Olivia Berkowicz

I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. Fill in the names. […] How every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds. Six degrees of separation between me and everyone else on this planet.

John Guare, Six Degrees of Separation (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1990), 45.

Ferrara Residency began with a trail of invitations. One by one, the project slowly expanded over the course of two years from a dialogue to a conversation; from a concern to a point of departure. The conception of organising an artist residency in the Italian city Ferrara was born out of anxiety and frustration over the material conditions of living in the fast-paced, megalopolis that is London. And secondly, the need to assemble and reconnect friends and colleagues despite geographical separation. Ferrara emerged as the third place, somewhere in between; a temporary site where we could host an artist residency where we would have the time and focus to discuss the role of artists and curators within post-Fordist societies, which demand ever-greater emotional stakes in the game of chance which is art and society. Maybe there is a connection between the Swedish term for gambling hasardspel, which derives its etymology from the French word hasard, meaning chance or coincidence. In English hasard reminds us rather of hazard – signifying risk, even danger. Maybe it is no coincidence then, that Ferrara is situated close to the European birthplace of the first-known casino, namely Il Ridotto in Venice.1

It is often said that the contemporary artist is the post-Fordist worker par excellence: always flexible, available, and ready to put herself at risk for fear of losing out in the game. The question of resistance and care arose within this context; how Ferrara Residency could become a place for reflecting on self-care as a mode of resistance to an increasing sense of precarity. How could we become a site for collective thoughts and actions? Of opting in or dropping out? Or – is there even a possibility for action?

The notion of six degrees of separation was first introduced by the Jewish-Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, who in 1929 published the text Everything is Different, a collection of short stories which would come to popularise the notion of six degrees of separation.2 The idea was straight-forward; due to the increasing speed of technologies of communications and travel, the modern world would “shrink”.3 Highly influential for later developments in network theories, Karinthy predicted that the contraction of the world would increase the interconnectedness of living beings; social distance would decrease despite geographical displacement. Paradoxical then, is that the same utopian drive behind his social network theory is also what propels globalization and the very possibilities of the post-Fordist labour conditions which underpin globalized networked capitalism.

Never black or white, Ferrara Residency also teeters on this paradoxical edge: the logic behind the participant invitations to the project were also based on six degrees of separation. One of the project founders invited one artist who in turn invited another artist… Before the residency we also founded the Ferrara Residency Library – this functioned in the very same way, every participant brought or suggested a text, art work or project which later came to be part of the library. We reasoned that a chain of invitations to the residency was an act of care, of not feeding into the art system’s exploitative matrix of open calls, application processes and never-ending rejections.

With this text, I would like to give a background and contextualisation of the first iteration of Ferrara Residency. This short essay aims to reflect on the themes around care and labour under networked capitalism, and how some of the participating artists responded to these questions in relation to the cityscape of Ferrara. Inviting the artists, we didn’t specify what we would like them to do during the residency; there was no prerequisite to produce any new work, or even to contribute in any material way, except a willingness to socially engage in conversations and meetings. However, within the framework of the politics of care and abstract work, the social and emotional engagement of the artists functions is a form of labour, indeed. As already mentioned in the introduction, Ferrara Residency is an infrastructure which within its very own system, functions according to those very forces we also aim to criticise. Transversally, the notion of care which was this year’s theme, represents support, yet also internalises a certain set of contradictory power relations. Important to express here, is the fact that Ferrara Residency edition 1, is actually edizione 0: meaning zero budget. The project was made possible by the free labour of the organisers and artists, the organisers’ friends and families in Ferrara. Without their time, energy and labour put towards the project, it would not have been possible.

When entering the public park Parco Massari in Ferrara, one is greeted on either side of its entrance on Corso Porta Mare by two enormous Cedrus Libani  – commonly known as cedars of Lebanon. The park was conceived of in 1780 by the Ferrara-born architect Luigi Bertelli for the Marquise Camillo Bevilacqua. Many of the trees in the park are more than a century old, except for the two cedars of Lebanon at the entrance. However, what struck me about them, as I crossed the park on my way to exhibition venue Gate/Porta, were the enormous scaffolding structures which were holding up the sprawling branches of these cedars. Emerging as disjointed spiders, the branches hover in a state of stasis; a moment of suspension. In one of the books brought to Ferrara Residency, the artist Celine Condorelli writes about support structures in relation to the scaffolding devised to support the crumbling architecture of Milo in the face of Etna’s volcanic activities. The verb puntellare, she explains – signifies the act of propping up or supporting something.4 Exploring the notion of care, I saw in these support structures something akin to what I consider to be the politics of care. Drawing on these thoughts, Condorelli maintains that these support structures uphold a status quo. In her text, she writes that  “[t]he scaffolding props up and works to avoid or at least to delay the process of failure and collapse.”5 In comparison to the politics of care, we find that caring for something or someone, it maintains a situation, upholding and nurturing; but if one revokes the practice of care, the support structures tumble to the ground like a game of spillikins. The support structures, Condorelli adds, “[s]tretches the moment of crisis to our present, as a tangible, unwelcome companion to the city.”6 Echoing the work of the residency participant George Jepson and his work Either Native or Naturalized, I find a striking resemblance between his reading of Ferrara’s Renaissance fortifications and Condorelli’s thesis. The infrastructure of the fortress maintains and reproduces the support structures necessary for the conditions of life within the city itself. However, Jepson also makes the vital point that the implicit logic of maintaining a constant state of crisis; the citadel, the work suggests, “induces a state of constant siege” while also it “anticipates wars to come”.7 Support, then, is the day-to-day life of existing in close proximity to the anticipation of a collapse to come. The practice of care, I argue, functions in accordance; as long as one cares for something – the status quo remains by the virtue and labour of the caregiver.

