been drawing, first the outskirts and interiors of Amsterdam. My look on reality was shaped by the desire to create an ideal space or living environment. Maybe I was predestined as a city planner or interior designer… but all of it remained fantasies, dreams and romanticism. My education was coloured by protection and school performance; the only subjects which really interested me were history and geography: trying to realize where the far away and beyond was to be found. Each Friday night I attended a drawing course: a different world, catching a model or a still life with charcoal. Even though I grew up in Amsterdam I did not develop any real ideas or ideals in these years. My planned world tour ended in a vacation in Spain. Just before I took the boat for Morocco I called home; a few days later I sat on the train for Groningen to study law.

Life as a student for me was just passing time; a discontinuity with my solitary past, or dreamful youth and the start of a different more social life. After one year of studying law I changed, without regret, to History. For years I read books on all odds and ends of history and graduated on Pasolini: The battle against civility. My first real work experience was at the Festival a/d Werf in Utrecht, where I have been responsible for marketing, production and the general management. I learned a lot, overall to take responsibility. Also I have met a lot of interesting, inspiring people and felt proud to contribute to a wonderful product: theatre. At the same time I kept on dreaming and travelled a lot.

The next step I took was going to the Art academy Rietveld in Amsterdam. Here I learned to put my thoughts and feelings in a more aesthetic framework, which stimulated me to great creativity. My choices were initially conservative: drawing, painting and printing. Drawing has always been the basis of all my work. A very worthwhile experience was a study exchange with the School of Visual Arts in New York, there I experienced a much more concrete approach towards art.

1999 Modigliani

I graduated at the Rietveld on Modigliani. Just by chance I met this man in the corridor of the house of a friend: an intriguing dreamful look, shabby clothes and a brush in his hand. Studying him, I discovered he had a very concise body of works with the smell of pastis (French liquor). The thin line between fiction and reality fascinates me. I drew different aspects of the life of Modigliani and imagined Paris in the beginning of the 1920’s. The work got the shape of a kind of storyboard, while in fact there was not even a story told, it was more a kind of mosaic or a very difficult puzzle. The idea that I had never dedicated myself completely to art and the fact that it was about time to do so made me follow my dreams and go and live in Italy.

Via South America Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil I travelled towards Naples and Montalcino. There I worked for two years in the vineyards of old friends the Padovani’s at the Campi di Fonterenza, before I settled in Rome. In the end it is love that has kept me in Italy, even though I have to admit that I am also very much attracted to its sunny weather, simple good food, social structures, its history and incredible views.

2000 – 2010 In Transit

In these years of transition I developed In Transit, a physical and mental journey. I tried to draw the influence of a continuous changing environment on my mind and vice versa. Always “On the way”: the choices of the scenery and the directions of looking were free. It didn’t really matter if I was physically travelling or I was making the journey just in my head. Every painting is the reproduction of a moment, a collage of different moments, encounters and feelings. Needless to say I cherish nomadism (nomadic life) and fully subscribe the beautiful all explaining phrase of Marion Stump: ‘Nomads are always elsewhere’. It became my slogan for life.

Donkeys

In 2001 a red donkey appeared in my work. The first time I met him was on a trip in Nepal. In this animal I found the ideal companion, who lead me the way, who by standing still at unexpected moments showed me things which I other wise would not have noticed: observing, curious and unsure. It wasn’t too hard for me to identify with a donkey and so he/she became my alter ego: clumsy, chunky and obstinate, wandering in a world he does not understand. A donkey signifies also a counterpart of the much more aristocratic, famous, and much more popular horse, which you find everywhere in art history. I have made three exhibitions in which the donkey played the major part: In times of donkeys (2002), A donkey in love (2003), The ultimate donkeys (2004). The donkey has been at my side as a kind of bad conscience, reminding me of who I am. After having read the Metamorphoses of Apuleio, in which the principal character Lucius ‘by chance’ changes into a donkey and continuous life from a donkey’s perspective, my research continued. On invitation of Franco Troiani I have modelled 100 donkeys of clay and put them around the well a source of life and ideas of the Chiesetta della Madonna del Pozzo in Spoleto. This installation, called Metamorphosis has gone on tour together with the performance Ananke made by Graziella Reggio in Four Movements/Quattro Movimenti. Art critic Anna Cochetti has written a text (see below) about this project trans/uman(z)e (transhumance) and hosted it in her studio Storie Contemporanee in Rome.

