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Appartamento in affitto a Corso Mazzini, Cosenza

“The South is a mirage that must be seen closely, wherever this is. The risk is otherwise to pick only the epic, folkloristic, touristic or decadent side. More than an observatory, the South needs attentive observers who will contribute to multiply the visions, moving the axis of sight from the categories of centre/outskirts, signifcance/marginal, to a polycentric and animated geography: a geography that firstly knows how to name what is there and that doesn’t confuse everything in the umpteenth peacefully sunny panorama”. This was the starting point of Prima Visione, an EU funded residency program for artists, curated by Francesco Ragazzi and Francesco Urbano (Associazione E) organized in collaboration with the Regional Board of the Ministry of Historical, Artistic and Ethno-anthropological Heritage of Calabria and four selected resident artists - Francesco Bertelé, Rachele Maistrello, Giulio Squillacciotti and myself. According to the two curators the artists would “explore during the residency the city of Cosenza in order to discover and circulate images of a Southern Italy viewed from a perspective far from the usual picture postcards”. I interpret this as an invitation to “reveal and show” through our art praxis a personal vision of the south, trying to go beyond the obvious, whatever that means.

The foremost question in my mind during the residency has been what is my role as an artist who comes from the outside to a specific context like the one of Cosenza and Calabria which I know almost nothing about? What can I and what do I want to say about this place? As an artist I have the power to point the spotlight at something or someone. Where would I like it to be pointed? But art is much more than that. It is about entering a flow, being sensitive and letting ourselves be influenced by the people and the places we come in contact with and being able to re-channel this feeling back in another form. After the experience something has changed in the artist and, if we’re lucky, also outside of him if he has managed to touch someone with his expression.

Does the outsider bring with him new knowledge or does he give input to events that would not have taken place without his participation? Is this knowledge only helpful in the sense that it brings something new to the situation, something that could never have taken place without the participation of an outsider? Is it in the best cases simply a question of a happy coincidence that causes a positive outcome more than an act that has been thought through and planned on the table? Or can the role of the outsider be something more of a specific value that goes beyond the concept of being “different” and just by chance doing something that changes the flow of things? Can the outsider step into a shared process and search for something new together with the people who live in the place? Is it possible that everyone engaged in a common experience go home with new reflections and, at least up to a point, a wider perspective of the world we live in?

A shared and paritarian approach in this kind of context can be difficult for various reasons. In the beginning I thought that my problem was tied to a lack of knowledge. Even after 5 years of living in Naples and one in Basilicata, I find the dimension of Cosenza and Calabria something incredibly difficult to grasp. It’s like some sort of fundamental understanding of the place continuously escapes my comprehension. I tried really hard in this context to go beyond a geopolitical and cultural judgment, to perceive the place as it is, and to also understand the intangible aspects of this society without useless comparisons to other realities. Therefore, it was an enormous surprise for me to find pieces of my own homecountry, Finland, through the lens of a microscope while making photos at the University of Calabria. Last week my creative path here in Cosenza took me to collaborate with the faculty of DIBEST (Ecological research) of UNICAL. My idea was to make pictures of the surfaces of touchscreen phones with a microscope: six phones belonging to six students linking them to the metaphor of six degrees of separation¹. The students kindly lent me their phones and researchers Leonardo Bruno and Tommaso Iaria helped me with the work. The outcome is awesome! A big thanks to all participants for joining in!!

What I saw through the lens of the microscope was a beautiful image, dirt that was transformed into an abstract galaxy of golden nuggets in the middle of a black universe and a metaphor of decadence in the form of three big worn letters “NOK”. The letters stood for Nokia, the pride and the source of contemporary Finnish self-esteem, Finland being a country ranked highly regarding international market competition and social welfare. The worn and dirty letters were looking back at me sadly, like an old showgirl who knows her time is over. When I then continued to make photos of coins that I happened to have in my pocket, I noted they were all German, and while contemplating a gigantography of the Brandenburg gate on the back of the 50 cent Euro coin, I could not help but wonder if it really makes sense to reflect on the South without considering that, we are in an interdependent European and global network? Through monetary systems, internet, natural resources and so on, we are all connected. It doesen’t matter if we’re rich or poor, we breath the same air and drink the same water. When the stockmarket falls on one side of the world the consequences are also felt on the other side. This consideration is radically different from only trying to understand the “other” because it is “(politically) correct” or “enriching” to do so. It means understanding that we are connected, intertwined and inseparable, did we like it or not. That we share a planet, a delicate cohabitation. It's a jump from micro vision to macro vision. Like the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner said: "When you look at the earth from distance, you understand how fragile it is!"².

