New Aesthetic of the Contemporary Renaissance
San Giovanni Valdarno, the Tuscan town in the Arno valley, near Arezzo, traces a personal and significant association with art, culture and architecture. Being the birthplace of the famous Renaissance artist Masaccio (b. 1401), there is a significant and protracted relationship with changing art movements and practices that integrate themselves within the inherent art and culture of this town. Though San Giovanni Valdarno was founded in late XIII century by the Republic of Florence, it has integrated itself with cultures and influences from the surrounding regions, thereby imbibing multicultural elements from the very beginning. According to Giorgio Vasari1, the architectural layout of the historic centre of the town was created by Arnolfo di Cambio. It is structured around the symmetry of an architectural layout that centers itself with historic references of ancient monuments and façades. The main axis, on which San Giovanni Valdarno is articulated, corresponds to Corso Italia. The town grows out with contemporary additions that adopt renewed developments. Though San Giovanni Valdarno is an industrial town, it preserves its cultural and artistic heritage.
Artists and art movements over the centuries has been influenced by historical events, political turmoil and contemporary happenings. Artists integrate personal views and ideas into a universal language through their art practices, similar to the history of the town of San Giovanni Valdarno. Masaccio, along with Brunelleschi, has often been referred to as the first artist to introduce aspects of perspective in art through painting and architecture. Masaccio has also been credited for bringing the “new birth of painting.” He is considered a pioneer of the Renaissance school.
During the residency at Casa Masaccio, the artists explored and excavated, through ideas and research, the historical nature, architecture and art of the town in order to integrate it into their personal art practices. Maintaining an identity of their own, the artists created a dialogue that engaged with San Giovanni Valdarno, with its culture and people; at the same time they realized the development of new contemporary ideas and forms through their art. The works created during this period employed a
1 Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ piú eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori, ed. Gaetano Milanesi, 9 vols. (Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1906) 2: 107.
9language that merged into the history of the town, but at the same time maintained universal identities of their own within the “new aesthetic.” The “new aesthetic” refers to a renewed function of a conceptual idea or form. This could originate from a more complex theory of art that is being rethought
in a contemporary context; it could refer to new perspectives that the artist adds to a known medium or technique; and it could also imply the immediacy of contemporary impressions that translate themselves into another form (the form of art), which in turn stimulate the viewer, audience or reader developing subjective reflections within this “new aesthetic.”
The four artists – Remen Chopra, Vibha Galhotra, Sonia Jose and Monali Meher – of the “Contemporary Renaissance” explored these ideas of the “new aesthetic” through their art practices. They developed this strain of reflections during the residency.
Remen Chopra draws deeply from the Renaissance period and from its school of thought, which was very central to San Giovanni Valdarno, the hometown of Masaccio. Her works resemble a detailed report of the artist’s impressions and connections with the intensity of universal laws. This complexity – these layers –, become points of departure, central to the course of her practice. The treatment of her materials creates sensations and textures, allowing a lever of innovation that goes beyond the surface. Rendering this through the theatrical realm, Chopra enacted the act of cleansing in her work in order to step into the second birth of spiritual awakening. This work becomes the beginning of a yearning for the ideal, conveying the impressions of the new Renaissance within the “new aesthetic.”
Within the vein of the “new aesthetic,” Vibha Galhotra’s art practice focuses on the context of displacement, nostalgia, identity, existence construction and deconstruction, the banal cultural condition in and around which environmental negotiations constantly change the new world. The works Galhotra created during the residency were from her series “Orbis Unum (one world).” Galhotra drew from the chastity of white to redesign the flags for one world, where the cultural and social symbols of geopolitics were denoted but not differentiated. Her Re-birth Day project, inspired by Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Third Paradise involved for the first time a public art interaction for the people of San Giovanni Valdarno, who participated in the creation of this work on November 16-17, 2012. The work was exhibited in San Giovanni Valdarno on the Re-birth Day – December 21, 2012. The interaction of the people with this work extended into the artist’s concept of her “Orbis Unum” series; and also brought the re-birth day audience into the realm of the “new aesthetic.”
Drawing inspiration from everyday life and experiences, Sonia Jose’s art practice relates to personal and social history. Her work stems from a need to preserve and acknowledge lived experience and reflect on intimate and overlooked circumstances that surround routine life practices. This is an aspect that explores ideas of the “new aesthetic,” whereby the known is questioned with fresh perspectives of the unseen seen. Jose’s work during the residency at Casa Masaccio came from her impressions of her immediate surroundings. Through her sensitive ability to absorb different environments and situations, Jose translated her observations of the architecture – as well as different associations between San Giovanni Valdarno and other towns and cities in Italy – into her works and installation. The vitality of a centre, and
the knowledge and a trusted structure within the unknown is something that Jose formulates through her works, signifying her connection to the contemporary re- birth (Renaissance).
Monali Meher portrayed site-specific aspects of San Giovanni Valdarno in the series of works she created during the Contemporary Renaissance residency. The elements of site-specificity, time, and changing identity, as well as process and hybridization are vital factors of her practice, which results are situated within the parameters of the “new aesthetic.” This means the understanding of the Renaissance school of thought within a contemporary context, and in relation to the performative nature of her works, and her temporary environment in Italy, including the people and their customs; all these elements were reflected in Meher’s photographs, installation and video works, which she created during the residency. Meher implemented certain techniques from the Renaissance – from chiaroscuro to the vanishing point – thereby creating renewed perspectives.