Me, Myself, I (portraits)

I believe that looking at someone else in a way is looking at your self.  Most of my portraits are a kind of self - portraits: impressions of ‘a state of mind’.

Rome

Rome to me is a beautiful lazy lady, overwhelming, impressive, miserable and most of the time bathing in a glorious sunlight. She exists of infinite surprising caverns and corners where history is omni present and tangible in a unique way. She is pleased with herself and has herself often portrayed. After my arrival in Rome in 2000 she inspired me to draw the life and travels of Aeneas in twelve colour prints. Later I made a series of etchings inspired on Roman archaeology. And still I often sit down in a remote square and portray parts of Rome, observing her now sometimes with a mix of love, disbelieve and hate. A few of these drawings you can see on the website of the Hadrianus project of the Dutch Institute in Rome.

2003 – 2012 Il Trullo: exhibitions for my trees

Believing that the Apocalypse was near, I felt the need of a piece of land, to grow my own tomatoes. In 2003 I bought a trullo in Puglia. The trullo is an archetypical little cottage for poor farmers, or – at a closer look - a little castle for dwarfs, surrounded by olives, cactuses, figs, plums and pears. I was fascinated by the archaic way of life in this area, determined by nature and old values. The simplicity of life taught me a lot. It was the ideal place to experiment in the countryside outside of my own framework and capacitate in the art of making jam. A lot of work remained work in progress, for in the end the lack of an audience necked me.

Trees for trees 1 & 2

I weeded the red earth and painted on my old paintings, once started in the art academy and hung them on the washing lines, where nature and especially the wind had free play. From this originated my first exhibition for trees. At a certain point I asked myself what trees would really like to see. A friend advised me to portrey them and their surroundings in a realistic way. These portraits I hung in the trees and had wind and rain play with them until the point nature swallowed them. I did truly believe the tree to be an observer.

Me and my shade It was a game with the fantastic light. I picked up photography where I had left it (at the School of Visual Arts) in New York. The light offered me the possibility to have the shades playing the leading parts.

Balletto delle cafettiere. The coffee perculator has an archetypical shape and is a symbol for daily trivialities. At the same time hugely elegant. How beautiful it would be if they could dance, a waltz would be fantastic. This idea for an abstract choreography has never been edited.

Ash drawings These drawings derive from a meditative ritual. When I arrived at the trullo in spring, the grass needed mowing, as it stood at least one meter high. Then the earth needed to be burrowed and the trees be pruned, etc. etc. In the fall these heaps were burned into ash or charcoal, with which I drew on top of the red earth: ash drawings. When in the next spring these drawings had disappeared I would start all over in the next fall.

Jim as Vincent (the mower) The letters of Vincent van Gogh, have always inspired me and have given me a lot of comfort: it is not a problem to keep looking and searching. I can still be touched by his descriptions of the things he discovered as a painter, which made him utterly happy. But also his complete dedication or surrender to art and to being an artist, with all its doubts and hardships, touches me a lot. Jim as Vincent is an ode to Vincent van Gogh or - rather indirectly - to Francis Bacon who made four incredible paintings of the mower, depicting mowing as a kind of universal and meditative movement.

Memories of pancakes I love to collect: bottles, tiles, boxes, little bags, pots and pans, anything, …. and this was the pan in which my mother fried pancakes. It is an important object that represents the memories and the taste of pancakes, a symbol for happy moments in my childhood. My childhood has gone, the memories I have kept. The pan hung for a year in a pear tree and caught the morning sun.

Dug up paintings Some paintings are simple failings or have lost their ‘momentum’. Some of them I dedicated more of less to nature and the passing of time. By chance I dug them up again. The work of the nature and especially of the ants has been miraculous and made me look at these portraits in a totally different … Until the ants had finished their job and put a definite end to this project.

After ten years I gave up the struggle against the elements and sold the trullo. I returned to flat paper, much easier to handle and to bring along.

