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Some hollow bamboo trunks are used as pipes where, using rhabdomancy, the maximum concentration of groundwater was discovered

Confronting the Geographies of New Dehli and Turin

by Frame Works / Franco Ariaudo

Franco Ariaudo to Frame Works

Your research, which basically is open to different contexts, as your name says, focuses on explores exploitation of resources (water, lands, etc..). So, may I say that in your research there’s always a price to be paid by someone or something? If yes, in this direction, what are your sources to start dialoguing with those ones - in the case of people – who pays that price?

India is going through strange currents at the moment – lopsided development policies, unsustainable extraction & usage of natural resources, blatant disregard of the rights of people over their resources and their destinies. What is becoming more and more apparent is a glaring sense of inequity and dispossession, indeed at places, the State is turning against its own people. It is only natural for artists, filmmakers etc within our context to interrogate what is happening around us. Our research emphasis, too, sprouts from this impulse – although our work is informed by these larger currents, what we try and do is move beyond the so-called super-structural lens and focus on the intricate, everyday changes that various contexts/human ecologies are undergoing. We, as well as the people we work with, are often witnesses to these dilemmas; on the other hand, wittingly or unwittingly, we also become complicit in these processes. Within such a scenario, we feel it is important to provoke an articulation of visible & invisible transformations that a space/people might be experiencing.

Some hollow bamboo trunks are used as pipes where, using rhabdomancy, the maximum concentration of groundwater was discovered

Why in Turin, on the occasion of Resò, did you choose as main issue water? In the sense that it is a universal commons, this is obvious. However you know water is conceived in a very different way city by city, but speaking about water in Torino (as a sample of a typical western city), what was your approach to the subject?

Our intention was to reactivate our relationship with the primal nature of water, to rethink its essence within our immediate consciousness and experience of living particularly in an urban setting, irrespective of whether it was Turin, Delhi or elsewhere. Cities, in the way that they are designed or structured, we feel, create a subtle ‘othering’ of nature, where our relationship to nature and its resources is purely functional - that of usage and convenience – or through its ‘aestheticization’. Within this paradigm, resources become a means to an end, part of a larger demand and supply chain, a link in the cycle of consumption. There is a paradox or irony in the fact that, while on the one hand, cities allow easy access to water, both in functional and aesthetic terms, it is perhaps this quick availability that prevents us from actually ‘seeing’ or experiencing its very life-giving essence.

The ways in which we observed or responded to water in Turin, bore resemblance to our own lifestyles or of those around us in our own city. But being in Turin allowed us to question and re-examine our own relational experience to water, in a more fundamental, primary way. The question of access to water in Turin does not seem to be a concern, at least at an everyday level. Perhaps the reason for this is the proximity to the Alps, the 24x7 supply of potable water, the excess of it in the city. Allied with the idea of excess was the question of value – what is the perceived value of a resource when it is present in such abundance? It was interesting for us that while our previous works based in India were largely centered on the conflict around water, here the paradox with regard to water- the access/excess, the fact that quality of water rather than its availability was a point of concern, became a lens through which to re-examine our relationship to it.

Some hollow bamboo trunks are used as pipes where, using rhabdomancy, the maximum concentration of groundwater was discovered

Your research, which is really far from many practices of the contemporary art field in terms of formalization of work, how had it developed in Turin? And how does your research meet the art scene? Although the contemporary art scenes of Torino and New Delhi are contextually different, did you find some affinity or similarity on which we can talk about a sort of globalization of styles, trends, and so on…?

We like to locate our work at the interstices of research, art and other forms of image-making. We like to follow the impulses that a space or phenomena throws up from within, undertsand the various dynamics and cross-currents that flow through it, before we enter the realm of the universal or even, the representational. In that sense, in our minds, there is no clearcut distinction between research and art. Somehow, in the doing of the work, one merges into the other, transforms itself and then perhaps becomes what we would call art.

As artists, we all have our individual approaches, our individual ways of looking at the world; for us, one of the driving factors is to bring this into conversation with other spaces completely outside our familiar zones and treat those conversations, impressions, realities as points of departure for the work. For example, if we think about the fact that it was our first time in Turin, we had no idea or preconception of the city or about the art scene there. But when we began to work at PAV, over time, we felt a certain resonance with the space and the processes that it contained. In that sense, one always finds a common space of approach, thought, perhaps even language and expression, that can resonate with one’s position. As to whether there are affinities or similarities between the very diverse contexts that you have mentioned, to the extent that artists everywhere are involved in socially-engaged art practices in the public sphere in some form, yes, there is definitely an affinity. Of course, approaches, styles, lexicons and expressions may differ, but these are only to be expected given the varied contexts and impulses that drive artists to create work.

Has the operation, or maybe the gesture “Rain is for free”, you have realized at PAV something linked to a ceremony or to a ritual? This is also because it was part of a wider spectrum of possibility of investigation, even involving an expert on rhabdomancy. Was it a new way of proceeding, or something that already belonged to your practice? Do you think that this kind of approach can become way of working to use again in your future?

