There is an electrostatic air in the Roman conference room of MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo. Two women have that unique look of someone who is responsible for making everything go according to plan, a photographer pushes me as if I didn’t exist. I sit in the chair knowing what I’m waiting for, while all around me impatience manifests itself with all kinds of tics. At that point I look up and see Sebastião Salgado come in, along with the reverential acoustic nothingness that generates the presence of one of the most important photographers of the last 50 years. Salgado talks about the new exhibition set up at MAXXI, dedicated to the collection of shots taken by him in Amazonia over the last 9 years. Immediately afterwards, the floor was given over to the presentation of the other major event of the day: the inauguration of the exhibition marking the tenth anniversary of the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
Carlo Giordanetti, CEO of the residence for artists, tells us about hotel birth in 2011, since then the project launched by the brand has hosted 400 artists from 54 countries around the world. Before getting up, and being overwhelmed again by the same agitated photographer, I try to think about what it would be like to live in a community of artists, from all over the world, and absorb information and stimuli as quickly as babies do. It clears up for me the meaning of some of the main concepts of Swatch’s philosophy, such as transversality, freedom of expression and the involvement a watch brand can have with the world.
WELCOME! 10 anni di Swatch Art Peace Hotel
On the occasion of the anniversary, inside the MAXXI, Swatch Art Peace Hotel has set up an exhibition in Rome (scheduled until October 24) with works created by 19 artists, all resident in the Shanghai residence. I go up the stairs of the building designed by Zaha Hadid and an open, fluid and pathless space opens up, which has only a hypothetical beginning but invites to pass freely among the works, in continuity with the climate of total sharing that the artists live inside the residence.
I take a few steps and I don’t feel like entering the building overlooking the Bund in Shanghai, but rather I feel like entering a place without a geographical identity. I could be in Switzerland, or in China, while poems in Italian and miniatures of American metropolitan landscapes appear on the canvases.
“I wander through neighborhoods with my camera or phone, documenting through photos and videos. I also try to join the community in some way, personal experiences are part of my work,” artist Tracey Snelling explains to me as I gaze at the neon in her work. Snelling’s “lost year motel” is a microcosmic reduction of how the artist has experienced the stimuli of a vibrant city, a “sci-fi skyline, with light shows every night, the chaos of thousands of tourists, advertisements on the streets and the hustle and bustle of city traffic. It’s so nice to experience the city and then come back to a quiet space.”
Representing time has always been a challenge for artists, I smile thinking about what “lost time” really means to an artist, while all around me are displayed the objects that mark time, the Swatch watches made by the residency artists over the past 10 years.
I recognize that I lack a bit of vision to understand time not only as a measurement of hours, minutes and seconds. It is Luca Bray, an Italian artist at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel who invites me to think about time from another point of view. “It is the value and power of transforming a moment, this I recognize in Swatch, a watch not a watch, because I have always considered it more as a work of art.” As I listen to Bray, I surrender to the idea that I don’t have the artist’s vision.
From the writing in Italian and Spanish, almost carved like rock engravings, I can imagine what multiculturalism means for the works produced in the residence. Anita Gratzer, who stops, enchanted by her clothes, made using Swiss maps and Japanese court documents, gives me confirmation. “From my residencies in China, Korea or Japan I gather inspiration that I transform in places like Switzerland, Finland or Italy, for example, into new art forms. Always keeping in mind how cultures have influenced and promoted each other over the centuries.”
Anita Gratzer’s wearable sculptures, echoing the artist’s definition to me, “transcend traditional models. They become personal refuges of knowledge, symbols of inner emigration, or representations of the struggle against colonialism.” That seems clearer to me.
The messages of political and environmental activism in WELCOME! 10 Years of Swatch Art Peace Hotel I also capture them in the work of Miguel Moreno Mateos, perhaps the most scenic of the entire exhibition. With the Spanish artist we confront the autonomy of nature. The glass jars connected through tubes are the decomposition of the biological balance of nature, of its self-sufficiency and of the harmful role of man, who “chooses to intervene to save nature when the answer sometimes would be to do nothing. Nature does not need us, but we can be part of it, become a fundamental element of this balance”.
I stay a little longer inside the MAXXI hall, with my head up, looking at hanging works and colorful straps that trace the sincere and virtuous history of a “curious, open and international” brand, as Tracey Snelling describes it. I continue to look up, in the direction of a work composed of sheets of paper, decorated with the motifs of Shanghai manhole covers. Around me the visitors start to leave and I don’t notice. My glance upwards intercepts silk sheets on which photographs of Chinese textile factories are printed, like a reportage of one of the most important industries in China. I continue to look up and when I lower my eyes I am alone, no one is left, only many open conversations and infinite worlds to discover, and it seems to me that I too am inside my room in Shanghai.