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THE ITALIAN JOB | Job n.1, embarrassment party • Job n.2, An-Archiving Game • Job n.3, Lazy Sunday
THE ITALIAN JOB – Job n.3, Lazy Sunday, 2022. 360° immersive video in 5.6K, 12 hours, color, sound.
Lazy Sunday is the third work in THE ITALIAN JOB, a series developed between the United States and Italy since 2014. It is composed of thematically linked conceptual artworks (“jobs”) focused on the hidden structures behind originality, legality, virtuality, artistic legitimization, immaterial labor and the relationship between artists and curators in the age of the Internet.
Lazy Sunday was developed in response to an invitation to take part, from the United States, in a virtual residency program organized by the AN-ICON research group at the University of Milan. I joined the residency but I overturned its premises: rather than participating from afar, I turned my point of view into a digital window open to anyone’s participation. The work consists of a 12-hour long film produced with a 360° camera and shot without interruption on August 8th, 2021, turning a day like many others into a Virtual Reality experience. The film is then made available for only one day, from morning to night, during the twelve hours corresponding to the facts filmed. Through a VR headset the film viewer may spend the morning reading on my hammock, drift through the streets of Cambridge and Boston, and hike in my shoes through the woods of Massachusetts before swimming in Walden Pond.
Caught in this tension between ideas of public and private, refusal and participation, proximity and distance, my point of view is turned into an environmental field to be inhabited, for a brief time, by others. And suspended between apparent immediacy and deep mediation, my body becomes an avatar, virtually distant and yet intimately close.
With curatorial texts from Elisabetta Modena and Sofia Pirandello.
Un artista della domenica
Curatorial text by Elisabetta Modena
An artist residency, by definition, expects an artist to spend some time in a place other than their usual one in order to have experiences, collect information, have meetings, and produce one or more new works. The artist residencies in the 12° atelier also develop starting from a place, the Milan home of the Casa degli Artisti in via Tommaso da Cazzaniga, at the corner with Corso Garibaldi, 89/A, or rather, more precisely, from the digital reconstruction of this building, hosted on the virtual platform Mozilla Hubs at the following address: https://hubs.mozilla.com/Ut7XCwr/120-atelier/
However, spending the period of residency producing artworks to be exhibited within this virtual space was never a binding requirement, so when Emilio Vavarella informed us that he wanted to “subvert and overturn the premises of the residency programme” we quickly agreed with him. Instead of participating from afar, Emilio was going to transform his point of view into a space open to the virtual participation of other people: we would go, so to say, to him. Our host, or so we thought at the time, would show us the ‘behind the scenes’ of his work, maybe even his home, maybe he would lead us through the Harvard campus, where he works as a researcher. And so we could visit his studio and learn about the typical day of a young but already established artist working with digital media. Moving from the artist residency to the studio visit, so to say, shifting following the customary practice of contemporary art, to which Vavarella refers explicitly in his cycle of works THE ITALIAN JOB, whose third installment was in the making. The goal of the residency was, after all, to produce an “immersive” artwork, and considering the potential of virtual reality to teleport us elsewhere and make us feel physically present in another place, I had imagined an actual visit to the artist’s atelier.
Instead, towards the end of August, Vavarella sent us an email informing us of the content of the artwork he had just completed and of the places where he was going to lead both us and the spectators: “The highlights of my film are me reading a book in a hammock on the roof of my building, eating an ice cream with a friend in Harvard Square, going to the lake with some friends, trekking in the woods, a swimming competition across Walden Pond, some improvised poetry reading in nature, dinner by myself, and a long late night conversation on my balcony, trading books with a poet friend.”
