Salgemma in conversation with VOGA a new project space based in Bari, a project conceived and curated by Bianca Buccioli, Nicola Guastamacchia and Flavia Tritto. Heading towards Bari, we take state road 16 and head for exit 11 Bari-Picone, crossing the big Ponte Adriatico bridge and among the various buildings in the neighbourhood – in via Curzio dei Mille – we reach the VOGA spaces. The creators open the door to us, welcoming us with a coffee in a small courtyard equipped with an outdoor shower, plants, passing guests, people looking out over the buildings above the courtyard, a dog standing guard on the balcony and a few works under study.
How did the VOGA project come about?
Flavia: The name VOGA comes from the action of “rowing”, referring specifically to the fact of making a common effort, a coordinated movement to move forward. VOGA is also commonly an exhortation, VOGA!, an exhortation that we have told ourselves as a group and that we would like to extend to our audience, inviting them to glide with us on the water, even a little blindly, like the rower in rowing who turns his back on the direction of travel, while moving forward.
Our name emphasises a fundamental link with the sea, due to Bari’s geographical position and its vital relationship with the Mediterranean Sea. These were key elements in defining what will be the programmatic and curatorial line of our project, which will look at the Mediterranean not in a purely geographical sense, but as a state of mind, as a meeting place between different cultures that share a common and fertile substratum.
Bianca: In the end, looking at the Mediterranean means cultivating a delocalised gaze with respect to the usual trajectories of contemporary art in Europe. Obviously it is all a question of perspectives: each place can be North and South depending on the point of observation and in relation to what surrounds it.
At the moment, trying to look towards the South means for us turning our attention to ourselves and at the same time inserting ourselves in an existing and very stimulating critical discourse – involving artists, curators, researchers, multidisciplinary collectives – about the construction of a new Mediterranean imaginary. After all, the Mediterranean is indeed a frontier, a barrier, “a test to be continually overcome” – as Franco Cassano writes – but it is also, and above all, starting from its physical landscape, a point of intersection and fusion between Asia, Africa and Europe.
Nicola: The idea of building a network of Mediterranean connections was a driving force in imagining our first project, which will take place from August. The project started from the desire to network with realities focused on contemporary art in the Mediterranean area, to propose ourselves to them as interlocutors of a dialogue that starts from here, from Apulia and Bari. Projects such as BAR project (Beirut, Lebanon), Jiser (Spain, Tunisia and Algeria), Harabel project space (Tirana, Albania), PET project (Athens, Greece), Le Cube (Rabat, Morocco) have responded positively to our invitation, and thanks to their collaboration we have selected the artists who will participate in a collective exhibition in the public space, entitled MINIMUM STANDARDS, which will be an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between the individual and public space, on the politics of public space, on the disparities and limitations associated with it, and on the various perspectives opened up by the pandemic itself; all with a view to restoring a multicentric vision, which does not speak only of Bari, but which starts from the experiences of these artists and the places they talk about.
Flavia: We are interested in recalling the idea of the square as a place of encounter and confrontation, and we want to take this opportunity to make artists and their visions of public space dialogue in the public space itself. The idea of the square as a meeting place – Piazza Mercantile or Piazza del Ferrarese in Bari, which are places of arrival from the sea but also from the hinterland – becomes fundamental for a project that intends to reflect on the question of the accessibility of spaces in our cities.
The pandemic contingency allowed us to imagine a project that would take art out of the institutions dedicated to it, into public spaces, thus also creating a reference to the accessibility of cultural venues, which are not equally accessible to all citizens because of social and cultural barriers that are too often ignored.
Who makes up the VOGA curatorial board?
Nicola: VOGA was born from two young artists and a curator, who left Apulia several years ago for reasons of study, but also for lack of opportunities and a local art network, driven by the desire to make different experiences also in a community sense. The return to Bari meant the realisation of a need for all three of them, namely that of creating an accessible place of aggregation to fill a gap perceived for years in the city, where there is no space/project with this kind of vocation.
