Showing posts with label current. Show all posts
Showing posts with label current. Show all posts

FLORA Festival: World-class Floral Art Transforms Town's Cultural Scene and Boosts Economy

November 09, 2023

“I had no idea there was a city like this in the world –the city of flowers,” shares Lithuanian artist Tadao Cern as he accepts the first prize for his installation at the sixth edition of FLORA International Flower Festival in Cordoba, Spain. The festival has showcased five site-specific flower installations by floral and conceptual artists in some of Cordoba’s most iconic courtyards.

Flowers and courtyards have been intertwined for centuries in Cordoba. By introducing an artistic perspective to the flower-courtyard tradition, FLORA has evolved this heritage into a unique world-class event.  

Cordoba’s flower tradition dates back to its time as the capital of the Emirate of Cordoba in the 8th century, when the city started to grow into one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean Region. Under Arab rule, the prevalent courtyard house typology in Cordoba, a legacy from its Roman past, underwent a reinterpretation that incorporated "riads" –or flowerbeds– into the courtyards, along with wells and an irrigation system that maintained the space green and cool. 

The courtyard retained its role as a place of contemplation in Cordoba’s stately homes until the late 19th century, when demographic pressure led to the transformation of these houses into multifamily residences. The courtyard became a communal space for unwinding and shared facilities. Following the floral tradition, residents adorned the courtyards with pots of local flowers for both aesthetic and aromatic purposes. The tradition prompted a popular contest of courtyards a century ago, now celebrated as the Cordoba Courtyard Festival –an annual event recognized as an 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity' by UNESCO since 2012.  

FLORA, launched in 2017 as a private initiative, adopts the flower contest concept from the Courtyard Festival. However, instead of relying on conventional flower arrangements, it selects and invites the world's finest floral artists –and any artist interested in exploring nature– to create flower installations in the city’s most prominent courtyards. With the aim of involving the local community and addressing its collaborative interests, FLORA 2023 has organised nearly a hundred activities and side events. These include an “urban guerrilla” initiative to create floral installations using leftover festival materials, opportunities for artistic assistants to collaborate with floral artists, and public interactions with the artists.  

The Festival has transformed Cordoba's cultural scene and has established the city as a global hub for floral artistry, impacting the economy of the province. According to Loyola University's report, “FLORA's 2022 budget generated 16.5 times more in tourist expenditure and 13 times more in dissemination and communication for every euro invested.” FLORA’s impact on me has been profound. I was familiar with flower arrangements but I don’t recall having ever seen flowers used as an art medium before FLORA’s inaugural edition. Now a festival regular, I continue to be mind blown by the installations.

This year’s FLORA edition centres around the theme of "Plant Intelligence,” exploring both the parallels with artificial intelligence and the remarkable problem-solving and adaptive capacities of plants in diverse environments. Artists, including Harriet Parry (UK), Tadao Cern (Lithuania), Flowgardenz (Russia), Hai Ihwa (South Korea) and Flowers by Bornay (Spain) have created extraordinary floral installations within the courtyards of palaces and institutions, including the historic Mosque-Cathedral dating back to the 8th century.


Left "tree bark" detail of Harriet Parry's Heartwood (2023) | Right: white flowers absorbing black ink at Tadao Cern's Black Bloom/White Echo (2023)

Harriet Parry's Heartwood is a beautiful raised surface of red carnations, chrysanthemums, lilies and other flowers concentrically arranged in circles to mimic the cross section of a tree trunk (see cover picture). The installation is located in the Mosque-Cathedral courtyard surrounded by orange trees and a soundscape featuring bells and fountains. “Heartwood reminds us how trees build their own support over time, a true lesson in intelligence”, says Parry. It tells the story of the tree, just as the Mosque-Cathedral tells the story of Cordoba, and celebrates connectivity with the orange trees that surround it.


Tadao Cern, Black Bloom/White Echo (2023) | Archaeological Museum Cordoba

Winner of FLORA 2023, installation artist Tadao Cern ventures into the world of flowers for the first time with Black Bloom / White Echo. His installation repurposes several structures from previous festivals and clads them with 16,000 locally-grown white carnations and chrysanthemums over a courtyard pool at the archaeological museum. The pool is dyed black, and as the white flowers absorb the colour from the water, their hue gradually shifts toward black. By showing how flowers adapt and change to absorb the environment, Cern beautifully reflects on the blending of different cultures and religions that has enriched Cordoba throughout history.  


