Micol Forti (Catholic Press Photo)

Towards the Meeting: Micol Forti, the task of art

The exhibition in Rimini, the words of young people, the relationship between the Church and artists. The director of the contemporary art collection of the Vatican Museums speaks: "Taking an interest in one's time is everyone's duty.”
Luca Fiore

There is an Argentine folk poem that is very dear to Pope Francis, Martin Fierro, which at one point reads, "If you sing, make sure / to sing with feeling. / Do not use the instrument / only for the sake of talking / and try to sing / only what is worthwhile." These verses were quoted by the Pontiff himself in a message to young people in the project "Manifesto of Change - Word to the Young," promoted by musician and singer-songwriter Giovanni Caccamo, a student and friend of Franco Battiato. Francis urged young people to "express words of change however in a way that is not just a change of words. Commit yourselves to changing the lives of the people around you who need you. This will be the proof that you want to be serious." He added a phrase from St. Ignatius of Loyola: "Love must be placed more in deeds than in words."
Caccamo asked students, young professionals, artists, athletes, social workers what their "word of change" was. The result is an anthology of short texts, intended to be a compass for the future. "Gratitude," "welcome," "exactness," "courage," "immersion," "scattering," "family," "ghosting," "childhood," "beauty"... and many other word-ideas that are a proposal for reflection and, at the same time, a call to action. The singer-songwriter then also involved Micol Forti, director of the contemporary art collection of the Vatican Museums, in the project, who took care of its "visual" aspect. Some of these texts, in fact, were printed with the movable type technique and given to twelve artists "over 70" so that they could create works in dialogue with the youth's voice. They are Arnaldo Pomodoro, Fabrizio Plessi, Emilio Isgrò, Ferdinando Scianna, Francesca Cataldi, Giulia Napoleone, Guido Strazza, Mario Ceroli, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mimmo Paladino, and Mimmo Jodice. And Maurizio Cattelan, the only one "under 70."
The project also became an exhibition that will be previewed at the upcoming Rimini Meeting, entitled "The Shape of Words. The dreams of the younger generation through the eyes of masters of contemporary art." We talked about it with Micol Forti, who, as an independent consultant, joined Caccamo on the artistic side.

What will the Rimini exhibition look like?
We imagined an evocative setting: a hill with a forest, within which these twelves bits of paper will appear, all in the same format, on which the young printer Loredana Amenta has stamped as many texts of the "Manifesto of Change" using her nineteenth-century machine. We wanted to emphasize that the word has its own body, its own material and visual aspect. This physical medium was, depending on the artists, torn, erased, altered, dipped in water or tar. Perhaps then the works – this is Caccamo's idea – will make other stops besides Rimini, but their final destination is to be auctioned off, with the proceeds going into a scholarship fund to serve the younger generation.

Even Pope Francis, in some way, has got involved by sending a message.
That the Holy Father agreed was not up to me; Caccamo followed other channels. But his quick and positive response to this invitation shows the extraordinary attention the Holy Father has for all of us, but especially for young people so that they can be an active and proactive part of society. He wants the new generations not to be passively carried away by the passage of time, but to be leading actors. Francis feels the power of youth. When he responded to this invitation, the dialogue with artists of the "grandparents" generation had not yet been set up, but I imagine he will appreciate this as well, given how much he cares about the relationship between young and old.

You are in charge of the Contemporary Art Collection of the Vatican Museums. The relationship between the Church and living artists is not to be taken for granted.
I am a historian, not a militant critic. The constant relationship with today's artists requires specific skills. So my relationship with them is occasional, like the time I was in charge of realizing Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi's idea of an exhibition for the 60th anniversary of Benedict XVI's priesthood, in which we invited sixty artists to pay tribute to him. A great institution like the Vatican Museums or the Louvre, or the Metropolitan in New York, which collects works ranging from antiquity to the present day, has neither the resources nor the space to follow the contemporary world as MoMA in New York or the Centre Pompidou in Paris do. We always maintain a historical distance, also because our audience needs to understand what they see in a context that is nevertheless historically sedimented, which does not exclude that this dialogue must be nurtured because the mandate of Paul VI, who established this collection, was precisely to never stop being an active part of contemporary culture.

Why is this important?
Taking an interest in one's time is everyone's duty. And so to be concerned with culture, as well as with issues of politics, society, suffering, fragility. We are called to follow and be attentive, curious, to participate.

It is no mystery, however, that in the last two centuries the relationship between the Church and art has not been easy.
Yes, although in my opinion what has been called a "divorce" is less serious than it seems. It is a phenomenon that began at the end of the 18th century and must be placed in the general context of the changing role of the Church, the development of empires, the rise of Enlightenment thought... It is a process that is now historicized. However, though difficult, in the last century there has been dialogue. We are talking about art in general, but it is a relationship that has also been possible in relation to liturgical art. The matter of new churches is a discourse in itself, which would deserve a deeper study, but I see very interesting things. Not only in Italy, with what the IEC is doing, but also around the world.

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So many times, however, the results leave something to be desired....
But there has always been a fluctuation in quality. We attend historic churches with pleasure, knowing that they are modest, poorly done or malfunctioning. To have the vertices of the pyramid requires a base to support them. Many attempts need to be made. It is unimaginable that a Notre Dame du Hout by LeCorbusier or a Chapel of Vence by Matisse will be realized every time. But there are beautiful churches. I, for example, really love Santa Maria Madre del Redentore in Tor Bella Monaca in Rome, built in the 1980s by architect Pierluigi Spadolini and sculptor Mario Ceroli (among the artists in the Meeting exhibition). It is very powerful.

Back to non-liturgical art.
In his 1973 speech for the inauguration of the contemporary art collection Paul VI said, "We all are religious, metaphysically, to some extent." And he added, “There still exists, there exists even in our arid and secularized world, sometimes even broken by obscene and blasphemous profanations, a prodigious capacity (this is the marvel we seek!) to express, beyond the authentic human, the religious, the divine, the Christian. » Art is a religious act. Creation is a mysterious act, and artists, when they are great artists, when they are powerful and intellectually profound artists, always have a dialogue with transcendence, even when it is their will not to have it. A non-believing, agnostic, communist artist like Pablo Picasso made a painting like Guernica that is a painting before which one can kneel. It is a cry against the pain of man killing man, it is a tragedy all counterpointed by elements that come from the tradition of Christian iconography: the woman raising her arms to heaven, the quartered child, the theme of the slaughter of the innocents, the crucifixion... Even though he consciously claimed his own agnosticism, or at any rate opposition to any religious form, he produced works that can nourish those who are religious.

But sometimes it is not easy to understand these works.
Paul Valéry said: we see only what we know. We viewers tend to be lazy, we rely on patterns and tend to recognize what is already in our heads. It takes curiosity, but it also takes discipline. And a willingness to know something that does not resemble you.

And why is this valuable?
The younger generation should get to know the universe, get to know the other from you. This can be taught, this can be educated. Schools should have a fundamental role, along with the family. But the church should also educate about this, and it is important that new churches be built. It is a path, it is not mandatory, for goodness sake. But I am convinced that curiosity increases with age. Curiosity can also be learned. It has to be solicited. This is the task of those who do journalism, culture and even politics.