Economies of Altofest
a research by Maurizio Alampi and Claudia Fabris
Introduction by Maurizio Alampi
My first meeting with Giovanni Trono and Anna Gesualdi took place in Naples, if I remember correctly three or four years ago, on the occasion of Artecinema, the contemporary art film festival.
Together with Claudia Fabris, co-author of this text and an artist who has been part of the Altofest community since its beginning, we spoke with Anna and Giovanni for no more than 20 minutes in total: enough to get an idea of their feverish passion for the work, their desire to ‘find a measure’ for its value and why something could be born from some of the words we exchanged.
In fact, a little later than when this happened (but the pandemic has ‘stretched’ everyone’s time by at least two years), it was also from some of those words – I think – that the request for research on the ‘economies of Altofest’ was born, to all intents and purposes a commission, i.e. an unusual way of relating to the inventors of a project that normally excludes any process that is not at least reciprocal.
As I write I realise that, as has often happened to me in the course of writing, I would use inverted commas on practically every word with which I try to describe the event (here, another word that would certainly deserve an inverted comma if applied to Altofest).
This is not strange, first of all, because Altofest, in its mode of communication, uses polysemy as an ordinary linguistic practice, as a space that interdicts any simplistic reading of reality (from ‘give rise’ downwards).
Then because even the words that would seem most neutral, i.e. corresponding to their most common meaning (starting with Festival, the contraction of which is also contained in the founding neologism, the result for the other half of the demanding ascent to be made to reach the Festival’s home-base/home/headquarters), even those words, I was saying, are used in such a way as to disorientate, veritable linguistic traps that are part of a strategy in which surprise, the ‘displacement’ of all participants, are the fundamental tools of the mechanism activated, so one would be tempted to prefix “not” at many of them (non-event, non-festival, and so on).
In any case, the 2021 edition of the ‘Fest’, which is extraordinary for obvious reasons, is the only one in which I have participated so far, in which I should indeed have participated as an observer, in view of the reflection to be undertaken.
The thing that struck me immediately is that the above mechanism instead makes any possible observer an ‘observed’, especially by himself.
Let me explain: what happens during the event – two weeks between the fine-tuning of the performances and their performance in domestic spaces that force the artists and the people who those spaces ‘donate’, albeit temporarily, to a continuous negotiation – obliges all participants to constantly come to terms with their fears and closures. To question how much is cultural as well as subjective in those fears and closures, and whether the prerequisite for any process of liberation and regeneration can only be an interference, a neural impulse that makes clear their unjustified and paralysing pervasiveness, which does not let us out of the cages in which we have been and are locked. Which is then perhaps the main objective of the ‘Altofest machine’.
A machine that brings to light, in its jamming and undermining, that phenomenon of depersonalisation/individualisation of existence resulting from the growing dominance of the digital (from the English digit, digit, to the Latin digitus, finger, as a means of counting) over all forms of real-analogue relations, a dominance inevitably intensified by the coronavirus pandemic and the isolation and containment measures adopted on a global scale.
And I am not referring to the mere prevalence of certain modes of communication, to the use of social networks or to the most widespread forms of learning and control today (all topics that naturally have their own weight and on which there is a vast literature), but to the objective reduction in the capacity of our cognitive system, increasingly tied to simplifying abstractions, to categorisations (in everyday life as at work) and disconnected from the complex variability of reality. In the words of R. Calasso, “digitality is the most serious assault that the inclination to expose oneself to the shock of the unknown has suffered” (L’innominabile attuale, p. 88), an exposure that is then for all of us the premise of all true knowledge.
Two modes of thought, the digital and the analogue, between which historically there has never been opposition but rather a complementarity (the very method of economic analysis is classically a continuous transition between the two systems) and which nevertheless today find themselves in an unprecedented imbalance, of which an experiment in sociality such as Altofest can show the possibility of ‘recomposition’.