During the residency, the canons of the Renaissance and the role of history were a vital influence for the creation of new perspectives and thoughts. They were furthered by personal reflections and highly individual aesthetic developments that functioned within a more universal concept of the “new aesthetic.” This is an organic form that has begun to spread its base on the development of thoughts created during the Contemporary Renaissance – where the content and development of renewed forms and ideas can be recognized as the “new aesthetic.”
The Contemporary Renaissance
a conversation in residence
Veeranganakumari Solanki: It is the end of the one-month residency at Casa Masaccio where each one of you has created works that are so diverse from your studio practices and yet so connected. In which way do you feel this residency influenced and furthered your practice in relation to your experience here?
Monali Meher: For some reason, after a long time I felt that in San Giovanni Valdarno I was totally there in one place with my mind, body and soul. I could leave everything behind. It was very refreshing to meet you all, live and work together, share this beautiful place. Although I had a sort of plan for the residency, I kept a lot of space to communicate and experiment.
Sonia Jose: It took me a while to understand the new place, making comparisons and connections, recognizing landmarks to orient myself. It also took a little bit of living in the space to familiarize with the everyday routine and culture. Our studio and living spaces were very centrally located, bang in the middle of the town square, so it was a great location to get the rhythm of this place. It was amazing to meet and make friends with many new people in and around San Giovanni Valdarno as well. Being in such a small town made me try to understand not only the physicality of the space but also the ephemeral architectural structures that made the space.
VS: The idea of center was already present in your practice and this notion already influenced your previous works, but with a different perspective. I would say that most of your works have this sort of spatial specificity, but in a much wider space!
Vibha Galhotra: When I reached this residency after traveling for so long my mind was like that of a gypsy. I had this feeling, I wanted to flow or drift with the waters, landing in this residency where all settings were beyond my expectation… the museum space, the studio space, the support of the people involved with the residency as well as that of the habitants of San Giovanni Valdarno. Here, not even for a moment, did I miss my own surroundings but I felt as if I had found another home in the city of San Giovanni Valdarno, where there was both labor and leisure. I wanted to go to the residency with an empty mind so that the place, people and culture would create a new dimension in my practice.
13VS: I think we all gained new discoveries, going beyond our artistic and curatorial practices. We found a system that generated something pre-conceived and new at the same time.
Remen Chopra: That is so true! When I came to this residency, I had this indefinable feeling that the vision I had about the concept of the “new renaissance” – where heaven and earth become one with no religious constructs and boundaries – was going to begin during this residency. When I met all you all, I felt destiny had brought the five of us together to somehow create this in our own ways. The residency gave birth to an artwork, which I called The Beginning, which became for me a very important and symbolic work, envisioning a new harmonious world. The residency was a kind of personal rebirth as well a research towards a new beginning in art.
VG: The work I did during the residency was just an idea and then became reality thanks to the help of the staff at Casa Masaccio, MK Search Art, the people of San Giovanni Valdarno, all of you at the residency and especially Veerangana, who planned it so well and in such a short time. The idea of paradise in the times of climactic changes in the human history and a fateful connotation of “end of the world” made me feel like responding to the call of Michelanglo Pistoletto – who is one of my favorite artists – in connection to his project entitled Rebirth-day, which celebrate the notion of the “Third Paradise.”
The other works I made were earlier ideas I had in mind, but somehow this residency felt like the right place to realize them, and it was indeed! From the first day onwards, I met people related to all kinds of creative fields, including Lucia who is a fashion designer and now a friend. She offered her skills and knowledge with the use of fabric, especially cutting and stitching, as she already saw that I often use these skills in my practice. Thanks to all these elements “Orbis Unum” turned out to be a great experience, which brought into reality my utopian idea of “One World.” These projects are the manifestation of my concept of togetherness in the times of global sustainability and the cultural crisis, where what I call “the power of constructing and deconstructing” is in full bloom. Now is the time to reconstruct the right “Change” in order to create a balance at every level of society.
VS: That’s quite true, this residency did lead each of you to a new and quite different path, and yet was so related with each of your practices. You all had this feeling of immediacy, there was something different, something more that grew out of it – be it a new body of work, a new stream of thoughts, a revision of your practices… so much..14
MM: Somehow we were not strangers, maybe it was the place but there was something magical about it. It triggered our curiosity. For me it was also just being there and observing, as if I wanted to experiment with my daily life in the new surroundings, to see what could happen. I think the main factor was my desire to be flexible, my decision to deconstruct certain habits, to allow a new pace, which was in tune with the rhythm of that place.
SJ: I can’t point out exactly what it is in this residency that has influenced my practice, but it was a fantastic opportunity which provided a great platform for meeting new people, making good friends, having meaningful exchanges and new experiences which in turn has inspired new thoughts and possibilities that I will probably be able to articulate better over time.
RC: At the end of this month, after spending time with each of you, I felt and still feel so enriched, there was this special bond that brought us together and we became a sort of family… and Luciano was our father! In such a short time I felt we all could share and trust each other. The fantastic five!
SJ: I feel we all have an inherent tendency to work in a particular way, which is related to particular concerns based on our personalities, experience, geography and politics. Being in a new environment, even only for a month, provided new stimulus and inspirations. It was also a great experience to be able to live, work, discuss and share with you – Veerangana, Monali, Vibha and Remen – we all got along and connected very well in a very short time.
RC: I was reading Leon Battista Alberti’s writings about harmony being a constructed concord of parts to form a symmetrical whole and – although we had created such diverse artworks – I felt that the five of us all came together the way Alberti described it. Everything was so harmonious and I feel that this residency was more than just a residency because it brought love, friendship and togetherness.
MM: I agree it was more than a residency. Afterwards we all left, but it kept us in contact… in fact it keeps growing and we need to see each other and share.
VS: And it is all coming together with futures we are planning already!