Not what we expected: the work in fact consists of 12 hours of footage shot with a 360-degree camera positioned on the artist’s head, on a hot summer Sunday (August 8th 2021), during which we are dragged despite ourselves throughout the places mentioned by the artist without being able to interact in any way. During this long performance there is no climax: every moment is important and no moment is really important. The narrative that the artist has developed is certainly based on a programme which is also a kind of screenplay written to involve the spectator in a day which, to me, did not seem so lazy, but which still maintains a certain level of boredom – sufficiently so to justify the reference to laziness in the title of the work: THE ITALIAN JOB – Job n.3, Lazy Sunday. Yet, all things considered, the artist reveals nothing of the “behind the scenes,” there is no inside peek inside the “war room:” there are no openings, no galleries, no curators, and no artworks in progress, only a Sunday like many others in which places, people and things are recorded in an apparently amateurish and transparent way.
“Is Vavarella a Sunday painter?” I asked myself. Sunday painters—a typical Italian expression—are those painters who practice art as a hobby. They paint on Sunday because during the rest of the week they are busy with their jobs: they are office workers, factory workers, managers (maybe even researchers?). Sunday painters often work en plein air, with a naïf technique and a tired visual style which has neither the intention, nor the ability, to innovate: maybe the shore of a lake (after all, only by forcing my hand could I retrace in Vavarella’s afternoon swim an attempt to update that famous Sunday at the Grand Jatte).
However, things are different from how they appear at first sight: Vavarella, with this work, adds a piece—an important one, I believe—to that gallery of works which have made of the quotidian the material of a research that is all but amateurish. It is not so paradoxical, if we think that strategies for exposing oneself, or one’s own living and working space, have often become general metaphors which go beyond their apparent uniqueness, even those based on boredom and on the subversion of expectations (something that happens, for example, in the six hours long night shot of Bruce Nauman’s studio invaded by mice in his two famous installations entitled Mapping the Studio). And therefore, I thought to myself, Vavarella is just playing at being a Sunday painter here, and playing it very well. In front of our eyes—or maybe all around, in 360 degrees—we take one further step on the path inaugurated by conceptual artists concerned with the transformation of the artist’s atelier from a physical place to a mental place: the space that we share with the artist is not just that of the project, but it is also a material space, just made of a different material, pixels.
Once again, as has already been remarked, the strategy chosen is that of the joke, of the prank: Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti compared it to the strategy chosen by the two greatest Italian artists of the mockery, Piero Manzoni and Maurizio Cattelan, in her curatorial text written for the first chapter of the ITALIAN JOB series, entitled “embarrassment_party” (a title taken from the online residency program devised by Marii Nyröp which concluded with the robbery, carried out by the artist himself, of the whole exhibition and curatorial project.)
More than once has art exploited the mise en scene of a quotidian that virtual reality can make you feel in a new way, in its totality, even assuming the role of the artist himself. Faking the naivety of a Sunday painter Emilio Vavarella puts the quotidian back at the center of the scene and is able to make us appreciate the differences (and the limits) between a first-hand experience and its representation: by consciously exploiting this change of ‘format’ Vavarella is able to transform a lazy summer Sunday into a 360-degree lens focusing on ourselves, our points of view, and onto reality as a whole.
Catch Me if You Can
Curatorial text by Sofia Pirandello
Lazy Sunday is an immersive film shot with a 360-degree camera, and designed to be experienced while wearing a virtual reality headset. It is the third work in a series entitled THE ITALIAN JOB, in which, starting from 2014, Emilio Vavarella reflects on the legality, originality and legitimacy of digital art, and more generally on the relationship between the material and the virtual and on the relationship between artists and curators vis a vis new technologies. More specifically, Lazy Sunday is a 12-hour window onto the artist’s life, in which he transforms an ordinary Sunday into a virtual reality experience. Asked to produce an immersive artwork for the 12° Atelier, Vavarella invites us to spend a summer day with him, experiencing his world in the first person on the streets of Boston and Cambridge. He opens up his home, shares his routines and friends. At first sight, Lazy Sunday is an immediate artwork, very sincere, open, almost exhibitionistic. Emilio is everywhere, literally. The title of the work, however, should invite us to reflect, playing with the stereotype of the dishonest Italian, expert in robberies and other kinds of shady dealings, With Lazy Sunday Vavarella creates a masterpiece of the genre, an ‘Italian job’ in broad daylight, in a regime of absolute visibility. It is well known, as even Edgar Allan Poe remarks in The Purloined Letter, that whoever wants to hide something should display it in plain sight. Thus, in this case, to maximal visibility corresponds maximal opacity, almost exclusion. There is no trace of the artist. Sometimes we can recognize him in a mirror, his head and his body are always present in the observer’s field of view, but even after spending twelve hours ‘in his robes’ we do not have a privileged access to the sensations that he gathers from the world or to the meanings he attributes to them. Despite spying on the artist’s space we do not really share that environment: we are somehow there, but we cannot act on the possibilities that we identify around us.
