Lanfranco Aceti, Orthos, 2021.
Lanfranco Aceti, Orthos, 2021.

Artist, curator, and scholar Dr. Lanfranco Aceti, a 2017-18 ACT Affiliate, exhibited a large body of work at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. Titled Preferring Sinking to Surrender, it was comprised of ten sections — Tools for Catching CloudsPreferring Sinking to Surrender, Part IPreferring Sinking to Surrender, Part IISacred WatersLe SchiavoneOrthósSeven VeilsSignsRehearsal; and The Ending of the End. Aceti’s installations, performances, videos, sculptures, and paintings created a complex narrative that was installed at the Italian Pavilion, Resilient Communities. It was curated by Alessandro Melis, IDC Foundation Endowed Chair New York Institute of Technology, and responded to the theme How Will We Live Together? set by Hashim Sarkis, Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning and curator of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale.

Aceti explores issues of matriarchy, land pollution, exploitation of natural resources, food production, and social models of existence alternative to a capitalistic and patriarchal understanding of society and science.

Regarding the works presented, Aceti said that “the research for the works of art was carried out while I was at MIT. My inspiration came from the clear understanding that sustainable living and symbiosis are not at the forefront of contemporary issues, rather they are constantly superseded by a distorted perception of what is economically valuable. Greed trumps all other concerns,” explained the artist. “I still remember a lecture I gave at ACT, Disobedient, Discontented, and Disruptive: Politics of Aesthetic, Resistance, and Resilience, which anticipated the themes explored in the works of art for the Venice Architecture Biennale. The lecture challenged the Cartesian scientific grid and how it enslaves nature and matriarchy to limited human knowledge and partial understanding of the reality that surrounds us. It was, as I still remember it, as if a heretic had stepped into the room.”

Aceti’s opening for the Biennale, Tools for Catching Clouds, addresses democratic flailing by tackling the absurdity of contemporary politics. Absurdity is both the tool to understand what is absurd and the way to respond to it. Inspired by Aristofane’s The CloudsTools for Catching Clouds is a statement that directly questions the notion of democracy. The works of art use a hypo-iconic metaphor to represent personal histories on a flag — made from a ripped white linen sheet — that symbolizes the divorce of the individual from the state. The white flag, a rag both historically and in Pasolinian terms, is like a canvas that embodies the remnants of fractured social relations. It can be interpreted at first glance as a symbol of surrender, but symbolizes, instead, the interstitial white space of change upon which personal histories of resistance, resilience, and defiance can be written.

From this starting point which acknowledges the failures of contemporary partitocracies across the globe, Aceti creates a personal journey. It is a journey which at times traverses the public space, linking the periphery and the center, the deplorable and the powerful, in a tension that is heightened by contemporary social, environmental, and financial crises.

These sections of works of art are followed by Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part I and Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part II realized respectively in Venice at the Italian Pavilion and in the Piazza del Campidoglio, in Rome. The artist explores the relation between the individual, power, values of matriarchy, and the collapse of contemporary societies. His approach is based on an understanding of the social that is made of intimate relations of acceptance that do not foist upon society divisive taxonomies of gender, race, and class. The works of art ask of the viewer to confront limitations and responsibilities in the political participation of consumption and devouring of all that is alive and dear. The flags are held to the poles, in the Giardini delle Vergini in Venice, with ropes of three different shades of pink that symbolize the work of those who held and continue to hold together, through women’s communal values, the fabric of society. Inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s critique of postmodernity, the works of art challenge a societal approach, that of socio-political American imperialism, which by blanketing the world with a patriarchal model of existence and exclusion, homogenizes and eliminates alternative modi vivendi and therefore modi cogitandi.

Preferring Sinking to Surrender re-proposes the anthropological and archeological remnants of a pre-Roman Goddess, the Great Black Mediterranean Mother or Magna Mater, as a starting point from which to attempt to unshackle the social forces of matriarchy from the enslavement of patriarchal capitalism and its allies. In Sacred Waters, the life-giving and free-flowing waters of the sacred spring — by which the Goddess stood and still stands, with her many names across millennia, recently called Mamma Schiavona and embodied in a Black Madonna — are greedily exploited by a water company which is damaging the hydrological assets of the valley. The relation between the center and the periphery is one of conflicting interests, abuses, and exploitation which impoverishes local populations of resources, cultural traditions, and bio-cultural diversity. The section Le Schiavone manifests women’s power as well as their cultural role in voicing social discontent in Italy. Beaten but not defeated, enslaved to a culture of male primacy, women fight back with millenarian matriarchal values that are enshrined in common living and rituals.

Aceti’s works document these power struggles and the environmental destruction, caused by global and distant phenomena of greed, that are cast upon a small village in Italy. To a garden in this village he transferred a wall taken from the ‘white cube’ of the Venice Architecture Biennale. For almost two years he grew vegetables that are sculptures as well as monuments to a polluted land within which old rituals and archeological-anthropological remnants exist and barely resist.

The vegetables are sculptures and the laying out of the landscape of Orthós is an architectural endeavor that uses material but also time and processes for aesthetic, biological, and horticultural experimentation. The processes of production are based on a Fluxus methodology that is memory, remembrance, and a monument to human folly.

The audience for the works of art is comprised mainly of the natural world: farm animals, wild boars, hawks and sparrows, mice and grasshoppers, bees, and flies. Almost completely devoid of humanity and far away from the restrictions of the center of power, in the very periphery of ‘the empire’, freedom becomes part of the artist’s aesthetic experience which, unbridled and nurtured by the curatorial advice of Prof. Melis, produces a large body of ephemeral works of art visible in their materiality solely to the natural world.

The artistic journey continues through Seven Veils, a reference to showing piety and mercy towards an enemy — who has been identified with nature — that has been cast as the villain and chained to the short-term interests of human greed. It is a documentation of land pollution and the unchecked industrial exploitation of what once was an area of agricultural beauty. Signs foresees what the future might bring, following the ancient tradition of looking into the liver, into the flight of birds, or — as in one of Aceti’s images — into a jet stream which casts its omen upon the sky and the land.

Rehearsal and The Ending of the End close the aesthetic journey with a message, not of Hollywoodian hope, but of preparedness. The inevitable is inevitable. As are inevitable the inevitable consequences of human greed and selfishness. Hope can only exist in the ability that people will show in preparing for adversity by diminishing its impact, not as a global society, that is an impossible task, but through the matriarchal values shared by those ‘who live and dwell’ by the Goddess.