A second, and final aspect, which forms the paradoxical infrastructure of care, is the notion that care and support is oftentimes gendered.8 Care, and in particular the practice of care work, was brought up through the work of many philosophers, such as Silvia Federici and Nina Power, throughout the residency. Several of the artists at Ferrara Residency brought up the question of care as the extraction of affect and energy through commodity-producing patriarchy and neoliberal labour conditions. I will bring up two examples here of artists at Ferrara Residency who investigated this, although I am keen to mention that there were many more examples than this text allows for. The artist and curator Marianna Feher spent a month in Ferrara investigating the gendered politics of the Renaissance building Palazzo Schifanoia in the Byzantine castrum. Erected in the 14th Century, Marianna Feher researched the role of women in Palazzo Schifanoia and its history through her performance Schivar-La-Noia And Its Double. Her work focused on how capitalism is predicated on the forced separation of spheres, public/private, productive/non-productive, and extraction of affective labor from women, which was developed in her work as a performance in which she provided a set list of one-on-one services to those who visited her work. Here, the separation of physical structures and women’s affective labor is importantly one of the fundamental support structures of capitalist economy, but also, Feher points out, the staving off of boredom; a form of stasis.

Lastly, the artist duo Sandi Francis-Hudson and Athene Greig collaboratively filmed the work Every Day, Now. In the film, we as the viewers, see Antonella Notarnicola making pizza at the family-run restaurant Mordi&Fuggi in Ferrara. The painstaking handcraft is evident in observing her hands in preparing the components of pizza: dough, tomato sauce, toppings. Using a dramaturgical technique which reminds me of Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Bleeder from 1999, the work is accompanied by the recorded frailty of the Gregorian chants of nuns in the Monastery of Sant’Antonio in Polesine. The juxtaposition of the sacral soundtrack with habitualised gestures of labour, imbues the handiwork with renewed significance. Refusing the simplistic valorization of female work as prosaic, Francis-Hudson and Greig point out the amount of care and skill which goes into the makings of pizza. The conditions of affective labour are pronounced in Every Day, Now, where the saturated tomato-reds and fluorescent eggshell walls draw my mind yet again to the colourscape of Bleeder, providing the much needed foil for reflecting on the implications of anxiety and vulnerability with the politics of care.

In conclusion, the participating artists in the first edition of Ferrara Residency found a myriad ways of investigating and engaging with the politics of care and infrastructures of support. The framework of Ferrara as a city proved to be a bountiful site for thinking about the separation between public and private spheres, and how the distribution of power relations can be negotiated within this. Through the lense of this year’s theme Who Cares?, we found ways to imagine, discuss and depict how the practice of care choreographs bodies, infrastructure and politics through its Janus-like nature. The support of Ferrara as a material base and affective set of relations will come to be further explored in the coming edition of the residency. Despite the difficulties and anxieties we face in the current political climate, where the president of the United States may be as close to us as a gondolier in Venice, we will continue the work of Ferrara Residency. I say: let’s put our cards on the table, and let the chips fall as they may.

[1]  Bjørn Thomassen, Liminality and the Modern: Living Through the In-Between (New York;US: Routledge, 2016), 159-160.

[2]  Frigyes Karinthy, “Chain-Links” in Everything is Different (1929). Accessed February 9, 2018: https://djjr-courses.wdfiles.com/local–files/soc180%3Akarinthy-chain-links/Karinthy-Chain-Links_1929.pdf

[3]  Karinthy, “Chain-Links”, 1.

[4] Maaike Lauwaert and Francien van Westrenen, “Exergue,” in Facing Value: Radical Perspectives from the Arts (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2017), 397.

[5] Lauwaert and van Westrenen. “Exergue,”  398.

[6] Ibid., 397.

[7] George Jepson, Either Native or Naturalized, (2017).

[8] Not only is care work gendered, it is also racialized. This aspect is not covered here, but needs to be maintained.