Tania Fiaccadori “Sea-Monkeys Cult” at Dimora Artica, Milan
Dimora Artica presents Sea-Monkeys Cult by Tania Fiaccadori, a personal exhibition that reflects on the concept of survival (Nachleben) in relation to the symbolic power of objects and images and their eternal return through history. The works, inspired by the magical instruments of the ancient Italian traditions, reproduce a ritual expressive form seen through a contemporary filter, as if they were part of an alien cult.
Objects retain a prodigious and identitarian value in the contemporary world just like they did in the past, and if transferred from everyday life to the magical dimension, they have the power to transport into an emancipatory elsewhere. This magical dimension always played a main role in human behavior, and often manifested itself in rituals that escaped the dominant religious norms. In European culture many ancient traditions have been forgotten, but others persist in the people’s memories: echoes of these customs persist in superstitions or in simple rituals handed down from generation to generation. This set of habits can be linked to the vestiges of a pagan Europe and Italy, able to survive in hiding despite the advent of the Christian religion, the Middle Ages, the attempt to erase their memory by branding their rituals as demonic cults. At the end of the 19th century the anthropologist C. G. Leland collected some of these traditions in the book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, starting from the correspondence with a Florentine witch who claimed to be a descendant of the Etruscans and still remembered the fragments of their ancient devotions. The central figure of the sacred text was Aradia, daughter of the goddess Diana and queen of witches.
In Sea-Monkeys Cult, Aradia’s story serves as an evocative manifesto of an operative method that makes use of everyday objects attributing complex meanings to them, not unlike the ritual practice, that often follows a non-logical pattern, proceeding through hidden similarities and correlations between different elements and the gestures of the officiant. Therefore in the exhibition the single elements are part of a process that leads to the completion of the ritual according to a precise symbolism (exemplified by the black banner). Dimora Artica becomes the environment in which the operation carried on with these magical instruments takes place, a sort of witch’s house, transfigured through the filters of the contemporary approach. Traditional rituals were performed with easily available and simple objects: for example salt held a great protective power and was able to banish the forces of evil. A magical operation could also be accomplished using a simple garment: stealing the shoes from someone and inserting some kind of consecrated object, or a written magic formula: in this way a jinx or some other form of spell could be cast on the owner of the object. Teeth were held in great consideration as well: losing them and throwing them away was a sign of misfortune, therefore they used to be conserved, even in reliquaries – as today is sometimes done with milk teeth. These objects were loaded with meanings often unrelated to their practical function, and the owners felt as if they were charged with inexplicable energy. In Sea-Monkeys Cult the works represent a possible series of transfigured magic instruments, part of an alien cult. The whole exhibition suggests how still today, hypothesizing a survival of magical thinking, certain objects with nothing special in themselves acquire instead a certain power, for example in subcultures, expressing a freedom of transcendence. As if they gained a magical aura, instruments, designer clothes, sports accessories, but also certain images, logos and symbols, become “cult” elements.
The symbolic power of objects (or images) is re-established in different contexts, returning throughout history in different forms, keeping intact an ineffable energy, never dead but always “survived”. Warburg calls this survival Nachleben, not really a rebirth after extinction, but a ghostly non-death, a continuity: similar to what happened to the ancient rites that lasted until today, through underground metamorphoses.
In Sea-Monkeys Cult the ritual performed, exemplified by the works, follows the life cycle of the Artemia salina, a millenary living fossil commonly called “sea-monkey”, that has become an educational game for children (incidentally the Artemia is the only being part of the Artemiidae family, named after the Greek name of Diana): an organism which is almost immortal, whose eggs may appear dead for hundreds of years, and then, under favorable environmental conditions, open as if it was a miracle. Salt is the magic tool that, combined with water, acts as an activator; and that together with light – the second key – makes the rebirth after an apparent death of this infinitesimal divinity possible.
at Dimora Artica, Milan
until 7 April 2018