Untitled (fame) 2020, Edoardo Manzoni, Residenza La Fornace
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La Fornace: a farmhouse into an artist’s gateway: Edoardo Manzoni at Artissima 2021

A farmhouse dated from the second half of the nineteenth century immersed in the Lombard countryside has been turned into an artists’ gateway by Edoardo Manzoni

An artists’ gateway by Edoardo Manzoni: La Fornace

La Fornace is the farmhouse surrounded by the Lombard countryside where Edoardo Manzoni devoted himself to the investigation of the relationship between men and nature through artistic languages. Manzoni, emerging Italian artist who was born and raised inside the homestead. The project, titled La Fornace – name of the farmhouse hosting the artist residencystems from the desire to open the doors of the farmhouse to artists seeking a temporary escape and to encourage dialogue and cooperation between groups of artists from different backgrounds and of different ages outside the traditional exhibition spaces.

In 2018, aware of the potential of the farmhouse – where he approached art for the first time and devoted himself to his artistic research – Manzoni invited his friend and fellow student at NABA-Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, Giada Olivotto, to curate the project which developed in eight chapters following the agricultural calendar and the rhythms of nature. Between 2018 and 2019, they launched the first four chapters, each of which focusing on a season of the year (Primavera, Estate, Autunno, Inverno). The following year, the focus of the project shifted to the phases of the moon (Luna Nuova, Luna Crescente, Luna Piena, Luna Calante) which, according to popular beliefs, influence agricultural practices as they impact the circulation of saps in plants and are connected with photoperiodism, the duration of the daily lighting period.

«Though there has never been a real theme to follow, we looked for artists who were similar, in terms of style and subjects, to the topic of the chapter. We wanted to help them to interpret the theme and the mood of the chapter in the best way possible. At La Fornace we hosted visual artists, designers, photographers and tattoo artists and we have always given them maximum freedom to work with the farmhouse, its architecture, the environment, and the characteristics of the chosen time of year», Manzoni explains. 

Documenting and communicating art

The artworks presented by the artists were shown to the public only through online views on the artist residency’s website: «We employed this method of documentation to create a narrative around the works presented by the artists and to feed the aura of mystery surrounding La Fornace, an isolated place in the countryside. We also knew that there were already off-site projects and exhibitions taking place in absurd venues, but our idea was not to exhaust the whole project with a single exhibition, but to create a storytelling using contemporary languages».

The format chosen by the curators, imposing a physical distance between the audience and the artworks, allowed the homestead, central subject of the project, to gradually reveal itself through the photographs of the pieces displayed in different corners of La Fornace. The aim of the artist residency was not to promote the return to the rural lifestyle typical of the previous centuries, but to reflect on what remains of it through artistic practices enabling the exploration of the bucolic life and the exchange of ideas. 

The notion of ruins: the key of the project La Fornace

Manzoni stresses the value of the notion of ‘ruins’, around which the investigation of the artists in residence and the core of the whole project rotated. Indeed, an ambivalence between the renovated parts of the mansion, where the farming activities are carried out, and the abandoned areas, where nature takes over, can be observed. The artworks presented by the artists – sometimes selected from previous works, sometimes born during the artist residency – appear as ruins, mysterious objects emerging from the surrounding natural environment.

The public, on the other hand, get a chance to discover the works of art only through the photographs in which the items dialogue and interact with nature and the architecture of the farmhouse, according to the weather conditions, the season of the year and the phase of the day. Originated as a mean to explore the rural life following the farmers’ calendar and as an opportunity for artists of different backgrounds to work intertwined, with its 2019/20 edition, La Fornace came to an end: «Our need to follow a peasant calendar through the contemporary artistic language has run out. We did not want the subdivision into chapters to become a sort of format. Now the goal is to take a break, reflect on what we achieved and try to think about a potential restart. We acknowledge that the farmhouse still has a great potential», Manzoni explains. 

