Fabbricato in Italia – Luca Beatrice

The sociological value of painting

Claudio Spoletini is one of the few Italian artists who firmly believes in the sociological value of the work of art and for this reason his work, above all his painting, is enriched by considerations which go beyond the mere iconographical sphere. In particular, this new cycle of paintings entitled “Fabbricato in Italia” -an autarkical transcription of the more global “Made in Italy”- brings up a series of cultural questions which  go hand in hand with the history of our Country.

Child of the second post-war period Spoletini  personally witnessed one of the most remarkable phenomena of the modernist period: the progressive transformation of Italy from  agricultural community to industrial reality, with the consequent internal migration to where the factories worked as a kind of  magnetic pole. Between the end of the 50’s and the beginning of the 60’s Italy quickly became a leader in the production of objects and infrastructures which mirrored the new way of things: cars and motorways, household appliances and televisions -the legendary “Lettera 32”, the Olivetti portable typewriter- and a huge quantity of plastic materials. However, Italian Industries at the time were still tied to a Ford like vision of work, centred on the pyramid type rapport between the factory and the worker, property and the city, which came to regulate the ways and rhythms of life of an entire community. In Turin, for example, before the Fiat crisis blew up in evidence, the flow of people and cars appeared to be regulated by the clocking on and clocking off from work, giving the sensation of finding oneself, in the interim time, in a kind of city dormitory. The company’s paternalistic model was just as evident: for example, at Christmas it was customary for Fiat to distribute gift boxes to the workers and employees, and the company even organised its workers’ free time -summer camps for the children, bargain priced travel, old people’s homes.  Since no one in my family worked for Fiat, something very rare in Turin during the sixties, I was never able to take advantage of  these perks (for example high management were allowed to change their cars every six months and workers could however obtain favourable prices through the “life” hire purchase scheme) nor of the company gifts which my school friends showed off with pride. Between the hot autumn of  1967, a forerunner of what 1968 would be,  and the first big post war economical crisis (1972 and 1973 were the so called austerity years owing to the sudden rise in the price of crude oil), Turin was still the capital of the car, home to a prestigious exhibition which, as children, we looked forward to every year. And yet, despite the charm of the 1300 coupè sports car, of the “ammiraglia” flagship 130, of the legendary economy cars, Fiat does not have any particular significance in my childhood memories. The only time I crossed the greatly renowned Mirafiori “Gate 5”  was a few months ago, now that the main Agnelli plant is presented as an elegant trophy of modernity, like the Lingotto plant and the architectural masterpiece by Mattè Trucco, or little more.

It is on this passage between the italico modern style aesthetic and its ethical value that Claudio Spoletini works, his new paintings, which take their cue from just as many black and white photographic images, reflect on  the industrial history of our Nation: some of these are famous and easily recognizable -for example “Lingotto” and “Mirafiori”- others are more generic but still significant of an architectural-stylistic taste of the factory which, directly or indirectly, inspired the paintings of de Chirico, Sironi and Carrà. Frames of another film appear in this archive of memories: they are views of northern Europe where the industry is at the centre of a small geometric and tidy community which constitutes a self-sufficient nucleus (the houses, the church, the school, the shops, recreational spaces etc…) imported from the British model of humanitarian paternalism and socialism, a significant example of which is the “Villaggio Leumann” in Italy which rose up at the doors of Turin between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, around the cotton factory of the same name founded in 1875, a utopian ideal of a “good company” and destined for failure because of this anomaly. Spoletini  researches this iconography of modernity in  architectural magazines, in archives, among photographic documents and by looking through market stalls, with the same passion that invests him in his other obsession, toys made of tin, of which he is, first and foremost, a collector. The images which act as background landscape to his paintings, purposely painted using a simple style, like a popular almanac -one should open a parenthesis here on how contemporary painting has been influenced by the illustration style of  magazines like Grand Hotel or Domenica del Corriere which have been the working  places of masters like Walter Molino- basically manifesting the same intention: inserting a series of private and local micro-histories into a collective History which will then constitute a sort of mapping out of the territory. Spoletini’s painting is not therefore one of citation or immediate suggestions, it is rather a pretext for a socio-cultural survey which, even though it uses different tools,  still follows the same modality as reportage or, at times, of  conceptual photography. The photograph is the base of departure to which the roman artists gives a monochrome toning (sky blue, grey, ochre or leaf green) to underline the rapport between image and memory. We are not looking at painting trying to camouflage with photography but rather a style which wants to evidence temporal suspension and separation. “Anthropological survey” seems to be the best definition of Spoletini’s painting; for the same reason the term “conceptual” also fits well, it favours the speculative and procedural mode rather than the plain aesthetical pleasure of the finished product. That is to say, the interest lies in the how and why a painting is created, which opts for an investigative attitude, and not just on the painting as an object, which chooses a more contemplative attitude. In Spoletini’s “quadri mappa” (map paintings) an ulterior element is constantly inserted, the only one to which painting par excellence is destined, that is to say, colour: the tin toys which, apart from representing Spoletini’s maniacal passion as a collector, are also the leitmotiv (practically a signature) in almost all of his works, including the photographic cycle Photo Play in which he manipulated the real proportions of the object (the toy) and the background (the landscape), in a way which is not dissimilar to Loris Cecchini’s and maintaining a sort of  “hand made unrefined” quality connecting it to fantastical popular cinema.