Flowergardenz, Cell (2023) | Orive Palace Cordoba. Photo by Festival FLORA
Cell, by the Russian art collective Flowergardenz, represents a large-scale plant cell featuring chloroplasts and mitochondria. The installation is made with bamboo leaves, carnations, chrysanthemums, lotus flowers, moss and more, and is supported by structures repurposed from previous editions, some of which are exposed. The artists, Vladimir Vanenkov and Konstantin Bushmanov, both currently living in Georgia after their exile from Russia, aim to celebrate plant intelligence by making us feel insignificant before these seemingly simple organisms.


Flowers by Bornay, Mobilis in Mobili (2023) | Diputación de Cordoba

Inspired by the sundial adorning their courtyard, Barcelona-based floral art collective Flowers by Bornay, creates a kinetic installation that plays at converting time into something tangible. Mobilis in Mobili is a giant spiral covered with Spanish moss, an air plant that can survive solely on the humidity of the environment. A tribute to plant intelligence, the installation symbolises the passage of time through life cycles and growth.


Hai Ihwa, Artificial Defense Mechanism (2023) | Viana Palace Cordoba

Artificial Defense Mechanism, the installation by Hai Ihwa at the Viana Palace, explores the impact of artificial intelligence on the natural defense mechanisms of plants. Using flowers and greens such as asparagus ferns, carnations, eucalyptus and kale, and deliberately arranging them in an extremely artificial manner that excludes the roughness and flexibility of nature, Ihwa wants to raise awareness of technology's impact on the natural world.


FLORA Street Poster


FLORA International Flower Festival  | 16-26 October 2023 | Cordoba, Spain


Flowers by Bornay


Hai Ihwa

Harriet Parry 

Tadao Cern 


by PS unless stated otherwise. Cover picture Heartwood (2023) by Harriet Parry | The Orange Tree Courtyard, Mosque-Cathedral Cordoba. Photo credit Manuel Murillo for Diario de Cordoba.

Contemporary Art in a Historical Town: a New Biennale Aims at Bridging Tradition & Reimagining The Future

October 19, 2023

In Fabriano, Beauty Councillor Maura Nataloni sets the stage for Intrecci (Entanglements), the inaugural edition of Fabriano Contemporanea, the town’s new international contemporary art show. “This is an exhibition that will surprise everyone, promote change and contribute to the rebirth of the city,” Nataloni declares at the press conference, immediately sparking a discussion on whether contemporary art suits a town with a century-old cultural legacy. 

Located in the Marche region, the 31,000-strong town of Fabriano has a rich historical and artistic heritage. Its medieval center hosts an extraordinary collection of civic and religious buildings that stand out even more against the backdrop of the Apennine mountains. Historically known for paper manufacturing and later machinery production, the town has faced industrial decline in recent decades and is now pivoting towards the creative industry for economic revival, being part of the UNESCO Creative City Network since 2013. 

Under the direction of Chiara Zampetti Egidi, a Berlin-based art curator and author, Entanglements features works by international and Italian contemporary artists across two museum exhibitions and six solo projects, including various street installations that involve local communities collaborating with artists in the production process. “Art is both an experience and a way of having fun,” says Ms Zampetti Egidi, emphasizing the event’s excitement for both local residents and participating artists. According to Zampetti, Fabriano provides artists with unique spaces that inspire different ideas.

Entanglements, the title of this first edition, derives from the connection between residents and artists, as well as between the historical and the contemporary. Zampetti dismisses notions of a contemporary-classical divide in Fabriano, asserting that "contemporary arises from tradition."

Left, Luca Buvoli's installation at the 15th-century Loggiato San Francesco. Right, resident participating in site installations |  Photos Giorgio Benni

The exhibitions showcase remarkable contemporary art not commonly found off the beaten art track, outside of major art world capitals. The site-specific projects are a refreshing and fun part of the Biennale. London-based artist Be Andr’s Ora (Now) uses shop windows to display words from Fabriano residents on their personal perceptions of the city. The project repurposes 15 vacant shops providing an alternative use for a prime location resource. Interestingly, it has also prompted some owners to transform them into spontaneous art galleries and wine shops overnight. Judging by the speed in which the project has managed to trigger new actions, Now by Andr (b. 1978, Oslo) might be considered one of the fastest urban regeneration precursors in recent history. 


Be Andr, Now (Chiuso e Aperto), (2023) at Piazza del Comune | Photo Be Andr

Creatively Together, an installation by Fabriano residents with the Inside Out Project by French artist JR (b. 1983, Paris), celebrates the transformative power of creativity in building connections through 86 portraits displayed in a historical theater's cloister. The process of organizing the action, creating photos, and displaying the posters in the cloister, involves the participants coming together, strengthening their relationships. The project has brought many visitors to the cloister excited to spot familiar faces among the portraits.


