Memory is another central aspect, in the context of the exploration of public spaces for Elena Cologni, with which we resume in this episode the reflections around the dimension of space. “I’m very interested in the memory of the present, what we carry inside where we come from, and from our life” parallel to the dimension of “emigrant”, as Elena defines herself.
“This memory is not static. The project carried out at the Department of Experimental Psychology of the University of Cambridge (Rockfluid, 2011) had as its reference the value of memory in the present, because I believe that memory is actually experienced in the present, in conjunction with perceptual processes. This approach helps me to work on my past not in melancholy terms, by considering a kind of memory that is reactivated through the process of remembering that takes place in the present. This also happens through the body.
Much of what the body does is implicit, even if we are not fully aware of it. In retracing places where situations occurred, events that we then memorized, we do not always remember the latter. Sometimes we have a flash back, in other cases we relive the memories we have internalized, every time we pass through a certain place.
What I have been doing most recently is working on how this process has an impact on the development of attachment to the place. An area of environmental psychology on which I started working in 2016, for the project Lived Dialectics Movements And Rest, curated by Gulsen Bal and Walter Siedl and carried out in Vienna, in the Museums Quarter in two interventions: one inside and one outside the area that leads to the Imperial Park, the Imperial Palace, and the historical museums I refer specifically to the text by David Simmons, a psychologist who deals with architecture and environmental psychology and identifies repetition as a fundamental element for developing attachment to the place.
An aspect that is very significant, as from an aesthetic point of view I am interested in seriality, and modularity. I developed the two works on the idea of repetition, one linked to a pattern that I found on the floor in the Museum Quartier, the other entrusted to the two facilitators who wore two portable sculptures on their shoulders, in charge of understanding and realizing the history of the place. That architecture leads us to trace.
I asked the guys who made the journey to pause at some points where they thought this could be emphasized. In this way they created their own routine, in their clarification of the public space in reference to the story. “
With regard to the close relationship between the body and public space, we open an illustrative parenthesis. “The knowledge of a new place happens through the body that crosses the space, the conceptualization of what you do is purely mental.” He supports Elena as she remembers an episode in her life.
“When I went to New York for the first time in 1994 and stayed for a year, I reoriented myself, in terms of where I was and who I was: a moment of personal remapping took place. What public space had led me to be and do in Italy was completely different from what was happening to me in that place. I understood minimalism and other things that I never would have understood, had I not gone there.
New York, as many other cities in the US, is formed by an urbanistic grid with which it is built. It makes you feel immediately uncomfortable as it forces you inside, but at the same time makes it easier to move around, once you enter. The ease of going east, north, south, orienting yourself, does not lead you to need to look at the map… even if this can be a mistake…. I was drawn to this dimension. You are more aware of the relationship with the external space, due to the size of the buildings and the glimpses of the orthogonal streets.
There I understood minimalism. The theatrical aspect of minimalism led me to see the evolution of performance in relation to minimalism itself and was at the basis of my performative work for some time. It was a very important moment for me in terms of organizing my work on public space. Now I work with dialogic sculptures that relate to the body and relate to outer space. “
So, I ask Elena to explain what she means by the concept of “dialogic sculpture”.
“The concept of dialogue brings me back to the idea of theater, to dialogue, to dialectics. The relationship with the other has always existed in my work. I did a work on Gropius and the Total Theater for the Design exam with Boriani in Brera. Ever since I was attending painting, the idea of perception was fundamental. I had begun to evert the canvas (fascinated by Castellani’s works). Shaping the canvas and doing three-dimensional things that had to do with vision was fundamental as soon as I left the Academy in the early nineties. Basic dialogism starts from perception, I have always created dialogue through vision. “
In the development of the reflections always concerning the external public dimension, Elena Cologni starts talking about attachment to the place.
“I did another project with which I very consciously investigated the relationship between attachment to the place and the parent-child relationship, or between a person who cares and a person in care, with respect to the influence on attachment to the place. This next step concerned the concept of motherhood as a role in the social, the role of caring.
