And the word was made fire
by Osvaldo Guerrieri
Richi Ferrero, Mr. Theatre
by Gian Luca Favetto
On the Zoo, the mirror and other things
by Michelangelo Pistoletto
conversation with Ruggero Bianchi and Cristina Natta-Soleri, Cittadellarte, Biella, october 2000
The city of the muses
by Lucio Cabutti
Cinema out of the ordinary
by Stefano Della Casa
Invention and memory: Ferrero's fireworks
by Mercedes Viale Ferrero
If ideas are luminous
by Sergio Jaretti
An exploration around the idea of a museum
by Andrea Terranova
Conversation about the Gran Teatro Urbano
by Richi Ferrero con Ruggero Bianchi
And the word was made fire
by Osvaldo Guerrieri
I first came across Richi Ferrero in 1975. He was working as an actor in the Granserraglio’s production of La Conquista del Mexico (The Conquest of Mexico) in the foyer of the Teatro Nuovo in Turin. Unless I am much mistaken, this was a second work, following Lo strano caso di Nancy Quike (The strange case of Nancy Quike), and as often happens with second works, it failed to avoid lapses, it seemed to be dominated by the dangerous desire for “success”: circumstances which, when the necessary maturity and technical discipline are lacking, ordinarily jeopardise even the most solid of projects.
La Conquista del Mexico was not, in fact, memorable. The dialogue was dense and lifeless, the set design chaotic, the plots and subplots heavily interwoven: all this dragged down an undertaking which nevertheless did attempt to demolish from within the mechanisms of traditional theatre. As we all know, the Seventies were years of flight and affront. The so-called cellar theatre, influenced by Artaud, the croaking prince of cruelty, aimed at the irreversible dissolution of the word. In its aesthetic silence, or in the distorted sound which was its variant, or in the actual subversion of meaning, the new stage decreed the expressive triumph of the image and the body. The Granserraglio Company was part of this experimental current, while at the same time indicating that they did not want entirely to merge into it. The mere fact that in La Conquista del Mexico the word retained its communicative, even its grammatical value, was proof of a revolution which was wished for, set in motion, wooed, but then rescued from the extreme consequences. The impression was that Ferrero, the director Mariano Meli and everyone taking part wanted not so much to destroy as to reinvent the tradition, to update it, to clothe it anew in contemporary dress.
We know, now, what the results were. But there was something at that time which struck my imagination, something I noted in Ferrero more than in the others. In his offstage words and gestures, I seemed to detect in him a feverish tension, a visionary tic, a nagging artistic thought, all taken to extraordinarily acute levels. At that moment my impression was that Ferrero was taking his own road, I thought I understood that this lean, bearded actor, who gestured so frenetically, was looking for himself. La Conquista del Mexico seemed to be a pretext, a mere accident that he could disregard. In other words, he was not in search of a show: he was in search of himself.
Richi Ferrero, Mr. Theatre
by Gian Luca Favetto
If you already know him the words that follow are useless. Just as they are useless if you don’t know him: because he is worth more than all these words. But I haven’t got him here in the flesh to meet you, I only have an alphabet, with vowels and consonants to string together, to try to narrate him and bestow an impression.
The impression that I will put onto paper begins like this: he is an actor, an author, a draught horse that guides visions like ploughs across the eyes of the spectators, an archer who shoots plays like ammunition, a usurper of reality, a saboteur of certainties, a cultivator of provocations planted here and there throughout Italy, a test pilot of follies, a simulator, a leadsman of darkness that disarms with light, a rower against the tide for whom impossible things turn out to be easy, a finder of scraps and poems, a proclaimer of projects, a uomo a ore rented out to dreams. To rhyme properly he should be called Ferrore, but the inversion of the last two vowels has placed him firmly within the traditions of his homeland, Piedmont: he is Ferrero. Richi by name. We don’t know if he was ever Riccardo. It would seem not. Not even for his mother. Anyway we are not led to think so.
This man, who has done all the things he has done, and imagined a thousand more and you can read them all in the book you are holding cannot be a Riccardo.
He is Richi. Ri chi? Ri cosa? A Richi who dares. Who has dared, everywhere and always, the theatre. At all times. Even talking over a glass of wine, rolling a cigarette and that’s all. Obviously on a stage. Or on the waters of a river. On the facades of buildings. In the park of a royal palace. In churches, amongst the market stalls, while he talks to the old ladies. In a museum. In a square. Even under water, somewhere in the Red Sea. In a forest. At a political conference. At the end of a motorway. In a fortress. In the Mole Antonelliana . Bounded by love, love of theatre and theatricality, which are nothing more than the pleasure of putting into contemporary form, the people’s desire to communicate and meet up, enjoying words, a gesture, a glance, an applause, an action, a memory, together. The pleasure of sharing a space. And a time. Of participating in the same form, of being together on the same wave: someone is speaking here, keeping quiet there, here acting, there watching, listening and hearing, whether they are here or there, it doesn’t matter.
Participating in the same form with someone, being together on the same wave means travelling. A theatrical work is a journey. It is a journey because it forces us to move: the actors, at least in Italy, go from city to city, and this is called a tournée. The public moves inasmuch as they leave their homes and walk. The rehearsals are a journey, a discovery, a matter for Christopher Columbus and David Livingstone. When the show begins, we all enter another dimension, we move to another place, in another reality. Theatre is for travellers, for those who endure, not renouncing being and feeling nomads in the desert of time.
