From "Passage" to The Radicant*

Two weeks ago, I had the greatest pleasure of visiting Italian artist Maria D. Rapicavoli who is currently participating in the Whitney 2011-12 Independent Study Program.  She gave me the address of her Whitney ISP studio location, and there we were, finding more subjects in common interest than either one of us had anticipated. 

The title of this post is borrowed from a collaborative project- a two channel video work by Maria and along with another artist from Berlin, Janne Schäfer.  "Passage" is to be pronounced as if in French, the meaning of the word is like in English has to do with the state of being in transit, movements, to be passing through- de passer ou de traverser -et cetera.  It is a compelling piece in many ways, firstly it is poetic both in text and in images; secondly it is philosophically intriguing without being didactic to the viewers; thirdly the core concept of the work is a pertinent one given the contemporary context and time in which we occupy now- which is to say that one is never stagnantly planted in one place only.

Image courtesy of the artists

Image courtesy of the artists

As Nicolas Bourriaud mentioned in his book (translated from French by James Gussen and Lili Porten), The Radicant:

"…And yet the immigrant, the exile, the tourist, and the urban wanderer are the dominant figures of contemporary culture. To remain within the vocabulary of the vegetation realm, one might say that the individual of these early years of the twenty-first century resembles those plants that do not depend on a single root for their growth but advance in all directions on whatever surfaces present themselves by attaching multiple hooks to them, as ivy does. Ivy belongs to the botanical family of the radicants, ..."

-pp. 51 publisher: Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2009.

Passage opens with a female voice-over introducing the purpose of the journey, but more resembling that of which like an auto-biographic statement of her lack-off purpose and thus the embarking of the journey is the passage to which she might find herself an identity.  From speaking to Maria, the text and the voice-over are both scripted as in not directly referencing her or her collaborator's personal past and present.  Immediately after the voice-over in English, it breaks into three different languages, German, Italian and with simultaneous English text and voice-over.  

Image courtesy of the artists

In this piece, the psychogeography comes in just as important as the physical journal in it of itself. As the voice-over talks of the feeling of one's own estrangement there are also segments of interviews with the "local people" of Southern Italy, of whom almost everyone has got their roots elsewhere in Europe.

The feeling of loss is reconciled with the freedom that embodies the new identities of these individual's in relation to their new-found residencies. While one man talks proudly of his Italian citizenship but equally proud to speak of his Germanic roots (and in fact worn pins of both nationalities on his shirt collar in the video). A woman talks of the melancholy of having to leave her home land then to seek and found a a new land of which contained the history and combined with the present that has now become her home and heartland.

Image courtesy of the artists
Image courtesy of the artists

While the most heartwarming moments are the ones when you hear the people talk of their experience and not one complaint about their hardship. As one man says in the video piece: "you have to try to feel good, always try to understand which are the main strengths, you can gain from an unlucky situation and use them to your advantage." Toward the end, a woman humbly confesses that after seeing the world and meeting many different people makes one realize that "you are nothing". Nothing, is probably not what I would have agreed with her on, however it is this feeling of finally having arrived at this wisdom via passage, difficult journey, and personal hardship that one becomes humbled.

Like I mentioned in the beginning when Maria and I found more subjects in common interest is when I shared with her that I have an acquired affinity for being in this in-between place/space; a place of which you are not able to feel at home, at the same time there is this other place that you can't exactly go back to because if you had gone back you are probably not likely to find it like home again.  We both share this feeling of being like "the radicant" from our experiences as migrants.

Passage from Maria Rapicavoli on Vimeo.

Load Displacement, a single channel video installation with two slide projections is Maria's most recent work. In this piece, she explores similar ideas of dislocation, immigration and the arduous journey of which it must be risked in pursuit of a better life for those from more economically depressed countries than that of Western European countries. In contrast to Passage, this piece is more poignant in a way that there seems to be no happy endings.

According to Maria, the work is about immigrants from African countries trying to cross the boarder into Europe via a small Italian island named Lampedusa. The island is only about 184 miles north of Libya and more than 52, 000 immigrants arrived in 2011 as a consequence of the North Africa spring rebellions. During the risky and uncertain journey into Europe, roughly a tenth of the total immigrants died and never made to the other end. While many of them would get send back to their country once caught at the border. Despite the knowledge of such high mortality rates and failures to enter into Europe, tens and thousands of people persistently try each year in hope for a better live and more work opportunities.

Image courtesy of Maria D. Rapicavoli
What is also different about this work when compared to Passage, is that the footage was shot from far away and Maria never had close contact with anyone journeying their way in. While only able to look from far away, she was a witness to something of which is heart-wrenching but at the same time embeds ambiguous feelings within.

When one is watching this piece, the slice projectors as they rotate exert loud noises that almost disrupts the viewing of the video that is constantly looping.  The viewers are almost forced to be confronted with the running video, the slide projections and the text of which plays along side the images.  

Image courtesy of Maria D. Rapicavoli

Image courtesy of Maria D. Rapicavoli

The text projected on the walls by two simultaneously running projectors include quotes extracted from writings by modern thinkers and writers such as T.W.Adorno, M.Horkheimer, B.Brecht, H.F.Dahms, R.Ellison, D.Harvey, Homer, International Organization for Migration, K.Marx, H.Melville, G.Stein, D.Walcott, W.Whitman.

Since the projectors are not set to run images at the same time, but with a slight delay from one to the other; the viewers sometimes see one text projection or at times see both text at once. This results in a word-play and free-associate with the images and muddles the original meanings of the text.

If you wish to watch a video version of this installation please click here.

*The Radicant as mentioned in my title also refers to the same book as above-mentioned by Nicolais Bourriaud.


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