‘The true institution is the art’

Italian duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi will curate Lofoten International Art Festival 2022.

Italian duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi will curate Lofoten International Art Festival 2022. Photo:  Giorgio De Vecchi, GerdaStudio.

Last week it was announced that the Italian duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi will curate next year’s instalment of the Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF). Comprising Francesco Urbano and Francesco Ragazzi, the duo wishes to be quoted under the pseudonym Francesco Urbano Ragazzi, inspired by the Italian Arte Povera artist Alighiero e Boetti (1940–94). While LIAF 2022 will be their first assignment in Norway, they have a number of major projects to their name, including several contributions to the Venice Biennale.

In recent years, the curatorial duo has worked on the research project and exhibition series The Internet Saga. The project began with an eponymous solo show during the Venice Biennale in 2015 – featuring the Lithuanian-American artist and filmmaker Jonas Mekas (1922–2019) and presented at the island’s only Burger King – and culminated at the same biennial in 2019 with the exhibition HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails by the American poet and founder of the online archive Ubuweb, Kenneth Goldsmith. The latter attracted particular attention when Hillary Clinton herself visited the exhibition and read through Goldsmith’s transcripts of the infamous e-mails used in Donald Trump’s smear campaign against her during the 2016 election.

“We feel that art comes after reality,” the curators told Kunstkritikk, adding that they like to look at art as an adventure, where the unknown is more important than the known. “This is how we’ve approached the art projects in our life until now, and this is the reason why we applied to Lofoten International Art Festival.”

With roots dating back to 1991, LIAF was originally a festival with regional and national focus. In 2002, it adopted a more internationally oriented profile, putting Lofoten on the map for new and larger audiences, and the initiative became part of the “biennial boom” that defined the decade and gave the curator a more prominent role. The next instalment, postponed until 2022, will be LIAF’s 20th anniversary as a biennial.

Francesco Urbano Ragazzi describes Lofoten as one of the most relevant places in the world for a biennial today, especially due to its location north of the Arctic Circle. To their mind, reinforcing LIAF’s digital identity is an important part of the festival’s representation and narration. “LIAF is strongly residency-based and community-based, and the pandemic is forcing us to think ‘what is a community and what is a residency at a distance?’ Of course, not everyone will be able to reach Lofoten – maybe not even we,” laughed the curators.

The press release quotes Francesco Urbano Ragazzi stating that they wish to transcend the boundaries of reality “by embracing the ghost of our era.” Asked to explain, they connected this reference to ghosts with a new “vocabulary of the invisible” that has emerged during the pandemic, which they see exemplified in statements like French President Emmanuel Macron’s declaration of war against the coronavirus, and in descriptions of climate change as a “hyperobject” – an object that cannot be grasped by human perception.

The pandemic made the art world pause for a while, the duo observed. “At the same time, a lot was produced and many experiments with formats carried out.” This, they believe, has taught us that works of art can have multiple forms of presence, “not only physical, but [also] transcendental.” Francesco Urbano Ragazzi also wishes to challenge art’s autonomy, and emphasises the importance of an art which, in their words, has its place in reality. “The institution is not just the museum. The true institution is the art. This belief is at the core of what we do, and in a way it was proved by the pandemic. We are living proof of this, because the museums are closed, but the artists are still there.”

Francesco Urbano Ragazzi works closely with the general manager at the North Norwegian Art Centre (NNKS), Svein Ingvoll Pedersen, LIAF’s artistic advisory board, chaired by Helga-Marie Nordby, and producer Berte T. Ynnesdal. An open call for submissions for LIAF 2022 will be announced shortly, along with Pan-Nordic grant schemes and a range of residencies associated with the biennial. The biennial is set to open to the public 3 September.