If this is true, there are some words that can, without defining him, summarise the man of the theatre, above all one like Richi Ferrrero. These words appeared a dozen or so years ago. They were written by one of the great thinkers of this century, a hermit, loved by few, a rare master, Edmond Jabès, born in Cairo in 1912. He lived in Egypt, was Jewish, emigrated to France, and died in Paris in 1991. Quite by chance, the words are to be found in a book called The Book of Sharing. In Italy it was published posthumously by Raffaello Cortina. Here is a summary of men like Ferrero whether they are men of the theatre, of sport, of literature, of the world, of the factory, it doesn’t matter much they are captured in a few, simple, but precise lines by Jabès: “Don’t ask me who I am. The question is incomprehensible to me. Consequently I no longer pose it. Rather ask me where I am going. You will deduce from my surprise that I have never wondered”.
1 Hired hand.
2 The author puns on the name “Richi”, which in Italian contains the interrogative pronoun chi? = who?, then transformed into cosa? = what?)
3 The Mole Antonelliana designed by Alessandro Antonelli (1863) is one of the symbols of the city of Turin, a cupola and spire that rise above the city and can be seen for miles around. It now houses the national museum of cinema)
On the Zoo, the mirror and other things
by Michelangelo Pistoletto
interview by Ruggero Bianchi and Cristina Natta-Soleri, Cittadellarte, Biella, ottobre 2000
Ruggero Bianchi, Cristina Natta-Soleri Let’s give ourselves a starting point, functionally credible, if chronologically gratuitous: Per ora, per quest’ora, per questa volta ancora... (For now, for this moment, and again for this once...) 1987. Piazza Carlo Alberto in Turin, a square transformed and dominated by the monument to Carlo Alberto. The original monument is transferred into a field of maize using a monolith/mirror. The mirror is used because it is impossible to move the monument. Thus an urban event is created, thanks to which the square and its historical meaning are transformed. How should such an operation be read? As a theatrical action, as an installation, as a more or less conceptual itinerary?
Michelangelo Pistoletto Richi has done more than one event in the same place.
You are right, in 1985, on the occasion of Torino Stupefacente, there was another of his events here. Naufragio, the shipwreck. Another moment in the same place. Two years earlier.
In my opinion the question is this: we are in the presence of a passage from an idea of theatre (in a theatre, on a stage) to an open space in which theatre becomes a new conception of scene, but at the same time immobile urban sculpture.
Richi defines it as “dramaturgy of fixedness”, inasmuch as we are in a situation where there is no theatrical action, since the theatrical action is reconstructed by the observers. In this specific case, the square has its precise historical reference, that is the campaigns of Carlo Alberto, his battles of the Risorgimento, the first war of independence and so on. And here, around the “heroic” monument to Carlo Alberto, there are permanent figures, although rarely performers. Soldiers who denote a “low” presence. At the same time, however, there is a process of transformation of the urban space which has nothing to do with the logic of Son et Lumière, but is rather a crossing of a space where the spectator or the passer-by (that is, in any case, a “public” not necessarily prepared for the event and in any case accustomed to reading in their own way a space crossed more or less hurriedly and more or less casually or distractedly) rediscovers or discovers in a familiar place new and/or different values. The modification of a place determines in the passers-by (or contributes to creating in them) the birth of a story.
It’s strangely true, because I remember that when I was a boy the Wine Fair was regularly held in this place, exactly in this space. It was held every year, and on that occasion they built a backdrop. It was all right there. There was the National Library, not yet rebuilt. There was just the facade, and in the square fixed scenery and backdrops. And in this visual structure, in the Fifties, there were various stands. It wasn’t a theatre in the true sense of the word, but perhaps that’s what it was, it was a theatre of direct involvement, however different. You entered and found everything, everything turned into theatre. The people were involved in a scenario. A sort of very efficacious “outdoor show”, where people entered, consumed, came and went... A sort of unconstructed “backdrop”, on a modern structure of architectural stands. A largely imaginative situation which perhaps in some way denoted an old-fashioned theatre in a place destined to develop into an unforeseen modern theatre, or better, a new-style theatre. Just as has happened. I realised this when, passing by, I saw Richi’s work with the syringes, Torino Stupefacente. It is not mere chance, by the way, that right on the corner there is the Sperone Gallery: another very familiar place. I was surprised to see that the square was reborn in the light of a new idea.
How is the element of the intention affected by your memories? The situation you evoke was strictly finalised in a certain type of use, the Wine Fair. That is, commerce, publicity, sales, etc. With the choice of Richi, however, the area and its meaning are transformed.
It was a very popular situation. A popular festival that reminds me of the Crane and of certain recent installations by Richi. Luminous installations, set up on the occasion of very popular festivals, popular by definition, such as Christmas and New Year. That is, always in relation with something that has a story, a link with the world, a link with the public and therefore, we could say, “popular - of the people”. That is why we find ourselves in the dimension of living the square in some way, even in relation to something that goes beyond the artistic episode in a specific sense. Beyond the “closed” episode, whether it is closed in the theatre or in the museums. Here it was all aimed at meeting people in public spaces, in the places they use every day.
What exactly do you mean by “popular”? The folkloristic trend of a well-loved Turin Mayor like Diego Novelli? What relationship is there between the popular and the folkloric?
