There was art and there was passion. And there was the awareness that «Everything had been done already. All there was left to do was work with waste. And I say waste in a noble sense». These are the words of an artist interviewed in the documentary Neon 1981 2011, yesterday at Kinodromo cineclub, within the long wave of Artefiera.
There was art and there was passion, plus play and playfulness. And a self-indulging nonchalance towards money. Neon was an artists’ space (non an art gallery : selling was never on the agenda) created in 1981 in central yet anonymous Via Solferino, a place that soon became a landmark for Italian contemporary art. But at the beginning it was just a bunch of friends and artists, all quite young, that wanted to express themselves, have fun and reflect what was going on elsewhere. A place that is often named during the whole film is New York with the underground art spaces, the Bronx, the early Keith Haring and Basquiat.
But Bologna is no New York and what was going on back then is also a reflection of the recent, still burning years. 1977 was famous in Bologna for being the peak of students demonstrations and fights against the system, with an explosion of violence and a thirst for extremes that intoxicated the whole social scene.
About the genesis of this non-gallery, co-founder Gino Gannuizzi said something like this: «After 1977, it was either armed struggle or heroin», as if they were the only two possible options (and for many people of that era it was actually like that). «We didn’t see ourselves in either situation». So the only third possible way was art.
And this art debuted with a live party that is only surviving in some private photos and brief clips, a little summary of early Eighties underground, already contaminated by a tinge of hedonism. And it kept on embracing all manifestations of creativity, from live perfotrmances to the evolution of comics, that were living a true revolution back then and were breathing a fertile atmosphere in Bologna, with outlets such as Frigidaire and artists like Andrea Pazienza and Igort.
There was no Instagram or Facebook but «we were our own posts, and a “like” meant something like “Let’s hang out together tonight and work on some wall”», as another interviewee and former member puts it. So of course there was street art, graffiti, early experiments with dj-ing and rap, discoveries like the earliest showings of Maurizio Cattelan, and also, as yet another protagonist of the documentary puts it, «The very last -ism of the history of art», which was “Enfatism“.
There also were drugs, lots of it. Not central to the creation or the fun, just there. «Giving such importance to the presence of drugs… That is so petty-bourgeoisie» is one of the other phrases heard during Emanuele Angiuli’s documentary that can give the idea of how well “culturally located”, and perhaps slightly outdated, the depicted milieu’s ideology is.
But never underestimate the power of bourgeoisie, haute bourgeoisie and the rich. Little by little, artists started migrating from Neon to some more lucrative places (i.e. actual galleries), where they could rightfully earn something from their works and actually manage to survive as creative people. Still, Neon was a real presence in Bologna’s and the whole of Italy’s art scene not only in the eighties but for three decades. Something I totally missed, not only because when it debuted I was beginning elementary school, but also because, despite being a very alive landmark, it was still quite a small circle.
But it was intriguing witnessing, if only for 70 minutes, such an interesting part of the local art and social history, especially since several of the people mentioned and filmed in the movie were present to the screening, some sitting next to me. And then, at the end of it, with lights on and the old-school microphone was handed to the filmmaker to start the “debate” (oh-so-seventies), someone started protesting from the crowd. An extremely upset woman (and one of the co-founders of Neon as it was soon to be revealed) verbally attacked Angiuli for not showing her photos and not quoting her (she was quoted, but a moment of dark during the screening apparently created this massive misunderstanding). Soon the atmosphere changed, the woman kept protesting, saying that the story told by the filmmaker wasn’t the real one, another man, as angry but very still, also came forward to say his points of view, someone tried to mediate, spectators started getting impatient and left the theatre while that was actually, finally, the real moment of performance. And there’s no irony meant. Perhaps just a tiny little bit. But, really, the feeling of people arguing after the movie were palpably real and raw. Apparently, all those that participated to that art experiment a lifetime ago were still feeling it strongly and wanted their story to be told right. Like I said, there was art and there was passion.