Possible flocks

Collective experience with Marina Arienzale

Ambition is the graveyard of ideas.
Where revolutions fail is in fostering expectations that they cannot then meet.
Let’s focus on minor revolutions!
We have made do with less:
instead of changing the world, we’ve changed ourselves.

The Dawn of a Nation exhibition tells the story of an era of change in Italy, a country that was rebuilding itself after the destruction of World War II. Becoming a “nation” means being together and feeling you’re a group, a community; artists at the time reflected, depicted and interpreted that thrust towards a collectivity, a community, in their work, while also affording increasing consideration to the observer in the creative process itself. The experience with Marina Arienzale was based on a reflection on the concept of collective identity, relating it to the reality of each one of us: when do we really feel that we belong to a group? When do we manage to be in touch with other people? To what extent does being with others transform us? And how can we facilitate that process? The workshop was split into three phases: a warmup to feel at ease with ourselves and then with others; group work on creating a collective choreography;  and finally, going out into the exhibition area. The experience was repeated four times, once for each cycle. Some parts remained unchanged whilst others were changed, but on each occasion the encounter was profoundly different.



We come from outside, we’re hot and tired. We’re breathing,let’s relax. Like in an “inner massage”, we focused on our physical side, on our being present with our whole body.

We closed our eyes and when we reopened them we looked at ourselves in a small mirror. In the end we met the others, with our gaze and then through contact.


What can you see in the mirror?

The lines on my neck, but they’re fashionable!
I like the marks of time, they make me happy, they’re there when I laugh. A kind of benevolence towards change – but then you get over it!
I would’ve been better off not looking in the mirror – That’s not true, I can assure you! Apart from the fact that I put the wrong blouse on.
Poor me… I’ve got kids, otherwise lord knows what I’d have found. But I’m going to go.
I never have time to look in the mirror… I noticed my collar’s dirty.
I looked different – that’s obvious, I changed it!
I’m always jolly, smiling. I looked serious, and different too.
I like white hair, but it’s beginning to fall out now.
According to the angle I look at myself from, I like myself – Then hold it where you look nice!
I see myself as no longer young.
I see my glasses, which are headlights and hide the lines on my face.
I agreed to do the mirror because it changes according  to the angle, but I’m me and that’s just fine.
I don’t like being photographed because 90% of the time I don’t recognise myself, but it’s me. And the same goes for the mirror, but that’s OK. It took me an awfully long time to work up these lines!
I saw a face I’d never seen.
Listen, I even had my hair done… And I thought I’d look better. What can I tell you?
[In the mirror] I was there, do you see?
I see myself, what I am and what I like being. No more nor less than that.
I saw the bags under my eyes and it was odd seeing the things behind me.
I saw a bit of nastiness.
I saw the colour of my eyes changing.
At the beginning I only saw my face, then I saw what was behind it, then I turned it round and saw myself in the middle of the room.
It lights everything up.

Irritation, me, and the intention of putting that feeling behind me.
White. The ceiling. The fire hydrant and the bases of the vaulting.
I saw me, a feeling of enjoying being here. You never stop learning new things in life.
The pleasurable passage of time.
The will to change things.
A white hair. A person growing old.
A tiny monster, a woman carrying bread.
I saw me, I’m ugly, everything’s just fine.
An overwrought face. Regrowth.
A person bigger than I thought I was.
Hair too short, I changed perspective and saw the others beside me.
Two me’s. One on a reflecting surface and one yet to discover.
Nice old age lines, I’m happy they’re there, it means we’re here.
Lines on my forehead, they weren’t there a few years ago. Changes.
I saw myself as I am.
A less overwrought face than I thought and two nice windows open to the outside.
A more overwrought face than I thought. I thought I was different. Hours went by.
We had two small mirrors at the beginning. Remo saw his dad and I saw my eyeliner had run, then we superimposed them and saw ourselves together.