For me popular is not folkloric. Popular in the first place is the meeting space. That’s what I mean: an event in a public place, a city place, that causes the transformation of those signals that we traditionally expect to find in terms of folklore. However, in this operation there is always something stolen: not from the folklore but from the world events. I, for example, in my first operations, did things in the streets such as Il principe pazzo or L’uomo ammaestrato. Things that to some extent linked... not folklore, a term I don’t really like... but something that I would prefer to call...
Popular culture. Let’s say, for example, the troubadours. Here, in terms of the great stage, we can rediscover something of the troubadours, or maybe of the “story-tellers”. Here we are telling stories. We tell the story of the boat and what happens to it.
The city of the muses
by Lucio Cabutti
Richi Ferrero creates gigantic spider’s webs in everyday settings: he sets them up for a short time, according to the dynamic codes of his varied theatrical experiences; but he also sets them up, at other times, as the static museum works of art, installations and sculptures. He invents them as stable presences, or at least for an undetermined length of time, in the everyday environment. He draws them like the graphic, architectural tetragons of a spider that uses the scientific adjective “orbicular”, because it reflects the structure of the world itself. The etymology of orbicular refers to the creation of solid networks in the form of “orbis” in the Latin sense of circle or globe and refers to the construction of truly solid traps that go beyond our imagination. The breaking load of a thread from a spider’s web is 149 kilos per square millimetre. It is stronger than the nylon used by the artist in the enlarged simulation, stronger even than steel wire; the web of the epeira crociata, for example, can capture prey weighing two thousand times the weight of the spinner. In citing the world of the spider as a metaphor Richi Ferrero travels the paths of simulated heights and shipwrecks of his visual repertory. In elaborating his own creative lexis he has visited the most symbolic corners of the imagination. The spider, with its threads and its webs, has an enduring natural and anthropological history that ranges from legend to phobia, reverberating in the works of artists. Its origins go back four hundred million years. Its image as an optical model, psychophysical structure and archetype is therefore three times older than the dinosaurs and one hundred times older than Man. And the image of its web is for the spider itself an innate archetype, operative and formal, that does not depend on learning from parents: very young spiders, kept in isolation from birth show according to specialists in the field that they can create even better webs than the older spiders, without ever having learned the technique from others.
Examining the identity of the arachnids becomes a way of measuring oneself against the rich iconographic history of daily experience and scientific observation, of the projection of the unconscious and the signs of sacredness. The imaginary vocabulary of Richi Ferrero is not new to these wanderings in the collective and individual imagination. The spider is, amongst other things, a cosmic and liberating symbol in India, a demi-god of divine creation called Ananse in western Africa, emblem of humanity punished by Athena in the myth of Arachne of Lydia in Greece, an allegorical figure for instability in the Bible and the Koran, a divinatory symbol in Cameroon and Peru, a freed spirit in Siberia, helmsman of the souls in the spider web boat for the Muisca in Colombia, god of the inferno for the Aztecs and creator god in the Gilbert Isles of Micronesia. Spider’s webs and artist’s spiders form a perfect bond, a vertiginous link, sinking into the abysses of the codified communication of mankind and link to the atavic or future chains of emotive and imaginary associations.
Cinema out of the ordinary
by Stefano Della Casa
The success of a festival (or the lack of it) is partly due to totally unexpected elements, which are beyond the most careful of organisers’ capacity for prediction. Anyone who took part in the second and third editions of the Festival Internazionale Cinema Giovani (International Festival of Young People’s Cinema), for example, knows how important the presence of two installations by Richi Ferrero in nearby squares (Piazza Carlo Alberto, Piazzale Aldo Moro) was for the launch of this festival, attaining the two-fold objective of amazing the city and setting up a film set. One of the two installations represented a syringe-studded boatload of dummies (Torino Stupefacente); the other imagined an air disaster. Both were battered by dreamlike light (stage lighting in fact); in the case of Torino Stupefacente a competition was organised in which certain of the participants were destined to play an important role in Turin-based cinema (Mimmo Calopresti, Claudio Paletto, Gianluca Tavarelli). But beyond this significance, which is important but could have been mere chance, it is evident that, if the Turin festival immediately conquered an enduring place in the collective imagination, this is also due to a parallel presence, independent but concurrent which immediately gave the event meaning.
