From Baku to Cittadellarte
Sayara Huseynli and Fidan Amrahli-Seyidbeyli, respectively head of education and programmes coordinator of the Azeri artistic organization YARAT, were the protagonists of an artistic residency at Cittadellarte, working and studying Fondazione Pistoletto’s Education Office’s activities. An exchange held in the context of Pistoletto’s solo exhibition opening in Baku.

Over 4200 km separate Biella from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. A geographical distance annulled by the artistic closeness of two cultural foundations: Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto at one end, the YARAT at the other. As a Third Paradise, the collaboration between the two organizations has generated the solo exhibition presenting new and seminal works by Michelangelo Pistoletto at the YARAT* – Contemporary Art Space itself (a 2000 sqm naval building from the Soviet era opened in 2015 as the main exhibition space of the Azeri artistic organization) in Baku’s National Flag Square. This special exhibition focuses in fact on the sign-symbol of the artist from Biella, highlighting not only the research that places art and society in a virtuous relationship, but also a series of educational programmes centred on the methodology Cittadellarte is developing on the territory through its new Learning Environments and Schools department. An analysis of the work carried out by the staff of the foundation in Biella – through workshops for students and artists – which will be emulated in the educational processes of the former Soviet republic: in the course of about a year, a special research team will train local Azeri teachers from schools all over Azerbaijan to develop and expand the way children approach sustainability and the creative processes.

In the context of this collaboration and in view of this new artistic-didactic development, on 18th March Sayara Huseynli and Fidan Amrahli-Seyidbeyli, head of education and programmes coordinator of the YARAT respectively, arrived at Cittadellarte on an “active” visit. Besides studying in person the works on display at the foundation and Pistoletto’s art, the two girls from Azerbaijan had the opportunity to observe and analyse the work of the office now engaged in integrating Cittadellarte’s vision within the learning environments, under the lead of its head of department Ruggero Poi. They have spoken to us about their experience during their week of residency in Biella (the left on 25th March): “In the course of this special cultural exchange dedicated to education, we have had the opportunity to see first-hand Cittadellarte’s approach and methodology with schools. We also attended the opening of the exhibition ‘Da Cittadellarte alla Civiltà dell’Arte’ (From Cittadellarte to the Civilization of Art) on 22nd March, to see and learn how to manage such an event, similar to the one planned for Pistoletto’s exhibition in Baku. We have also visited the Educational Department Castello di Rivoli and taken part in a workshop for teachers participating in a specific project held by Ruggero.

(In the picture: Sayara Huseynli, on the left, and Fidan Amrahli-Seyidbeyli)

We believe – continued the two representatives from the YARAT – that the interaction between Cittadellarte’s staff and their audience is very effective, a connection allowing schools to be introduced to Pistoletto’s art even before actually seeing his works. We were positively impressed by the fact that the workshops organized are not only based on a cognitive and perceptive connection, but also on a practical involvement leading schoolchildren to actively experiment what is explained. Besides, the workshops don’t focus exclusively on Pistoletto’s works, but present a wider perspective on many artistic branches”. Sayara is therefore going to start a programme of workshops similar to Cittadellarte’s, while Fidan said that they would like to emulate the cognitive and practical approach of the workshops. They added: “We would like to organize structured guided tours, highlighting and spreading the concept of the Third Paradise in all the institutes, not only in nursery schools”.

Sayara and Fidan then talked about the artist from Biella: “In Azerbaijan, – they said – no artist places his works in such a strong connection between art and society. We have noticed and been fascinated by the dynamics characterizing the link between art and the different sectors of human knowledge (art, fashion, education, food, etc.). In regards to this, we were impressed by the work on Cittadellarte’s top floor, ‘Porte Uffizi’, where the key word above the first door is ‘art’ and the key word in the final part of the installation is actually ‘education’. We knew Pistoletto, of course, but seeing Cittadellarte up close is something altogether different from studying him…”

Has the experience been a positive one? “Absolutely. Besides the teachings and the artistic beauties, – they concluded – we have been welcomed very kindly. Ruggero and the team of the Education Office have made us feel at home allowing us to easily integrate. We like Biella very much too, a quiet city that can be a source of artistic inspiration, differently from Turin and Milan, which we find too crowded and chaotic. We wish to thank everybody for our experience, which is going to be useful for our professional future starting from the work related to Pistoletto’s exhibition in Baku”.

*YARAT is an artist-founded, not-for-profit art organisation based in Baku, Azerbaijan, established by Aida Mahmudova in 2011. YARAT (which means ‘create’ in Azerbaijani) is dedicated to contemporary art with a long-term commitment to creating a hub for artistic practice, research, thinking and education in the Caucasus, Central Asia and surrounding region.

YARAT comprises YARAT Art Centre, ARTIM Project Space, YARAT Studios, YAY Gallery and an extended educational and public programme. YARAT Art Centre, a 2000m² converted Soviet-era naval building, opened in March 2015 and is the organisation’s main exhibition space. The exhibition programme features new commissions by artists responding to the region. It supports and provides access to artists from the region, while engaging and introducing established, international artists.

In October 2015, YARAT opened ARTIM, a central, accessible and dynamic space in Baku’s Old City. ARTIM (meaning ‘progress’ in Azerbaijani) shows experimental practices and new work by emerging Azeri art professionals (selected through open call) and the international artists from the residency programme. It features multiple small-scale projects each year and hosts ARTIM LAB, a programme enabling young artists to engage in workshops and daily studio practice to generate new ideas and works.

In 2016 YARAT launched a renewed residency programme. Aimed at developing young Azerbaijani voices and emerging international artists, the focus is on new, innovative practices and artists with an interest in the region. The residency programme hosts 6 international and 4 local artists a year at YARAT Studios’ spaces.

Education has been at the heart of YARAT’s activities since its creation. With a dedicated public programme that includes courses, workshops, lectures, screenings, festivals, literature and theatre clubs and family weekends, YARAT aims to give access to broad audiences of all ages. The public programme invests proactively in building communities and nurturing a wider understanding of, and participation in, contemporary art.