text by Andrea Lerda

It is very diffcult to define, but how many times have we been tempted into thinking about the concept of “identity”? How many circumstances have there been when the question of identity has imposed itself as the protagonist of such a thorny yet delicate debate?
“Identity” is certainly one of the most widely used terms in the elds of psychology, sociology, medicine, and anthropology, but also in the elds of politics, journalism, and television. We find it is the protagonist in the world of advertising, the press, fashion, and in the digital world too.

in the depth of identity studio la citt bepi ghiotti andrea lerda exhibition verona video mio caro richard

Bepi Ghiotti
, Mio caro Richard, 2017, a walk dedicated to Richard Long, BW video HD, noises, 16:9, 03’49, courtesy the artist and Studio la Città - Verona

The word is always on the tip of our tongue when we speak of Europe, when we argue about gender differences, and each time we try to lay claim to one position rather than another. The need to deal with identity, one’s own and that of others, is born from the inevitable confrontation with otherness or, rather, with all the “othernesses” that differ from the authentic and primordial “substance”(1) that makes up each one of us. The result is a short circuit of meanings, interactions, divergent positions and interpretative possibilities that perhaps derive from the same questions that Paul Gauguin posed himself in 1897, with his memorable work Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

So the concept of identity goes hand in hand with the unknown and with the concept of otherness, from the comparison of which are generated ever new occasions for developing the “form” of such a “substance”. In classical philosophy the so-called law of identity excludes even the tiniest element of otherness from substance. Identity seems to belong to something evidently internal that must not be contaminated in any way by the outside. This position can be summed up by the formula A = A e A non-A, as outlined by Francesco Remotti(2). This is a point of view that evidently could not be definitive, given that it does not seem in any way possible to sustain the existence of two distinct and stagnant dimensions, one internal and the other external, immune from reciprocal interaction. It seems to have been Hegel, at the beginning of the 19th century, who reanalysed this position and reformulated it in a second axiom in which the two A’s, instead of excluding each other, accept interaction and exist thanks to a reciprocal attraction. The one melds with the other, according to the A and non-A formula (once again by F. R.), and so the internal entity and the external one are no longer immobile things but are substances in constant change, the boundaries of which seem to transform themselves into uctuating membranes to be passed through rather than walls that must be met: “Unity comes to an agreement with multiplicity: it cannot be separated from it” (3).

At this point the problem of identity seems to have been overcome, even cancelled, since the world and existence itself are in constant change and development; however, in this sense the debate seems to have flared up again over the course of the twentieth century. If, at the beginning of the century, for the German psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (1902-1994) identity referred to something internal, situated in the deepest psychic structure of an individual, for the sociologist Philip Gleason identity, instead, was a construction, an artefact that was sparked off by the interaction between the individual and society and, therefore, “Something attributed from without that changes according to the circumstances”(4).

in the depth of identity studio la citt christian fogarolli andrea lerda exhibition verona

in the depth of identity christian fogarolli studio la citt a cura di andrea lerda exhibition verona

Christian Fogarolli, Amoral, 2015; Remember, Repeat, Rework 6, (sx) (sx) Original photo of victim of amnesi (dx) Archive photo from Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
2016, 38 x 33 cm each. Photo Michele Alberto Sereni, courtesy the artist and Studio la Città – Verona

In the present day, one in which globalisation, digital culture, and the great influence exerted by the world of images all have a central role, identity seems more a reflection of the outside world than an uncontaminated internal entity. The ontological concept of identity, that for which it maintains its own autonomy, independently from external events and the human will, seems to be questioned. By now it seems confirmed that identity, besides its biological and mental components, is a social and cultural product, and that a renewed interest in it is aroused during periods of crisis. Today’s cultural impoverishment, created by the increasingly intrusive presence of the internet galaxy, can be considered as a moment that has reached a critical point. The most recent society has, in this sense, a particularly strong role to play: today we are most often led to consider identity as a “place for gathering together”, a secure roof to take refuge under. Through its commercial, economic, and political puppets, together with the rhetoric of advertising and the mass media, contemporary society’s power presents itself as being able to generate identity and to lead to an increase of “himself”, “herself” or “us”. If people manage to follow these in a correct way, then very probably they will be able to gain a pass for entering their own existence. Furthermore, the possibilities the social media offer for bringing forth an identity that is different from the one that actually belongs to us (just think of the profiles offered on such platforms as Facebook and Instagram, to mention only the two most widespread) go hand in hand with this particular dynamic’s characteristics of inconsistency and vulnerability, just as with the curious opportunity for generating infinitely new and different versions of it. e new formula that describes contemporary identity, and that here I am proposing in a completely arbitrary manner, might be formulated like this: A + non-A ∞, in which the physical dimension (with the infinite particles that make it up) and the indefinable spiritual one are summed together and change according to the infinite external variables that constantly and ever more strongly arrive from today’s expanded society. On the other hand, we find ourselves in the face of what Zygmunt Bauman has described as “liquid modernity”(5), one characterised by an endless universal interactivity, within which we can trace and generate just as many liquid identities. They are, perhaps, without any apparent real meaning; perhaps they are so ethereal and hyperliquid as to make us believe that there no longer exists a genuine concept of identity. In fact this very paradox seems to be at the origin of a need to rediscover a more intimate and authentic comparison with the ontological and primordial part of identity with a capital “I”.

