It’s not you, it’s us – Italian culture and the trap phenomenon
I have little to no actual knowledge about trap music or culture as I enter the SNITCH exhibition by Collettivo Plurale (Giulio Ancona, Leonardo Avesani and Chiara Ventura) at Adiacenze, Bologna. Of course, like everyone on the planet it seems, I have heard my fair share of Trap, really liked some, hated other – but without knowing why exactly that was, or even wondering too much about it. Overall, I consider myself an outsider in respect to the phenomenon, and I’ve been fine with being on the outside. Sofia, who works at the gallery and welcomes me into the space, comes to my rescue: as I soon find out, she is a walking, smiling encyclopedia, with all the facts and notions one needs to be able to understand the works on display. We start from the basics: the show by Collettivo Plurale, begins with a glossary, including all the trap must haves, from «skkrt skkrt» to «ski mask» to «lean» to «maranza» and more.
The title itself, SNITCH is borrowed – or stolen, taken – from the trap lexicon. With the exhibition, the artists want to analyze the trap phenomenon, deeply linked to the development of Gen Z, their own generation (incidentally mine too) – but it’s not just about that: they operate from within, investigate, and finally try to show some of their findings to the wider public. In doing so, they act in fact like snitches. Which has hardly ever been done. When it comes to talking about trap, which is often done from the outside, stereotypes and preconceptions tend to take over – perhaps the only way to have a different discussion was to have someone snitch it. The exhibition space helps: seeing words, objects, icons linked to trap given the status of art, placed into a gallery means something. The viewer, as skeptical as they might be, is then almost forced to take the phenomenon seriously, to stop and think about its meaning.
Here is where the artists become almost elusive: no easy answers are given. It is a short-circuit. It goes like: trap-art-what?-questions-no answers-what?-trap. Objects are placed in the space – their presence becoming a symbol, and yet there’s silence all around. We are left alone, required to confront them. It’s up to us to determine whether trap can really be art or it’s all bullshit, and this is all just mockery. In which case, of course, though of a different kind, it would be art no less. Short-circuit.
No judgement either: «this exhibition,» curator Alessio Vigni explains, «was not created with the idea of demonizing or condemning trap, but with the desire to analyze, reflect and understand the reasons why this phenomenon has found great success, and how it has managed to point out and fill a social void in various ways». Easy but reductive. Judgement is everywhere – implicit. It’s just that the artists refuse to give any – which ends up exposing and challenging our own. Whether you hate or love it – it being both trap and the exhibition – there’s no way out but taking a stand.
Manifestos, videos, readymade, photography, graphic design and music/audio are all used. Just as trap goes beyond music to embrace almost every aspect of life for those who live it, choosing one medium would have never been enough to represent it. Upon entry, setting the mood, a clever poster – the trap version of the Zang Tumb Tuuum cover – depicts Marinetti in a ski mask. Around him, in perfect trap/futuristic style, are a series of the most used onomatopoeic sounds in trap.
A video is next. The title: Breakfast on the (synthetic) grass. Manet is taken over, messed with, made trap. Quotes, allusions, references are everywhere – so big and famous they never really become irreverent or disrespectful. Irony is the key, for those who can see it.
The following piece is almost a Duchamp-like readymade. Again: quotes, references. It is a Lean cup, with the lyrics of the 1972 Bill Withers single Lean on Me written over it in purple marker. The story, as the artists imagined it, is that someone finds it on the street after a night out and reads the words: it is a piece about solitude and abyss, drugs, interaction – the need, the addiction and fun of them all.
Three holy cards represent a new sort of trinity and protection: the t-max, the ski mask and the Glock. Bottles of Sprite are left on the floor, a purple neon behind them. In the basement, the leftovers of a performance, of a crime scene, half-lived, half-eaten. No one gets to know – or dictate – the ending. Three more symbols are drawn on the walls around the Mess, with the invisible pen I used to play with as a kid: on the left, the three skyscrapers of Milan, on the right the Case Popolari, in the middle a written text, a turning point will come sooner or later.
Words, codes and symbols are central to the exhibition and each of the works. There is a particular Italian word, however, that Sofia keeps repeating as she takes me through the artworks: At·tra·ver·sà·re – meaning both «passare attraverso» and «mettersi di traverso» / both «crossing» and «getting in the way». Trap seems to be doing exactly that: it is way more than its sound, crossing all aspects of life; at the same time, there really seems to be no way of escaping from it – it always gets in the way. It crosses a generation, their minds and practices; and it gets in the way, at times even violently, challenging views and minds, generating debate, forcing us to cease passive listening and take a stand. I don’t know whether she realizes it or not but, although attraversare is not contained in the exhibition glossary, this word seems just perfect to describe the impact of trap music and culture – at least to an ignorant visitor like myself.
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