The ethics of caring has become important in my work, especially since 2016, a reflection that has strong ties in New York with the feminist movements of that period. I had exchanges with Virginia Held and my interest in feminism, in care is linked to the concept of care in the social and the possibility of finding a different way of conceiving the social and the political.
I developed a project carried out with the family center with the University of Cambridge and the psychologist Margaret Lowenfield who worked with creativity and the non-verbal. The “school run” (the time to go to school) in England, as everywhere, has an impact on what happens in the morning, but it is considered an obstacle, a nuisance for those who go to work, it is almost a problem for the administrations of British cities. “
Elena thought of dialogue, of an exchange different from what happens at the table, as in this case it is placed in the public space.
“The parent brings the child to school, the mutual dependence is highlighted, the interdependence that is interrupted with the secondary school, also sanctioned in an official and legal way. The children then begin to have their own experiences in the public space and are independent, they meet people and notice them, which happens less if accompanied by an adult.
My speech was thus focused on how this moment is placed in relation to what happens at that time and how the parent and the child live this moment of freedom. At my request to indicate a place on the way home-school, with the participants, there in those places they identified, where an interaction then took place. Our action of opening the sculpture, a sort of non-verbal dialogue connoted the “corridors” of the city, the non-places between one point and another.
When we met with the participants, even strangers, the first thing that happened was to communicate only with our physicality to determine the new fiction of that place. There I realized that what we were doing had an influence on the way the public space is used. “
Another aspect that Elena has recently analyzed in relation to public space concerns “Feminist spatialization”.
“I began to think in dialogue with feminist geographers, with a sociologist Susan Buckingham who spoke of eco-feminism. At a conference in Chicago I presented a moment of reflection on the Cartesian spatialization grid on the world. I’m talking about geometry, but I try to unhinge the static rules of geometry.
The Cartesian grid on the world also adheres to that of google map, I use it, I realize the paradox, but try to reflect on how reductive and useful it is. I have read the reflections of Donna Haraway, Doreen Massey, which refer to the geometry of power. The idea that I have developed is to intervene in a subjective way in this geometric mapping. Mapping indicates a willingness to control, but it is an action that we need to place ourselves in the world, on a subjective level.
Central then becomes the development of ways to do so. In Chicago in 2020 I presented a performance lecture, in which I moved around the room we were in, from one point to another. I mapped with signs where I was and where the people around me were, without them knowing. I had sheets of graph paper on which I superimposed the tracing paper, arranged in a fan.
At the end of the process of each of the piles that I had formed, I closed them from the sieve shape and the result was a paradoxical mapping: it denied the initial structure, it was a bunch of dots without the order from which I had started. The subjective aspect emerged in the foreground also through this found porosity. It is a symbolic action that helped me reflect. In the project carried out in Venice in 2021 the idea of inserting the subjective aspect, not only mine, but of history, resulted through the idea of identifying the history of jobs, considered non-fundamental, little considered, or that go beyond the automation, from digitization and refer to the pre-industrial period.
I interacted with the women of Bevilacqua Tessiture who told me about the places in the city they pass by to go to work. In this way, I created a traditional mapping of the positions of these places, through which, however, I actually map the city through invisible or forgotten stories.
The experiential exercises that happen in Venice are done by people who then make themselves available to talk about it, I ask what happened, what they noticed. There is a strong individual aspect to the way these dialogues take place, given that I give benchmarks, ask a question, which remains in people’s minds and, furthermore, there are the dialogic sculptures composed of two rigid elements covered with a self-cleaning carbon material, with a stretch part in the middle.
Working in pairs, they move in space in a certain way. The idea is to measure the space, not exactly (thanks to the stretch). In addition, one person acts as a pivot, the other moves, continuous curves are created, always inaccurate because the fabric is precisely elastic. This unstable feature of the stretch fabric, its elasticity fascinated me. It is a material that I have been using for years, because it allows oscillation, the inaccurate, truly important aspects to challenge geometry”