2006 House for butterflies

House for butterflies was a project commissioned by Kaap, for the Small Biennial, curated by Mark Kremer. On the premises of fortress Het Hemeltje in the vicinity of Utrecht (NL) we placed a green house in which I worked with children on a house for butterflies, for three weeks.

2006 Castelluccio

Together with Annibale Parisi and Peter Noser, two artists and friends from Montalcino, we made an exhibition in Castelluccio, the castle on the properties of the family Orrigo, next to the famous villa and gardens of la Foce. This castle is a stone’s throw from the oak of Annibale with its 200 years of history. We received a hospitable welcome in the old rooms with faded wallpapers and the splendid views over the Val d’Orcia and famous Crete Senese. Our works hung harmoniously together. So far this exhibitions, only visible for the accidental or casual passerby, has been one of my most beautiful ones.

2009  Studios of others

Until now I have not been able to provide myself with a suitable studio. It seems, I don’t know why, I deny myself this kind of refuge. That’s why I often borrow a studio of artist friends or I imagine myself in the studio of an artist I admire. It is a way, in a meditative sense, to relate myself to other artists, to understand their work and the way they work and the art world in general.

2010 Sweet lemon tree or Literary moments

I have always been inspired by other arts, for example literature: various fictional characters and scenes play an important role in my work. In the public library Rispoli in the centre of Rome, I brought together a lot of works with a literary connotation. Even more important at the time was the collaboration with the cellist/composer Stella Veloce. My drawings appeared behind her when she was performing and her music impro/composition gave them a complete different dimension and dynamics.

2011 Wormerveer and Paul Thek, the wonderful world that almost was…

In the wet summer of 2011 I stayed in exile in the studio of a friend in Amsterdam. My initial plan was to return to all the places of my childhood and to draw these. But I was too impressed by the present. Besides, I discovered a wonderful library with all kind of art books and  enjoyed theatre again.

In Wormerveer I discovered the work of Paul Thek, an artist/vagabond who intrigued and inspired me tremendously. He is everything that I am not and he does everything that I do not dare. I admire his passion and the uncompromising fantastic worlds he created. Some of his installations I have copied in drawings as a way to revive them, but in the end these drawings are more of a homage. It was also driven by a romantic longing to the sixties, when the relationship with art and between artists seemed to be different.

2012 c’è qualcosa nel dolore degli altri, there is something in the pain of others…

Based on the poems of Maria Leonardi I experimented with the relation between word and image: can text also be an image? The poems of Maria Leonardi are slippery like water. You can read them over and over again, to always find something new to discover, to interpret, to understand. A series of drawings appeared, in which content and details were constantly changing. We projected them on the Ponte rotto from the Tiberina Isle in the summer of 2012, with Maria reading her poems while the Tiber flowed along.

2012 A house in a house in a house…

In the project A house in a house in a house I invited visitors of the AmsterdamNew West Fest, curated by Edward Janssen, to tell about their ideal space or room, in fantasy or reality. While they were speaking I sketched their descriptions. I developed these sketches into paintings on canvases of different sizes and put these together. This work now hangs as a big house with many rooms (a mosaic) in het Talentenhuis in Amsterdam Osdorp.

2013 There once was a donkey…  

To give my work a new direction, to find a way to recycle my insurmountable pile of drawings and to overcome computer fear, I participated in an animation course by Femke Hyong in France. Inspired by the songs of Maaike van den Hoek, I then made illustrations and moving images. This resulted in an experimental a live concert with animations, titled: There once was a donkey…, which we presented in Amsterdam and Den Horn in the fall of 2013.

2014 - 2016 Trees and il brucco di Pietraporciana

Commissioned by the Roman association Moto della Mente, Graziella Reggio and I drew 200 trees. The tree; seen, understood, beloved as the essence of life. The tree a symbol of gladness, rooted in the earth and in contact with the universe, by roots, trunks, leaves, branches and fruits. Every plant gives and takes from the earth and is the emblem of the joy of our existence. After a presentation at KADO in Rome, this series of trees got a fixed place in the Refuge of the Nature Reserve Pietraporciana in Tuscany. The next year we were invited to an artist in residence there and made the video: Il Brucco di Pietraporciana: an animation about the life of a medieval hermit who lived in locus in a cave.

