A few days ago the 16th edition of Short Theatre, the international festival dedicated to contemporary creation and performing arts, started in Rome. Several places in the capital will be transformed and will be the background of initiatives, installations and live performances: from Teatro Argentina to Teatro India, from Teatro del Lido di Ostia to La Pelanda – Mattatoio di Roma and many other urban spaces.
This year’s edition is entitled The Voice This Time and features CHEAP Street Poster Art, a Bologna-based collective founded in 2013 by six women as a poster art festival that has evolved over the years into a larger project.
CHEAP inaugurated Reclaim Your Future on 6 September at la Pelanda, an installation composed of different flags made by different artists. On the occasion of their participation in Short Theatre, we were lucky enough to ask the collective a few questions about their work. Read the interview below and follow CHEAP and Short Theatre on Instagram.
Hi, we’ve been following you for a long time and we’ve already talked about CHEAP Street Poster Art on Collater.al, but tell us how this project came about and what your background is.
CHEAP was born from the creative understanding of 6 women. In 2012, we were interested in working on the urban landscape and doing so by investigating paste-up, poster sticking and all the ways of being in the street using paper as a tool: a way of crossing public space that for us was the definition of the ephemeral, of a series of anti-monumental gestures, an idea of the contemporary that has a lot to do with temporariness – public art is not only measured in centimetres, but also in seconds.
From 2013 to 2017, for 5 editions, CHEAP worked with paper, flirted with the ephemeral, solicited contemporary narratives on the urban landscape, contributed to the discourse on public space. And it did so with the festival format: every May and for ten days, we welcomed 5 international guest artists invited to make site-specific interventions, in different neighbourhoods of the city.
At the same time, we installed a thousand posters arrived in response to the call for artists on the notice boards of the streets of the centre; these actions were complemented by block parties in the street and a series of events within in a network of places given to independence.
In January 2018, the end of this experience was announced. We kept the annual call for artists, a segment inherited from the festival that remained important to us because it was open and participatory. We have changed the way in which we intervene in the street: we do not announce ourselves, we do not give ourselves deadlines, we work in a more projectual and focused way, with the feeling of having escaped the meat grinder of the festival and its not exactly virtuous dynamics. Today we are a permanent laboratory, we express a more complex vision, we are in the public space with a different awareness: our action has become sharper.
What does the installation presented at Short Theatre 2021 consist of?
The installation for Short Theatre picks up the concept of an installation already realised in Bologna, in January 2020 during the ArteFiera and Art City week: we opened for four days a private space that had been empty for years, one of the many in the city centre, a historical centre that is now karstic, where unused spaces are multiplying in spite of an ever-growing real estate market that is disconnected from the real plan.
For the occasion we had covered the space with thermal blankets, often the first emergency support that migrants receive from the rescue boats in the Mediterranean that NGOs, associations and free citizens organise and finance to try to save us from this madness of rejections: blankets are an object that has entered our visual hypertext as a symbol of certain forms of welcome, solidarity and care towards those who cross the sea and arrive on the Italian coast, on the edge of Europe.
The space thus set up had become a golden, reverberating and luminous box, whose surface was ambiguous, attractive and repelling at the same time, unheimlich. Within this alienating set, we had installed flags made for the occasion by a few dozen artists*, who had been asked, as a curatorial suggestion, to attempt to short-circuit the structures of meaning of the flag, a medium usually entrusted with a narrative made up of borders, national identities and post-colonial visions: the installed flags proposed us as bodies, as bridges, never as walls, in the physical space of the temporary that already replicated an imaginary of border crossings, perhaps even of borders as projections, therefore of projections to be deconstructed.
Today we are resuming this conversation that began in January 2020, a dialogue made intermittent by the pestilence we experienced immediately afterwards: we are bringing the same concept to Rome for Short Theatre, with a set adapted to the context that hosts us and we are asked to haunt.
We change the flags that this time have been selected among the works of some* artists* who participated in the annual call for artists organized by CHEAP, an invitation that we have been addressing for years to international visual artists* to create posters that we select and put up in the streets of Bologna: The posters, adapted as flags for the occasion, are by Angie Russo, Bbraio, Carol, Giorgia Lancellotti, Infinite, La Catrina, Laura Berdusco, Noe Gamma, Pamela Rotondi, Pride Off, Rita Colosimo, Valeria Quadri.
Can we define RECLAIM YOUR FUTURE as a space for sharing? Does art need more experiences of aggregation?
We cannot say whether art should be asked to aggregate. We relate with the artistic medium also to open dialogues, given the specificity of our context of intervention: we work in public space, a space in which citizenship is expressed, projected, performed; a space that is empty if those who cross it and inhabit it are missing, sharing is the conditio sine qua non of our action.
Is public art such as CHEAP’s one of the latest forms of activism?
CHEAP also acts out activism. In our common sense, art (contemporary or not) can also do this: question the status quo, express conflict, share visions.
Our practice also has a political dimension: CHEAP acts a re-appropriation of public space and does so by infesting the walls with posters, redefining new contemporary visual languages, generating unexpected dialogues with those who cross and inhabit the urban environment.
Feminist energies, decolonial desires and counter-hegemonic strategies flow through our project: where the city puts up barriers on the basis of gender, class and race, CHEAP practices a symbolic conflict by making public art (also) a place of struggle.
PH: Claudia Pajewksi