What did I see in the mirror? That I’m old… I’m not young any more.
All those flaws, then I shifted the centre of attention and saw all that white hair, which I adore.
Tired eyes. I closed them, and when I reopened them I was more relaxed.
The mirror? I gave it away as a present.
A women never wants to be without a mirror, it’s a fairly important thing.
I saw a person capable of smiling into the mirror.
All flaws, a whole load of flaws, but I’m relaxed.
I looked into the mirror but I put it away at once.
I looked at myself as I am and I saw that I’ve aged a bit and look a bit bewildered.
I saw white hair and lines but I’m unruffled and relaxed.
I saw me… My hair’s a mess, I terrified myself… But don’t comb my hair.
I saw what I look like, but I’m happy and content to be here, it worked… we all got here in a hurry and now we’re relaxed.
I looked at myself a lot, especially from the nose down.
It’s odd, it felt like I was looking at someone else’s face.
You can feel in your body that it’s you, but the image is different.
A different image from the image I have of myself.
There’s a gap between the way I am and the way I see myself.
It’s odd to look at yourself in this mirror, you can see yourself from very close up but there’s a very bright light.
Inquisitive eyes looking for something, and a huge amount of fingerprints.
I didn’t see anything… I can only hold it back to front.

The Marchioness wishes.
Did you relax? Yes.
[I see] you’re a very active lass. That you always get things done fast, you’re fast, you race through stuff.
What do I see of myself? [She pats her hair into place]
I see her and she likes me a lot. She’s watching too.
I saw that I was about to fall asleep.
I don’t look in the mirror. I’m not comfortable with a mirror, I haven’t got time [to look at myself].
We’ve got a mirror in the lift, in the building, and I avoid taking it.
I’ve got fat, too, since I’ve been here [in Italy]!
Eighteen years – eighteen years this October.
It [holding the mirror] made me feel uncomfortable.
Well, I don’t think I look good. I think my face has puffed up, I think I’m looking at someone else. No, I don’t like it.
All these thoughts go through my head when I look in the mirror. Fragments, lots of fragments of thought.
As usual, the first thought that comes into my head when I look at myself is “good lord, what do I look like?!”
This time my eye fell on the sides of my mouth, where the lines are. They appear in the evening and vanish the next morning. It’s as though each day made its mark.
I’ve never seen myself in this state. My gaze is always trained on the outside.
So asking him to engage in introspection…
Nothing, no. I can’t see it very well. It’s not there…
Yes, I focused on the lines on my face too.
Then I saw that my eyes are rather wide open, a bit of a headache.
Then I thought my face looks tired, [whispers to herself] tired.
I didn’t realise my face looked so tired either.
I look so tired, with a lot of flaws – I was bit uncomfortable. So then I focused on these earrings, which were a present, something more pleasant.
The other times I didn’t look at myself, but this time I did: it’s a bit hard after all this time.
I saw my gaze is a bit fuller, calmer – fuller, that’s the right word.
I looked at myself too – a bit: the other times it was such fun.
You always meet someone you don’t know.
I looked at the bottom part of my face, soft and yielding.
I made faces, to see how elastic it was.


Collective choreography

Each participant was taken by the hand and urged to take their place in a neutral, protected space set out with a few chairs and with soothing background music*.
Without any spoken suggestions or instructions, spontaneous choreographies began to take shape, led by one or the other participant. Some followed and repeated while others chose to stand still. Some people even danced solo.
No one had been given any specific instructions as to what to do and that uncertainty spawned opportunities for producing something new.

Leaving the world – possible flocks

After the exercise we came out and explored the exhibition rooms, meeting other visitors. The idea was to try to be together and to feel the presence of others, like flocks of birds: walking in the same direction as our neighbours, avoiding bumping into them and paying attention to each one’s conduct without having one person leading us.
The idea was to foster self-organised collective behaviour where the hypothetical command baton moved constantly from one person to another. The first time we came out in small groups, but we had trouble staying together. The second time we used ropes to help us to stay together, but we felt excessively bound together. The third time we came out as a single, larger group, but once again each member went off on their own, attracted by distant stimuli.
Might this modality be unsuitable for crossing an exhibition space?
Might the strength of the exhibits be such that it prevails over the idea of being together as a group of people?
Might we perhaps perceive the room as a protected space and thus feel free to move about, almost forgetting the others’ resence?
In the fourth encounter we decided to go with what seemed to us to be the most natural way to visit an exhibition. Participants in With Many Voices are always pairs, and so each participant was asked to explore the exhibition rooms with another person. But we formed other couples to facilitate new two-way encounters; everyone crossed the rooms again in their own time and with the freedom to move around, stop and talk.

* Santosh, Polka Of Wrath; Tres Tristes Tangos, Klderen Polka (http://freemusicarchive.org/)