CRACKING ART: BEYOND CROCODILE TEARS.
by Melissa Camilli
2007. Orio Center. One of the biggest shopping center in Europe.
The building turns on the lights, employees start to work and gradually people fill up the space.
They think they are only just visitors ready to do shopping, but suddenly find themselves witnesses of an artistic invasion: 700 colored plastic animals have colonized the environment becoming an integral part of the space.
Art flourishes exactly where nowadays we still think she cannot even take root, in a place that is already saturated by economy and conformed to commercial utilitarianism; the aim is to make peace with it.
In this occasion we see the birth of the Cracking Art crocodile. The choice of this animal is primarily linked to the awareness of the fact that we live in a world that changes over and over again, in which we join the enthusiastic whirlwind of progress without really understand it; we often end up becoming passive, undergoing evolution without realizing where it brings us.
Always keeping an eye on the past, we embrace the advance of modernity without stopping shedding crocodile tears for what we have left behind.However the specimens made for the occasion proudly raise the muzzle: there are 300 pieces among those ones hanging on the facade and those scattered inside and they are 79 cm high, 201 cm wide and 521 cm length.
In our imagination it is a dangerous animal, from which we should keep away. It seems to be strong and charming, but also so aggressive that for the fear we foreclose the possibility of knowing it.
Consequently, how we are still use to naively sing, nobody even knows “how it does”!
In this sense, the crocodile is very similar to contemporary art, that in our eyes is always majestic and impressive: as it’s perched in its conceptual claims, we end up running away, afraid of being attacked if we tried to move close for knowing her. It is this fear that the Cracking Art try to throw out with its installations.
Stroking the animal immortalized in plastic and walking next to it in one of the most familiar places in our daily life, makes it almost a friend, a partner.
In this way we become part of a unique and unrepeatable act we work with to build sense.We must not be like Captain Hook, always ready to make war on the crocodile, but more like the self- confident Peter Pan, who in his purity of eternal child gives it a chance and try to communicate.
In addition, as direct descendant of the dinosaurs coming from stone age, this reptile represents our original bond with an art who comes from everything that surrounds us, immediately directed to all.
This message has traveled with crocodile over the years, from Piazza della Scala in Milan, where it was hung outside the office of the Culture Minister Vittorio Sgarbi, to the Grand Canal in Venice during the Biennale of 2007, up to lead overseas, in United States, where its journey continues.
The advance is just beginning.
 Quote from a popular Italian song.
Why we look at animals?
by John Berger
From time to time I have been invited by institutions–mostly American–to speak about aesthetics. On one occasion I considered accepting and I thought of taking with me a bird made of white wood. But I didn’t go. The problem is that you can’t talk about aesthetics without talking about the principle of hope and the existence of evil. During the long winters the peasants in certain parts of the Haute Savoie used to make wooden birds to hang in their kitchens and perhaps also in their chapels. Friends who are travellers have told me that they have seen similar birds, made according to the same principle, in certain regions of Czechoslovakia, Russia and the Baltic countries. The tradition may be more widespread.
The principle of the construction of these birds is simple enough, although to make a fine bird demands considerable skill. You take two bars of pine wood, about six inches in length, a little less than one inch in height and the same in width. You soak them in water so that the wood has the maximum pliability, then you carve them. One piece will be the head and body with a fan tail, the second piece will represent the wings. The art principally concerns the making of the wing and tail feathers. The whole block of each wing is carved according to the silhouette of a single feather. Then the block is sliced into thirteen thin layers and these are gently opened out, one by one, to make a fan shape. Likewise for the second wing and for the tail feathers. The two pieces of wood are joined together to form a cross and the bird is complete. No glue is used and there is only one nail where the two pieces of wood cross. Very light, weighing only two or three ounces, the birds are usually hung on a thread from an overhanging mantelpiece or beam so that they move with the air currents.
