The Utopian Blank Slate............. . august-november 2009. in italiano

UPCOMING / for the first time in exhibition at the 25th ALEXANDRIA BIENNIAL for Mediterranean countries in EGYPT

THE UTOPIAN BLANK SLATE, stills from the video installation, two projections, duration 13'16'', color, sounds, august-november 2009. Vénera Kastrati all rights reserved

The utopian blank slate, in architecture is used to determine the conception and construction of a new building, free from compromises or complications after the demolition of what previously stood onto that same location. According to the Aristotelian vision, each human being represents a "blank slate" that the society can mold into any needed form and shape. "Blank slate" is the basic idea that individual human beings are born "blank" (with no built-in mental content), and that his or her identity is defined overwhelmingly by events after birth, therefore by the individual sensorial experience in the social context. This theory has taken up by many utopian schemes that rely on changing human nature in order to achieve their goals through the creation of the new man.

"The utopian blank slate" is a video installation with a double projection that talks about the utopian memories, where the vision of two new anonymous worlds, built as the result of the demolition of entire cities, is interrupted from time to time by the images of the main characters: two wine producers with totally different experiences, in a surrealistic cross-border virtual face to face. The images are not fully intelligible as they are realized with a specific technique in order to remind a sort of living fresco.

The first character, Mr Cobo, is a winemaker in Berat, one of the oldest cities of Albania, land rich of history and tradition sacrificed on the altar of the “new man”. The second one is Giuseppe Bertolino, an Italian wine producer in Montegrosso d'Asti, Piemonte, which had the chance to continue the job that his family handed down with naturalness through generations and that few years ago passed on to his son Fabrizio. The idea came out when I met both Mr.Cobo and Mr.Bertolino in the spring of 2009 at Verona’s “Vinitaly”, the well known international wine trade fair. My cross-border experience is represented by the research of the memory preserved within these people through many generations. My role is to stimulate, collect and sift their memories going backwards in the past with the purpose to condense decades of oral tradition handed down from father to son in something capable to provide an identity to their present. Memory is an immaterial heritage, not as a consumer value but as a practice and awareness one. Sometimes, when we have difficulties to remind events of our past, we have the feeling that a part of ourselves has gone forever. Generations are a country fresco, a silent vision that becomes an intense tale, alive history in the present tense.Something that becomes “listening”.

"The vineyards belong to the people" said a slogan coined by the Albanian's Communist Party in the fifties. Here’s the beginning of the story for Cobo and of the “new man”. The party ordered to explant all the vineyards, leaving only few hectares under the direct control of the state itself, which produced a minimum quantity right enough to satisfy the need of a single day as the citizens were allowed to drink wine only on the new year’s day. It was a wine without name and without history, used to celebrate the arrival of new year, among forbidden stories around a table and illegal commemorations of ancient traditions fading away with the time passing by. A wine without memory, the wine of the "the utopian blank slate" city. In this state of things, at least two generations have been deprived of the possibility to perceive the changes in the rest of the world, locked as they were in a sort of cocoon, committed with the only objective to survive. Today Cobo works hard to recover that memory and fill up the generation gap created by the dictatorship.

"The memory of the past must be practiced in the present, otherwise it’s dust" on the contrary say the voices coming from the faraway generations over the distant lands of astigiano where Bertolino’s family is still working. To tell the truth, nobody here uses to waste words, so as the stories. The real memory is the land itself; it's the handing over of the acquired knowledges from generation to generation by means of simple gestures day after day. But there’s also the downside: the tradition was obligation and coercion as well, with the male child who, whether he liked it or not, had in his destiny to look after the family farm without any possibility to choose for any different option.

"The utopian blank slate" is a journey through time. It’s the revealing of lost identities, of new lands, of idealized and mythicized dreams. Vénera Kastrati