Francesco Simeti – An Artful Confusion
From the analysis of media and information processes to environmental policies linked to the exploitation of natural resources, over the years Francesco Simeti’s interests have been constantly renewed, nourishing a visual research that is extremely rich in the variety of its elements and references. Images taken from botanical books, herbariums, or specialised books coming from his family tradition of studies and interests, but also from mail-order hunting catalogues, or pictures of natural disasters taken from the web, become the core of a social criticism and political analysis on which the artist builds, each time, the subtext of his works. Thus the choice of working “on the surface”, using wallpaper as a support for patterns made of images, is the fruit of a union between artistic language and content. Marshall McLuhan would say that ”the medium is the message”, since it is a semantic operation which activates in the onlooker a conscious critical and aesthetic revision.
At first the onlooker is distracted by the refined pattern, pleasing in its exterior appearance, thanks to how the reiteration of the image triggers a process of content remotion. Then his attention is attracted to the single images – scenes of war, queuing refugees, explosions, bombed-out areas, landscapes destroyed by natural disasters – cleverly orchestrated together with the decorative elements. Understanding the work is a gradual process, the identification of a linguistic code through its message, a metaphor of how we perceive the world and its fictitious representation, of our habit of accepting the news as represented by the media, of the inability to separate good from evil, truth from fiction, the true from the plausible. The wallpaper is a cozy protective screen: within Simeti’s works it becomes a “white noise”, a background buzz, the same reassuring atmosphere felt in the muffled rooms of certain middleclass homes. In some of the works from the early years of the new century, such as the installation Arabian Nights (2003), the critical message, directed at American politics during the Afghanistan war, is hidden amid bucolic images taken from late 18th century studies for wallpapers by Jean Baptiste Reveillon.
The only audio work of Francesco Simeti was created in 2003: Copters repeats the subtle background noise of helicopters patrolling the streets of New York after 9/11: a constant control, something you get used to. Until 2005/2006 the artist is engaged with revisiting events that reflect the political strategies of the Bush administration, in particular dwelling on the propaganda aspects linked to missile rearmament and the defence of air space (Astro, 2006) but also dealing with socio-anthropological questions, such as the idea of defence. In 2005, in a room of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University the artist shows how the vision of the “great military strategy” of American defence becomes domestic banality. The salon is transformed into an exclusive hunting club by mounting plastic branches on the walls, a life-sized bear decoy with a target on its chest: items ordered from American mail-order catalogues, for those who want to turn their gardens or living rooms into paramilitary training camps.
In the United States, the private possession of arms for self defence is a right, just as unalienable as the right of vote or freedom of expression, and sanctioned by the Second Amendment to the American Constitution at the time of the great European colonial expansion, when it was the only means of defending one’s land, home or family. Francesco Simeti’s analysis not only highlights the contradictions inherent in a super power ready to protect its freedom whenever and at whatever cost, but investigates as well the historical causes of what might be considered a macroscopic socio-political paradox. In this perspective, criticism of American foreign policy is a frequent topic, especially during the years of the Middle-Eastern conflicts, and of activities of control carried out in various theatres of war. In this period Simeti uses a visual escamotage, in creative collaboration with the world of design (No place like home, 2007) the first of a series of fruitful artistic experiments.
These large installations and projects pave the way to a wider public dimension. As a result, the artist’s interest in representing the confines between the natural and the artificial (Tumbleweed, 2010) is accompanied by themes of environmental exploitation, of the consequences of human activity and of the impoverishment of natural resources. All that remains is a false and implausible nature, represented in fake landscapes where elements taken from the press, the web, or from books on science and on history of art, merge together (Whole Wheat, 2010). The pattern becomes set design, imaginary landscapes, theatrical sets, through the assembling of digitally re-elaborated elements.
From 2006 on, Simeti’s works assume a visual and structural framework dictated by a specific interest in the scenographic constructions of the Sicilian Baroque, with motifs and decorative references derived from the study of the 17th century sculptural tradition (Plastic Eden, 2008 e A seahorse a caravel and large quantities of concrete, stone, fill, topsoil, tiles, piping, trees and other plants, 2012). Art history becomes an endless source for his representations of landscapes, in which we see nature transformed from a good and generous mother into something monstrous, characterized by exaggerated decoration, with exotic flowers and decidedly oversized cactus. Nature, disfigured by the exploitation of natural resources, trampled by genetic modifications in the name of industrialization and progress, rebels and regenerates itself, following a new model. In the video Scene di disordine e confusione (2010) Simeti describes a primordial landscape inspired by the Renaissance paintings of Benozzo Gozzoli and Beato Angelico, a place where the line between nature and artifice is ever weaker and more temporary. In line with this, the recent reference to the landscapes of Francesco Lojacono, Sicilian painter of the 19th and 20th century, marks a new element for the creation of novel scenarios, (Al tramontare, 2012) or perhaps, more simply, a natural direction, in search of origins, of the roots of personal history.
Text by Laura Barreca
November 17 – January 27, 2013
GALLERIA D’ARTE MODERNA - via sant’Anna, 21, Palermo