It would be absurd to compare one of these birds to a van Gogh self-portrait or a Rembrandt crucifixion. They are simple, homemade objects, worked according to a traditional pattern. Yet, by their very simplicity, they allow one to categorize the qualities which make them pleasing and mysterious to everyone who sees them.
First there is a figurative representation–one is looking at a bird, more precisely a dove, apparently hanging in mid-air. Thus, there is a reference to the surrounding world of nature. Secondly, the choice of subject (a flying bird) and the context in which it is placed (indoors where live birds are unlikely) render the object symbolic. This primary symbolism then joins a more general, cultural one. Birds, and doves in particular, have been credited with symbolic meanings in a very wide variety of cultures.
Thirdly, there is a respect for the material used. The wood has been fashioned according to its own qualities of lightness, pliability and texture. Looking at it, one is surprised by how well wood becomes bird. Fourthly, there is a formal unity and economy. Despite the object’s apparent complexity, the grammar of its making is simple, even austere. Its richness is the result of repetitions which are also variations. Fifthly, this man-made object provokes a kind of astonishment: how on earth was it made? I have given rough indications above, but anyone unfamiliar with the technique wants to take the dove in his hands and examine it closely to discover the secret which lies behind its making.
These five qualities, when undifferentiated and perceived as a whole, provoke at least a momentary sense of being before a mystery. One is looking at a piece of wood that has become a bird. One is looking at a bird that is somehow more than a bird. One is looking at something that has been worked with a mysterious skill and a kind of love.
Thus far I have tried to isolate the qualities of the white bird which provoke an aesthetic emotion. (The word “emotion”, although designating a motion of the heart and of the imagination, is somewhat confusing for we are considering an emotion that has little to do with the others we experience, notably because the self here is in a far greater degree of abeyance.) Yet my definitions beg the essential question. They reduce aesthetics to art. They say nothing about the relation between art and nature, art and the world.
Before a mountain, a desert just after the sun has gone down, or a fruit tree, one can also experience aesthetic emotion. Consequently we are forced to begin again–not this time with a man-made object but with the nature into which we are born.
Urban living has always tended to produce a sentimental view of nature. Nature is thought of as a garden, or a view framed by a window, or as an arena of freedom. Peasants, sailors, nomads have known better. Nature is energy and struggle. It is what exists without any promise. If it can be thought of by man as an arena, a setting, it has to be thought of as one which lends itself as much to evil as to good. Its energy is fearsomely indifferent. The first necessity of life is shelter. Shelter against nature. The first prayer is for protection. The first sign of life is pain. If the Creation was purposeful, its purpose is a hidden one which can only be discovered intangibly within signs, never by the evidence of what happens.
It is within this bleak natural context that beauty is encountered, and the encounter is by its nature sudden and unpredictable. The gale blows itself out, the sea changes from the colour of grey shit to aquamarine. Under the fallen boulder of an avalanche a flower grows. Over the shanty town the moon rises. I offer dramatic examples so as to insist upon the bleakness of the context. Reflect upon more everyday examples. However it is encountered, beauty is always an exception, always in despite of. This is why it moves us.
It can be argued that the origin of the way we are moved by natural beauty was functional. Flowers are a promise of fertility, a sunset is a reminder of fire and warmth, moonlight makes the night less dark, the bright colours of a bird’s plumage are (atavistically even for us) a sexual stimulus. Yet such an argument is too reductionist, I believe. Snow is useless. A butterfly offers us very little.
Of course the range of what a given community finds beautiful in nature will depend upon its means of survival, its economy, its geography. What Eskimos find beautiful is unlikely to be the same as what the Ashanti found beautiful. Within modern class societies there are complex ideological determinations: we know, for instance, that the British ruling class in the eighteenth century disliked the sight of the sea. Equally, the social use to which an aesthetic emotion may be put changes according to the historical moment: the silhouette of a mountain can represent the home of the dead or a challenge to the initiative of the living. Anthropology, comparative studies of religion, political economy and Marxism have made all this clear.