Although the journey of the artist residency ended, in the country house of Manzoni’s family farming activities and art still coexist. Manzoni approached the world of contemporary art between the walls of La Fornace where he started experimenting with discarded agricultural tools and unusual materials scattered across the farmhouse’s spaces and fields. Attending the art academy in Milan and discussing his practice with teachers, curators and critics, his fascination with the everyday-life and rural settings soon became the core of his research and production, which now investigate themes such as the relationship between man and nature and, in particular, between man and animal. Manzoni’s work builds on two main components: reworking and planning.

On the one hand, he re-elaborates items belonging to the farming tradition in a sculptural key. On the other hand, drawing inspiration from the world around him, he combines abandoned materials creating new compositions through the technique of collage. «My work builds on three main activities: collect, accumulate and transform. It lives on different languages ​​based on what I want to communicate. Sometimes I recover old paintings which can become digital collages or on which I intervene manually with brush and color. The thread which unites all my work is the exploration of the man-animal relationship», Manzoni explains. 

Il primo canto,2020 Edoardo Manzoni - installation view at The Address gallery, Brescia. Photography Alberto Petrò
Il primo canto, 2020 Edoardo Manzoni – installation view at The Address gallery, Brescia. Photography Alberto Petrò

Investigating the design of the objects utilized by humans to relate to the surrounding world

His practice is now focusing on hunting practices and tools, a theme he further investigated in his first solo exhibition Il Primo Canto (The First Song) at Address Gallery, in Brescia. In Il Primo Canto, Manzoni tracked the origins of hunt, coinciding with the ones of imitation: «Men, by disguising themselves, imitated the predators which previously threatened them. From there, stems the concept of ornament, new ways of exploiting the animal world. They say that the first song heard by men was birdsong, from which music was born» Manzoni claims.

In Il Primo Canto, Manzoni compared the figure of the artist to the one of the hunter and, at the same time, to the one of the magician, who avails of expedients to seduce their prey. The artworks displayed were animal traps reworked into sculptural form. The depowered traps became aesthetic design pieces in which the rawest violence hid. Playing with the viewers’ minds, the artist made the traps, once camouflaged and hidden in the nature, become not only visible, but also seductive and worthy of attention. 

The main works exhibited were giant wooden bird calls deprived of their meaning and usefulness. Placed in a corner of the room, the silent whistles appeared to the audience as ambiguous and disorienting sculptures. In November 2021, Manzoni presented with Address Gallery some of his latest artworks at Artissima, the Turin-based contemporary art fair. On that occasion, together with two fellow artists, Andrea Bocca and Edoardo Caimi, he deepened the discourse about hunt and its role in the man-animal relationship: «Together we will build a show where we will combine our personal imaginaries, all coming from the rural environment».

Manzoni displayed photographs of hunting scenes taken from a Seventies’ encyclopedia from which he erased the dogs – the violent elements of the pictures – turning the images into landscape photographs or still life where the preys lie helpless. The photographs – printed on mirror and on other unconventional surfaces – led the viewer to reflect on contrasting themes, such as presence, absence and simulation, evoked by the latency of the dog, animal alter-ego of the hunter. Working across different artistic mediums and techniques, Manzoni put the contemporary creative language at service of a bygone world, often forgotten, where men and nature used to coexist and confront each other as equals.

Residenza La Fornace

A project of artistic documentation which invites groups of artists to explore the rural world inside an ancient Italian farmhouse. The artists were involved in four exhibition projects each year, which followed the rhythms of nature. Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring have demarcated the first year of activity (2018-2019), while the project of the second year (2019-2020) built on the lunar phases: New Moon, Crescent Moon, Full Moon and Waning Moon. The artist residencies were curated by Giada Olivotto, independent curator, and Edoardo Manzoni, emerging artist represented by Address Gallery in Brescia, which hosted his first solo exhibition Il Primo Canto. The exhibition investigated the relationship between men and animals through the art of hunting.

Agnese Torres

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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