in the depth of identity studio la citt a cura di andrea lerda exhibition verona2

in the depth of identity studio la citt tamara janes andrea lerda exhibition verona boccanera giorgia lucchi

In order: In the depth of identity, Christian Fogarolli, Bepi Ghiotti, Tamara Janes, Francisco Muñoz, curated by Andrea Lerda, photo Michele Alberto Sereni, courtesy Studio la Città – Verona; Tamara Janes, Poor Image, 2016, inkjet print framed (sx); Still Loading “Tamara Janes”
, 2016, smartphone screenshot, digital print on flag fabric, 1 x 45 m, copyright Tamara Janes, courtesy Boccanera Gallery,photo Michele Alberto Sereni.

By proposing the art of four artists who in various ways show an interest in dealing with this theme, In the depth of identity highlights this inexhaustible need to measure ourselves against the topos of identity, by underlining its qualities of changeability, inconsistency, and precariousness.
Trough an art that makes use of various disciplines, Christian fogarolli analyses the subject of mental illness, and therefore of otherness, by leading us to think about the hidden and elusive side of psychiatric pathology (Amoral). The viewers are invited to mirror themselves within an occult world and to consider the human obsession of wanting to understand identities that do not conform to a model of normality. At the same time, in the photos of the series Remember, Repeat, Rework, he lingers on photos of patients suffering from memory loss, and he associates these with images of Indonesian sculptures the historical traces of which have been lost, as a possible parallel with contemporary society’s loss of identity.
Francisco Muñoz Perez, instead, undertakes a partly inverse process: by starting from some images found in Vogue magazine that photograph a chilly and standard beauty – as both a symptom and remnant of a decadent modernity – he undertakes critical thinking about the homologising power of the advertising market, together with that of the fashion and “beauty” industry in general, that is exerted on the collective imagination. By looking back to an aesthetic aspect of Mexican culture, the artist has decided to introduce an element of non conformity by reformulating the ideal of beauty, opening out its boundaries and encouraging the alteration of its rules (Piedras aparentes) or by covering various objects with a new plastic skin; in this way their new look alludes to utensils from a distant past (Jardin de cenizas). The art of Tamara Janes, instead, looks at the new potentialities offered by the tools of the digital era: through them our identity seems to have become a simple low-definition image, one that floats about in such huge archives as Google, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and so on (Poor Image). The artist typed her own name on the Google Image research engine and, before this could effectively upload the photos corresponding to her name, she made a snapshot consisting of an infinite number of coloured rectangular cells (Still Loading “Tamara Janes”). Here is the last frontier of our identity. And so, Mio caro Richard, what do you want me to do today with this unstable terrain, a synonym for a society without certainties and reference points? is is the question that Bepi Ghiotti poses in his video. An introspective walk that aims at interrogating himself, his own being as an artist but, ultimately, that of human beings in general.

in the depth of identity studio la citt francisco munoz andrea lerda exhibition verona1

in the depth of identity studio la citt francisco munoz andrea lerda exhibition verona

Francisco Muñoz Perez, Piedras aparentes Vol. III; Piedras aparentes / Xipe Tótec, 2016, carbon pigment print on cotton paper, 46,5 x 36,5 x 4 cm with frame; Ashes garden, 2016, malte, vasi, contenitori in plastica assemblati e dipinti con finitura effetto pietra, different dimensions, courtesy the artist and Studio la Città - Verona

Christian Fogarolli, Bepi Ghiotti, Tamara Janes, Francisco Muñoz
curated by Andrea Lerda
Studio la Città, Verona
Until November 18, 2017

1 Term used by Francesco Remotti in: L’ossessione identitaria, Editori Laterza, Bari 2010, p.26.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid. p.28.
4 Gleason Philip 1983: Identifying Identity: A Semantic History, “Journal of American History”, LXIX, 4, p. 918.
5 Bauman Zygmunt, Intervista sull’identità, a cura di Benedetto Vecchi, Editori Laterza, Bari 2003, p. 87.