Yet there seem to be certain constants which all cultures have found ‘beautiful’: among them–certain flowers, trees, forms of rock, birds, animals, the moon, running water …
One is obliged to acknowledge a coincidence or perhaps a congruence. The evolution of natural forms and the evolution of human perception have coincided to produce the phenomenon of a potential recognition: what is and what we can see (and by seeing also feel) sometimes meet at a point of affirmation. This point, this coincidence, is two-faced: what has been seen is recognized and affirmed and, at the same time, the seer is affirmed by what he sees. For a brief moment one finds oneself–without the pretensions of a creator–in the position of God in the first chapter of Genesis… And he saw that it was good. The aesthetic emotion before nature derives, I believe, from this double affirmation.
Yet we do not live in the first chapter of Genesis. We live–if one follows the biblical sequence of events–after the Fall. In any case, we live in a world of suffering in which evil is rampant, a world whose events do not confirm our Being, a world that has to be resisted. It is in this situation that the aesthetic moment offers hope. That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe. I try to describe as accurately as possible the experience in question; my starting point is phenomenological, not deductive; its form, perceived as such, becomes a message that one receives but cannot translate because, in it, all is instantaneous. For an instant, the energy of one’s perception becomes inseparable from the energy of the creation.
The aesthetic emotion we feel before a man-made object–such as the white bird with which I started–is a derivative of the emotion we feel before nature. The white bird is an attempt to translate a message received from a real bird. All the languages of art have been developed as an attempt to transform the instantaneous into the permanent. Art supposes that beauty is not an exception–is not in despite of–but is the basis for an order.
Several years ago, when considering the historical face of art, I wrote that I judged a work according to whether or not it helped men in the modern world claim their social rights. I hold to that. Art’s other, transcendental, face raises the question of man’s ontological right.
The notion that art is the mirror of nature is one that only appeals in periods of scepticism. Art does not imitate nature, it imitates a creation, sometimes to propose an alternative world, sometimes simply to amplify, to confirm, to make social the brief hope offered by nature. Art is an organized response to what nature allows us to glimpse occasionally. Art sets out to transform the potential recognition into an unceasing one. It proclaims man in the hope of receiving a surer reply…the transcendental face of art is always a form of prayer.
The white wooden bird is wafted by the warm air rising from the stove in the kitchen where the neighbours are drinking. Outside, in minus 25ºC, the real birds are freezing to death!
History of a bear that found freedom through art
May 2006. Bruno, a two year old brown bear, born at Adamello Park in Trentino, crosses the Italian borders heading towards Austria and Germany. During its wanderings in Bavaria and Tyrol, Bruno does not attack people but causes several problems for local farmers by killing sheep, chickens, rabbits and other animals. It gets close to human houses without any fear.
Several attempts to capture it. Two weeks of fruitless pursuits. Experts agree that a bear without any fear to get close to residential areas, is a threat to humans. Then, the decision to shoot it down.
Bruno belonged to a species that had been missing in Germany for over 170 years and it was part of an ambitious Italian project for the brown bear’s reintroduction in the central Alps. The tragic ending of the event generated a lively debate and offered food for thought to Cracking Art. In fact, this piece of news gave birth to the bear, one of the artworks belonging to the giant animals’ zoo of the movement.
In Cracking Art poetic the bear expresses affinity and opposition at the same time towards human beings. It’s a wild and ferocious animal but it can also be associated to a playful reality and to the idea of both protection and tenderness.
Let’s think about Teddy Bear, the iconic toy traditionally placed in children’s cradles. Let’s think also about fairy tales: from the oldest stories of Aesop and Phaedrus to the most modern cartoons such as Winny the Poo or the ones by Hanna-Barbera, from the Nordic countries fairy tales like the Russian story of Masha and the Bear until Baloo by Kipling and Goldilocks’ three bears by Robert Southey.
The duplicity of this animal, beloved and rejected by human beings, fits to represent one of the key concepts in Cracking Art philosophy: the gap between Nature and Artifice, Environment and Human, Preservation and Progress.
