Contemporary artists have constantly broadened
their cultural activities over the last few decades and extended them
to all the social spheres. The classical idea of the institution as a
privileged framework for art has been called into question, deconstructed,
challenged and sometimes denied. Artists today work with a greater openness
to the artistic role as customarily conceived. They move freely over a
whole range of roles including artist, curator, magazine publisher, designer,
architect, entrepreneur, documentary maker, programmer, administrator
of Internet communications platforms and even political activist. They
create their own local networks and move at the same time within the structures
of a globalised world, generating both critical contexts with respect
to the art system and autonomous spaces of participation and communication.
The means of production are no longer restricted to drawing, painting,
sculpture, photography and video; the field of artistic experimentation
has expanded to encompass all the elements that form part of everyday
life, including the Internet, software, video games and cellular telephones.
The basic approach of the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina (hereafter
CCCS) is to develop a multiyear programme which harnesses both local and
international networks. This means not only developing thematic exhibitions
to be held during the year but also inviting independent curators and
institutions to propose exhibitions, series of videos and films, workshops,
performances and lectures to be hosted at the centre on a regular basis.
The programme will enable visitors to experience and examine both the
heterogeneity of contemporary art and a wide range of different curatorial
and interpretative standpoints.
Art today reacts in accordance with the principles of the society generating
it. It is developed as a constant verification of everyday life and reality,
which now appears to be far more obviously complex and fragmented than
ever in the past. The arts have thus come to act increasingly in a context
where reality and make-believe overlap and, as a result, the reading of
contemporary art appears less immediate. Above all, it is no longer based
on codes and values comprehensible to the community as a whole, as was
the case with the art of pre-modern societies, and hence no longer lends
itself to univocal interpretation.
Artists now appear to focus on invading everyday life, challenging the
elements that make up its social fabric, and probing the different realities
in an effort to bring about a change in parameters and in habits. ‘Beauty’
(as a category) no longer aspires to be a purely aesthetic phenomenon
but extends to the dimension of lived experience, in which a central role
is sought by conscious action, an action that finds its source in critical
sensitivity with respect to the surrounding world and is hence transformed
into an ethical stance and a new political awareness.
This paradigm shift is reflected not only in the themes addressed by contemporary
artists but also in their formal and aesthetic choices, which take new
directions and open up new fields of experimentation, freeing them both
from the disciplinary constraints laid down by tradition and from the
idea of the work as a finished product.
Lars Blunck speaks in Between Object and Event about the harnessing
of empirical potential, thereby seeking to define a form of artistic production
that becomes performance (in the theatrical sense of the term) and is
generated in the very moment of action. Including installations, events,
psychophysical provocation and the socio-political construction of situations
in this context, it challenges the classical idea of the work of art along
with the assumptions of the contemporary world.
This does not mean, however, that we can no longer speak about the ‘work
of art’ (in the sense of something finished that performs its function
in being contemplated) in the sphere of contemporary art. It refers instead
to the fact that it is difficult to find clear-cut typological definitions
for contemporary art that are compatible with the traditional classification
of artworks by genre.
The art produced today refuses to act within a set framework and seeks
constant renewal through new trends and developments.
In transforming and differentiating what proves to be known and familiar,
contemporary art goes back to its roots in the avant-garde movements of
the early decades of the twentieth century, which brought artistic praxis
into everyday life and thus opened up the path leading to the present
The first project presented in the spaces of CCCS is Emotional Systems-
contemporary art between emotion and reason.
Emotional Systems is developed within an interdisciplinary relational
sphere peculiar to and typical of the contemporary world. The project
addresses the theme of the emotions, which offers both immediate appeal
for a public accustomed to thinking of art as sensorially enticing and
involving aesthetic experience, and an opportunity to demonstrate the
integration of contemporary theories developed in the humanistic area
as well as the scientific.
Unlike the historicised theories and practices of art, that have already
been given a very exact location in the cultural context, contemporaneity
draws sustenance from heterogeneous stimuli that generate multiple forms
of creative production and make interpretation both complex and particularly
Throughout western history, philosophers and scientists have constantly
developed new theories regarding the definition of rational thought and
emotion in human beings. The ancient Greeks saw reason and the emotions
as locked in an eternal struggle for supremacy over the human psyche.
Scientists focused increasingly on rationality and cognition during the
early years of the twentieth century, paying practically no attention
to the influence of the Emotional Systems sphere. Examples include
the behaviourists, whose work was concerned exclusively with externally
visible and measurable attitudes. The later widespread practice of likening
the brain to a computer then led to the theoretical concept of functionalism.
Over the last few years, however, there has been a growing tendency in
many scientific disciplines to see the emotions as a key factor for rational
action in both human and animal behaviour. Various definitions and models
regarding the emotions are currently under discussion in the scientific
literature, albeit with the use of terminology that is not always uniform
and sometimes gives rise to the need for basic clarification. There is
as yet no general agreement about how the primary mechanisms triggering
the various emotions can be influenced, how they are to be classified
and whether categorical descriptions can be applied.