2015 My Spoleto, sculture in città

My Spoleto, sculture in città is my reflection on Spoleto and how art can relate to its direct environment, today and in the past. Over the years I made a lot of drawings inspired by the exhibition Sculture in città curated by Giovanni Carendente in 1962, who presented Calder Chadwick, Fraschini, Pepper and others, a wonderful event which left its traces in the city. 50 years later this exhibition concept was repeated, this time curated by Gianluca Marziani. I returned to the squares and hidden corners of the city to observe and comment on the presented art works. The series of drawings that came out of this you can see/read as a photo memory, or as snapshots.

2014 and 2016 De Scheet and Kusland

Viktor Frolke wrote two sweet and funny stories for his children and asked me to illustrate these.

2017 Mapping Memories & Places

In 2012 I have committed myself to the project Mapping Memories & Places. In this project I research the life and the times of my grandfather, Paul Blumenthal (1897-1982). I am especially interested in the impact of politics on his personal life and try to relate this to my own experiences. I followed his footsteps, retracing his routes and experiences, mainly through Germany, Indonesia, U.S and the Netherlands. These travels I have documented in drawings, diaries, letters, collages and photographs. The idea is to bring all this together in a book and a traveling exhibition. The first presentation Tracing Places, together with Graziella Reggio took place in the cultural association Trebisonda in Perugia. Anna Cochetti wrote an inspirational text about the role and function of maps. A first scetch I brought together in a book on demand.

2017 The labyrinth of life

In June 2017 I concluded my first big sculpture in the garden of Annibale and Elena Parisi Nostra Vita in Montalcino. I had the remains (i viti) of the old vineyard at my disposal, which I cleaned thoroughly, impregnated and then used them to draw a labyrinth with a gorgeous view on the Monte Amiata. The chickens from next door visit this work daily.

 

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“trans/uman(z)e 2013”
“…dove si rappresenta l’esemplare viaggio
di cento uomini e di cento asini rossi
dalla necessità alla libertà…”
Primo Movimento
La divina ineluttabile Necessità ha mosso, spinto, attratto, sorretto, costretto, guidato cento e cento figure d’uomo –
senza braccia, senza volto, senza identità – verso la corrosa pietra circolare, che cinge ed apre sul “pozzo dei miracoli”,
a Monterone.
Una folla di viaggiatori, di pellegrini, di migranti, in fuga da e in moto verso, affacciati sulla vertigine della salvezza
cercata, sperata, implorata, sospesi sull’occhio di luce che l’acqua cattura profonda, e, sopraffatti, trattenuti sul
limite tra sacro e profano, tra fede e magia.


Secondo Movimento
A uno a uno, i cento uomini, Lucio, Lucignolo o Pinocchio, si sono trasformati in cento asini rossi: il viaggio iniziatico
verso la libertà e la salvezza è stato intrapreso, nel lento o frenetico, nel tumultuoso o pausato avvitarsi del girotondo
rituale attorno al pozzo, che solleva la linfa delle idee dalla profondità alla luce..
La Metamorfosi è l’incipit dell’esemplare viaggio esperienziale nella ricerca e presa di coscienza del sé e dell’altro da sé, della propria e dell’altrui asinità, della propria e dell’altrui umanità.


Terzo Movimento
Attinto lo spannung, gli uomini torneranno uomini e gli asini asini. Insieme, compresi della mutevolezza e permeabilità delle identità, muoveranno in corteo, seguendo l’artista-magicien-corifeo, ad attingere la fonte della conoscenza.
Ad accoglierli e proteggerli, per un approdo solo temporaneo ed una sosta solo provvisoria, il luogo/topos per antonomasia della conoscenza, la Biblioteca, che cela, conserva e disvela tra i testi e i documenti – vertigine stratificata di Storia e Memorie, collettive e individuali - una presenza di archeologia romana.