What I mean is that while necessarily acting with a digital logic in the planning and organisation of the annual event in Naples or in the ‘external’ ones, Altofest clearly focuses on the most intimate dimension – the homes of the citizens involved, the direct and personal relationships between all the ‘actors’ of the event, artists, donors of space, the ‘public’ – in order to pursue its own idea of art and the function that art is called upon to perform: a decisive renunciation of large numbers in favour of ways through which we can question our conception of boundaries, of possession, of our relationship with the Other, of ourselves as an acquired and immutable entity – with all that this entails in terms of the complexity of the operation, the specificity and uniqueness of the encounters, the risks always present in the encounters themselves: a typically analogical modality.
And speaking of digital/analogue, from a personal point of view, I have always had some trouble recognising myself entirely in the category ‘economists’, which has its own very high rate of generality (there are innumerable orientations and subsets), even though I have been involved in economics practically my entire professional career, from university to various banking groups. In addition to having often changed ‘fields of application’ of the subject, I would add that over the years I have crossed paths with other disciplines (law and sociology above all), and I have received fundamental stimuli from the most diverse readings, from the people I have met, from the crossroads that chance (fate, some might say) has wanted me to cross in life. In fact, if I think about it, the ‘facts’ that have given a certain direction to my main professional path, enriching it, have been the most seemingly lateral ones, sometimes real diversions. Something that I believe happens more frequently than we are aware of.
I mention these few autobiographical hints only to exemplify: the logic of the digital renders a service to the necessary simplification of our relationship with others, of the relationships we establish “in society”, but then true mutual understanding, i.e. understanding the discourse of which each of us is the bearer, going beyond stereotypes, requires that that simplification be tempered by an analogical type of knowledge (accepting the complication of the ‘many’ that live within each of us, not only potentially but simultaneously). Of course, this can only happen if we manage to step out of our axioms of reference, out of our comfort zone, with “a dialectical perspective that recognises the everyday as impenetrable and the impenetrable as every day” (W. Benjamin, Essay on Surrealism, Selected Writings, p. 1173). This brings us back to Altofest and his programmatically creating the conditions for the circle of disorientation – shock – a new look at reality and at oneself to close.
And we come to the starting point of the research, namely its title, The Economies of Altofest. Why ‘economies’, plural? I am speculating from my point of view, considering that in reality with Anna and Giovanni we never discussed much the whys of this plural, perhaps taking it for granted that each of us had more or less the same concepts in mind.
From a microeconomic point of view (as an analysis of the individual subjects involved): if Altofest were one of the approximately 1200 cultural festivals that take place in Italy (not all of which are characterised by the real capacity to identify paths that make the active participation of local communities effective, it must be said), one could have thought of a classic analysis aimed at establishing the economic returns for the various components of the reference territorial system (along the lines indicated for example by G. Guerzoni with his first work on the subject in 2008, Effetto Festival, l’impatto economico dei festival approfondi culturali). Guerzoni with his first work on the subject in 2008, Effetto Festival, l’impatto economico dei festival di approfondimento culturale).
But precisely some of its ‘internal’ characteristics (the main ones: the fact that most of the exchanges are free and involve intangible elements, a ‘live audience’ as mentioned quantitatively insignificant and in any case not paying), would have made such an analysis unwise.
An interesting exercise seemed to us, on the other hand, to try and measure how much Altofest would have set in motion in terms of monetary exchanges by acting with a ‘market’ logic and being able to count on adequate resources to achieve the same objectives, with a double register of income/outgoings compared year by year. Obviously, a theoretical exercise, because without that founding element – the challenge of sharing an almost ‘non-returnable’ project – the whole thing would not have had the same raison d’être, nor would it have involved the same people, but it is useful for indicating the potential ‘monetary’ dimensions of the construction set up (which could perhaps help to better measure the ‘material effort’ of the initiative, which is also an element for reflecting on the importance of money in life, however one wants to look at it).
It was just as interesting to collect testimonies from various participants in different capacities at Altofest, trying to trace in their words the elements of discontinuity, the possible ‘sparks’ – even small, perhaps unconscious – ignited by a work based on the degree of openness to new experiences and the readiness to modify paradigms taken for granted to be immutable. An attempt to identify the possible effects generated by those sparks (accedere ex una scintilla incendia passim, to quote Lucretius), ‘immaterial’ returns that have curved daily life or work choices in one way rather than another, strengthening relationships or pushing one to seek new ones, perhaps on some occasions also producing ‘material’ returns, for oneself or one’s family or professional circle.