Wearing the VR headset, we have the impression that the artist is carrying us on his shoulders, we are a fly in the room, in a position similar to that of the pilot fish alongside the shark. Like a contemporary version of archetypal figures of Italian mischievous exuberance such as Pierino, Giamburrasca and Pinocchio, Vavarella ushers us along to his leisure spots, humming and mumbling, sometimes sighing, gifting us with a series of everyday adventures, a motorcycle tour through which we can admire the surrounding landscape or a swimming race at the lake. Nothing really dishonest, his ‘driving us around’ reveals itself as a ‘fooling around’: “Look how much fun I’m having!” And us? Vavarella seems to suggest that despite being inside the image we are not really present. Whoever wears the helmet is forced to follow the movement of the camera, with only the freedom to look around. Where are we when we enter the film at Casa degli Artisti and we relive the same hours (on a different Sunday) of Emilio’s live performance? We are having an immersive experience, but we are not really present, as would not be present the brain in a vat imagined by Hilary Putnam in 1981 because the body, with the exception of the eyes, does not speak to us. Vavarella, avatar for one day, is the dead skin that Bartholomew the Apostle holds in his hands, a disguise, a costume to wear. Starting from the assumption that being closer means feeling more, virtual reality has often been considered the empathic device par excellence. However, being immersed in a 360-degree environment can result in a form of aggression that induces physical and instinctual reactions (well documented by dozens of online videos) which leave little to the imagination of the individual to interpret the surroundings, or to experiment with alternative points of view. In the case of 360-degree cinema we are in an environment which, albeit self-referred, we cannot control or manipulate, which does not constitute material for dialogue or negotiation. As Andrea Pinotti affirms in his latest book (2021), 360-degree cinema tends to weaken one’s awareness of the difference between the perception of the image and perception in general, with the risk of failing to recognize the hyper-mediation determined by the technology necessary to obtain such an experience and also the dimension of the inevitable psychological difference of the other. Despite the fact that in order not to become dysfunctional the imagination needs to be exercised at the “right distance” (Koukouti and Malafouris 2020), the “improper distance” (Nash 2017) determined by VR risks cancelling one’s awareness of the existence and importance of alternative points of view. Moreover, the frustration and the powerlessness determined by not being visible (and sensitive) to oneself can discourage the effort of projecting and identifying with the other, because it is not really possible to feel like someone else. Instead, we feel like a nobody, divided between sensations that give to us a world that we do not see and a world that we see but that is not available for interaction.
In 2016 Luca Acquarelli and Matteo Treleani wrote that in 360-degree cinema the position of the spectator is that of an observer who is called upon to bear witness. I believe that one of the questions that Vavarella is prompting us to consider is: Witness what? Maybe he wants the viewers to be aware: there is no magic, it is just a trick. Furthermore: there is a trick, but (often) you cannot see it. The physical installation at Casa degli Artisti required a cumbersome scaffolding and several meters of electric cables. Moreover, a work such as Lazy Sunday is very far from being immediate, as it cost the artist a lot of effort: twelve hours of live performance, carrying a camera pressed on his forehead, which Vavarella describes as a wound similar to Harry Potter’s scar; and then the never-ending post-production process, in which the same scenes had to be converted and formatted to be viewable in VR, viewed over and over a thousand times. But what do we not do “for the sake of art!”, says Vavarella, after shooting for eight hours, talking on the phone with a friend to whom he explains the project. Lazy Sunday contains something so stubborn and patient that makes it hard even to those who only experience it virtually. First of all because wearing a helmet, even for just a few minutes, implies bearing its weight and discomfort. How many viewers will watch Emilio’s work in its entirety? How complicated is it to (re)live a lazy Sunday like many others?