From September onwards, we would like to start with a programme of exhibitions, giving space to young artists, artists who work in the area or who want to try their hand at the Apulian context, always keeping a dialogue eye on the international scene. From the outset, it was immediately clear to us that our aim is as much to create a platform for contemporary art at a local level as to build a network of relationships and transversal alliances that revolve around the need and desire to re-imagine the Mediterranean.
Bianca: Within this conceptual framework, we would like Bari to become a meeting point between routes that connect places that are so different, but that share certain urgencies, certain themes relevant to the present we live in. With respect to the city itself, our space wants to be a connection point, a safe landing place for artists, curators and researchers.
We are imagining, therefore, both a programme of exhibitions and events, and a residency format that is not necessarily oriented towards the production of a work, but which functions as a moment of dialogue, an opportunity to open up one’s own research regardless of the formalisation of a work.
Flavia: We would like to recover the dimension of the meeting in a collective key, through the organisation of talks, round tables, participative events, always with the aim of trying to build a wide and varied audience. Ours is an invitation – starting with our friends and the young people who study, work and build their lives in Bari – to look at contemporary art as a possible tool for building a community here.
Nicola: VOGA wants to be a place of confrontation and aggregation that follows a typology of spaces that is very frequent in other places where it is born in a more spontaneous way (like project space or artist run space), but that here is new or unusual. For example, Elvira de Serio, a young fashion graduate from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome, is here with us today, working on the costumes for Flavia Tritto’s next performance. We are interested, in short, in creating a place that is perceived as welcoming and that can intercept various directions of research and practices, so as to create opportunities for collective collaboration.
What are you working on at the moment, in your individual practices and research?
Nicola: I am currently working on the project selected for Cantica 21 – a project launched jointly by MAECI and MiBACT that promotes and enhances contemporary Italian art, supporting the production of works by emerging or established artists, and exhibiting them in the Italian Cultural Institutes, with the work 32 Metri Quadri di Mare (Mediterraneo) a work destined for the Museo Pino Pascali in Polignano.
Flavia: I have dedicated the last period to the performance “at a proximate DISTANCE” that I brought to spazioSERRA in Milan, in the context of the review venerazioneMUTANTE. The space of VOGA was perfect to rehearse the performance together with Katarina Nesic, independent contemporary dancer, author of the work. I am now in the final stages of producing a work, SAREI, with which I will participate in the group exhibition “Marcello in presenza”, the final exhibition event of the FARE ARTE CONTEMPORANEA project curated by Estuario Project. The exhibition will take place in Prato in the former slaughterhouse of Officina Giovani from 26 June to 8 July.
Bianca: I carry on my research with CampoBase, a multidisciplinary curatorial collective formed by researchers, philosophers, curators, mediators, art historians, and writers that operates as an itinerant platform. We have just presented at the Piscine Cozzi in Milan, What do you sea?, a video-installation project realized with the artist Daniele Costa and the support of sound designers Mauro Martinuz and Marco Furlanetto. The project – winner of the Open Call “L’immagine aperta” launched in 2020 by Video Sound Art, in collaboration with the Archivio del Touring – allowed us to cultivate our aspiration for multidisciplinarity: in What do you sea? not only are the boundaries of visual, textual, and sound materials blurred, but also those of disciplines and practices that do not avoid mixing, but rather hybridize with each other, resulting in choral and collective work. I anticipate that on 9 July we will be guests of Scuola Popolare, in the gardens of Villa Romana in Florence, to present the work and create a further opportunity for dialogue about it through a storytelling session.
Through a program of exhibitions, workshops and residencies, VOGA intends to create an accessible and inclusive space, which takes the form of public opportunities for meeting, discussion and dialogue in the city of Bari.
Based on the geographical position of the latter, VOGA proposes to trace a series of routes between the Mediterranean countries, creating transversal alliances based on the exchange between local and international artists.
So, VOGA aims to stimulate intercultural learning processes that encourage not only the development of new synergies but also the enhancement of diversity already present in the Apulian territory.