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Ketty La Rocca “Dal momento in cui…” at Fri Art, Fribourg

The work of the artist Ketty La Rocca occupies a unique place in the Italian artistic landscape of the 60s and 70s. Wit and critic are here at every corner, emerging from her use of non-sensical language and word-image association.

In close association with the artist’s Estate in Florence, Fri Art presents a selection of works by the Italian artist Ketty La Rocca (1938-1976). The exhibition is composed mainly of collages that the artist created while she was a member of Gruppo 70, a Florence-based artist collective whose experiments were at the intersection of poetry, visual arts and media hijacking. Alongside this selection of collages, a series of works present the variety of media and approaches explored by the artist. Writing, sculpture and video bear witness to the poetic and personal quest of an artist who explores the potential of human communication and the finitude of words, images and gestures.

Ketty La Rocca’s collage practice emerged in parallel to her writing and poetry. While contributing to the aesthetics developed by the visual poetry of its generation, her works stand out through their wit and their way to play the text against the body. The shifts in meaning give a corrosive commentary on Italian society of the time, stuck between tradition and modernity. By associating appropriated images and words, they often, if not always, refer to a culturally charged context: the situation of women, neo-imperialism, consumerism, conservatism. Beyond, while always starting from a feminist engagement, they enter into conversation with anthropology, psychoanalysis and philosophy in a way still contemporary to us.

In 1972, Ketty La Rocca created the video Appendice per una supplica in the context of the Venice Biennale. A composition of hands perform minimal gestures, entering into a dance of pre-language signs. In the distance of the retransmitted image, these gestures without semantic content indicate the pure potential and desire of communication. In the intimacy of the projection, they become at the same time close and distant from us.

Giorgio Agamben in his Notes on the Gesture (1992) wrote, addressing cinema, a cultural form that runs through La Rocca’s work: a society that has lost its gestures tries at the same time to claim the return of what it has lost and to record this loss.

Her gradual emancipation from the Gruppo 70 and their ambitions to challenge the social order through art gives way to a more solitary practice, a practice that expresses a quest moved by a constant concern with the (im)possibility of knowing oneself, and the difficulty of communicating with others. Ketty La Rocca’s oeuvre is marked by the search for another language, the imagination of a non-alienated mode of communication. This work on communication involves simple figures, gestures, isolated pronouns and/or punctuation. This quest connects her with the feminist struggles of the time, which undertook to deconstruct patriarchal society’s use of communication as a form of domination.

In her oeuvre, nonsense comes to play the strategic role of a poetic against the instrumentalization of language. She fashioned a radical questioning on the difficulty of communicating, on the solitude of human existence that persists in spite of language. An affective quality of the work is located between incarnation and power of abstraction. Who, then, was it addressed to? Who, then, now?

Dal momento in cui… is a non-sensical text the artist wrote in 1971. It is composed of too long a sentence, a tortured analytical proposition that evokes the impossibility of grasping the world from a fixed point of view. It deliberately imitates a language contaminated by information and logic. Like an indecipherable mantra repeated over and over again, it circulates and imprints itself on several of the artist’s works. An alienated ritornello, it poses as the product of a subjectivity contaminated by administered society that loses contact with the outside world. Its automatism testifies to a confinement in language, but also to the radical function of the speech act that, each time it is employed, opens onto a new space for all that is possible. “From the moment when…”, sets the conditions for a situation that is different every time, like a throw of the dice…

In 1967, the Veline, isolated sentences reproduced on sheets of paper, were distributed to the people by the artist in the streets during Gruppo 70 performances. Their minimal, aphoristic nature manages to isolate a power exercised by language, its function of address and its mystery.

 

At Fri Art, Fribourg
until 5 July 2020

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