Contemporary art in the Borgo: Legend Has It by Aldo Giannotti

“Sometimes,” says Giannotti about the collaborative work Legend Has it, “to tell the truth, about life, about a place, about the bigger questions, you need to speak of something else – to invent, to create, to call on entirely new imaginaries.” 

Vigoleno is a small village in Vernasca, in the province of Piacenza, Italy. Famous for its medieval castle, it is one of the most beautiful Italian villages. Although deeply representative of the country’s identity and culture, Italian villages are undergoing a massive trend of depopulation. Far from everything, often poorly connected and forgotten by national authorities, they certainly are not the easiest places to live in. Yet, they are keepers and guardians of immensely rich traditions, myths and ancient knowledges. This autumn, with the work “Vigoleno: Legend Has It”, artist Aldo Giannotti, curators Amerigo Mariotti and Giorgia Tronconi, guides and performers Chiara Arcagni, Valentina Fontanive, Elisa Gennari and cultural mediators Irene Bernardi, Elena De Robertis, Alfredo Pellecchia, Tommaso Pioli, brought an art performance to the village of Vigoleno, ultimately questioning how the borgo can still help us find our way towards and inside who we are in this contemporary society of ours. We spoke to Aldo Giannotti about what it meant to intersect art and the borgo.

Legend Has It brings different concepts together, like tour guides and performance art, the borgo and the contemporary. How did the creative process work?

The work started around six months ago as a residency / intervention in Vigoleno. The idea was creating a participatory initiative for the village, which is a technique I often use in my performance work – but it soon became clear that, both because of the low number of local residents and for the lack of a strong connections among them, we had to look for a different way of engaging the place. Almost immediately, we noticed that the community of Vigoleno was one of transit – made of Tourists rather than residents for the most part. Every weekend the village is filled with tourists that come and visit. Thus, it became clear that they would become the focus of our intervention.

Prospettive, foto di Michele Amaglio, courtesy Adiacenze

And so the idea of using tour guides came about. How did that work?

We knew there already were tourist guides taking place every weekend, so we decided to try and work on them directly. I then got in touch both with some people I already knew or had worked with in the past and with some locals who were already working in the tour guides to form a team. Irene Bernardi, Elena De Robertis, Alfredo Pellecchia, Tommaso Pioli, who I met as museum guards during my exhibition at MaMBO in Bologna – but whose work is not limited to that: Tommaso and Alfredo are also actors, they work in theaters, while Elena and Irene are cultural mediators. Chiara Arcagni, Elisa Gennari and Valentina Fontanive already worked as local guides in Vigoleno. They all became the heart of the project. We formed a diverse team, with different specialties and perspectives. We worked for a few months and then got together for four days to finalise the project. We re-wrote the history of Vigoleno starting from the Longobards at the end of 900. We went through a thousand years of rewriting and reimagining the history of Vigoleno.

Prospettive, foto di Michele Amaglio, courtesy Adiacenze

History has a central place in Legend Has It, can you explain how you used history to talk to the contemporary?

The idea was working with History not as a fixed matter, but has something that can be re-created, re-thought, questioned. Often when we talk about History, we think of something static, but it actually depends a lot on how it is told, by whom and with what goal. By contrast, we thought of the past as something flexible, while introducing two main pillars: the myths and legends concerning the territory. Myths and legends, though they are fictional, often have a long history within that territory or community and are accumulated through centuries of experience, reworked, rewritten changed – as such, they come to us starting as “Legend Has it”, completely reworked – which gave me the idea of restarting from the contemporary to create new myths and legends to take to the future, thinking about the generations to come. We thought of the materials we created in the past two months as something that can survive the passing of time and become ongoing in the future. It is an artificial implementation of stories of our own invention, but that we thought might serve to tell a story about Vigoleno that is more fitting to the contemporary thought and curiosity.

Where does this curiosity lead us?

The whole tour has one aim: at the end of the route, lasting roughly one hour, visitors arrive in the last room, where we stop and take stock, sum up. Up to that point, we have told tales of princesses, warriors, bandits, partisans, of powers that push down, of revolutions starting from the bottom – and the tour ends with the guides asking the visitors which of the characters they identify with the most. Millenia go by but, at heart, the human being always remains the same. So, the question is: who are you? Who did you identify with? To whose role do you feel closer? This ultimately relates to much more personal questions, like how you think, what your wishes are, but even who you vote for. The stories we tell during the tour have generally been taken seriously by the visitors up to that point – but they are actually a mixture of truth and invention, legend and history. Visitors are left in doubt up until the end, some of the things they believe to be true are probably not, and vice versa. At the end, all doubts dissolve into the question. It is about asking yourself who you are, right there, right then. We are not passive visitors, we have a role inside urban spaces, communities, families, societies, but we very rarely think about what that role is. All the project was built with that goal: making the visitor question their role. This is also what my whole practice is about, from drawings to performance, it all revolves around taking a stand inside either a community, a society, a village, a museum – reflecting on who we are and what we can add to that environment.

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