Quarto Movimento
E il Viaggio continua .…. Riassunto il carico delle proprie effimere identità – consapevolmente sature le une e le altre delle allegoriche significazioni stratificate tra antropologia, religione e letteratura di cui sono portatrici - dopo la lunga sosta uomini e asini vanno, al mutare di stagione, sotto la fascinazione del rito millenario che insieme trasmigra genti
e animali su paradigmatiche mappe e li introduce, attraverso iniziatici transiti, là dove si rappresentano enigmatiche
figurazioni di divinità dalla testa d’asino o si celebrano filosofici convivii intorno alla forma e alla sostanza dell’essere e dell’apparire, e infine dell’esistere…
Anna Cochetti

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Le “Mapping Traces” di Graziella Reggio e Michiel Blumenthal:

ovvero, appunti di viaggio intorno al tempo, lo sguardo, la memoria  e altre cose…

“- Viaggi per rivivere il tuo passato? – era a questo punto la domanda del Kan,

che poteva anche essere formulata così: - Viaggi per ritrovare il tuo futuro?

E la risposta di Marco: - L’altrove è uno specchio in negativo.

Il viaggiatore riconosce il poco che è suo,

scoprendo il molto che non ha avuto e non avrà”

(Italo Calvino, Le città invisibili, Torino 1972)

 

“Ogni viaggio è racconto, racconto futuro, destinato alla rilettura…

un’esperienza di sé, frutto di un duplice spostamento:

nello spazio e all’interno del proprio io..

 

Pensare la vita al passato, al presente o al futuro significa pensarla

con l’irrealizzabile desiderio di ritrovare, di fermare o di inaugurare il tempo.

Il viaggio più banale partecipa di questa illusione…”

(Marc Augé, Rovine e macerie, Torino 2004)

 

“Ogni paesaggio esiste solo per lo sguardo che lo scopre…

Perché vi sia un paesaggio, occorre non soltanto che vi sia uno sguardo,

ma una percezione cosciente e infine una descrizione…”

(Marc Augé, cit.)

Bizzarri compagni di viaggio, Graziella Reggio e Michiel Blumenthal, incontratisi per caso, a distanza, a Spoleto nella primavera/estate del 2013 - le donne e gli uomini macerati di lei, gambe torsi braccia teste senza volto e senza espressione, se non l'essenza di una drammatica condizione esistenziale, trasformati di giorno in giorno negli asinelli di terracotta di lui, curiosi interrogativi incerti ironici espressivi, soggetti di una misterica metamorfosi - divenuti poi insieme corteo di uomini e animali procedenti dalla Necessità alla Libertà verso la Gerusalemme celeste e di nuovo in lunga iniziatica transumanza fino alle rive del Tevere.

Di nuovo insieme, poi, in un metaforico viaggio a distanza, tra Milano e Spoleto, dentro l'idea, la forma e l'essenza di cento alberi immaginati disegnati dipinti su fogli di carta disposti in un volatile allestimento tra radici  tronchi rami foglie e fiori in uno spazio romano, moltiplicatisi da lì a breve tra boschi di conifere e faggete, tra Europa e America, per fissarsi infine nella riserva naturale di Pietraporciana.

E proseguire ancora, in Simbiosi, come fiabesco viaggio animato di un cavaliere antico fattosi da crociato eremita, a indicare il senso perenne del viaggio in interiore hominis alla ricerca della libertà e della verità.

In mezzo, l'Atlante di mappe di smarrimenti, mappe per derive di Graziella Reggio e il suo tendere, con una macchina fotografica e un taccuino di disegni, ad un infinito altrove, "lontano", dove si confondono i confini; e il viaggio nella memoria, attraverso carte città boschi fiumi e continenti, di  Michiel Blumenthal , con compagni ancora un taccuino di disegni e una macchina fotografica, sulle tracce di un avo, viaggiatore e avventuriero nelle tempeste della Storia.

Se la domanda che muove la messa a fuoco, le mappe distorte, le foto e i disegni di Graziella Reggio è la ricerca della possibile esistenza di un punto di fuga, che sia anche miraggio d'approdo per quanto sfuggente e provvisorio, la domanda che sottende le foto, le mappe e gli appunti di viaggio di Michiel Blumenthal è quella intorno alla  sopravvivenza stessa e al senso possibile del ricordo: “ i viaggi sono fatti, ma che facciamo con i ricordi, come sono trasformati?”

Si giunge così, con coerenza direi filologica ma al tempo stesso con assoluta libertà reciproca, a queste “Mapping Traces”, ulteriore tappa del viaggio intrapreso per caso, insieme e separati, a Spoleto nella primavera/estate dell'anno 2013. Ad accompagnarli, sin da quell'inizio, una sorta di controcanto affidato alle emozioni e alle parole di chi scrive, terzo sodale in questo viaggio.

