The contemporary art Forum, promoted by the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci Prato and by the public administration in Prato, was a unique example in the Italian art system in relation to the premises, the intentions and, especially, the results. It was a sort of institutional call to arms, not lacking criticism, that gathered in one place and for a very limited time frame, the majority of those who belong to the contemporary art microcosm of our country.

Putting aside all talks on who was there and who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make it,  the Forum was without doubt the exposition of an archive, and a surprising one too, of faces, professions and motions, which marked a critical point from which to start to interprete the current state of things and what can be done. More than four hundred  speakers and more than a thousand participants together took part in the discussion of at least forty themes that went on synchronically during the three days of the Forum.

Everything was controlled and paced by a very rigid organizational structure, which gave the public exposition a fast rhythm. Round, horizontal and democratic tables were conceived to exhibit the discussion between a finite number of authors, each of them with the same amount of time and space available. The guests, which were all clearly listed in alphabetical order, including curators, critics, operators, artists, activists, professors, researchers, gallery owners, and all of them wisely mixed between the various tables, for three days have been available for free consultation, just as books on a shelf, to be studied, questioned, browsed or archived. As Pietroiusti fittingly concluded in the final review, taking part in the Prato Forum gave one the sensation of finding him or herself in a library where it is possible to pick a great amount of books, without even possibly imagining of ever reading them all.

And here lies the strength of the event, which produced an impact of greater social proportions than cultural ones: every participant came with his own heritage of thoughts and experiences, contributing in building an articulate picture of the current state of visual arts in Italy. For this reason I believe that other than being a forum for deep analysis, the initiative that took place in the Tuscan province was more of an exposition, or even better a live auto-exposition of an art archive of which until now we only had faded and sometimes nostalgic images.

Thanks to a composite didactic display that progressively accompanied the visitor through the discussions, every day a different exhibition took place, either for the topics or the thematic content (but not always for the authors), and its closure was duly summed up by the coordinators on the big stage of the Metastasio theatre through a more classic frontal presentation, to gather the threads of the discussions and organize the opinions. It was a sort of methodical staging which gave extensive space to contemplation, to the point where no conclusive purpose was defined. Getting together, acknowledging and getting to know each other in a unique and shared environment, these things were the most important results for everyone. The archive that was presented, made up of thinking documents instead of inanimate objects, expressed its own vitality by stating the impelling urge to a curious and passionate confrontation which surprised even the creators of the Forum.

The direct confrontation among the authorized personnel not only highlighted the deep structural divergencies in vision relatively to the discussed topics, but sometimes it even uncovered the unrepairable difficulties in dealing with an intergenerational debate, which impeded the birth of a critic and efficient dialogue. The great amount of time used to get in synch, to focus on the central issues of a topic, the impossibility to escape the mantra of the lack of funds, the lack of project timing and the scarse consideration on behalf of the institutions, have all blocked the creation of a profound dialogical structure. By holding on to the surface of technical issues it was rarely possible to formulate real innovative and efficient solutions, that instead of forming themselves on the fertility of the Italian ground, just kept emulating the footprints of those models that work abroad. For how much this archive on the Italian contemporary art  has shown its autonomy as a self-feeding semantic structure, in the moment of its exposition it also revealed itself in all its buried problematics, highlighting the need of questioning once again the relationships imagined between the documents.

What could have been done more? What should we make of the intensity inherited during the three days of encounter? It’s hard not be curious about what is going to happen from here on. The process is still taking place, the archive is continuously being updated, and many of us still have hope that the confrontation may generate a contemplation within the archive itself so to imagine a new system, different systems.

Photo: Serena Gallorini