Marinella Senatore “Piazza Universale / Social Stages“ at Queens Museum, New York
The Queens Museum is proud to host Marinella Senatore: “Piazza Universale / Social Stages”, the first solo show by the Italian artist initiated by an American museum. Curated by Matteo Lucchetti, the exhibition introduces Senatore’s multifaceted practice by looking at a range of important recent projects created in Spain, France, Italy and the US between 2009 and the present.
The title “Piazza Universale / Social Stages” presents one Italian and one English phrase as if the second were a translation of the first. However, this is not the case. This gap is where the exhibition unfolds, in its attempt to translate or transform the artist’s live, participatory, and community engaged projects into a new and unique experience within the Museum’s galleries. In doing so, the galleries themselves turn into theater, cinema, or television production sets, or a setting for poetry or dance class, offering the works of Senatore as “stages for” and “stages of” a collective social becoming—tools for individual growth and collective empowerment.
Senatore’s art is characterized by public participation. Everyone can take part in the artist’s works, which simultaneously question her role as an author and that of the public as the receiver. Starting with the dialogue between individual stories, collective cultures and social structures, Senatore uses a broad spectrum of media: video, drawing, performance, collage, installation, photography, sound, painting and sculpture, in order to let her projects speak to multiple publics and contexts.
Marinella explains, “The audience does not partake in the projects as extras, but, rather, each person is the agent of their creative contribution to the whole. My main activity is to provide a platform for the participants’ and, with the stand-alone performances, to provide possible ways they can interact with one another and with the space. That’s what I can do to realize my vision of art as a social practice.”
Visitors enter the show through an amusement-park-style woman’s mouth that draws from the iconography of 19th and early 20th century traveling fairs and amusement parks. The mouth symbolizes that same rite of passage that most of the participants in Senatore’s work experience when they transition from daily life into their roles as protagonists in a public performance with hundreds of professional and non-professional peers. The choice of a Federico Fellini-like woman’s face also reclaims the cinematic complexity of the female figure, often trapped in conventional roles and expectations, here signaling the feminist nature of many of the works on view.
“Marinella Senatore’s work reveals the joyful, complex and laborious interdependency that bonds the most diverse communities that compose the richness of our contemporary civic societies. In such historical moment where exclusion and the instrumental use of fear are at play in the political realm, it is of pivotal importance to reaffirm the artistic work as a practice for assembling diversity and to always make new sense out of it,” says Matteo Lucchetti.
Past the mouth, visitors encounter Speak Easy, 2009. The musical, transformed here into a video work, was a crowd-funded by 1,200 participants in Madrid that makes use of the tropes from the golden age of American movie musicals in order to come to terms with the traumas of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain (which consolidated power during the same decades, the 1930s and 40s). Also in the gallery are drawings and collages, attempts by the artist to keep together the many narratives springing from the participants, and unite the everyday quality of storytelling with the tragedy of history.
In this exhibition, theatre piece MétallOpérette, 2016 is transformed into an installation for the first time. An operetta composed by the artist in collaboration with various groups in Aubervilliers—a former industrial suburb north of Paris where unemployment is rampant among long-time and new immigrant inhabitants— the performance revolves around the contradictions of today’s post-industrial context and touches on the formation of individuals as political subjects through the process of class struggle.
Visitors will also experience the first museum presentation of Modica Street Musical: The Present, the Past and the Possible, 2016, a performance in two acts and an intermezzo for the public spaces of the Sicilian town of Modica. This took place in the summer of 2016 thanks to the enthusiastic engagement of more than 200 of its citizens. The town here is evoked by elaborately wrought light structures usually employed for civic and religious celebrations in the south of Italy. Modica Street Musical represents a space for reflection on the musical as a mise-en-scène of the relationship between spectacle and life, and the everyday lives of its Modica protagonists.
The three main projects enter into a shared dramaturgy for the Queens Museum, activated alternately by colored lights and the sound of their original scores, which guide the audience through an experience of the artist’s diverse practice.
Overall, visitors experience an anticipation typical of being backstage where one gets access to artists’ areas, rehearsals, and sound-checks while a unique and ungraspable grand spectacle is prepared before your eyes. From the writing of the subject, to the filming, choreography, costume design, and scenography, every piece has in fact a learning potential for the participant/co-authors who unite their own perspectives and skills with Senatore’s training and background as musician, director of photography, and visual artist, in designing the entire experience.
A public performance is held as part of the exhibition opening, titled Protest Forms: Memory and Celebration: Part II. This performance involves 350 participants from a range of different creative worlds. From spoken word artists and rappers to an Afro-Colombian bullerengue group to a LGBTQ symphonic band to a chorus made up of union members to representatives from important activist groups such as Black Lives Matter NYC, Protest Forms is dedicated to the past and present civic struggles of New York City communities. Queens Anthem, an original music score composed by Emiliano Branda, is based on an open call to Queens residents to submit sonic memories of their borough and the protest songs related to their communities. It will premiere as part of the larger performance.
The thematic of the performance is to explore the multifaceted forms and rich legacies of protest in NYC and across the United States, while also engaging with joyful and ceremonial choreographies of celebration, affiliation, empowerment, and belonging. The artist articulates her long term interest in the role that the collective crowd, dance and music play into the creation of temporary communities united in demonstrating resistance.
at Queens Museum, New York
until 30 July 2017