NOT HER, the new artistic project by Elena Bellantoni, was created for the Dior Ready-to-Wear Spring-Summer 2024 fashion show and premiered in Paris on 26 September 2023. What we witnessed was “a large video installation” as it was defined by Elena herself during our meeting “a visual story that unfolds and takes shape in paradox, in overflowing, in overabundance and in the accumulation of images and phrases that continually bombard us”. She continues “what I have created is a site-specific project for Dior, but it has much deeper roots, in fact it was born from my research which began in 2015. From that moment until today I have collected approximately 400 images, which tell the story of sexist advertising from the 40s to the 2000s. So, I designed 24 advertising images with the related complaints plus as many 24 sentences, as if they were the linguistic responses to the questions I produced”.
A work, the one created for Maria Grazia Chiuri, is totally in line with the aesthetics and artistic research of Elena Bellantoni, who has been working for years now reasoning with and about the body, language, performativity and feminist themes. Some of the emblematic works in this sense can be the penultimate one created for the Dino Zoli foundation, If there was light it would be beautiful or the On the Breadline project, which combine research, video documentation and performance. “My point of engagement on this type of work usually investigates the body and language and specifically, in this case, I focus on the woman’s body and how much this body has been caged in a specific semantic grey, from which we must to free”. In patriarchal society, women have always been proposed as the “second sex” as Simone de Beauvoir would say or “another subject”, as Irigaray would say. In advertisements and through the media, from the 1940s to today, women have been conveyed as mere sexual objects. An object body, as Lorella Zanardo would say in her 2009 documentary: “The woman proposed in the advertisements seems to please and support the presumed male desire in every aspect, completely abdicating the possibility of being the other. Reduced to a sexual object and engaged in a race against time which forces her into monstrous deformations, forced into a silent frame”. The advertisements created by Elena Bellantoni are collages with a well-defined aesthetic that refers to the word-visual research of artists active in the Seventies such as Ketty La Rocca (in particular see the 1965 collage, Sana come il Pane) and Lucia Marcucci.
“I was able to rewrite these slogans because there is a code, or rather a well-structured alphabet that has contaminated sexist advertisements up until today”. The artist’s work in this way attempts to reclaim the woman’s body, placing the focus on the vision of a woman who rejects imposed stereotypes and who finally becomes a subject within society. Furthermore, the visual part is accompanied in this way by Maria Grazie Chiuri’s collection, entirely based on the concept of the witch woman and not only that, a woman who kills the old paradigm in force. What we witness therefore becomes art on multiple levels; from Elena’s work (visual) which blends with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collection, arriving at the performativity of the models who wear and interpret the clothes from the collection. Furthermore, what you see is decidedly pop. You can tell from the colours, which are always taken from my 2015 work The Highlighter which really struck Maria Chiara Chiuri during our first meeting”. In this work, Elena Bellantoni, in fact, had photocopied some sexist advertisements thus bringing them to black and white and then she used yellow and fuchsia highlighters to highlight some parts and bring to light “what we have before our eyes every day”. A sexism to which our eye has become accustomed, and which it has unfortunately now internalized. “After the first months of studying the archive, I then redid the setting of all the advertisements I had chosen and so there is me with my body actively performing, even if you often don’t recognize me. The body is mine, the face is mine but I am all and none of those women, because obviously I was modified in post-production following the dominant model and the beauty canons now imposed on the woman’s body, retouching some parts of my body, such as the breast, the gaze, the lips”. Elena also points out to me how the stereotypes about women have changed over the years: “If you pay attention, during the 40s the model was that of the housewife, the cute housewife who irons well, then in the 70s there was an attempt to emancipate the role of women, but it still remained sexualised and commodified. From the 80s and 90s onwards, however, women have been stripped more and more”.
The men who then appear in Bellantoni’s reinterpretations of advertisements are instead represented as cartoons, newly developed sketches. From this perspective, men are the subject of others and not women. We are therefore faced with a fake world, the fake world of advertising. “I used the same language as the pounding advertisements, with this avalanche of images that go one after the other during the fashion show, but then there is a paradigm shift, for every image you see on the monitor I give answers that come directly from the my point of view. My answer is therefore Not Her, not her, this is no longer her. Let me give you an example: the perfect housewife? Is not she! It’s not that” The path towards the creation of this enormous video installation was a journey that lasted six months.“My first studio visit with Maria Grazia Chiuri was long about three hours, I understood that doing something together would not have been an obvious result but that if it happened it would have been a great challenge. I am convinced, in fact, that the ideas and concepts we convey as artists have a great weight on the world we go through; fashion can have the same responsibility in an even more effective way since it really reaches many people: therefore working within the capitalist system, to exploit it from within. NOT HER took shape precisely thanks to the constant comparison with Maria Grazia and Rachele, we were all united on the same line ready to REVERSE THE MIRRORS SUBVERT THE RULES TO DESTRUCTURE THE DOMINANT NARRATIVE TOOLS”.
My curiosity automatically shifts to the majesty of Elena Bellantoni’s work and the question arises spontaneously: what was it like when you understood that you would be dealing with such a monumental space? “I received the plan of where my work would go shortly after our first meeting and there I realized the enormous and monumental work that I would be creating and the great responsibility. There is a great direction of mine behind it, in fact, which is called split-flap in jargon. A conceptual choice of mine which takes up the game of post-it notes and which allows me to show the public the passage of time, from the 1940s to today. The images of my self-portraits, then, at a certain point disappear from the monitor and the models are left to perform, finally ready to show themselves to the new paradigm, no longer sexist and macho. The body for me, therefore, is always performative. Often, as you can see, I return with my body, and here I also play with the self-portrait”. A work where the performative body takes on the political element thanks also to Lonzia’s game of self-portrait. «And then, to conclude, what remains of my image finds redemption in writing, in the possibility of speaking and in self-affirmation, the only way to interrupt the monologue of the patriarchy, as Carla Lonzi would say. The process enters entirely into the work, within this great mechanism of mystification and commodification: NO BODY IS YOURS, NO BODY IS PERFECT, EVERY BODY IS PERFORMATIVE“.
She was born in Genoa but currently lives in Bologna, the city where she graduated from CITEM with a thesis on video art. She works in the world of events in the production sector and is an assistant professor of Visual Studies at UNIBO.