We would not strictly characterise the gesture as a ritual or ceremony, rather, for us, it was a philosophical inquiry into the idea of value, as far as resources are concerned. “Rain Is For Free” – we look at the work as a series of signs, a gentle reminder of the same idea of value that we have been talking about. At the same time, it is also meant to be a functional work – hollow bamboo pipes which are conduits for the rain that falls from the sky and the water that flows beneath the surface of the earth, in a constant cycle of transformation.

If we look at the rhabdomancy action which led us to the physical form of “Rain Is For Free”, we were simply extending the traditional idea associated with rhabdomancy, that of “looking for something which is valuable”. We were very clear that we were not looking at rhabdomancy in anthropological, scientific or mystical terms; it was the symbolic meaning that was buried in the gesture of ‘searching’ for water – an object of value – that tied up with our intention of reactivating the essence of water which has become so invisible from our everyday consciousness. Could animating the symbolism of this practice pose a provocation to discover a valuable resource like water anew? Yes, this was a very new approach for us, and we do see ways in which such an approach could inform our work in the future. Sometimes, to look for meaning in ways and zones outside of what we normally perceive as ‘rational’, could offer the possibility of widening our enquiry and understanding, and push us to reflect on critical issues through a completely different language and dimension.

Some hollow bamboo trunks are used as pipes where, using rhabdomancy, the maximum concentration of groundwater was discovered

Frame Works to Franco Ariaudo

Your research revolves around the analysis of sport and the dynamics of sport, which you often flank with your artistic practices. In particular you often use the term ‘sportification’: what exactly do you mean by that?

As an artist I’m fascinated by the dynamics of the sport system. It’s a field where situations intersect that influence other areas of life, and are influenced by them, at both the collective and the individual levels.
As an athlete, what I look for in the dimension of long-distance running is the reassurance offered by a precise, easily understood set of rules. Two topographic points, the starting point and the finishing point, that are connected by a route you must cover in the shortest possible time, where you cannot allow yourself to make too many compromises.
The process of “sportification” implies creating a sort of binary system, along which two factors are ranged: the production of sports value by the direct actors themselves, and an exercise in emotional consumption on the part of the spectators. On the one hand are the athletes, who perform a specific sequence of bodily actions within a codified context. On the other hand are the spectators, for whom sport is the fruit of the satisfaction of their needs and expectations, through which they are able to experience intense emotions.
This theme was at the centre of research entitled Collecting People/Apnea conducted by Progetto Diogene, a group I belong to in Turin. The research took place in 2011, and comprised a series of six meetings with “top figures in competitive sport”. Our aim was to study an aspect of sport that is less well known to the general public: the psychological preparation underlying it, and the extent to which the approach to a sports discipline may be compared with the approach to art.
Sportification also lies at the centre of a series of cultural and artistic actions that will come together in the publication Sportification, società, agonismi e giochi senza frontier (Sportification, society, competitive sport and games without borders), interdisciplinary research I am doing in collaboration with Luca Pucci and Emanuele De Donno. We aim to analyse the theme of sport, of agon and of playing games in contemporary society. The project deals both with the utopia of a society based on game-playing, but also with the new social musculature that leads to the sportification of the collective body and to the politicisation of sport.

some hollow bamboo trunks are used as pipes where, using rhabdomancy, the maximum concentration of groundwater was discovered

The analysis of the sports system and, more in general, of competition and effort, accompany your work but, on the occasion of your Resò residency, why did you choose to concentrate especially on the spectacularisation of cricket?

In India, cricket is much more than a game, it is almost a religion. It is perhaps the only element that could unify such a diversified nation. During my early research for the project, I immediately realised that in India, sport means cricket. For a long time the heritage of British colonialism, the 1game has now become the symbol of de-colonisation, leading India to become one of the top world players. My curiosity sharpened as I became aware of the existence of the Indian Premiere League, the Indian national championship for cricket clubs that was set up in 2008. For the occasion, cricket – a sport in which matches traditionally last for three to five days - was transformed into an “competitive show”, inspired by American sports and European football, with three-hour matches, fizzy drinks on the terraces, colours, dancing, trumpets and cheerleaders. A perfect money machine designed to maximise profit and give the public a pure moment of enjoyment (and distraction) through what is known as “cricketainment”. Like Bollywood, the IPL is the fruit of a process of spectacularisation and Americanisation of something that, though imported, is an integral part of Indian culture.
The “advantage” of measuring oneself against, and of trying to analyse, such a recent phenomenon is that is gives me the chance to grasp aspects that have still to be refined, to see the contradictions, on the long wave of enthusiasm surrounding a show still in its early years, which has not yet begun to settle out. My aim was essentially to place myself in a position where I could experience that climate close up, and use it as a sort of litmus paper to measure what was happening outside the cricket grounds and beyond the TV screens.

Franco Ariaudo, Pom Poms, 2013

During the weeks you were working in New Delhi you chose to act as a spectator, you observed the cricket ground from the standpoint of a place of entertainment and consumption. Do you see a relation with the context of contemporary art here too?