In effect Richi Ferrero’s career includes nodes where it intersects with cinema, and in particular with the “new cinema” that became popular in Italy as from the Eighties, when the definitive diffusion of technologies (above all, obviously, video) lowered the cost of experimenting with images in movement. As we will see, there is specific production, which can be called cinema; but, as we run down a long list of his theatrical work, we immediately notice four names: Perlini, Bukowski, Fassbinder, Achternbusch. There is a thread linking these authors: they all come from theatre, they have all measured themselves at different times and in different ways with the cinema and cinema was not a casual parenthesis in their artistic trajectory, but rather a fundamental rite of passage that would leave its mark. In particular Fassbinder and Achternbusch were favourites in the Italian cine-clubs of the Seventies: retrospectives dedicated to them have toured the peninsula and carved out for the two authors a fairly sizeable niche in the cult cinemas. This mention of cine-clubs is not entirely casual, if we want to comment on Richi Ferrero’s approach to cinema. When Filmstudio was founded in Rome at the beginning of the Seventies, and soon copied throughout Italy (the capital was also the birthplace of the ‘Politecnico’ and ‘L’occhio, l’orecchio, la bocca’, Turin had ‘The Movie Club’, Pisa, the ‘Arsenale’, Trieste, the ‘Capella Underground’ and Milan, the ‘Obraz’), there was an inversion of a trend followed by the majority of the Italian critics. Talking and writing about films, animating written or verbal debates, had until that moment been the most widespread activity of the Italian critics. The cine-club demolished this assumption; preferring to attempt to rewrite the history of cinema not by learned prose, but rather by showing the films, preferring the cinematographic object to discussion of it. Thus, for example, we discover why Jean-Luc Godard dedicated his earliest film to Monogram Pictures, a producer of Hollywood-style B-movies; or why the Free Cinema so beloved of the leftwing was overrated if compared with the contemporary Hammer horror movies; or why Raffaello Matarazzo’s melodramas with Nazzari and Sanson were as valid as the contemporary melodramas by Visconti which raised such a debate on neo-realism. So if Ferrero chooses Fassbinder he makes a deliberate choice, preferring troubled cinema to debated cinema. I remember my first meeting with the Granserraglio, in 1976 at Villardora, when the venue was being organised for Enzo Maolucci who played a long, memorable, American rock concert. I knew the Granserraglio because its headquarters was in Corso San Maurizio 27; an address that at that time, in Turin, was a precise declaration of belonging.
Invention and memory: Ferrero's fireworks
by Mercedes Viale Ferrero
Why fireworks? If we wanted to seek an answer to this question in relation to Richi Ferrero’s fireworks displays, we might find a very simple answer. Richi wanted to venture into this traditional “genre” out of the taste or anxiety, if you will for artistic experimentation that distinguishes him. He wanted to re-visit this genre using innovative forms and processes. However, this may be a partial and superficial explanation. In fact, it is not a matter of renovating a spectacle that is too often repeated. Rather, it is more a matter of going back to its historical and symbolic roots this is, to rediscover the deepest motivations for fireworks, which are meant to be signs demonstrating the potential of human ingenuity, something like natural magic. These days we can hardly imagine how dark the cities must have been without public lighting, when the only artificial lights were candles, lanterns, and torches. Hence we cannot manage to imagine what a great effect the night-times brightness must have made when it was produced by the glow of fireworks. It was an upsetting of the natural order of things and therefore a sign of the power of the person in authority who was able to order such a turnaround with a word of command. The fireworks and the lighting had the quality of stopping the flow of time and provoking the metamorphoses of the elements as they turned night into day and transformed the city into a theatre of fleeting splendour. Nevertheless, fireworks were the only spectacle that could overcome the bounds of space and be visible simultaneously throughout a vast piece of land. Only fireworks could be enjoyed by a multitude of people that no theatre would have been able to hold. We can define fireworks as the perfect “spectacle”, in that the etymon of the word goes back to the Latin “spectare” (“to see”). However, what type of sight do fireworks offer us? And for what reason? Today, this is problem to solve. In other eras fireworks, from time to time, were able to serve in a sovereign’s festive programs in order to celebrate a dynastic alliance. They could serve a religious authority to exalt a holy feast day. They could serve a civil administration to underscore its own institutional autonomy. However, today what are fireworks most appropriately connected with? When the time came for Richi Ferrero to take on the question of the fireworks display, his problems were not lacking, but neither were his stimuli for going forward.
We need to go back to the nights of June 24, 1990; June 24, 1991; June 24, 1992; and June 11, 1994. We should focus in on them with a certain distance in time, but we should always have a lively persistence of image in our minds. We can sum up their qualities in two words: memory and invention. The first word is memory. Undoubtedly, Richi Ferrero took into account everything that went before his creations. He was aware of a centuries-long history of spectacles that reflected the life of the city in a changeable kaleidoscope of political situations, civic happenings, social relationships, artistic tastes, and local customs. The very places where Ferrero’s modern fireworks were set off incite us to take up the thread of ancient happenings. From 1990 to 1992 the displays took place on the Po that is, in the Turin festival place that distinguished itself from the others, the squares of Palazzo di Città (City Hall), Castello (Castle), and San Carlo, for its natural and panoramic scenario. For this reason, it was always favoured when the festival would seek grandiose effects and take on the character of a story told in images and figures.
If Ideas are luminous
by Sergio Jaretti
I met Richi Ferrero in person in 1998, on the occasion of the city exhibition, “Luci d’Artista” ( Lights by Artists). I had joined Pier Giovanni Castagnoli and Stefano Valezano in handling the insertion of the artists’ works in the setting of the city1. This gave me a way to see Ferrero’s works together, which I had been seeing as separate, disconnected pieces over the course of the years. Now that I have been looking through the ample, extremely beautiful photographic material in his personal archive and revisiting his works in chronological order, it even seems banal to declare that the use of light is the leading element that shoots through all his activities. A classical essay is supposed to proceed along the standardized tacks plotting out the figure of the artist. It should distinguish his or her type of work from other genres. It should delineate its chronological evolution and history. It should reckon the consequences and the innovations and then compare the results of these with those of other artists, and so on. I have to confess these hassles of mine perhaps because writing this is not my job. Another reason is that Ferrero’s personality is the point of intersection of so many different roles, as was the case with Antonelli. He is a businessman, a self-booster, and an inventor of techniques and forms and the hands-on maker of their parts. What I’ll give is a chief-comedian thing, a kind of juggler thing, a recital, and/or a self-observation as a spectator. I just don’t know how much the chronological order of events and genres should count in all this.
