What is Base?
Base / Progetti per l’arte is a non-profit space established in 1998 in Florence, at Via San Niccolò 18r, by a group of artists with a shared idea of artistic practice. They wanted to have a meeting space where they could reflect on contemporary languages, involving and inviting other artists active on the international scene. Base has been in operation for twelve years and has produced over sixty projects designed specifically by the invited artists, including Robert Barry, Olivier Mosset, Jan Vercruysse, Rainer Ganahl, Carsten Nicolai, Jonathan Monk, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Nedko Solakov, Luca Vitone and Eva Marisaldi. The importance of Base, however, is not just this list of “the right names,” but also lies in its creation of a dimension in which the work and its processes take place outside the contexts of mediation usually present in the world of art.
Who is Base?
Base is an open organism whose objective, as written in its statute, is to catalyze and provide the free public access to the most interesting artistic themes and the most active and receptive artists on the international scene, by establishing free exchange among all the participants. The group is made up of artists living in Tuscany who organize and coordinate the activities at Base, and although their membership has changed over the years, it has remained true to the original intentions. This non-profit space is unique: it includes artists who use different media of expression and different methods, and belong to three different generations. Maurizio Nannucci has been working with the means of communication and their nature since the end of the 1960s, while Paolo Masi has been working the same amount of time on the limits of gestalt, like geometric abstraction, in a wide variety of solutions. Since the early 1970s Massimo Nannucci has been working on the true/false concept and on the mimesis between artistic and everyday objects. Remo Salvadori is interested in the idea of the encounter — with place, with other, with self; in giving new life to inorganic materials like lead; and in working with color as a material in process. Marco Bagnoli explores the idea of knowledge by comparing science and nature. Mario Airò and Massimo Bartolini, from the generation that emerged in the late 1980s, work on the crossover between various disciplines by means of immaterial and environmental installations, to create a dimension of surprise in which the physical space is directly compared to the imaginary. Since the early 1990s, Paolo Parisi has reflected on the spectator’s gaze using the concept of monochromatic painting, by confronting the space of representation with that of experience. The idea of a space open to interaction, with the work at the center and a horizontal organizational structure — as defined by Maurizio Nannucci and Paolo Parisi — distinguishes Base from other similar experiences. Base, with the limited means at its disposal in a world of hyper-communication where it is possible to create a Biennial in any part of the world, has always concentrated on the crucial moment of encounter between artist and public, artists and artists, artists and context, with which a direct and concrete response to the real situation can be formulated.
Looking at Base’s activity from this angle, we can reconstruct the areas of interest that have characterized the last ten years and also make a survey of the most interesting energies in the Tuscany region, involving people and institutions, artists and the public. The founding artists — the initial core of 1998 — were Antonio Catelani, Carlo Guaita, Paolo Masi, Massimo Nannucci, Maurizio Nannucci and Paolo Parisi. Through the years, we have seen the participation of Vittorio Corsini, Fabio Cresci, Daniela De Lorenzo, Andrea Marescalchi, Robert Pettena, Pedro Riz à Porta and Addo Lodovico Trinci. Critics who have worked with Base include Pier Luigi Tazzi, who in a joint project reconstructed the experience of Paolo Masi as a cultural catalyst in Florence since the 1960s, and Sergio Risaliti, who was responsible for the peace project Let’s Give a Chance. In the last few years, many young artists not necessarily in the group, but who have grown thanks to this fertile dialogue with other artists, have allowed the activity to continue. They include: Enrico Vezzi, Vittorio Cavallini, Silvia Bongianni, Yuki Ichihashi and Irina Kholodnaya.
How has Base been organized?
