“Like a Moth to a Flame” at OGR, Turin
Tom Eccles and Mark Rappolt interviewed by Giovanna Manzotti
Considered a wide-ranging project—where the “idea of collaboration and the sharing of resources, as well as the themes of rebirth and renewal” are at the core of its origin—the exhibition, Like a Moth to a Flame, has officially inaugurated the Visual Arts Program at the renovated Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) in Turin, a site built between 1885 and 1895 that was once dedicated to the maintenance of railway vehicles. In this interview, curators Tom Eccles and Mark Rappolt discuss their engagement with cultural institutions, museums, and private collections, and about how the show’s title—with its references ranging from British artist Cerith Wyn Evans to French theorist Guy Debord—is able to generate connections and mark paths.
Giovanna Manzotti: Like a Moth to a Flame is a large-scale overview of objects, ranging from a 2nd century BCE Egyptian sculpture to artworks created for the latest Venice Biennale, with a very strong engagement by art collectors. I’m curious to know about the process of putting this project together, in terms of both setup of the exhibition and relationships established with Turin-based cultural institutions and with private and public subjects.
Tom Eccles and Mark Rappolt: In a sense, the whole project began with an invitation to mark the passing of time—more specifically, an invitation from the collector and philanthropist Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo to curate an exhibition during Artissima. That was followed, very shortly afterwards, by an invitation by Nicola Ricciardi to collaborate on the inauguration of the new OGR space, which was due to open at the same time. It was an amazing coincidence that provided many productive concurrences. The first, of course, being that the idea of collaboration and the sharing of resources was at the heart of the project. And, related to that, that both the Fondazione and OGR are private foundations that function in the public sphere. In the case of the new OGR, the repurposing of the old rail yard is financed and supported by the CRT Foundation, which has long and deep links to many Turin-based cultural institutions—not least the Galleria d’Arte Moderna (GAM) and the Castello di Rivoli, where many of the artworks were acquired with CRT funding.
These coincidences suggested two complimentary exhibitions with a focus on collecting and collections. Then fortuitously, during that first visit on a quiet Sunday morning, we came across a long line of people waiting to enter a building. Following the line, we discovered the Egyptian Museum, which houses a collection of extraordinary quality—among which, on the top floor, is a visible archive of thousands of objects displayed in glass cases, ranging from simple domestic tools to exquisite tomb sculptures. This provided the idea of accumulation and material culture, but also the motivation to look at other collections in Turin. And as we explored further—at the Palazzo Madama (with its large collection of porcelain), the Museum of Oriental Art, the GAM, and the Museum of Cinema—other connections suggested themselves. What was extraordinary was the willingness and enthusiasm of the various institutions to collaborate and lend works to the exhibition. So with the idea of display—derived from visiting the various museums and their specific collections—came the desire to collaborate with an artist on the design of the exhibition itself. We invited Liam Gillick to work with us on every aspect of the show, including a new conference space for the OGR based upon his 1999 work, Prototype for Conference Room, that will be used for the inaugural symposium.
GM: Another aspect I want to tackle is about the show’s title. One of the things I found really intriguing is its ability to condense different aspects in a single image, which could maybe be better summarized as constant tensions swinging between danger and attraction, desire of renovation, and risk. The still of a moth consumed by the flame of a candle opens towards a visual frame that could be itself a signal for other echoes. Could you tell me a little about the range of references belonging to this expression?
TE AND MR: As you say, the title of the exhibition is a phrase that is generally used to describe an inability to control one’s compulsions. We were interested both in the idea of art returning again and again to similar ideas or subject matters—in that sense, the compulsion to create—and collections that contain many of the same or similar objects and the compulsion to collect in and of itself. More specifically, the title of the exhibition originated from a circular neon text-work by Cerith Wynn Evans, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (2006). The work’s title is palindromic, in that the sentence has no fixed direction (left to right, right to left), and articulates a riddle: You’re being asked to name that which “circles in the night and is consumed by flames.” One solution to the riddle is “a moth.” Also important to the exhibition is the fact that Evans titled his artwork after Guy Debord’s last film (made in 1978; released in 1981), which concerns the role of culture (moving image, in particular) as a kind of sedative that numbs its audience to the fact that they are deprived of freedom and more generally abused in their everyday lives. The film was later broadcast with Italian subtitles on RAI. And the Debord film is also the starting point for the exhibition at the
Fondazione Sandretto, which is perhaps more political in nature, yet still captures some of the underlying thematics of rebirth and renewal (and destruction!) that more generally underlie the two exhibitions. Knowing the connection between the Situationists and Alba, which is close to the city, seemed also to be an almost fortuitous starting point.
GM: The theme of renewal seems to be a fil rouge, also considering the time-specific situation. The show exploits, in fact, three important events: the official inauguration of ORG, the 25th anniversary of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s collection, and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Situationist International in 1957, following a meeting in Alba the previous year. Considering these concurrences, I want to ask about your personal view of the OGR district, now. Aside from the urban redevelopment of the entire area and its surroundings, how do you see the role of OGR as an innovative hub and arts center for research, experimentation, production, and promotion in cross-disciplinary fields and as a driving force in Turin, and Italy in general?
TE AND MR: Turin seems to be going through a resurgence right now. And the OGR can only encourage that. What we discovered was an incredible quality and specificity to the city, its collections, and most importantly, the people who animate its civic life. We hope the exhibition demonstrates that and makes connections between the histories and present conditions that exist and what can emerge from the past into the future. The work in the show comes from collections in Turin (with only three or four exceptions) and, we hope, showcases OGR as a collaborative space within the cultural landscape of the city.
GM: Going back to the title and the idea of rebirth, I have to say that another image that immediately came to my mind refers to the movement of moths around light sources. Circularity and spiral flights create floating and natural paths which—figuratively speaking—I find strongly in harmony with the identity of the project. What do you think about it?
TE AND MR: I think we would agree with you.
at OGR, Turin
until 14 January 2018