But these considerations barely skim the iconographical and phenomenological sphere which, as is always the case with Spoletini, works as a bottom element and is therefore secondary. The tin toy is present inasmuch as it allows for another scrap of memory. It has been transformed from something to use (even to break and to throw away, as in the famous H.C. Andersen fairytale The Tin Soldier) into a fetish to collect and carefully keep, this means that an object whose life cycle has finished can become part of a different sphere of affection  with altogether another significance. But  everything that we see in Spoletini’s paintings no longer exists: not only do they no longer produce tin toys (dangerous, heavy, large, expensive), but almost all of the industries portrayed have lost their original function: some have reconverted, maybe sold out to a multi national company, others have remained as abandoned archaeological industrial relics, also witnesses to the end of a modern epoch in which they played a main part. Memory for memory, there is one of Spoletini’s paintings which struck me in particular, I admit, on the threshold of emotion. The “portrait” of a country factory, rigorous and metaphysical in style, with two small red cars parked in front of it. This painting cannot but remind me of my childhood, when my grandmother’s husband, a businessman from Biella with the high sounding name of Gugliemo Achille Gallo, the last descendant of a family of wool merchants, had to go through the change (so dramatic that it caused the illness which slowly killed him) from the wealth of the boom years to the following economical crisis and inability of adjustment of a closed structure, domestic and paternalistic,  in the face of the first global wave and the competition of the foreign market.

Despite the fact that one usually finds oneself commenting on the failures, our generations (Claudio Spoletini’s and mine) grew up with the mirage of large industry and a steady job. Working in a factory, in an office, in a bank, according to our parents was decidedly preferable to a difficult, unreliable living on intellect, not to mention being an artist, what a strange idea! But it is this world based on solid moral rules, above all the sacred respect of work with which our Constitution opens, to have concluded its life cycle, like the industrial archaeology and the tin toys finely “filed” by Spoletini. It was in 1968 that Guy Debord predicted that the end of the XX century would have coincided with the definitive substitution of heavy 19th century type industry in favour of entertainment industry, light and multiform, dynamic and trans-national. As has sometimes happened, the French thinker was right and maybe the fact that none of the Agnelli family, the Italian industrial force par excellence,  was ever really attracted to politics can seen in a debordian light, while the election of Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister ends up appearing like the mirror to the  irreversible crumbling and fall of the old 20th century concept which has been overshadowed by a theory where  show takes the place of  substance, the illusionism of the stage takes over from the apparatus of burocracy  and decisions from the top.

In conclusion, Spoletini’s paintings do not give univocal judgement or interpretation but they come forward as an open work of art able to reflect, through the past, on the present and maybe also on the future.

traduzione a cura di Paola Romagnolo