Ilaria Bonacossa: "We reflect on art, sex, and censorship because the freedoms we took for granted are in question"

Ilaria Bonacossa, director of Artissima, explains in this interview the thoughts behind the 2019 edition of the major contemporary art exhibition-market in Turin, dedicated this year to the dialectic between desire and censorship.

The 2019 edition of Artissima, the great contemporary art exhibition-market (more information here), will be dedicated to the dialectic between desire and censorship: the aim of the kermesse is to initiate reflections that concern various themes, starting with the work of art as a vehicle of emancipation, the impulses that shape the times, the relationship between images and the control of images. To delve deeper into the thinking underpinning edition number twenty-six of Artissima, we interviewed director Ilaria Bonacossa. The interview is edited by Federico Giannini, editor in chief of Finestre sull’Arte.

Ilaria Bonacossa
Ilaria Bonacossa. Ph. Credit Giorgio Perottino

FG. What will we see in this 2019 edition of Artissima?
This 26th edition reconfirms Artissima as an appointment of quality and research. It is a great satisfaction for me to record the return to Turin of some realities whose work I particularly admire, including Campoli Presti, Giò Marconi, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Sadie Coles and Gavin Browns Enterprise. In addition, we have fielded many initiatives and innovations including Hub Middle East, a focus devoted to a geographic area of fundamental interest to developments in contemporary society. Produced in collaboration with Fondazione Torino Musei and advised by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath of Art Reoriented and curators of the UAE Pavilion at the 58. Venice Biennale, Hub Middle East</em involves galleries such as Dastans Basement, Sommer, Isabel van den Eynde, Sfeir-Semler, Marfa, Grey Noise and Ab-Anbar and will bring to Turin from all over the Middle East numerous collectors, curators and patrons of contemporary art institutions and foundations. Other initiatives promoted by the fair include Marcello Maloberti’s site-specific installation in the newly reopened UNA Esperienze’s sumptuous Salone dell’Hotel Principi di Piemonte; a four-handed performance by artist Tomaso Binga in collaboration with renowned hairstylist Franco Curletto; while Cristian Chironi and VANNI will engage visitors by having them wear a special capsule collection of eyewear. Also returning this year is the extensive program of talks and guided tours inside the fair.

The theme of this edition will be the dialectic between desire and censorship. Why talk about desire, sex, eroticism, taboos, BDSM, censorship in a fair like Artissima? What reflections does this year’s edition intend to generate?
This contradictory polarity between desire and censorship was born as a response to a feeling of the world being closed and is specifically a reflection on images and concepts related to sexuality. We as Artissima saw the sponsorship of the fair’s videos blocked on social media because they featured nude scenes. Therefore, I wanted a theme that would relate to contemporary ambitions and utopias, and that would talk about the complex system of relationships that exists today between images and their control and how art has to come to terms with this. Indeed, artists have always had to relate to censorship, and overcoming taboos or breaking rules is somehow inherent in artistic thinking. The desire/censorship pair was born out of the very perception that freedoms (and desires) we took for granted are now being challenged, and while algorithms decide what is appropriate to our vision and what is not, YouPorn remains one of the most visited sites in the world. This theme will also be central to the talks curated by Anna Daneri at the La Stampa Meeting Point and has been a source of inspiration for the third edition of Artissima Experimental Academy, led by Iranian artist Setareh Shahbazi thanks to the support of Alserkal, who will conduct Eyes, Come Back! both at the fair and within the Combo spaces in Turin.

That of censorship is one of the most debated issues of recent times, and it is also a matter that concerns advanced democracies, especially if we think of the censorship put in place by social or even the excess of political correctness that, in some ways (and according to many intellectuals), can be considered a form of censorship. Is censorship becoming a big issue again?
There are more meters of border walls between countries these days than there were in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. On top of the physical barriers come digital filters that control the flow of information and images. Anyone using social media is controlled and in power censored by algorithms that oversee images and words to protect the public. This year’s theme stems precisely from a sense of freedom being challenged and a desire to go further in response to a political urgency. And it also stems from the intuition, widely shared and variously re-interpreted by many in today’s culture, of the liberating and revolutionary power that the desire to question the status quo possesses.

