The Seeking blue gold exhibition by Lucy + Jorge Orta in the evocative location of the Oratorio di San Filippo Neri in Bologna, promoted by Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna and included in the main program of Art City as part of the 46th edition of Arte Fiera, is the first stage of a cycle of exhibitions that the foundation intends to dedicate to artists committed to social issues, in line with its programmatic intent to intersect culture and society by tackling politically and ethically sensitive issues of our contemporaneity through art. The interventions by the French duo have always been aimed at soliciting reflections that can open up new possibilities for awareness for a wider audience, with the aim of promoting sustainable human and environmental development.
Studio Orta (founded in 1992 in Paris, to which the rural branch of Les Moulins in Boissy-le-Châtel was added in 2000) makes use of different strategies, such as performances, actions, workshops with disadvantaged communities and study expeditions, to approach universally relevant issues, such as hunger, loneliness, protection of biodiversity, migration and climate change, through protracted projects that identify a problem and monitor its evolution, also suggesting possible solutions to be verified with experience. Lucy + Jorge Orta’s is a collaborative practice that makes use of the integrated contribution of researchers, specialists, engineers, students and citizens involved in the issues investigated, which are indispensable in the development of the complex implications of their projects. Their approach is the expression of a conception of art detached from individual authorship and animated by the belief that a radical change in society is possible. It is no coincidence that the two define their works as “alarm whistles” which signal emergencies often overlooked by society and politics and recognize their role in identifying the theme and mediating between embryonic niche studies and the general public.
The Seeking blue gold installation that we see exhibited in Bologna, made up of three different sculptural modules located in the nave and apse of the structure and an environmental sound system, reflects on the question of water, a natural resource which, instead of being a common good as for those who live in the wealthy hemisphere of the globe spontaneously consider it, due to its scarcity it is often the subject of economic and political disputes and of unfair distribution. This theme has been at the center of Lucy + Jorge Orta’s interests since the 1990s (when its inescapability had not yet been received on a political and media level) and their commitment in this direction had found a powerful sounding board in 2005 in the Drink water exhibition, organized by the Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation in Venice in the gallery of Piazza San Marco in conjunction with the 51st edition of the Venice Biennale. The project, subsequently replicated in Rotterdam and Tokyo, envisaged the purification of the water coming from the canal network of the lagoon city through technologically sophisticated equipment built ad hoc to make it drinkable. On those occasions the public, invited to drink the water restored to its primary functionality by the purification treatment, was urged to understand how such a simple and frequently repeated act throughout the day is actually full of individual and collective meaning.
Just as the late Baroque architecture of the oratory of San Filippo Neri is strengthened and made problematic by the contemporary restoration of its dome, with which it enters into a lively dialogue that seems to reinforce both aesthetic languages, the works by Lucy + Jorge Orta also arise from the composition of traditional rural artifacts (respectively a drainage pump, an irrigation pump and a wooden fishing boat) and contemporary objects collected by the artists, always connected to irrigation, water collection and conservation. These elements, in addition to referring precisely to the many environmental, social, economic aspects of the problem (in turn included in the climate change macro-theme) are indicators which, referring to previous works by the artists, are emblematic both of the complexity of the problem faced and both of the process with which the artists build their work, proceeding not by isolated units, but by continuously updated projects articulated over time, which in their sum and continuity offer a never static reading of the issues examined.
For example, in two of the sculptures we find the bottles screen-printed with the inscription Orta water that had been used to collect the purified water in the Venetian project, whose label, vaguely alluding to a family production brand, seems to hope for the progressive diffusion starting from the bottom of sustainable ways of recycling and using resources. On the other hand, the link with the issue of climate change and its large-scale consequences, which in turn have an impact on the distribution of water on a global level, are explicitly highlighted by the mestizo flags placed at the top of each sculpture, which refer to the need to migrate in search of survival by the poorest communities, the first victims of the policies of speculation and privatization of this natural asset. These banners were used for the first time by artists in Antarctica, where between 2003 and 2008 they founded a tents village as a housing paradigm for a new global community inspired by the values of the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement drawn up in 1959 to regulate the jurisdiction of the uninhabited areas south of 60° South latitude.
This document prescribes the peaceful resolution of any controversy that takes place in that area, which is at the same time utopian because it has no geopolitical borders, but also extremely hostile to life due to the harsh climate, as well as heavily compromised by the impact of human activity on a planetary scale. Flags, in which national identities do not cancel each other out but merge into an idea of coexistence and mutual support, sanction the right of the human community to move freely if necessary, such as when the absence of water (or its definitive contamination) make life impossible. In conclusion, the works by Lucy + Jorge Orta could be defined as symbolic and functional devices, which act on a double track: from a strictly artistic point of view, they are polysemic machines which construct meanings in the relationship between the selected objects, but in a broader sense they are devices pushed to the threshold of functionality (here only evoked at the level of potential possibility) aimed at redefining our role in the world through the stimulation of real and critically aware participatory experiences.
Lucy + Jorge Orta. Seeking blue gold
Oratorio di San Filippo Neri
Via Manzoni 5, Bologna
Orari: February 6-12, 4-8pm
Graduated in art history at DAMS in Bologna, city where she continued to live and work, she specialized in Siena with Enrico Crispolti. Curious and attentive to the becoming of the contemporary, she believes in the power of art to make life more interesting and she loves to explore its latest trends through dialogue with artists, curators and gallery owners. She considers writing a form of reasoning and analysis that reconstructs the connection between the artist’s creative path and the surrounding context.