Through urban invasions like the one of Treviso in 2006 or Orio Center installation in 2008, the bear has become a metaphor of coexistence with people. A hymn to freedom in which even Bruno can finally get in touch with human beings evoking the wildest part of each of us in the attempt to bridge the gap that separates us from Nature.
Interview curated by Roberta Mais for Oubliettemagazine
R.M.: Cracking Art movement was born in 1993 and its name indicates a kind of art that wants to break, to crack, to split. What does it mean? Why this name and from what are you taking distance?
Cracking Art: The expression “cracking” is related to the thermo-chemical industrial process named molecular deconstruction. Specifically, the catalytic cracking is the chemical reaction that occurs when the raw crude oil, one of the most ancient substances in the world, is converted into plastic, same as when the organic turns into inorganic. The main core of our work is to investigate this relationship between nature and artificial reality. “Cracking” express also the idea of breaking with the concept of the single artist: we work as a team and for this reason we decided to emphasize the importance of collaboration. We tried not to be influenced by the dynamics of the system. Putting our artworks not only in museums and galleries but also through streets, squares, shops and shopping malls, we tried to break with the prejudice that art is separated from society, overcoming the gap between artists and audience.
R.M.: Your teamwork is composed of six members from Italy and other European countries: how did you meet and how did the intention to associate art with a social and environmental commitment come up?
Cracking Art: There is a starting point: 4 members of the group are from Biella, town in Piedmont. The idea to create the movement was inspired by the common interest for art and the original conviction of the importance to cooperate for give value to the artistic work. Choosing plastic as the material for the creation of artworks, the very first intention of the movement was to associate its activity with a clear message of recycling. Plastic used for our urban artistic installations sculptures has properties of a virtual eternal power and can be crushed and reshaped into other sculptures. A real cycle of life to affirm that in art as in nature nothing is created and nothing is destroyed. But everything changes, renews and regenerates.
R.M .: It’s a long time that your animals are travelling around the world and thanks to more than 7.000 creations placed at Orio Center shopping mall in 2014 you have entered the Guinness World Record. What does this mean for you?
Cracking Art: The term used for our installations is “invasion”. We invade urban contexts around the world in a playful and peaceful way in order to represent the multiplication of images, products, information, connections that characterize our era. Realize artistic installations in different parts of the world is a fundamental part of our work. Enter the Guinness World Record gave us the opportunity to reach a wide audience not only interested in Art. We are proud of it.
R.M .: What is the message you would like the audience to grasp admiring your artworks?
Cracking Art: First of all we hope to inspire a positive emotion with our artworks. Our aim is to create contemporary fairytales in which everyone can fell into as a character. In each place we perform the interaction between people and our creations is awesome. Our hope is that this relationship can inspire creativity and a different point of view for observing the surrounding reality.
R.M .: Among your creations, do you have a favorite one?
Cracking Art: We have two favorite creations. The turtle because with this artwork we participated at 2001 Biennale in Venice. And then the snail, with which we have traveled around the world starting from Milan in 2009. Those two animals are slow and move bringing with them their home. We can consider their shells our shields for working in these years.
R.M .: Twenty-one years passed since Cracking Art movement was born: have you reached the goals you established at the very beginning?
Cracking Art: Results have been far beyond what the original expectations were. We didn’t expect a feedback so important although our motivations have always been very strong. In 1993 Internet and Internet 2.0 didn’t exist. The social networks development has facilitated the diffusion of our art: we can consider our animals as social artworks.
R.M .: What do you see in the future for the movement?
Cracking Art: The future is in the project “Art regenerates Art” that wants to develop a deep collaboration among artists, industry and society along an itinenary where every actions we take shall include a small piece of art with the aim of renovating the art of the past through contemporary art. Milan’s Duomo Cathedral and Portico di San Luca in Bologna are two examples. Our installation in Riga supported the creation of the first Contemporary Art Museum in Latvia. “Art regenerates Art” project is expanding our areas of creative interest.