In what has already been defined as the age of populism, the approach to sexuality has necessarily changed as well, and the climate, in Italy as in other countries, does not seem to be one of those most favorable to the path toward complete sexual emancipation (especially on the part of women). What is Artissima’s position on this issue? Will we have a chance to reflect on these issues in Turin this year as well? In addition, there will also be an exhibition at Artissima entitled Abstract Sex: we dont have any clothes, only equipment, which is forbidden to those under the age of 18 and aims to disarm traditional representations of desire by suggesting unexpected alliances between bodies, bacteria, objects, machinery and technologies. The exhibition stems from an idea of yours: how has the approach toward sex changed in the last decade, in light of the profound changes that society has experienced? And how does the exhibition intend to enact this disarmament of traditional representations of desire?
Larte is able to bring to light the contradictions and divergences of contemporary society. It is a mirror of its time, and it will certainly be interesting to see what kind of effect the exhibition’s reflection on these issues will have on the public. Larte speaks through images and the Abstract Sex exhibition investigates how this mediation mutates the relationship that society has with these issues that are considered scabrous. The project, curated by Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti and Guido Costa, collects the legacy of a vast critical and theoretical apparatus of recent decades that spans Western post-structuralist, feminist and post-humanist thought and has led to the realization that the concepts of gender, desire and sexuality are socially and politically determined constructions. With Abstract Sex, we will attempt to create a break in the walls that have been built around these concepts and artworks that represent desire in its various forms. The works have been selected from the artists presented by the galleries at the fair and will be installed in the spaces of Jana, a historic Turin boutique and a place frequented in the past by big names in art such as Mario Merz and other intellectuals.

Does the selection of works we will see at the fair reflect these themes? How did the committees of the various sections work this year?
We did not want to bind the galleries to choices on a single topic, but it is certainly a strain of mine as a curator to find a red thread that organizes the fair and its special projects around themes that I find in the contemporary scene. The committees have worked as they do every year in a quest to propose high-level exhibition and monographic projects, consistent with the themes selected for each relevant section. Present Future will bring to the stage the unpublished projects of 20 artists from 22 galleries (16 foreign and 6 Italian), created specifically for the fair or at their first exhibition in a European and Italian context. Back to the Future will focus this year on the time span running from 1960 to 1999 and will host the works of 19 artists, presented by as many galleries (16 foreign, 3 Italian). Drawings finally brings together 21 artists, represented by 21 galleries (11 foreign, 10 Italian).

What are your expectations for Artissima 2019?
The uniqueness of Artissima lies in its dual vocation, which sees it alongside a high-level market proposal, a cultural proposal capable of always investigating new and different ways of proposing art. This year, too, we have worked in this twofold direction: to strengthen the art market by stimulating investments, but also by bringing young people closer to collecting, and to produce a positive feedback on the territory through the artistic offer that translates into projects and exhibitions that also range outside the fair context.

One last question: Artissima is a large fair and attracts a larger and larger audience year after year. There are not only collectors, but also enthusiasts who come to theOval to learn about the latest trends. And Artissima is moreover a fair that also does research. If you wanted to give one piece of advice to an enthusiast visiting it for the first time, what would you tell them?
One piece of advice I would give to enthusiasts who are attending the fair for the first time is to get lost among the stands and the great exhibition proposal that the galleries offer. One tool we provide free of charge for those who wish to be accompanied are the Walkie Talkies by Lauretana, an exclusive program of guided tours that consist of short conversations between pairs of curators and international collectors. These roving conversations allow the speakers to develop unique and original pathways through the work presented by the galleries and for the audience to reflexively experience the fair in a novel and certainly enriching way. And for younger visitors approaching contemporary art for the first time, this year Artissima Junior by Juventus will again offer a fascinating workshop that will involve children in the creation of a colorful choral work under the guidance of the artistic duo Ornaghi and Prestinari.

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