It is especially hard when dealing with this character. He is so modern what a dangerous word these days in that studio-workshop-laboratory of his. He is almost alone despite the great number of co-workers and colleagues who he gets involved with in every one of works. He is so in tune with those young people with their ready tax receipt books + cell phones + laptops who are changing the face and nature of creative work.
So, there’ll be none of that standard format with its chronology and all the rest. What I’ll give is a tentative reconstruction of a way of making projects, something done as if through overlapping layers of historical models of reference. I’ll present trends and works that shrink and spread out his inventiveness much beyond the stereotypes. In a few pages I cannot go through everything that is significant and memorable in his work. In his activity he has taken up the challenge and we’ll see how of the unsteadiness of the material that his work starts out from. He takes up the challenge of putting instants of figurative drama on stage. These last exactly as long as they are being seen. This is perhaps the biggest problem. There is everything that I was not able to see live and that I can never see any more. There is all this that pays off the more that you participate in its not being there. However, there is something on his part and I’ll point it out now that is interested in duration, that is interested in something more permanent which is not only supposed to seize the instant in which it has appeared and is not supposed to only pass from the theatre-theatre to the city scene.
An exploration around the idea of a museum
by Andrea Terranova
En conséquence, le musée a, entre autre, pour fonction d’être un lieu à caractère sacré où, à travers la présentation des objects, se prolonge la volonté de se survivre des générations passées.
Zev Gourarier, 1984
1. Here we have in a few words the key idea that opens us up to understanding what I think are the main lines that the multidisciplinary development in Richi Ferrero follows. We can identify this theoretical path from its beginnings in the city installation Per ora, per quest’ora, per questa volta ancora... (For now, for this moment, and again for this once..., 1987). His path continues through the experience of the Museum of the Shroud (1998) and takes on its fully deliberate direction in the Exilles Museum (2000). This exhibition is the most recent challenge met by this multi-faceted Turin artist. It is an exploration around the idea of a museum itself that may lead to a new conception of what a museum should be.
What Zev Gourarier calls for is what Ferrero has done and made function. Gourarier, the much respected director of the National Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions in Paris, maintains that the museum should take up the institutional task of making itself the place where people survive. People survive through the material resources that reminds us of them after their deaths. These are places where people’s symbolic values are and where their figures of the imagination are. They make up a sort of temple of the secular world. This concept has been formulated theoretically fifteen years ago, but it still holds up as something that is able to destabilize the entire educational and institutional thrust of modern museum science. This concept turns this thrust to communicate upside down. Instead, it opts for preserving memories for the senses. This is what happened in the case of the collection of uniforms at the Exilles Museum, thanks to the common passion of Raffaele Natta-Soleri and Ernestino Chiappa. Hence a museum curator should become a guardian and interpreter of other people’s memories rather than a programmer of educational messages.
2. I should describe the essential features of the three exhibitions that I have mentioned, so that we can understand how and why this is true.
Per ora, per quest’ora, per questa volta ancora... (1987)
The setting is Piazza Carlo Alberto, in the centre of Turin, in front of that temple of artificial memory which is the National Library. Richi Ferrero stages the re-working into our memories of a battle of the Savoy epoch. The project notes read: “We shall give that king Carlo Alberto of Savoy frozen in his bronze statue beyond the reach of insults the gift of the emotions of his last battle. For now, for this moment, and again for this once there are the rustlings of men brushing through the cornfields, the smells of troubles and gunpowder, and the glow of enemy fire”. This “theatrum memoriae” is something unexpected. A piece of the Piedmont countryside has been transported in time and space from the Novara of 1849 to the Turin of 1987, sporting 12.000 maize plants arranged over an area of 1500 square metres. In the middle of all this there towers an enormous Kubrick-like (2001-Space Odyssey) monolithic mirror to reflect the image of the king of Savoy to help us reflect upon the human condition, on death, on memory, and on the epic of the lower, subjected classes...
“Every night a different soldier dirty, tired, and depressed sprouts up among the plants. This is the Savoy army”. There can be no memory in museums without the epic of the vanquished. A museum must win over that same atmosphere that we experience when we come face to face with Pellizza da Volpedo’s Quarto stato if that museum aims to turn itself into a place where we experience a sense of initiation. If this is so, Ferrero’s installation has put us face to face with that same experience of seeing those people come on stage who had always been off-stage. This is what we read in so many stories of poverty and emigration that are captured in old photographs when we are ready to read them and listen to them with an open attitude ready for listening.
Ferrero continues: “Mirrors, little mirrors, big mirrors, lights all of these multiply and change. Then there are horses, one hundred horses, one hundred thousand soldiers. There they are here, then there. They run back and forth and there he is in the middle of it all for his last war. And... the people watch. They finally get to watch”. This is an image that has not been foreseen in the image of the warrior king. It is an infinite model made up of modules that are eternally different. It is an uninterrupted sequence of points of view. It is a deliberately useless exhibition. It is “exquisitely useless” like a “game”, as one local Theatre critic said snottily.