Ultimately, this type of ‘plural’ information, adding together very different ways of having lived the same experience, seemed to us to be the most suitable to describe the ‘micro’ impact of the (another highly polysemic word) Altofest enterprise.
From a macro-economic point of view, i.e. looking at the mechanisms activated in the community that experiences the festival with exceptional intensity (the intensity being fundamentally given by the enjoyment of such a large number of performances concentrated in time and space, being its key factor of emotional/creative acceleration), a number of particularly significant aspects can be noted.
What happens during (or around) the event makes visible many things that are normally invisible, i.e. to which we do not normally pay attention, things that have a strong material as well as symbolic content in the economic system in which we all live and work: how we inhabit our homes, what kind of exchanges regulate our being together, how we live our relationships with others, what risks we take (which we are willing to take), what debts we accrue or for which we feel we must answer.
As is evident, we are dealing with a series of words and concepts that may have a content related to everyday life or even to the religious sphere in which, like it or not, we are immersed from birth (because, as we know, the words of economics are also those of religions).
On some of these words we tried, through discussions with the two founders and the re-reading of the various editions of the festival, to develop a reflection that, as far as I am concerned, was an opportunity to cross-reference how much of the themes developed by Altofest intercepted the global debate on the Economy of our time, its role, its limits and the push to rethink its function that has been emerging for some time now also from within. That these ‘threads’ then provided me with the opportunity to connect different parts of my life, apparently distant from each other, I like to think is part of the Altofest effect, of that change in the gaze on oneself as well as on others induced by the device set up.
We are counting on the fact that the encounter between two bearers of different points of view and ways of thinking, which in some cases generated real mutual disorientation (a concept that returns often in Altofest), produced unexpected insights.
If anything, the difficulty was limiting the field, preventing us from following all the paths that inevitably opened up to our respective gazes. This brings us back to the use of the plural of the title and to the fact that economising, making economies, undoubtedly also concerns the use of words and the importance, in addition to their quality, of their correct dosage.
Introduction by Claudia Fabris
In 2020, Anna Gesualdi challenged me to carry out research on the economies generated by Altofest with Maurizio Alampi, a friend and economics expert.
To put the poetic gaze of an artist in dialogue with the ‘technical’ gaze of an economist to create a dynamic short circuit. I accepted.
I accepted for two reasons.
Because it has been ten years, since the first edition in 2011, that Altofest has been the intensive workshop of my boundaries. The most intense and risky training of my inner bargaining, of my artistic experimentation, of my acts of aesthetic courage, of the forms I can understand and embody in my life.
The first house in which I experienced and declined being a guest, as a condition of indefinite duration, not determined by economic or measurable agreements of any kind, but by the exchange of fertile growth and visions oriented in the same direction, is at number 19 Mezzocannone in Naples and has always been the festival’s headquarters.
There I learnt what things I cannot do without in order to be serene, and there are very few of them; there I measured inch by inch my internal and external boundaries, which mark not so much a separation, but the place where one ends up together, in the known form, and finds another. There I understood where I could stray, where they were elastic and where they were essential, there I began to imagine a kindly nomadic life, as I now call it, a life in which affections, friendships, desires and work intertwine in a continuous search, a tug-of-war on the threshold of the possible, at times very tiring, but inevitably beautiful.
Ospite is a very curious word in Italian, designating both the host and the guest. Why? Perhaps because we are all always each other’s guests. We host each other in our eyes, ears, arms, mouths, it cannot be otherwise, and thanks to the discovery of mirror neurons, we now know that simply observing someone is enough to activate the neurons in us that the person observed is using for their actions, it is the main learning strategy for a human being.
I would therefore say that it is inevitable to be a guest and when you practice this constantly, even by choice, what you do, to listen to the word is to practice economy, etymologically the rules of the house, and to understand which ones resemble you and which ones repel you, which ones you share and which ones you would change.
Being a guest is a crash course in economics, if you look closely.
I always say that theatre is like life squared, the same rules, the same dynamics compressed and enhanced in space and time in a protected place, where you can risk your life, where you can die for real because you are pretending. So if theatre is like life squared, Altofest is like life cubed, an incubator, an accelerator, a generator of possibilities at maximum intensity.
