The (re)definition of identity is and remains – in general – one of the burning issues that takes the lid back
off an endless debate in a social vein – but also, in some ways, in an anthropological one – about relating to otherness, in a world that is changing and that still secretes within itself many sensitive trivialities and too many concealed mystifications about the construction of an acceptable concept of progress and of modernity.
Not just because identity studies are grounded in and justified by an understanding of individuality and of diversities, but because they focus significantly on the idiosyncrasies of identifiably ‘other’ minorities in
relation to social, political and religious dominants.
Francesco Arena, the artist and curator of OTHER IDENTITY, asked me to write a few lines, specifying that they did not necessarily have to be linked to the exhibition, and to express my thinking about this issue: in general.
It is indeed vast, and – as he implied – it is not simply correlated to the specifics of his exhibition or the identities pertinent to the body. In point of fact, these days it seems to be quite run-of-the-mill and passé to talk about identity in the field of how people express their own forms of sexuality; the point being that we really ought not to be talking in terms of a sexuality in the singular, but more of a spectrum that refracts a multiplicity of sexualities, as though today’s trans issue, invigorated by a process of technological and telematic virtualisation, were the only real cathartic tool for passing from one period in history to another, in an era of wars between cultures that are intent on their clumsy, heavily recrudescent attempts to force their idea of identity on each other; a definition that for centuries – and alas still today – has seemed to remain a tedious dogma, an unquestionable axiom; in other words: being as society obliges you appear. A society that is split in its eternal dualism between divination and incarnation and is balanced between good and (un)awareness of evil and of its dominant malice.
Thus it is that the Enlightenment’s utterly radical slogan of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité has ended up as just one of the many hypotheses for improving society, also from a classist standpoint, that are now consigned to gathering dust: Maybe not even the devotees of the Enlightenment believe in such an open-door approach any more now, when faced with the force of man and of his bestial, egoistic anthropologies.
Art has always ideally constituted the place where freedom, equality and fraternity meld together, outside time and all institutions. In a world where sexuality, women, children and animals, but above all any value worthy of attention, are exploited and trampled on systematically… anything, just to sell another toaster!… the theme of identity – in art – paradoxically causes a disturbance, to the extent that it constitutes the symbolic conveyance towards liberation from dogma, the means for breaking out from social imprisonment and racial separations: a dream, a vision, a Utopia. Even the art world itself has often become a place that provokes reactions of antipathy, division and fragmentation, one where competence and competitiveness have been replaced by roles and competition, together with aggressiveness: just like any other form of religious or political radicalisation.
So what does the body of culture consist of? How is identity incarnated? By what means and with what semblance?
Questions of this kind recur time and again, in places where values are increasingly compromised and in times of cultural fusion and social integration, for whose sake we have yielded up such a large portion of our freedoms and individual and cultural conquests: they are questions that are also matters of opportunities and opportunisms.
The second half of the twentieth century was decisive, I might even say enlightening, in enabling us to understand how much ideologies, dogmas and avant-gardes malnourished and plagiarised our fantasies and our lives, laying claim to a concept of progress and of evolutionism that were essentially non-existent except for their relevance to the idea of the niche. The process of democratisation did the rest.
In this sense, the only way we could talk and discuss plausibly about identity today would be by passing from a state of identity perceived as a brand and social imposition to an almost trans-social, heterotopical approach, i.e. one that goes beyond the actual use of the definition of identity: processes of democratisation and of statalisation that are absolutely involutionary for man’s individual identity and self-determination, in whose breach some instead would see a potential for development.
Ever since the fall of the avant-gardes, promptly plagiarised and replaced by the market, art in the field of visual culture, and also elsewhere, has been searching for a sort of trans-identity, where cross-fertilisation, metamorphism and fusion between pure art and applications of art move and dialogue in the quest for new forms of identity and aesthetic languages: a quest that is more libertarian and libertine.
It is in this eternal, difficult relationship between divination and incarnation that the role of the individual is played: in the monological dialogue between body and soul, between faith and dogma.
The development of the technologies that are applied to social networks is relevant, since they embody on the one hand the neo-surreal, the dream of a parallel life, or maybe of a never-never land, and on the other the sense of not having to come to terms with a direct social confrontation, while defining an aesthetic that is less corporal and candid, mediated and interfaced.
If art is once again moving towards the body, after decades of absurd conceptualisms, it is incumbent on us to ask certain questions of fundamental importance, both for life and for how it can be redefined by means of the motif of culture and the arts.
Mario Casanova, January 2016
Translation Pete Kercher