The traveling Canvas

by Adolfo Ferraro

“The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine”

What a strange idea, that of making a group of artists create a work of art, by working in different moments in time and distant from one another, on a canvas that travels across the world. And which, travelling from place to place, is contaminated, enriched, stained and cleaned again, acquiring many different languages and spirits, eventually becoming Another, due to the influence of Another.

Men and women are united by inspiration (personal and collective) and by the creation of intersecting emotions.

It is, in a nutshell, a matter of artists who somehow have accepted the idea of meeting one another and to join forces, without really knowing or even looking at one another, aware that the work they see at one moment will be different from what they will see later on.

And the true protagonist in this story is undeniably the Artist, the single individual who is involved in the work, in everything that that has been done by other artists, and who finds him or herself alone with his or her feelings, that meet other feelings, with his or her ability to experience, and to liberate, emotions.

This is what comes to mind when one observes the works produced by this extraordinary process consisting of a succession of different languages, expressed with elegance but also with respect for the artists who have worked on the piece before and who will do so later, where the one who makes his or her contribution must strike a balance between a coherent expression of individuality and a contamination which is unavoidable when one shares a predefined space, that is to say the canvas, with all the limits and possibilities this entails.

In some aspects this may appear as a new version, in a modern and figurative key, of a “game” from the early Twentieth century which Dadaists referred to as “Cadavre Exquis”, a collective play consisting of making several persons compose a sentence, where no-one was allowed to know what the others wrote, according to the sequence noun/adjective/verb/noun/adjective; one rolled up a sheet of paper, and everyone in the group contributed with one part. Also in this case, where the play centres on works on canvas, the creative and playful aspect turns the process into a kind of game.

The essential difference, as compared to the Dadaist operation, is that in in the latter case those who took over the work were unaware of what had been written by his or her predecessor, even though the two knew one another, at least by sight.

In this case, on the contrary, we have two artists who are perfectly aware of what has been done on the canvas before it reaches them by courier from some other part of the world. When the next artist opens the package, all the interventions and additions made in the previous passages are revealed. On the other hand, they do not know, at least not personally, the artists who have worked on the painting before them, and those who will continue the work after them.

And this turns the play into something very different from a society game, a creative pastime enjoyed by bored artist, or an opportunity to meditate on the power of abstraction and the psycho-pedagogic detachment from oneself. Rather, it becomes a shock that may be an educational shock, a constructive and collective breakdown that may be almost therapeutic, made of encounters that may sometimes be quite conflictual, of superimpositions and cancellations, of mutual respect and concealed narcissism.

The artists must appear and reveal their work, thus taking inspiration and inspiring the other artists. And at some point or other in the process they become receptors of the emotions of others.

They also have to confront the other artists, overcome aversions or desires to dominate, narcissisms and competitiveness, in a context that invariably transcends limits and borders; the border imposed by form, by education, by a black and white view, by prejudices and by a need for pragmatism. In this context the border is seen as a clear line, that divides and separates.

In these works, on the contrary, we are not dealing with any clear-cut borders, but rather with a place, a space in which it is also possible to move laterally, exploring the area which may be defined as grey, but which is really very colourful, that represents the antinomic border between the norm and its opposite, between utopia and reality, between goodness and wickedness, between acceptance and refusal. Influenced and stimulated by the contaminations that accompany the process, in a research that does not necessarily have a goal or a precise target, except that of searching, with the instinct of those who do not look for the intimate and revolutionary aspects of togetherness in order to grow.

Indeed, the border becomes a place rather than a line, a place one may explore without any desire for systematic observation, but with the roaming instinct of those who find because they are not searching, knowing that it is possible to unravel tangles while walking: the tangles of utopia, ubiquity, prejudice, cultural standards, of folly and of normality.

At the end of this process we may be able to identify what could be defined as the “normality of art”: a shared space in which the other side of regularity is chaos, where the meaning of normality is abnormality.



Adolfo Ferraro, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, has worked for many years as director of the Judicial psychiatric Hospital of Aversa. He is professor in forensic psychiatry at the Second University of Naples and president of SIFPP (Italian Society for the formation of Penitentiary and forensic psychiatry). Expert psychiatrist of various courts, lives and works in Naples.

Some publications: Delitti e sentenze esemplari (Centro Scientifico Editore, Torino 2005); Il caso clinico di Alonso Quijano, in F. Bruno (a cura di), Psichiatria e mass media nel mondo della comunicazione globale (Aracne, Roma 2006); Delitti in famiglia (InterAzioni Editore, Aversa 2007); Materiali dispersi (Tullio Pironti Editore, Napoli 2010); Voglio la neve qua ad Aversa (Sensibili alle foglie Editore, 2014); Sunny Days (Rogiosi editore, 2017); Arte reclusa (Rogiosi editore, 2019).

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