R.M .: Thank you for your kindness and thank you especially for what you do with your wonderful art.
by Patrick Alton
A comparison with life by means of highly emblematic sculptures standing for a symbolic representation of the Real and accessible to everyone: that’s Cracking Art.
Art! Here’s the core of the matter.
And what about the work of art?
Does the Artist make art? And the Poet poetry? What’s their ultimate purpose?
All expected questions rising from such a Man’s act resulting from personal reaction to life and events and striking enough to generate a huge interest especially when its consequence is an artistic creation publicly acclaimed by the whole society.
Nowadays it’s getting harder and harder to get a sense of art as well as of the artistic act: lost among huge amounts of information and polemics about the very function, necessity and nature of Art, we find it difficult to understand how and to what extent these symbolic creations can be contextualized after years of transformations and investigations on human thought and on the perception of the Real.
How – and what – can the Artist give us compared with any other human creation and beyond the limits of a scientific experience?
Maybe a fleeting glimpse of the Unknown?
Some truth on the borderline of a mystical experience?
Perhaps a new stimulus to experience different fields and start a brand new life embracing a completely different value system?
Another approach to the tangible world?
What about the work of art?
Right here, in this boundless place, we find the Artist appointed “supreme Listner” and endowed with a highly developed faculty of sensory and intellectual perceptions.
Cracking Art: an extraordinary experience thanks to the highly symbolic environmental impact of these creations. A spontaneous, sensitive and instinctive taking back possession of our human condition and of a deeper sense of “togetherness”.
Maybe we can call it a new attempt to reinvest us both in space and time and put ourselves on the line again with a new perspective of sharing: sharing our world with other living creatures in order to reach the ultimate meaning of Life.
The works of art created by Cracking Art are far from a mere reproduction of the identical, of the recognizable. They give shape to a new conscience imbued with this feeling of brotherly sharing, a reality where Space is simultaneously actor and spectator. The very choice to use recyclable plastic to create artworks seems to evoke in the eye of the beholder a reflection about the meaning of existence together with its countless transformations and becomings.
Here’s the work of art!
The visual impact of Cracking Art creations plays with the old meaning of the beautiful and of the transcendental. These artworks, together with their names (representative each time of entire species) and their size, embody the group’s vision, smiling at the old fashioned conception of a serious commitment from a new, poetic plan of existence. In conclusion, they’re more than just a means to widen our mental horizons while approaching Nature in search of the meaning of life. Cracking Art reminds us of the necessity of a mild sensitivity and vulnerability in front of the artistic expression in its true essence insofar as it’s an important and multifaced chance for us to rediscover, in the most natural way possible, a place where interactions between the Real and the Symbolic can still take place.
That’s the final and most noble purpose of Art.
The engine of Art
“Art is the endless research, the assimilation of past experiences and the realization of new experiences, in forms, contents, materials, techniques, and resources.”
With this statement of Bruno Munari, one of the greatest exponent of art, design and graphics of the twentieth century, we can understand the similarities that distinguished the collaborations between Cracking Art, an art movement which creates its artworks starting from industrial process, and FIAT, the leading Italian manufacturer for cars.
The first opportunity to work together came up in 2007, when the new FIAT 500, created by Roberto Giolito, entered the market. In September a great exhibition dedicated to Cracking Art was set at Fondazione Mazzotta in Milan, a prestigious cultural space that hosted exhibitions of the most important artists in the world: from Goya to Rodin, from Boccioni to Chagall, from De Chirico to Mirò, from Dix to Warhol, from Modigliani to Klee.
The exhibit, entitled “Cracking Art – Breaking Art”, represented a moment of reflection on the poetics of the group and, according to the definition of the art critic Philippe Daverio, a thought on its “ironic and irreverent art” which starting from nature arrives to petroleum, source of many plastic products. Thanks to the importance of the Foundation and the originality of Cracking Art work, FIAT supported the event making a Cinquecento customized version with Cracking animals.
