Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Giacomo Ardesio, and Erica Petrillo are the three members of the team curating the 2020 Russian Federation Pavilion.
Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli
In the past weeks, I woke up and looked on my phone with a slight sense of anxiety at the infinite sequence of zoom meetings, skype calls, google hangouts, etc. booked in my calendar every day. Throughout the lockdown I gradually became more familiar with the design of these platforms than with my own domestic environment. The pristine look of these interfaces crashes with the total mess of my desk and in general with the chaos of life in quarantine. There is nothing romantic about quarantine. We navigate each day through impossible agendas from early morning to late at night, between work, schooling, cooking, cleaning, entertaining and possibly resting. For those who are privileged enough to stay at home, time has exploded into a continuous flow of unregulated chores and commitments.
I am writing from Maastricht, a little city in the South of the Netherlands where I am pursuing a curatorial residency at the van Eyck Academie. On the 8th of March, I woke up early in the morning to catch a flight that was meant to bring me back to Milan. Upon leaving my bed and turning on my phone, I discovered that my flight had been canceled and that borders where closed. The lockdown had started…
I have remained in Maastricht ever since
In January 2020, I moved back to Milan after almost six years spent in the Netherlands. Milan is the part of the world that I have always called home and therefore this new beginning was charged with expectations: to hang out with friends and family, to experience how the city has changed and to settle in a new house. What I could have never expected was to be stuck for three months within the same four walls with no possibility to experience the city if not through the still frame of windows.
Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli
The pandemic has accelerated and normalized certain habits. Remote working was common practice for many of us before the COVID19 outbreak, but its massive implementation through the past weeks is here to stay and it will probably change our social and professional landscape radically. In a way I believe the narrative of social distancing is not appropriate. We are and have been experiencing physical distancing, while our social interactions have simply moved into other digital environments. And yet, when you think for example about gaming, this has been going on for or a while at a massive scale.
Being in the Netherlands, while my colleagues, friends and family were stuck in Milan, was obviously quite emotional, and at times quite hard. This situation has made me think differently about the relationship I have with my hometown, and about the meaning of kinship with people with whom I share roots. This was all rather surprisingly, because never in my life I’ve felt anything but indifference towards Milan, and more generally Italy. During the pandemic, my attitude has changed.
Also, during this crazy days, being with my body in Maastricht and with my mind in Milan, it was inevitable for me to ponder over the meaning of solidarity (or lack thereof) among individuals and countries in European territory. For someone that has always been a vocal supporter of Europe as a political and social project, this realization hit me like a sledgehammer.
The house where I have spent the lockdown is a small apartment – barely furnished since we did not have time to make a proper move – consisting of three rooms: a living room with a kitchenette and two bedrooms. I currently share the space with my girlfriend, who recently started a PhD without ever meeting her peers in person, and a colleague that found herself stuck in our home due to the explosion of the pandemic. For everyone the quarantine coincided with a shift to smart work and a subsequent continuous negotiation of the domestic space in a clumsy attempt to organize our three different timetables punctuated by endless online calls.
Work-wise, the most outstanding realization for me has been the necessity to recalibrate the meaning of privacy and of private space. With every Zoom meeting, my co-workers and many of the people contributing to the Pavilion have literally entered my living room – I am sure many of them were able to take a good look at the spines of the books behind me; at the crappy knick-knacks on the shelves; at the plants that were bought in a moment of enthusiasm at the beginning of the lockdown, and that shortly after started to decay as days and weeks went by… Similarly, I have started to recognize the voice of Ippolito’s 4-year-old daughter – which was always a welcome, and exceptionally real addition to the soundscape of our calls; and I have grown familiar to the bookcase that often features in Giacomo’s background. During these exceptional times, I’ve often asked myself if a more accurate counterpoint to the notion of “private” should be “shared”, rather than “public”.
For those who do not have a proper workstation, video calls from home represent a short-circuit between one’s private and public sphere, since the risk of exposing glimpses of their personal life is always around the corner. In fact, for us, one of the challenges of these past weeks was the necessity to select video frames that could speak of the lost normality in such an exceptional occurrence. Probably the best setting in the house is the empty industrial bookcase that extends behind the table that we use for dining and working together. In order to give an impression of a decent domestic space, we have concentrated the few books and personal memorabilia that we were able to bring in the house before the lockdown in the specific spot that serves as background for communication. This is our little attempt at fabricating the normality we are striving to redeem once the emergency is over.
Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli
Don’t get me wrong, I miss physical interactions and I belong to a generation that still needs to meet, talk, touch and drink to get rolling, but the limitations and the uncertainties we have faced through this crisis are also a reason for experimentation. Weeks before the Venice Biennial announced its postponement to May 2021, we have decided to migrate our program on-line, turning around the restrictions caused by the pandemic into an opportunity to experiment with different formats and with a different space. We didn’t want to go silent, waiting for things to get back to a so-called “normal”. Instead, this move was a way to question the public role even more, the presence, the politics and mechanics of institutions in times of global crisis, as core theme of this year’s Russian Pavilion.
With the Biennial being postponed, our online platform will continue to broadcast and share content, acting more as an editorial and open-research project and hopefully building the foundations for next year’s exhibition.