The classical equestrian statue of Carlo Alberto is banal because it is eaten up in the rhythms of history. Even so, it is evidence that an image offered up to our eyes has no value if it is not seen during some interval, some interruption in the steady flow of time that forces us to take a break if we want at all to be there, to walk there, to see there.
The Museum of the Shroud 
The Museum of the Shroud was founded in 1936 and renovated in 1998. It runs through the stages of the history of this sacred cloth and the scientific research projects that have investigated the image it carries.
Ferrero has written: “The main problem I encountered in planning this work is obviously the fact that key object that is the centre of discussion is missing. The object is there more by virtue of testimony about it than by its physical presence in an exhibition. This determined my choice to join the scientific and educational features with those that are evocative and emotional”. In fact, the exhibit rotates around two “empty centres”. There is Christ and there is his shroud, which is preserved, as known, in the cathedral of Turin. They take on the substance of the multiplied images of two absences. As these images multiply, they take on an unexpected ontological value. In some way Ferrero suggests to us that the era of images, the paradigm of modernity, opens with the Shroud. This is the epoch in which that dominant form of being already has seemed to have taken on the forms of an image. In the present-day world, everything that “is” exists primarily in as much as it is an “image”.
This is the way that this exhibition subverts one of the original values of classical tradition in a programmatic way the value of presence. Presence is the sense of matter arranged here and there. Presence is also the evident opposite of an absence. It is here that we can, above all, notice a point of catastrophic discontinuity that Ferrero’s project has generated. The exhibition seems to define itself through a steady oscillation between steady presence-memory of what has been and presence-absence of a flowing quality that puts the three time dimensions of presence-absence-future into a simultaneous relationship. This is a perspective that offers a simultaneous contemplation of memory (what has happened) and “immanence” (what will happen or is happening). This perspective never is resolved. It creates this dynamic aspect as it constructs the sense it makes.
However, there is perhaps another point. Ferrero’s project has a central essential aspect. There is “the attempt to show the suffering of a crucified man through the pictorial iconography over the centuries. This is something that the intervention of the artist has fragmented, lacerated, and dramatized upon the architecture of the place when he uses computer techniques and sophisticated projectors for the first time within this museum site”. A pragmatic declaration comes out of this. At the same time, it is a re-thinking of the ethical role of the museum designer.
The Exilles Museum (2000)
This is Richi Ferrero’s great work. There are two different but complementary exhibitions in the heart of the a centuries-old Alpine fortress at Exilles that has been used by the military since 1946: a) The Museum of Alpine Troop Uniforms located at the Cannoneers’ Wall; b) Fortress of Exilles: Military Architecture in the Western Alps located in the Diamond Chamber.
a) The first installation is based on a documentary source of forty four objects owned by the National Museum of the Mountains. It is organized according to a progression that begins with the exhibition of uniforms. This is done through surreal shop dummies covered with rock fragments chipped from the rocks that the fortress is constructed with. This installation finishes with six “Theatres of memory” housed in six chambers in the fort. Its purpose is to make the public understand “who the men who were wearing the uniforms were and what they were thinking about”. Each of these “theatres” focuses on key environmental themes rocks, iron, ice, fog, snow, and the night. In a symmetrical way the collection of uniforms proposes a reading at six different points in time: a) 1800-90, b) 1900, c) 1910, d) 1920, e) 1930-40, and f) 1970-90.
In fact, this “parallel action” determines a very special reading of this “short century”. Ferrero seems to recognize this century’s abysmal and dizzying nature as he adapts the great masters of twentieth-century art. The key of Ferrero’s rhetorical-historical work is suspended somewhere between surrealism and hyper-realism. It is synchronic, hallucinating and hallucinated like Marcel Duchamp’s Great Glass (1926) and James Ballard’s The Atrocities Exhibition. What comes out is an “exhibition” of the atrocities of war and existence. It is exhaustive and random like a painting by René Magritte. It is pornographic as a scientific documentary can be with its obsession for “reality”. It is recounted with the ascetic pathology of a surgeon who is operating on a “dissection table” (André Breton).
Not accidentally, the basic arrangement of the path through the uniforms is based on a monumental work of “anatomical” study on the fashions and colours of military attire made by Ernestino Chiappa his 318 watercolour tables that he did over twenty-six years of his life. This is a paper monument that is “obsessive and magnificent”, and Ferrero takes 44 silhouettes in 1/1 scale from it. These illustrate the main “oscillations in taste” and therefore, by extension, the customs, ferment, tensions, and illusions of a part of the society of our country over the last one hundred years.
His overall result is markedly experimental and strongly influenced by his background in the theatre. Ferrero, nevertheless, frees himself from this through his writing in images that are exquisitely visual and filmic. Ferrero himself calls this the “dramaturgy of fixedness” something that leads him to unprecedented and, at the same time, extraordinarily fruitful results in the field of museum communication.
b) The exhibition entitled Il Forte di Exilles. Architettura militare nelle alpi occidentali (Fortress of Exilles: Military Architecture in the Western Alps) is made up of eight exhibition sections. The first seven illustrate the choreography of the place and its typological, structural, and architectural evolution as a military fortress from the period beginning with its founding in the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century. These sections make use of a wealth of wooden models, drawings, papers, and documents. The wording of the accompanying exhibition text is “un-strengthened” by Ferrero’s use of an ironic and elegant stratagem a “picture gallery” of Savoy sovereigns that is deliberately poor and irreverent. This gallery recalls the “contradictory and complex” pop-art inventions of Robert Venturi.