The artists exhibiting at Base are very different from one another both in terms of generation and artistic evolution. In a certain sense, this variety fully reflects the various interests of the different members of the group. With the Base project, they have made the unique choice of not only showing their own works, but also inviting other artists they feel are complementary to their research. Therefore it is not possible to plot out a linear evolution of the activity over the years, but only a coherent progression of interpretations on how to cope with the problem of the role of art within current society. The opening event was on September 9, 1998, with a solo show by Sol LeWitt. The work Red Room highlighted the emptiness of the architectural box and the presence of the spectator inside it, whose perception was stimulated by a slight variation of the painted red of the background wall. A sinusoidal line parallel to the floor allowed a portion of glossy red to coexist on the same wall with that of a matte version of the same color. The visual experience stimulated by the Conceptual Art theorist imposed an examination of how we see things, which totally exceeded the decorative, aesthetic, and formal dimension of the means used to trigger this process in the observer (surface and color). This first exhibition laid out a constant course of action that continued for the next twelve years. This opened up a consideration of the manner and nature of the language of art, and created a comparison between perceived space and physical space. 6 All the artists have considered one of these two issues by always trying to stimulate the viewers’ perception directly, to make them think about the container/content relationship in a physical sense with respect to that given space, but also on the level of mental process. These operative lines can be used to interpret the experience of Base and take on a character of concrete precision if we consider some specific exhibitions.
The idea of what constitutes a work of art is clearly addressed in Tino Sehgal’s project Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things. It is a living sculpture, the action of a performer who moves, lying on the floor, like a jellyfish trying to move around the space that contains it. This image (the union of two performances by Dan Graham and Bruce Nauman available to the general public only through video documentation) continues the research of the 1970s without nostalgia, focusing on that given space-time moment in which viewers — conscious or unaware pawns – find themselves, asking them to interpret what they have come across seemingly by chance. Rirkrit Tiravanija, on the other hand, asked the same question by directly referring to the people of the local area and transforming the space of Base into the studio of Street TV. Throughout the exhibition, people could come in and “give their opinion,” make programs or broadcast their video material. In this way, the work of art was not something to observe, but something that activated and revealed the moment of coexistence, the relationships between the people present in the artistic space. In other cases, the idea of a work as a way of questioning what makes a space a place of art allows for an examination of the perception of the physical space, or even more, an examination on perception. This happened, for example, with the work Diagonal Space by Jeppe Hein, which allowed a visual measurement of space via a zigzagging metal structure that ran from the depth of the space towards the entrance, where water flowed and gave rise to a fountain. In some parts, a “line of fire” (burning alcohol) took the place of the water and initiated a physical involvement — as well as an imaginative one — in the spectator by means of heat and light. Likewise, in his work Beyond Black, Gerwald Rockenschaub highlighted the physical dimensions of the space while also eliciting the possibility of being able to change it and imagine it in a different way. An MDF panel painted pink crossed the two rooms through the access door, making it impossible to see the whole depth of the space, which was highlighted by a green painted wall and an MDF panel, this time in blue, opposite it. In some cases these two aspects — the consideration of the language of art and the reaction to the perception of the physical/visual space — coincide, as with the work of Matt Mullican. By showing two large flags and a series of computer graphic animations, he shed light on the nature of signs and on their interpretation within a given context. In another example, Niele Toroni, by applying marks with a number 50 brush, not only examined the nature of painting by concretizing the zero degree so that it only represents itself, but also revealed the nature of the architectural box in which the viewers stood, since the painting was applied not on a canvas, but directly onto the walls and floor of the room. In the same vein, the work of Antonio Muntadas sums up the essence of Base. His work consisted of a striking red membrane that covered the front door and the door between the rooms, making the space inaccessible. By approaching this monochrome diaphragm, visitors could see the illuminated space inside through a series of letters cut into the red surface, which formed the phrase: La percezione richiede partecipazione (perception requires participation). These are just some of the examples of how artists have reacted to the invitation of other artists to participate at the Base / Progetti per l’arte space. Despite the wide variety of research projects, there is an investigative red thread that has guided all of the activity of this non-profit space, and shows that its value lies in the simultaneous presence of so many different itineraries and voices. Base / Progetti per l’arte is a utopia enacted every day to continuously question the role of the artist in society, and the meaning and purpose of art today.
© Lorenzo Bruni, 2019. In BASE BOOK, with texts by Lorenzo Bruni (curated by), Gabriele Detterer, Sergio Risaliti, Marco Scotini, Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Alberto Salvadori, Hou Hanru, Giancarlo Politi, Cornelia Lauf, Massimiliano Gioni, Robert Storr, Pier Luigi Tazzi, Achille Bonito Oliva, Ilaria Bernardi, Base / Progetti per l’arte, Florence, October 2019.