Qui, negli spazi fisici, ma soprattutto mentali, di Trebisonda, il viaggio di Graziella Reggio e Michiel Blumenthal snoda un’ulteriore tranche del suo percorso, portando nella memoria profonda la parola visionaria di un Calvino/Marco Polo, evocatrice agli occhi e  all'immaginazione del Kan di profili e profumi e luci e segni di città, di montagne e di acque, attraversate forse soltanto nel sogno o nel desiderio o nel ricordo; o ancora la tensione analitica dell'antropologo Augé che discorre di viaggio / paesaggio / sguardo / memoria e narrazione, dispiegando la significazione di immagini sogni disegni e senso del viaggio.

Che di un lavoro sull’orientamento e il disorientamento si tratta. Ovvero del senso contemporaneo del viaggio, laddove non di turisti si ragioni, ma della possibilità stessa – e della necessarietà – dell’essere, oggi, ancora viaggiatori, solitari, lenti e silenziosi, e, perché no, viandanti, pellegrini ed erranti.

 

Le Mapping Traces di Graziella Reggio e Michiel Blumenthal definiscono un percorso speculare che di stazione in stazione rimanda dai materiali di viaggio dell’una a quelli dell’altro - da una foto a un disegno, da un disegno a una foto - quasi mimando una sorta di teatrale dialogare per immagini tra figure, scenari pieni/vuoti, paesaggi naturali/antropomorfizzati, luoghi e non-luoghi, presenze, assenze e apparizioni, tra segni e simboli, tra memorie e proiezioni. A partire dunque da quella sala delle mappe, quasi a voler definire il senso, come direzione/significato, del viaggio stesso, se non fosse che le mappe d’artista assumono come statuto fondante il loro stesso essere inattendibili, inattuali ed incongrue quelle della Reggio, favolistiche e oniriche come di un’Alice nel paese delle meraviglie quelle di Blumenthal.

Del resto, attraversando queste Mapping Traces, ci si potrebbe chiedere “che cos’è una mappa?” - come s’interroga lo studioso (John Brian Harley, Testo e contesti nell’interpretazione delle mappe antiche) - se non, da un lato, una categoria di testimoni inferiori rispetto alla parola scritta”, come i dipinti, le fotografie e altre fonti non verbali - dall’altro, per contro, “una costruzione sociale del mondo…(che) ridescrivono in termini di rapporti di potere e di pratiche, preferenze e priorità culturali”. Sono “una costruzione della realtà, immagini gravide di significati”, il cui fascino sta “nella loro ambivalenza intrinseca e nella nostra capacità di ricavare tra le linee dell’immagine nuovi significati, finalità segrete e visioni contrapposte del mondo”. Le mappe sono “immagini intrinsecamente retoriche”, che “utilizzano segni per rappresentare il mondo” ed in cui la fondamentale dimensione simbolica ne fa “sempre metafore o simboli del mondo” (cit.)

Nel canto e controcanto, nei contrappunti, nello stesso ritmo ora disteso e pausato ora accelerato di Graziella Reggio e Michiel Blumenthal si configura una narrazione visionaria a due voci, intessuta di metafore e di simboli, dispiegata con l’apparente levità di uno sguardo lento e di un segno tenue, quand’anche si addensi, in realtà permeata di un pathos rattenuto, tanto più intenso e struggente, quanto meno gridato.

Di passaggio in passaggio, di rimando in rimando – armonizzati dalla nota dominante di un bianco/nero la cui qualità declina dalla luminosità ora chiara e diffusa ora evanescente ora affilata talvolta drammatica, che trascorre da foto a foto da disegno a disegno - si viene a costituire un corpus coerente e coeso, che pretende dal riguardante la condivisione di uno sguardo lento e lungo, attento e paziente. Empatico. Su tutto aleggia una sottile sehnsucht, intessuta di un sentimento di nostalgia evocatrice che ha messo in salvo il senso del viaggio, dell’esistere e del ricordare come un’ancora possibile tensione verso un Tempo altro.

Anna Cochetti