The exhibitions curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose at the Fondazione Prada feature two artists who combine a speculative approach and the search for a spiritual dimension with a focus on everyday life.
The Fondazione Prada is holding two exhibitions curated by Elvira Dyangani in its Milan headquarters: Theaster Gates’ “True Value” and Nástio Mosquito’s “T.T.T. – Template Temples of Tenacity”. Theaster Gates and Nástio Mosquito were born in Chicago in 1973 and Luanda, Angola, in 1981, respectively.
Both have appeared on the international scene in recent years with forceful works fusing performance, installation and music. They have been prominent presences in exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale, Documenta and the Istanbul Biennial. Both combine a speculative approach and the search for a spiritual dimension with a focus on everyday life.
Theaster Gates’ extremely clear vision is driven by pressing social issues and community life as well as the need to re-amalgamate what today’s economic system neglects and divides. This drive fuels a poetic but also activity bordering on activism, comprising teaching – which he does at the Department of Visual Arts of the University of Chicago where he coordinates the “Arts and Public Life” programme –, managing a non-profit organisation he founded, the Rebuild Foundation, and a number of long-term urban-regeneration projects. Since 2008, the year of the major recession, Gates has pursued a large design to take over rundown or abandoned businesses, inject new life with waste materials found in loco or nearby and turn them into community rendezvous. The area involved is the South Side of Chicago.
The first building was the Archive House in Dorchester Avenue: a clapboard bungalow housing 14,000 books from a closed bookshop, a collection of slides and a “soul food kitchen”. Other buildings, including bank premises closed after being seriously damaged by flooding, followed; his actions have converged in the ongoing community Dorchester Project. In recent years, the artist has also been asked to drive similar interventions in other cities, outside the Dorchester Project.
The core work presented by Theaster Gates at the Fondazione Prada is a meticulous reconstruction of the interior of an abandoned hardware store. Above a long counter neatly filled with materials until recently sold in the shop is a Hardware sign. Although decontextualized, this fragment of reality conjures up local history and the situation of the neighbourhood where the store was situated, its everyday life and the relationships formed there. It also prompts social and economic reflections. Theaster Gates believes that the most mundane objects can channel deep-rooted knowledge, linked not only to their phenomenology but also to user experiences. This is their true value and the title of this exhibition. Gates also sees the hardware shop as a metaphor: the presence of tools, pliers, screws, wires and adhesive materials conveys the idea of holding the world together, a role the artist tries to play, contributing via his work to the responsible transformation of the context he lives in. This stance drives Gates’ work as a whole and the title of the exhibition.
Other works by the artist exhibited at the Fondazione Prada are sculptures made of clay, ceramic, elephant dung and other materials, objects tied to an African matrix, with which the artist identifies, and a ritual associable to the theme of faith. The relationship with forces that transcend material everyday life is, to Gates’ eyes, a source of strength available to humans. There is also a sloping floor, recycled from the many high schools closed by neoliberal policies. The floor can be walked on and so retains its use value; at the same time, however, it has a destabilising effect, again a criticism of the neoliberal agenda and a metaphor on the importance of waste materials, which are a form of collective memory.
The other exhibition on at the Fondazione Prada is Nástio Mosquito’s “T.T.T. – Template Temples of Tenacity”, comprising three new projects presented by Mosquito on the ground floor of the Podium, in the Cinema and in the external spaces of the Fondazione. Mosquito, like Gates, fuses installation and performance in a collective and participatory dimension where the music often acts as a tool that can draw out a critical approach linked to personal feelings.
WEorNOT (Nastivicious’ Temple #01) is a site-specific installation by Nastivicious, a duo founded in 2008 by Mosquito and Spanish artist Vic Pereiró in collaboration with the illustrator Ada Diez. The project transforms the Podium space, its glazed surfaces covered with caricature-like figures. These are illustrations of popular proverbs summarising collective thought and wisdom. In the centre of the room is a book containing a number of proverbs and mottos, the product of the humorous distortion of aphorisms and popular sayings.
For the opening, the courtyard of the Fondazione hosted I Make Love To You. You Make Love To Me. Let Love Have Sex With The Both Of Us (Part 1 – The Gregorian Gospel Vomit), an energetic performance based on the combination of gospel and irreverence, and consisting in the re-elaboration of a sung Christian hymn. During the action, the performers hand spectators small stickers bearing mottos such as “Don’t be cool be relevant… And if you can be relevantly cool then good for you.”