"Ruins, my family [...]!" The verses of Baudelaire's The Flowers of Evil resonate as you go through the different chapters of Listen Better, the exhibition by Velasco Vitali set up in the spaces of IULM, curated, with rigor and passion, by the students of the Master's Degree Course in Art, Enhancement and Market. An almost political exhibition that, following the paths of analogy, not without references to romantic poetics, measures itself against the consequences of the climatic and environmental situation.
Divided into three parts – A Fistful of Dust, Perceived the Scene, and Predicted the Rest, Waste Land – and studded with various apocalyptic visions – catastrophes, floods – Vitali's story is introduced by a 2011 video entitled Kolmanskop (directed by Francesco Clerici).
It is in these sequences that the meaning of Velasco's proposal, who has transformed the IULM Exhibition Hall into an earthquake-stricken landscape, occupied by ruins. These are elements that hold an almost metaphysical value. The ruins. "They are a kind of beacon of human existence that illuminates the incomprehension, cowardice, and greed of most societies," wrote Alain Schnapp, following in the footsteps of what he had said, "with the distance of the philosopher and the comparative curiosity of the great traveller", Chateaubriand: "All men have a secret attraction to ruins".
We are faced with authentic plastic oxymorons, which hold together antitheses. Identity and otherness. Continuity and distance. Invisible and visible. Eternity and duration.
Ambiguous figures. Monuments destined to decay are ruins, but also many languages that have disappeared and many forgotten rituals. And again, ruins can have a material and an immaterial thickness: they evoke the signs left by human actions, but they are also the result of aggressions by nature. Finally, they can be the work of different events or of men. Time and again, survivals or devastation.
Beyond these differences, the ruins, Schnapp underlined, embody "one of the universal characteristics of the human condition": they have the value of "immediate data of consciousness." Interweaving the power of oblivion and the power of remembrance, they allude to the end of a world; and, in themselves, they make impending traces of that same world. Endowed with a symbolic status, with their burning consistency, they signal the absence of those who created them.
Powerful metaphorical epitomes, they announce a mutilated greatness, in a perverse game between death and rebirth. They are like uncertain and worm-eaten architectures, which mimic the irreversibility of time, a great sculptor. Broken part of what was whole. Testimonies of collapsed empires refer to bygone eras, always ready to awaken. They stay alive, but life has irretrievably drifted away from them. Capable of grasping the limits of the metahistorical human condition, these shreds of a precarious, dangerous and precious memory speak, with an elusive eloquence, of those who are no longer with us.
Although often violated by erudition and the increasingly widespread desire for spectacularization, the ruins, Marc Augé has pointed out, refer to "multiple pasts" in an incomplete way, amplifying and exasperating their enigma. When they emancipate themselves from the framework in which erudition and philology tend to nail them, they allow us to encounter what we have lost and to glimpse what we will be.
Like the wrinkles on a face that, even if concealed, pronounce the crumbling of history. Or as human creations, which have been challenged by nature. Or, as episodes that can make you smile and, at the same time, disturb. Able to express the right to a beauty that does not allow itself to be turned upside down into its opposite, these fragments reluctant to geometry drink from the source of fleetingness. By placing themselves on the threshold between the now and the no longer, between "the eternal becoming of the soul in struggle with itself and formal satisfaction", they imprison the "present form of the past", as Georg Simmel wrote, according to whom ruins do not cease to question us, arousing a tragic effect, because "the destruction in them is not something absurd that comes from without, but the realization of a deep tendency in the layer of existence [...] of that which is destroyed."
Against the background of this theoretical framework, it is necessary to inscribe the pictorial and plastic vision of Vitali, whose works, by questioning the ruins, highlight the painful relationship of men with time. Ah, the weather. That scratches, consumes, attacks, passes through us.