The second reason why I accepted was that confronting an expert, a scholar with a respectable curriculum in the field of economics, was a real gamble, an act of courage to be honest, and a taking the bull by the horns to finally untie, at the age of 50, a Gordian knot that has weighed on me and fatigued me for almost all of my adult life.
An independent artist often has a conflictual and at the same time total relationship with the economy; conflictual because it is very difficult for him to accept willingly the rules that are imposed on him without questioning them and acting creatively when they seem nonsensical to him (and in this field I would say that there is only one choice for nonsense and inconsistency); total because in his life there is no difference between personal economy and work economy.
I remember as emblematic a conversation I had many years ago in Rome with a girl who had offered me a job and after doing it told me that they would not be able to pay me until they had been paid, despite the fact that I had advanced the money for the trip and the materials, I remember that she said to me: but what should I do? advance them?
And I inevitably replied: well you are asking me to do it, you are asking me to be your banker.
And it is curious how this is not clear and unacceptable just because everybody does it.
It is curious, almost incomprehensible to me, when they offer you a job and say that resources are scarce, there is no money, the classic phrase, and then if you compare your economies of life with theirs, you realise that for them, the fact that there is no money simply means that there is no money beyond that which allows them the lifestyle they have chosen. For me and the artist friends I know, the phrase there is no money simply means what it says, that there is no money, anywhere. I believe that this separation of private and economic life is one of the big problems in our society, the reason why when a big businessman goes bankrupt he leaves thousands of families on the breadline and peacefully continues to holiday in his yacht.
An artist uses himself to understand and act, when they asked me why I photographed myself so often, what was the reason for this search, I replied, as I have heard others say, that I was the only subject I always had. An artist uses everything he experiences, pains, discoveries, understandings, experiences, he strips them of what concerns him alone and uses them to find forms and material for his research, bringing the particular of his existence to the universal, dissolving any modesty, there are no experiences he does not talk about because they are too intimate, they are all objects of investigation.
In the same way, he uses all available resources to finance his life, which coincides with his work, which is not a job, I would like to emphasise this against the trend, precisely because it coincides with his life, which does not mean that it should not give him the means to live serenely from the point of view of material needs, it does not mean that he should not be paid, but that what he does is the result of a profound need and not of an external condition, of an internal and not induced need, and therefore it is not the amount of money, of measurable economy, that determines the possibility of realisation.
I remember a small photo exhibition for which I sold all the gold items I had left and which, to be honest, I never wore.
I have always thought and felt, from the very beginning, that what I do is in no way reducible to a price, and over time I have become well convinced that neither is what others do because, as a famous adage goes, as popular as it is in my opinion misunderstood, time is money. But the point of this phrase is not the money you can earn if you optimise your time by using it to the fullest extent of your possibilities, it is money, the phrase should be understood clearly: time is money, then that is the only real wealth we all have at birth. And it is democratic, no one can add a single minute to his time if the fatal hour has struck and no one knows from the beginning how much his time is, which is why it should not be wasted. So when you pretend to pay for the time of a lifetime, to reduce it to a figure based on the skills that person has accumulated, you are making a trivial error of judgement, since you are not paying for his skills, but for the time of his life, which he will use for you and that, even though it is so difficult in this society to realise it, has the same value for everyone, and is not commensurable. Pepe Mujica said it well in a speech, the things we buy we do not buy with our money, but with the hours of our lives that we have stolen from family, from passions, from what makes us happy. And it really doesn’t make sense to barter time for objects, it is a silly and almost always downright unfavourable exchange.
Maurizio I first met in 2017 at Giardini delle Esperidi, a festival in Calabria, Zagarise. Sitting at a café in the village, I told him about ” Poetic recycling of money”, a tabletop performance of mine, born from the thought that money circulates faster than anything else after ideas and that it could then be used as a means of communication. So I created stamps with five definitions of my words in salt, with which people can poetically recycle banknotes: they choose one, give me the banknote, I stamp it, give it back to them, they spend it and the poem circulates from hand to hand.
