The art of balance #6 | Manuela Gandini, what decision will you take?
Manuela Gandini – independent curator, art critic, professor at NABA in Milan and Rebirth/Third Paradise ambassadress – is the sixth guest of the new initiative launched by Cittadellarte, a project of rebirth and responsible social transformation called “The art of balance / Pandemopraxy”. Manuela participates proposing her text “I will make a masterpiece out of myself – Reflections on the new era”, in which she recalls her “Phase 1” on personal and professional level, and reflects on the impact the Coronavirus will have in the social context, identifying the possible roles of art and the Third Paradise. “Covid-19 is a disease, but it is also a metaphor of the disease, – she argues – an effect of the psychic rifts we have caused between us and the world, between us and ourselves”.

What decision will you take?
All of a sudden, a new world.
Fallen or risen?
One morning, we have found ourselves, with our old body, in an unfamiliar scenario. It’s like science fiction, I thought. But it’s not a film. The invisible and minute emperor of the new world wears a crown. It has already claimed hundreds of bodies and it has imperiously established a new paradigm. I remember that at the 2017 Venice Biennale most of the installations in the national pavilions resembled mass relocations. Site-specific works – looking like building sites with holes in the walls (Brazil), falling columns (Great Britain), gutted building, broken roof and sleeping bag (Canada), knocked-down walls (Israel) – seemed to predict a collective migration towards other universes, or rather the demobilisation of an immense socio-economic system. Then, for the most recent 2019 Biennale, the Israeli Pavilion was transformed into an actual hospital (‘Field Hospital X’) for the cure of abusive traumas, complete with triage and therapeutic areas. The aesthetic of the health system, which has now taken centre stage in our lives (for obvious reasons), was already present in that work by Aya Ben Ron prefiguring the advent of a Hospital-World.

And here is the virus, which, insinuating itself everywhere, has stopped our good old routine. It has confined us indoors, forcing us to rethink the relationship between us and every other living thing. And, through our windows, we have been seeing new existential postcard pictures: animals braving their way into the city, dolphins in ports, trees blooming regardless and the sun shining even brighter. We, instead, have been confined at the bottom of our anxieties, as a species, as communities and as individuals; we have found refuge in the shadow of our sense of guilt and concern, or in a new and different perspective. The instability and the fall of any certainty of the old way of living and of conceiving relationships have generated inner earthquakes and disorientation.

The dead our army took to be burnt without a goodbye, the elderly mowed down in their ‘protected’ residences, doctors and nurses who have thrown their lives to the wind… an immense pain has stricken the world and some people more than others. We therefore need to activate the antidote. An antidote that each of us, through art and social commitment, has been perfecting for a long time. Because – as Paolo Naldini, director of Cittadellarte, writes – we have to stop curing the effects and start curing the causes. And so, as far as I’m concerned, I have begun reflecting on vital space and priority. I have written off all demands, injustices suffered and resentments. I have decided that the my only way forward is listening, the welcoming of the soul and the dissolution of the ego.

Covid-19 is a disease, but it is also a metaphor of the disease: an effect of the psychic rifts we have caused between us and the world, between us and ourselves. And so, in this vast obscurity, the opportunity has manifested itself to concretely create a new reality on the sense of our existence in this advanced time in history. The opportunity to rethink the role of man, of art and of business, and of all the actions carried out so far. In the era of social distancing, the time has come to cure relationships, the unhealthy relationships, and feel – beyond any rhetoric – a necessary part of a single organism.
A cascade of thoughts has obviously been occupying a lot of my time. In the Third Paradise I have rediscovered – after a long absence – the keystone. I have overcome the thorns of human imperfection on which I had stumbled along the road, to meet the symbol pre-existing humanity itself.

How have I spent my time? First of all, I took some measurements: the new measurements of the space I take up in the world and in my house. My family has exclusively become my community of reference and my home the treadable ground. Well, I dove into it simulating an office, a temple, a gym, a library, a restaurant, a bar and a beach, all inside my house. The extension of free space was concentrated between the walls, the windows and the screen of my MacBook. I asked my Naba students, whom I’ve kept teaching remotely, to continue the work we had physically started in the classroom. At the beginning of the course I had asked them to perform a daily act in the classroom in front of everybody, to then write about it. I then suggested to each of them to offer an aspect of themselves as a gift to the class.

The introjective experiment of exchange and meeting had been extremely successful. In the new remote situation I asked them the same thing, that is to film a daily act in the present mutated reality. Italian and Chinese students have been documenting themselves. The outcome is a visual and written journal that will become a collective film, like a long and continuous action extending throughout the footage from body to body and from thought to thought. In the meantime, we also wanted to find a way to keep in touch on a daily basis beyond the lessons. The result is an Instagram page called “stati costretti” on which images and journal entries are loaded every day, it’s a “public journal of distant people” (as written on the presentation of the network page, editor’s note).

Once ‘Phase 1’ was over, we found ourselves confused in entering the following stage. Waves of anxiety and bewilderment are still lingering on. What is now clear is that if we resumed the predatory and greedy lifestyle that has characterised contemporary society, we would spin into self-destruction even more quickly. Today more than ever, art has the responsibility to reorient consciences, to show alternative and unexpected points of view, and to dismantle the collective infection that has generated the individual physical infections. By the metaphor of social disease I mean inequalities, poverty, pollution, deforestation, monoculture, intensive breeding, oil, exploitation, fake finance, forced migrations, war, denied rights, etc.

We can’t afford to joke about it anymore, or not to be completely present for ourselves. There’s no more time left to dance while the Titanic sinks, everybody assume their responsibilities starting from themselves, from the proximity of their most intimate relationships and from a process of enlightenment and inner disarming. We need to stop lying to ourselves and to others, and seeking refuge in a fake and deceptive ego. We have to stop considering ourselves the children of whoever happens to be in power. We need to generate our creative force and blend with the other living beings. I will make a masterpiece out of myself! I will look for my place in the universe, I will feel connected to all of you reading this and to all the people I don’t know, and I will open my eyes and my heart to hear, or rather to live, the interdependence that ties me to everything.