My discovery was in this case a happy serendipity. I found North where I thought I was searching for the South. The fact that I did not "know" the place gave me a possibility of discovering something different. The outsider is a figure who doesn't know, or at least he does not know the same things than the "locals" do. Sometimes not to know gives us the possibility to resolve the problems in an unconventional way. To much knowledge and expertise can block us from choosing alternative paths.

The outsider is also a figure that stands until a certain point outside the society's judgement. He enjoys more freedom as the same norms that are applied on locals do not apply for him. This means that in a context like the one of Prima Visione in Cosenza, the artist can "drag" the participants to a "grey zone", a territory that is slightly outside the normal operating area. This territory can be slightly dangerous but it also contains a lot of potential for discovering something new. This is how through the outsider (the artist) and his actions new things are found.

As an artist, I also ask myself about the limit between representation and action. Is it enough to make statements about the situation from one’s personal point of view, often remaining in the convenient comfort zone of the artworld, or would it make more sense to try to react to the local social texture in a more concrete way? During the residency we have all done both, but in the end I would claim that the participative aspects gained most weight in the process.

Francesco Bertelè had us work with the Open Space Technology (OST) and together with 17 students of Prof. Leonardo Passarelli from the Department of Archeology and Art History and a couple of outside participants we had a lot of time and many moments to think through and reflect profoundly on what South actually means to us and what we would like to put in the spotlight on this occasion. The shared analysis of the concept did not give us exhaustive answers on the subject, exactly as a good map can’t tell us where we should go, but the discussions helped us to have a clearer picture of the situation. Through a dialogical process new aspects of the circumstances emerged.

In practical terms, co-creation requires a different kind of organization than working alone. I have done several participative projects this year and also through my coaching and teaching activities I have reflected a lot on the different aspects of collaboration and working for a common cause. It is more and more clear to me how, in successful organizations, participation can take various forms inside a shared operating frame. Nina Simon writes in her book Participatory Museum: “Many cultural professionals focus on just one kind of participation: the creation of user-generated content. But people who create content represent a narrow slice of the participatory landscape, which also includes people who consume user-generated content, comment on it, organize it, remix it, and redistribute it to other consumers. In 2008, Forrester Research released a “social technographics” profile tool to help businesses understand the way different audiences engage with social media online. The researchers grouped participatory online audiences into six categories by activity:

1. Creators (24%) who produce content, upload videos, write blogs
2. Critics (37%) who submit reviews, rate content, and comment on social media sites
3. Collectors (21%) who organize links and aggregate content for personal or social consumption
4. Joiners (51%) who maintain accounts on social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn
5. Spectators (73%) who read blogs, watch YouTube videos, visit social sites
6. Inactives (18%) who don’t visit social sites

These percentages add up to more than one hundred percent because the categorizations are fluid and many people fall into several categories at once”.

At the end of the day for me it is a question of being present and sensible. Being there without distractions, letting oneself "feel" the people and the situation. When we talk about "real participation" a shared process where all the participants are on equal level is necessary. Equality does not mean as Nina Simon says that everybody does the same thing, it means that we as individuals have the power to choose in what way we step in to the process. It also means that we find what the collective is doing important. That it is worth playing the game.

Participation in various forms will be our common conclusion to the residency period here in Cosenza. On Friday 14th at Palazzo Arnone the studio is open to everyone. Rachele Maistrello has invited the citizens of Cosenza to come and present their own projects. The stage is free for anyone who wants to make himself heard. While our studio opens to the public I will be on a plane to the north, but in my place there will be Maria Elisabetta Coniglio and Iolanda Frattolillo, young women from Calabria who have so kindly and enthusiastically accompanied me in my creative process here in Cosenza, and Nicola Bloise, responsible for Centro Studi Naturalistici del Pollino, who will give a short lecture on the life, death and conservation of butterflies³, one of the most beautiful and sensitive insects in the world. They will tell their version of the story. I have flapped my wings and the rest remains to be seen. Greetings to you all from Cosenza.

Six degrees of separation is the idea that everyone is approximately six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy and popularized by a play written by John Guare,
My translation from Italian, Felix Baumgartner, Wired Italia, 12-12
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.