Each time you leave the New Delhi streets to enter a public building, a shopping mall, a museum, the metro, whatever, you have to go through a security post, with separate lines for men and women. Your pockets and bags are searched manually by specialised personnel, and are X-rayed. The more “sensitive” the place you are entering, the more stringent the controls. From this standpoint, entering New Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium for a cricket match is like entering the Pentagon. You go through a series of controls that generate the sensation of a sort of catharsis, and that clearly mark the separation between inside and outside. As though the stadium were a parallel universe where, under the ever-vigilant eye of a huge police force, the general public is allowed to enjoy itself recklessly. Not understanding anything about the dynamics of the game of cricket, my approach was to try letting myself go among the crowd, immersing myself upon the terraces and trying to just “enjoy the experience”. In this way I gradually deciphered a whole series of behavioural codes that were unwritten, but shared by all. Sudden and repetitive happenings seemed able to trigger a wave of excitement, often only marginally correlated to what was happening on the pitch. A trumpet jingle sent out at random by a DJ immediately leads to dancing and shouting among the crowd, a cheerleader does the splits or titillates the crowd, and it is like a collective injection of testosterone. And the popcorn, the rush to the soft-drink stand, the waving of scarves and flags ... there is no room for sadness on the terraces of the IPL. But above all the movement of the crowd as a single body to put themselves in the spotlight of a TV camera, for a few seconds to enter the frame projected onto the stadium’s maxi-screen, that while it will not change your life may at least change the evening.
I feel that there is some sort of relationship between all this and other places of life and of entertainment: the cinema, the shopping mall, and also a certain context of contemporary art in New Delhi: the museums and openings. And in a way this also applies to the spaces where my residency was held. Here, too, one lives inside a sort of “bubble”, with a specific language and a specific audience: the separation from the “outside”, from a certain type of day-to-day life, a separation that is already so marked, is amplified by the “canonical” catharsis of the security checks, which reduce the sense of sharing to a minimum.

Your work in restitution of the residency concentrated on the presence of the cheerleaders in the stadium. Their presence there was a completely new departure, which stimulated you to reflect upon inclusion and exclusion, and enabled you to visualise some contradictions and paradoxes of an emerging cultural context. Now, a few months later, have you added anything to that reflection?

The work I did in restitution of the Indian experience is only a very small part of the work that might be done on the phenomenon of cheerleading in the IPL. As often happens, though, you have to be able to come to terms with a tight timeframe, although you are dealing with immense subjects. My approach was to start from the origins of cheerleading, an integral part of American sports culture, finding books on the subject, and getting to grips with analysing the phenomenon. These were books of essays, and in my project I subjected the covers to a process of translation, at both the iconographic and the textual level. Through collaboration with local workers, I recreated a sort of iconography of cheerleading in India, in an attempt to “normalise” it, to legitimise its existence, to blunt its contradictions and paradoxes.
In the US, cheerleading can be considered a sport in its own right, and perhaps the image of the scantily-clad and seductive girl waving pompoms to encourage her team is something that belongs to the past. Cheerleading has now become a true branch of athleticism and is the subject of national and international contests, it is a performance-oriented competitive sport with breathtaking acrobatics. Conversely, in the IPL the cheerleader is not actually a cheerleader, but in reality she is more or less a model or a dancer, recruited through agencies specialised in organising events (from exhibitions to theme weddings). These girls almost all have white skin, they are often blond, and they dance in groups of three on a stage at the edge of the stadium like cubists in a discotheque. Their mission is not to support the team but to incite (even excite) the public on the terraces. Thus an exchange mechanism comes about between the public and the cheerleaders, in which the two sides provide mutual support for each other’s enthusiasm, between the girls and the fans, the high-kicks and the bated breath, between voyeurism and competition. All this in a country where kissing and holding hands in public are prohibited.
Through the (completely superficial) observation surface provided by the world of sport, it is thus interesting to examine the nature and essence of the urban Indian male, in his eternal and prolonged childhood, in his specially-created worlds, in a sort of nursery where mothers, fathers, sisters, fiancées, and society itself, all invigilate over him.

Franco Ariaudo (1979, Cuneo) works in Turin.
Frame Works is Amit Mahanti (1978, born in Shillong) and Ruchika Negi (1979, born in Bangalore). They live and work in New Dehli.
Resò 3 is the international residency exchange network promoted by the Foundation for Modern and Contemporary Art CRT, which encourages contemporary artists to work on subjects and spaces by the use of heterogeneous methodologies, and activating an intimate relationship between their research and the artistic, social and political implications of the hosting context.

In the context of Artissima, sunday november the 10th at 5.30 p.m., Franco Ariaudo will meet, at Mario Merz' table, inside the Musei in Mostra space, Luisa Ungar e Cosimo Veneziano, the three artists being selected for the 2013 edition of the Foundation for Modern and Contemporary Art CRT's Resò International Artist Residencies. The artists will talk with Lisa Parola of a.titolo, coordinator of the programme, presenting the researches they started within the project and discussing the idea of the residency as an experience of the borders, of crossing, and of movement of thoughts and art.

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