JR Inside Out Project action, Creatively Together, (2023) at Teatro Gentile  | Photo Giorgio Benni for Fabriano Contemporanea

Luca Buvoli, a NYC-based multimedia artist (b. 1963, Italy), presents Flags & Flipbook (Astrodoubt Floating in Gravitational Waves), a site-specific installation within the Loggiato San Francesco, dating back to 1450. The installation, exploring the nuances of motion and time, hangs a series of flags from the arcade’s tie bars, depicting the sequential movement of an astronaut floating in space. The flipbook shows the stroboscopic sequence. However, the arcade provides a more fun way to experience the sequence by running beneath the flags, a suggestion from Buvoli himself who shared how thrilled he is to portray time theory in a Renaissance setting. 


Luca Buvoli, Flags (Astrodoubt Floating in Gravitational Waves), (2020-23) at Loggiato San Francesco | Photo Luca Buvoli

Buvoli explores his fascination with time through the Space Doubt Expedition Project, initiated in 2009 with NASA scientists. The project features Astrodoubt, a fictitious astronaut, and the 2022 video A Brief History of Time (Under Covid) –in 7 Lessons, showcased at Entanglements. This animated compilation, conceived and executed entirely by Buvoli, navigates complex scientific, philosophical, and religious ideas around the notion of time in a comic-like way. Combining colourful handmade drawings and graphics, the 13-minute video spans several years of research and creation. This effort does not get lost on the viewer. It provides a highly enjoyable and moving experience, as Mr Buvoli skillfully conveys the basics of science through visual stories.


Luca Buvoli, A Brief History of Time (Under Covid) – in 7 Lessons, (2022) at Palazzo del Podesta | Video screenshot

The show ambitiously includes Fabriano's historic buildings, such as the recently restored Montini Cinema, to show The Neon Hieroglyph, a hypnotic 20-minute video by Turner-Prize awardee Tai Shani (b. 1976 London). 


Tai Shani, The Neon Hieroglyph, (2021) at Montini Cinema | Photo Giorgio Benni for Fabriano Contemporanea

The iconic Palazzo del Podestà, a medieval building initially serving as the ruler’s office, hosts the exhibition Through the Unfolding Glass curated by Anne-Sophie Dinant. This exhibition explores various realities through the use of the camera and showcases works from artists such as Susanne Bürner (b. 1970, Ellwangen/Jagst), Mimosa Echard (b. 1986, Alès), Haris Epaminonda, Jochen Lempert, Jonas Mekas, Jean Painlevé, James Richards, Alice Theobald, and Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Remscheid).


Left Mimosa Echard, Narcisse 4 (2021) | Right Susanne Bürner, Charlotte Series (2023)

Wolfgang Tillmans, Congo Night (a) (2018)

Wolfgang Tillmans, Sao Paulo (2012)

The Biennale also features the exhibition Take It Easy, Baby. The Collector’s Lifestyle, curated by Matteo Boetti. Adding artworks from his own collection to the outstanding Guelfo collection, Boetti, son of Italian conceptual artist Alighiero e Boetti, shares first hand stories from the Italian 20th-century art scene. Through his perspective, the exhibition offers insights into the network of relationships that unfold when art becomes an integral part of one's life.


Felice Levini, Untitled (2018-2021) at Museo Guelfo

It is precisely this “network of relationships” brought forward by Boetti that this Biennale aspires to strengthen in Fabriano. By tapping into art to breathe new life into the historic setting, blending tradition and innovation, and encouraging residents to engage with their town in new and inspiring ways, the town not only transforms but also lays the foundation for a renewed sense of community. Entanglements answers the lingering question: classical or contemporary –art transcends time, becoming a bridge to a vibrant, reimagined future.

For visitors, Fabriano Contemporanea provides an enjoyable art experience, certainly due to the quality of the art and the beauty of the setting, but also because there doesn't seem to be mass tourism in Fabriano and art can be enjoyed quietly. A luxury long gone elsewhere. 


Fabriano Contemporanea, #1 Intrecci (Entanglements) | 8 September 2023 - 3 February 2024 | Fabriano (Marche), Italy

Featured Artists
by PS unless stated otherwise. Cover picture Now (Io Tu, Io Noi, Qui), 2023 by Be Andr. Photo credit Giorgio Benni, courtesy of Fabriano Contemporanea.


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