No human being could simultaneously see this whole space at 360 degrees, let alone for twelve hours: if we lose ourselves in an obsessive study of the details it is probable that we will fail to notice something important that is happening; if we choose to direct our gaze and to focus on one action, we lose the panoramic view provided by the medium. Immersive cinema promises something that it is probably unable to provide in all circumstances, unless we rethink its use in a specific way. Immersive devices have always had a relationship with the entertainment industry, and it is not unusual that they are designed (from the Phantasmagoria, to the Panorama, to the 3D cinema) to attract curiosity while promising sensational experiences. To betray these promises can be a way to focus on the potential (and criticality) of the medium, looking for a way to unveil how it functions and indicating alternative ways of using it which are not pointing towards the performative and which escape the narrative around interactivity. Artworks such as Lazy Sunday exploit the digital, and especially the immersiveness of the virtual, to construct an opportunity which leaves time and space for lazy and relaxed reflection, potentially capable of developing a new critical view of reality.
Acquarelli, Luca and Treleani, Matteo (2016). “Notes on Virtual Reality Cinema: immersion and distance”. MEI : Information et Mediation, 47. URL : http://mei-info.com/revue/47/81/
- (Solo Exhibition) Casa degli Artisti + 12° Atelier. THE ITALIAN JOB – Job n.3, Lazy Sunday, curated by Elisabetta Modena e Sofia Pirandello (AN-ICON), Milan, Italy
THE ITALIAN JOB
“Un artista della domenica”
Curatorial text for “THE ITALIAN JOB n.3: Lazy Sunday” by Elisabetta Modena, 2022. (eng)
THE ITALIAN JOB
“Catch Me if You Can”
Curatorial text for “THE ITALIAN JOB n.3: Lazy Sunday” by Sofia Pirandello, 2022. (eng)
piano b. Arti e culture visive
“Intervista a Emilio Vavarella”
by Sofia Pirandello, University of Bologna, Department of the Arts, vol. 6, n.1, 2021. (ita)
[PDF | PROJECT (1) | PROJECT (2)]
“12 ore in soggettiva: la reatà virtuale di Emilio Vavarella alla Casa degli Artisti”
7 Gennaio 2022. (ita)
“L’artista Vavarella si è filmato in un’intera giornata come tante altre”
by Nicola Baroni, (ita)
Nelle storie. Arte, cinema e media immersivi
Modena, Elisabetta. Carocci Editore, June 2022, p. 125
Visual Culture Studies
“Lending the Face / Prestare il volton”
by Elisabetta Modena, in VCS n.3, Mimesis Edizioni, 2022. (ita – eng)
- THE ITALIAN JOB n.3 is produced by ERC Advanced Grant “AN-ICON. An-Iconology: History, Theory, and Practices of Environmental Images), Università degli Studi di Milano, Department of Philosophy, Italy.
- Project curated by Elisabetta Modena and Sofia Pirandello.
- Special thanks to the AN-ICON research group led by Andrea Pinotti and to Joanna Burdzel, Efe Murat Balıkçıoğlu and Seval Harac.
- Technical support: Alessandro Costella. Project manager: Giulia Avanza.
- In collaboration with: 12° Atelier and Casa degli Artisti, Milan, Italy.
- Additional technical support from the Earth and Planetary Sciences: Visualization Research and Teaching Laboratory; the Film Study Center and the Critical Media Practice Program at Harvard University.