A second occasion to collaborate came up in 2014 at Collisioni Festival in Barolo. According to the Festival theme, “Wild Creatures”, Cracking Art artworks were placed throughout the main locations as icons of contemporary fairytales. Moreover, in order to accompany the artworks, there were famous phrases of writers from the past and present who have reasoned on animals and nature, animating the stories of literature and myth: from Romulus and Remus to Mowgli, from the “Noble Savage” of Rousseau until White Fang and Sepulveda.
During the event, Cracking Art-Alfa Romeo partnership was promoted through the contest entitled “How many frogs can get into Alfa Romeo Mito?”. The aim was to identify the exact number of frogs contained into the car which was completely invaded by colorful frogs made of plastic. The title of the contest was inspired to the famous and ironic slogan “How many elephants can get into FIAT 500?”.
Finally, the last initiative which saw the name of Cracking Art close to the one of FIAT was the installation at Castello Sforzesco in 2014. For the occasion Cracking Art created a new artwork symbol of regeneration: the swallow (you could find more information here). In these circumstances, in order to celebrate a desire of rebirth, Fiat 500, that in this period was in the middle of a restyling operation, became part of the installation as a sort of giant incubator of eggs made of plastic.
In fact, during the event, alongside a flock of giant swallows, a fund-raising event was promoted with Italia Nostra Foundation: small sculptures were donated in exchange for a donation and a sign on eggs made of plastic.
“The egg as a symbol of rebirth has become lost in the mists of time, old traditions and pagan superstitions. Although no mathematical operation can calculate the formula for this “breeding-ground for life”, the new installation presented by Cracking Art and Fiat identifies a real Regeneration equation. The 500 eggs used for the installation added to Fiat Cinquecento makes a total of 1000, that is the number of small swallow-shaped sculptures placed at disposal of the Fondazione Italia Nostra to promote fundraising for the restoration of the equestrian monument of Bernabò Visconti. Cracking Art & Fiat work actively together to express a new development line, in which art and industry are closely linked together” – Maria Vittoria Baravelli
It would be nice if something made sense for a change – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
In Cracking Art artistic philosophy, the rabbit is one of the most charming animals. It is not only an animal friendly to human but also a creature full of allegorical meanings, often associated in stories and fairy tales to the dimension of the dreams and the surreal.
The origins of this artwork go back to 2008, a very difficult moment because of the economic and social crisis that was affecting Italy and the whole world. These unfavorable circumstances gave the movement a push to resist: Cracking Art decided to interpret the crisis creating a new artwork, an animal that could be a good omen for the return of better prospects.
The choice fell on the rabbit, metaphor of fecundity and productivity thanks to its extraordinary ability to reproduce. For the very first time the artwork was presented to the public during XXXVIII Confindustria Young Entrepreneurs Conference in Portofino. The initiative, entitled “RE-production”, wanted to promote new economic and social prospects according to the responsible use of energies and the recycling of materials.
Moreover, for the movement the rabbit has got a dual meaning because its symbolism can also show a negative aspect: as the proliferation of plastic is harmful to the planet, so the rabbit can have an invasive connotation. In Australia, for example, rabbits are almost a plague because of their large number: every year they cause millions of dollars of damage to crops. Also progress and productivity without being supported by common sense and moderation can be harmful and polluting for the environment.
The rabbit is also associated with the dimension of illusion, magic and fairy tale. In Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the White Rabbit is a sort of key pass for a metaphysical dimension. Cracking Art rabbits are not only white. They are yellow, blue, green, pink, fuchsia: they are a sort of symbolic multiplication in order to increase the entrances to other dimensions abolishing borders that limit the observation of reality. Even the choice of the animal’s position, with ears sticking up and wide-open eyes, indicates an attitude of attention and curiosity for the surrounding reality.
After Portofino, the rabbit was among Cracking Art animals in several installations in Italy and abroad. From Brussels to Kampa Museum in Prague, from Miami to Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, from Chartres to Paris which hosted the wonderful installation at Magasine Printemps realized with the collaboration of Marc Jacobs.