The eighth section comes across as a veritable secularized “sancta sanctorum” a space for reflection and meditation at the end of a many-faceted and thickly-packed path for the visitors. This is the place where visitors can maintain a mood of “religious” silence as they observe the last important building block of the hermeneutic circle that Ferrero sets up a video entitled Forte suggestione produced in collaboration with Claudio Paletto. There are no actors in this video. There is only the Fortress of Exilles, a natural set that has a strong visual impact with no need for outside help to rise to the role of protagonist.
1 Z. Gourarier, Le musée entre le monde des morts et celui des vivants, in “Ethnologie française”, 14, no. 1, 1984.
2 As is known, the idea of the modern museum was established in the course of the eighteenth century. What became the primary goal was the collection and naming of the forms of knowledge. It is strange to reflect on the fact that the typical museum physical plant and its concept has not changed significantly for over two hundred years despite the evident evolution that we can trace in other types of public buildings for citizens. “Conserving” and “exposing” seemed to become the only two criteria for the museum plant. There was a change in the paradigm in the second half of the twentieth century. This came out of the impressive acceleration in progress in technological and scientific systems. Another factor for this change was that there was a decisive change in the cultural coordinates that was linked to the exponential growth of the performances that can be done by computers, television reproduction, and documentary cinema. The enormous spread of personal computers makes it no accident that linguistic formulas typical of the 1960s have returned from the era where they originated and grew. One example is the concept “expansion of our spaces of experience”. Now is a moment when this emancipation can be “inhabited” because we can cross the thresholds the “doors of perception” not only through the use of hallucinogenic drugs or physical and mental training but also through the media, this Protean and expansive phenomenon in the sense that Marshall McLuhan coined the term before it happened. It is not rare to find traces of a certain line of thought in the United States and Europe before and after 1968. This line describes the museum as a public realm of exploration and consciousness-in-progess, where people can re-appropriate their paths of learning and knowledge. Thus people can emancipate themselves from their passive secular roles and become protagonists and actors. In this way people can develop the potential to put themselves into relation with the museum space, which is a physical and mental space. They can make the heritage exhibited in this space dynamic in a way that would have been unthinkable before. Finally, Walter Benjamin had already sensed in the 1930s that the action of the media modifies the nature and perceptions of the work of art or the artifact exposed. The media dissolve its halo-like quality. Thus the art work and artifact become shows and are arranged on the plane of mass consumption that had been hitherto unknown. From this cultural outlook it is easy to say that the museums began to open up timidly in the 1970s and early 1980s. They began to unfold in a way that they “played” with the intellectual curiosity of the visitors by means of their cultural tools and educational efforts. All this made the experience of the museum visit something that is personalized.
3 A. Audisio, C. Natta-Soleri (eds.), Alpini. Figurini storici di Ernestino Chiappa, Museo Nazionale della Montagna - CAI, Turin, 1998
4 Temporary exhibit. Turin, Piazza Carlo Alberto. September 15 - October 15, 1998. Idea and direction by Richi Ferrero. General direction: Gianna Franco. Commissioned by the Città di Torino, Assessorato alla Cultura; Regione Piemonte, Assessorato alla Cultura.
5 Permanent exhibition on the occasion of the Exposition of the Shroud, 1998. Turin, Via San Domenico, 28. Opening: April 15, 1998. Museum project: Marina Gariboldi and Richi Ferrero. Images: Claudio Paletto. Commissioned by the Confraternita del SS. Sudario.
6 Scientific direction: Francesco Barrera. Pier Giorgio Corino. Idea, projection and coordination: Richi Ferrero. Projection of the exhibit structures: Marina Gariboldi. Commissioned by the Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Turin.
7 Scientific direction: Pier Giorgio Corino. Idea, projection and coordination: Richi Ferrero. Projection of the exhibit structures: Marina Gariboldi. Commissioned by the Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Turin.
Conversation about the Gran Teatro Urbano
by Richi Ferrero with Ruggero Bianchi
Ruggero Bianchi Richi Ferrero: sources, structures of thought, premises for an activity that has lasted thirty years by now.
Richi Ferrero Right, from 1971 to 2001. In 1971 I was twenty years old and I hung out at a kind of off-the-wall basement tavern-club that marked this city’s first stirrings of something international. This was the Swing Club on Via Botero. And the stirrings were Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Lou Bennet, Chet Baker, and Gato Barbieri. Turin was cracking its eyes open. It was at the Swing that I first met Mariano Meli, my unforgettable friend, my master. There were a lot of actors from the Zoo with him. That was the name of the performing company that Michelangelo Pistoletto had founded. Northern Europe, Holland, India, and the Orient were the destinations for our wanderings. It was at the Mickery that historical country-theatre on the outskirts of Amsterdam, that the heart of the first theatrical gang of Turin gave out in its first experience and stopped beating. The Granserraglio was born out of the ashes of the Zoo in that basement in Via Botero. This was in the spring of 1971. That new-born comradeship was between politics and the beat generation. Our models were the Living Theatre, the Bread and Puppet Theatre, and Cafe La Mama. These were the real power houses of expression at that time. In that same spring there was my first scenic action entitled Teatro Scultura (Theatre sculpture), in the Triade Gallery run by the performer-painter Giorgio Ciam. This was a scenic action that was still strongly zoological, Pistoletto-ish. As you know, there was already a calling for pushing theatre more towards new scenarios in that Teatro Scultura.