New scientific discoveries have, however, always worked in the evolution
of western culture to produce a paradigm shift for society as a whole
by broadening and challenging the worldview of an entire age. Discoveries
such as the theory of relativity had direct effects on philosophical and
artistic thinking as well as indirect consequences on the lifestyle and
morality of twentieth-century society. At the same time, the constant
development of research methods and new technologies has played a crucial
role in the attainment of new knowledge. For example, scientists are now
able to observe cerebral activity in living subjects, something that was
impossible a few years ago. Image-based diagnostic systems such as computer-aided
tomography and magnetic resonance have finally enabled neuroscientists
and neuro-physiologists to study mental and neuronal functions in concomitance
with psychical activities. These technologies have provided visual results
that broaden the horizons of knowledge and open up a series of new questions
that are now the subject of intense debate in the various disciplines.
The recent discovery of the close correlation between chemical processes
taking place in the brain and repercussions on the actions of the individual
concerned, for example, have given rise to discussion about the possible
relativity of the concepts of morality and creativity. The idea of individual
self-determination has been shaken at the root, thus triggering new interpretations
also in the sphere of civil and penal law. The concept of creativity linked
to the individual genius is called into question by new discoveries indicating
a close connection between exceptional abilities and the production of
dopamine in the brain.
In the light of the above, the challenge is to channel the knowledge and
the concepts discussed in the different scientific disciplines into a
discourse of broader cultural relevance and, in a certain sense, a humanistic-Renaissance
tradition that has been abandoned in favour of sharp division into specialised
disciplines since the eighteenth century.
The new digital technologies have long since been included among the tools
of creative expression and cognitive analysis adopted by artists for non-scientific
purposes in pursuit of philosophical, aesthetic and more strictly visual
aims. The reflections developed in the world of art can, however, lead
at times to a rethinking of science or deeper consideration of the use
of a series of tools. Dialogue is thus already underway between art and
science just as it is between methods and means or the scientific approach
and historical or social analysis linked to the human sciences.
The neuroscientific debate developed on the relationship between the appearance
of images and the types of reaction they trigger is currently arousing
ever-greater interest in the humanistic field.
‘The emotions were excluded from the history and the philosophy
of art for most of the twentieth century …. The three tendencies
that dominated the history of twentieth-century art ended up being formalism,
connoisseurship and studies of the different kinds of context in which
the work was produced. They all exclude the emotions. … It was not
until the work of neuroscientists like Giacomo Rizzolatti and his group
in Parma, Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio that some confirmation was
obtained that we are on the right track. … It appears more legitimate
today than ever before to investigate the relations between the formal
aspects of an image and the Emotional Systems responses.’
(David Freedberg in Immagini della Mente. Neuroscienze, arte, filosofia,
Raffaello Cortina Editore)
The challenge addressed by the Emotional Systems project is to
attempt a critical rereading of the correlation between artist, artwork
and viewer in the light of the most recent discoveries about the human
brain and the emotions. The selection of authors featured in the catalogue
and the theses they put forward is intended to prompt a different or perhaps
new way of looking at what it is that generates experience and the quality
of that experience in the encounter between viewer and work of art.
While we can only perceive the things represented by art as an experience
at one remove, empathy enables us to establish a relationship with them
that can also cause us to contemplate our own existence and thus become,
in a certain sense, the object of our observation.
At the same time, however, the viewer must be willing to perform a cognitive
act of intellectual work if he or she really wants to understand the intention
of the work arising from the subjective perspective of its author. This
too is a fundamental experience that can lead an individual to open up
with respect to things that are unknown or in any case far removed from
his or her customary sphere. And this opening up can take place through
both emotional participation and cognitive apprehension linked to knowledge.
In any case, they are both actions that require active involvement on
the part of the viewer, which in turn becomes experience and an integral
part of the individual’s biography and identity.
Emotional Systems is divided into three parts: an exhibition,
a publication and a programme of lectures and performances. Each of these
is endowed with specific communicative capacity encompassing various levels
of participation. The first is developed at the immediate level connected
with visual and sensory experience. The second finds its essential rationale
at the cognitive level in the textual and theoretical comparison of different
scientific and intellectual positions. Evocatively associated with words
and sounds, the third will be able to trigger a desire for deeper investigation
in direct dialogue with scholars and experts in various disciplinary spheres,
including scientists and philosophers, but also poets and musicians.
The route leading through the various rooms of the Strozzina will introduce
visitors to the contemporary artists involved, consciously or otherwise,
with the bodily and sensory but also rational and cognitive praxis entailed
in the experiencing of emotion from the viewpoint both of the creator
and of the viewer. The aim of the exhibition is to offer an overview that
lays no claim to being fully comprehensive and exhaustive. The installations
presented act on different principles, the goal being a cognitive understanding
developed through the meaning of the emotional experience.