From this device the conversation became lively and that evening we left with the thought that it would be nice to meet again and discuss the subject of the economy.
Anna with her proposal three years later offered us a framework and a whole community to continue our dialogue. And despite the fact that I have been questioning myself for some 25 years about how I can transform my relationship with money in such a way that it becomes consonant with the rest of my life, despite the fact that I have been experimenting with relational devices in this sense for years, for the first few weeks I did not allow myself to call the word economy ‘tu’, as if the presence of an expert somehow intimidated me.
At a certain point, however, as always happens to me with words, I looked at it with my eyes, without what my mind already knew, and I saw the echo of names in it, and I realised that if it was a matter of names I was at home, since I have dedicated the best part of my energies to words for years now…and the search began.
He began his career at the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences of the University of Calabria, where he graduated and subsequently taught Public Economic Law, a subject on the border line of two “strong” disciplines such as Economics and Law.
Attracted by contamination as a principle of fertilization of every course of study (and beyond), he participates in various researches on development differentials and on the analysis of the causes of territorial differences, with particular reference to the South of Italy.
In the bank, he experienced the concentration process of the banking system from the inside, dealing at various levels of responsibility, with the analysis of local economies and the possibilities associated with new tools of negotiated planning.
Subsequently, he also follows the evolution of “economic legislation” by collaborating with various research, and training institutes.
In recent years, not too casually, he encounters the world of art on his path and discovers further and unexpected possibilities for personal growth.
Claudia Fabris was born in Padua in 1973. She approached art at the age of 16 with photography, which she would never abandon. Her eyes will always be the first to know, her mind slow to spy on them. Then came dance, theatre with Tam Teatromusica (UBU special prize 2014) for years, and the creation of clothes. In 2011 she began a personal performance journey on the word with La Cameriera di Poesia, an itinerant live headphone poetry restoration, which she took everywhere in Italy; since then she has been kindly nomadic.
In 2013 she began writing “Parole Sotto Sale”, a small poetic vocabulary, published in 2020 by the publishing house AnimaMundi in Otranto and appearing in cities as “Our Lady of Baloons”, giving her words to those who speak to her.
She weaves her artistic journey with increasing adhesion with Altofest in Naples from the first edition, with La Luna e i Calanchi, il festival di Aliano (MT) and Verso Sud in Corato (Bari).
She loves the South and its light. She is convinced that Beauty and the silent amazement it generates can still lead every human being back to the intimate and sacred space of his soul where every transformation and rebirth takes origin, strength and nourishment. She believes that the most powerful technology on planet earth is language, the body as a place of revelation, and that Art should not be an event, but an integral part of everyday life. For this she works.
In grammar, a conjunction is an invariable part of speech used to connect two or more elements within a proposition; in astronomy, the position of two stars having the same longitude with respect to another star at a given time; in mathematics, in set theory, it is also called intersection or logical product. In Altofest, the term inaugurates a new practice, addressed to those artists who over the years have taken part in its programmes; inviting them to “reunite” in a collective creation residence, which refers to the poetic track under consideration in the current edition.
In the context of the Altofest Community, the aim is to inaugurate a germinal dialogue, to open up an unprecedented space, a new threshold of interaction, a liminal territory. Here, the creative perspective is reversed, artistic production becomes a function of critical production. The ephemeral is overcome in the pooling of the process. The outcome is not the goal, but an essential step that nourishes the dialogue. Its exposure as an act of research and its subsequent precipitation into a document makes artistic practice radical and “inconsumable” (Pasolini), contributing to the formation of a legacy corpus, to which we can refer with new questions about Altofest’s poetic action.
Conjunction will henceforth be the semantic place to which the Altofest artists will be able to return, to rewrite their own presence, to crack the form, to disarticulate the process, to make a critical exercise, in the light of a common reflection, referring to one of the foundations of the poetic outline from which the structure of the Altofest “device” derives.
Congiunzione collects the requests and the desire to return to live again the experience of Altofest, expressed several times over the years by many of the artists who have lived there. We then asked ourselves about the sense of return and the urgency of giving it a defined place within the structure of meaning of the Altofest community. We return with an awareness that shifts the boundaries of research and poetic action and redefines the urgency of being present.