You talk about the Seventies and put together the Swing, the Bread and Puppet Theatre, India, the beat generation, and so on. You put across a global view of a situation that was not very clear at that time because it was contradictory. These were divergent tendencies. You also talked about Pistoletto... These were the times when, if I remember right, Merz’s name was associated with Pistoletto, even though naturally they might have been working in different fields. There was talk starting about Arte Povera, about conceptual art. These were experiences that were profoundly contradictory of each other.
Yes, but that was another generation. When we talk about Pistoletto, Merz, Arte Povera, the Turin crowd, and Sperone, we’re talking about a generation that came right before mine. I come right after. I get to be a part of it, but I was the youngest one, the kid brother, if not the son. And then it was a relatively mixed up situation, in the sense that then there was the great movement of the beat generation, which confronted itself with the political phase. These two aspects substantially balanced each other off and made up for each other. We were leaving the barracks and not staying to do our military service. We were leaving school and not getting our degrees. We were leaving our families because we didn’t recognize Catholic values as our own, much less those of the nation or the hero. We were fed up with holding on to our membership of the generation that came before us, educationally speaking that is, the generation of my father, which is the generation of Merz. So, we quit our families, and our churches. We escaped the barracks. We threw down borders... For us travelling was a creative act because borders had already been struck out of our heads. We had already united Europe. We had already united the world. In fact, it was a world-wide movement. It was neither Italian nor European.
Knocking down pre-set rules was fundamental in those years. We rejected the text in theatre. We rejected drama itself understood as the unfolding of a theatrical piece with a beginning and an ending. We rejected direction along with the monopoly of the director. In a word, we rejected bourgeois theatre. The new flow of things, the new probing, and the new searchings all of these were awesome.
But this was a time when, to a certain extent, the cards had already been laid on the table. There was a Quartucci who came out of the university theatre. There was a Carmelo Bene. There was a Leo De Berardinis that was being born. There was Beppe Bergamasco at the Swing who was cooking omelettes. (Maybe he hadn’t yet discovered Barba.) There was the early Bread and Puppet Theatre, and Simple Light, the discovery of light. There was a Living Theatre that had been working for several years by then. There was also Mario Ricci who was following a tendency that you might call Viennese or Austrian. There were already great differences. You’re right to say that Pistoletto and Merz were from the generation before. But this does not rule out differing responses. Even going to India, for example, was something that not everybody did. You place yourself into the beat generation, but you made a certain choice. What you made was not a choice that all artists made worldwide. This was a movement that was compact in its own way, but contained great differences technically, formally, artistically, and aesthetically. Where did you first fit yourself into this movement?
When Mariano Meli proposed that we start up together what was to be the Granserraglio, I accepted so that I could lend a hand with the music for the performances that we wanted to put on. This first role of mine didn’t last long. In no time at all I started to move on the stage too. These were years when things came up by chance. There was already a mixing of genres. You got used to doing one thing and then you find you have to stand in for someone who is doing something else. You didn’t have just one craft. You didn’t have experience. This was the birth of a phenomenon with all its drawbacks, with all the objective limits of doing something that we had been learning as we were doing it.
In what way did starting off a new language come into play? Wasn’t there the re-foundation of the language, conventions, and rules of doing theatre and doing art? You were moving from the start over an area that is really the area of “inter-media.”
In fact, we confronted bourgeois theatre, the so-called “theatre of words,” the aesthetics of the word, the correct word, the well-spoken word... We were not interested in the rhetoric of words. Rather, there were Brecht and Beckett, who had already ripped the theatre of words off its hinges, each of them for a different reason. A new current was beginning. The rules were changing. This is certainly natural. Everything was changing and many theatre people and dramatists were keeping time with the rhythm. So, the theatre of movement, of vision, and of change opened up to the street.
Hence your fundamental choice, to speak broadly, was to act in the theatre against the dramatic word.
We acted against what up to then had been up the state of exploitation of the spectator that is, the Italian-style theatre with the audience sitting there in orchestra seats ready to be inflicted in some way with what their tickets bought them, including words. This is what we broke up. This is what our need to make collective texts grew out of. We wanted to cast off the absolute fatherhood of the single author that went back in some way to some head honcho. This is why any one of us could write, could direct, and could perform. We were out to look for that open-plane quality that we were never to find then, and much less later in the cooperative, that mortifying and fatiguing experience. On the other hand, you clearly get some very positive results whenever you revamp any way of doing things, especially artistic ways. Look at Carmelo Bene, Ricci, and Leo from those years, as you said.
This assumes, however, that there is all that talk about collective work that is, the recognition of varying abilities that still may come together and maybe change, mutate, and transform. For example, I can come on as someone who does music and then end up working as director, and so on. So, let’s talk a little about this relationship between the individual and the collective.
It’s simple. We lived together. It was important that we slept, ate, and woke up together. It was important to make coffee together, to roll out and roll up our sleeping bags, to feel united and unique as a group. We were surrounded by dogs who were like children. Our cars were wrecks, but immortal, and music was what glued everything we were doing together. We would begin the day by inventing an action, a gesture, a sequence, an idea on top of another idea. All this assumed that there were some talents that were to be confirmed over time.