An Attempt to Communicate with Reality, 2021, site specific Installation with
seven-channel audio video projections, umbrellas, tripods, lights, electrical cord, plastic, power strip, dimensions variable
Bianchino: What Could Have Been and What is Still Possible
My oldest memory to date is of a powerful earthquake that devastated my native province of Avellino in November 1980. I was three years old. The event shattered the already frail economy of the region. My family and I lived close to the epicenter. We survived and shortly after moved to Paterson, New Jersey. It would be the beginning of a long and tumultuous immigration story that in ways is still unresolved. It would see us go through an initial period of stability that made us fall in love with America, to an unexpected deportation, to the untimely death of my father, to legal statuses never granted or granted too late, a failed marriage, and an American Dream that faded in the reality of today’s world.
As the youngest member of my family, and a generation apart from my only sibling, I was a spectator in the early part of this rutted journey, which often kept our small family nucleus divided on separate continents for long periods. I experienced ongoing culture shock and struggled to find continuity in the process of relocating several times between Italy and here. I did experience anticipation and excitement in the plane trips themselves. In looking down at the Earth, I developed a profound connection with the expanse. I dreamt of neutral spaces, ones without political borders or social identities. I believe these experiences became a catalyst for the development of my creative and academic interests, pushing me toward subjects such as astronomy, geopolitics, and art. To connect my interest in abstract art with my fragmented immigrant experience, I began asking myself why we came to America in the first place. The earthquake was always a starting point in this reflection, but as powerful as it was, it did not hold all the answers. There was more to the complex story that would bridge geology with world history, leading me to ask yet another vital question: Why did my family not stay in Italy to rebuild in what was considered a wealthy First World country?
Growing up in Italy I had often been perplexed by the stark economic and social division between North and South. I was curious why a smallish country without significant geographical borders within its mainland could be so divided. In the background of my Italian childhood lurked the tales of bandits known as the brigandi, another historically criminal association for Southerners we were discouraged from exploring. Only recently would I learn the truer, more nuanced tale of this generation of peasants that embraced arms to prevent defeat from the invaders, our Northern cousins. This led me to uncover a denser version of Italian history, one where the Southern liberation felt more like an occupation, with a history resembling other people around the world who suffered the divisive force of colonialism.
In the case of Italy, the colonization took place between people who had sought unification for centuries, and it finally came in 1861 at a losing price for one and not the other. By 1880 the great Southern Italian diaspora to North America began, as a new generation of post-unification meridionals came of age in a decimated and corrupt reality. Despite the loss of patrimony and the systemic eradication of memory since the unification, the history of the South is currently living a remarkable, however small, revision. It accompanies its newer generation’s passion for rediscovery of ancient practices founded on a harmonious relationship with the environment.
In this research I’ve been especially fascinated with the South’s anti-seismic approach in architecture and engineering during the 19th century, which was spearheaded by the University of Naples, one of the most prestigious in Europe at the time with first-ever degrees in astronomy, vulcanology, and geology, and with an effective citywide recycling program, among other forward-thinking social programs. In this research my encounters with schematic diagrams of earthquake-resistant structures have been particularly intriguing. They show diagonally intersecting wood beams and plaster walls that were tested with a high success rate against earthquake impact. It begs the question what would have happened if this practice had not been replaced with over a century of modern cement structures, bigger, more closely tied with the oil industry, but with overall frailer joints in the face of natural calamities.
My rediscovery of recent Italian history steeped in colonialism, capitalism, and xenophobia has been profound. Its roots seep further into the ground uncovering important pieces missing from the larger puzzle of identity. The experience has made me reconsider my place in the world. As an Italian and Italian American, I ponder what could have been, while dreaming of what is still possible, as we face the high road in which a disjointed world civilization seeks harmony with its home planet.
Space Junk, 2016, site-specific installation with video projections, umbrellas, tripods, lights, electrical cord, plastic, power strip, dimensions variable
Faultline, 2019, site-specific installation with paper pulp, metal, tripods, dimensions variable
Gianluca Bianchino with three mixed-media sculptures from his Mechanical Landscape series