63rd-77th STEPS - Art Project Staircase -

ATTILIA FATTORI FRANCHINI INTERVIEWS
FABIO SANTACROCE

Fabio Santacroce is an Italian artist living and working in Bari.
His latest research focuses on the exploration of distribution platforms and circulation methodologies, analysing visual relationships among online and offline contexts.
Since 2014, Santacroce has been running in his hometown Bari, 63rd-77th STEPS, a hybrid entity hosting site specific exhibitions, online and off-site projects.

The name refers to the final part of a multi-floor staircase (the area between the 63rd and the 77th step) inside a building where the artist lives. The eclectic programme, launched in a public domestic environment in the provincial Southern Italian city, focuses on exchange and conversation using the digital experience as a vehicle for collective transformation.

AFF: How did you start the project 63rd-77th STEPS?
FS: 63rd-77th STEPS has been a sort of side effect to the isolation and to several failed attempts to set up artistic projects through institutional way and other mediators. I was feeling the need of articulating my practice into a shared experience. This necessity took form specifically in a decentralized artistic area as the one present in my hometown Bari, addressing it with a dynamic format to solicit the city most gritty and sub-cultural streak. 63rd-77th STEPS strains the limits and potentialities of the periphery, redefining its spatial and temporal framework within a hyper-connected, hegemonic geography.

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AFF: How did you choose the staircase of a building as site for art? In which way does it relate to your work as an artist?
FS: I’ve always wanted to turn this particular segment of staircase into a project space dedicated to contemporary art. Initially, I thought the strong domestic connotation of the space would prevail visually but the works placed created enough friction, the right mixture of rawness and poetry. I realized that, this residual space, with all its limits and peculiarities, was the perfect set to stage that exacerbated mood and obstinate adolescent excitement, which usually inform my work. Far from being just the umpteenth, odd art location, 63rd-77th STEPS is rather a tension, a reaction to the deceptions and paralysis that we are, historically, forced to deal with.

AFF: The programme, has featured international artists and curators, expanding visually and critically in different directions. Its focus is a new cognitive capacity brought in visual discourse by the advent of digital technology mixed to an interest towards the local settings and the Southern Italy territory. Can you tell me more about it?
FS: I focused on those pop/conceptual practices able to investigate and re-configure curiously our present, stimulating transversal assimilations of it, activating meanwhile a witty visual dialogue with this ordinary location placed in a popular neighbourhood. This environment, subtly imbued with discursive and visual potential, was somehow, already linked to the practices of the artists involved, and perfectly lent itself to a progressive redefinition of its marginality. The first part of the exhibition programme consisted of site-specific solo exhibitions, physically installed on the staircase, strongly connoted by its retro-vintage architecture and red-brown varnish. The new programme, which restarted in September 2014, includes off-site and online projects, meant as a further extension of the physical and symbolic space. Locally anchored but globally tuned, I like to think of 63rd-77th STEPS, more as a visual, cultural dispenser than a confined, static place, whose physical and virtual dimension is constantly commuted, as well as its artistic and curatorial line.

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AFF: IAFF: I am very interested in this multi-layered structure you mentioned, thinking of 63rd-77th STEPS as a project existing in different formats and directions. Do you see it as a necessity when operating in a decentralised location, or just a more interesting way to engage with certain artistic positions?
FS: I guess it responds to needs and interests as well as linking to my artistic attitude to deconstruct and avoid univocal reassuring readings. The project reflects the same multi-layer structure of my personal work. The on-line and off-site activities emphasize and dematerialize the residuality of 63rd-77th STEPS. For the online section, the artists are invited to explore and experience the space without any physical involvement. On the other hand, with the off-site programme, the staircase pours out into its urban surrounding and tunes its vibes with institutional and other peculiar spaces around Bari.

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Massimo Grimaldi_63rd-77th STEPS_07Massimo Grimaldi > 63rd-77th STEPS Portrait 07

AFF: How the extra activities initiated? How they differentiated from your work with 63rd-77th STEPS?
FS: It started with AFA, a three-day group show installed in a dismantled bank office, in the same street where the Art Project Staircase is located, as part of a local urban festival aimed to reactivate abandoned sites downtown. Titled after a weakening, exhausting weather condition, the exhibition was deliberately exposed to the risk and naïveté of its provocative and appetizing location, in a scenario of thorny, hypertrophic and often-exploited neo-liberalism criticism.
Totally embracing its own goliardic impulse, the exhibition was also conceived to tickle the recurring, controversial diatribe related to art and market whilst looking at the artist’s self-legitimation within this schizophrenic framework. Generally, I find interesting how political issues are scrutinized, reshaped and preserved from the rhetoric and the cultured entertainment, looking at how these opposite forces of attraction and repulsion are treated.
Marking 63rd-77th STEPS’ first year of activity, ALWAYS BRIAN (ti amo) was a group show installed in three contiguous spaces. The “breaking heart” title has been borrowed by a graffiti standing in Corso Italia, a transit though perpetually solitary road that leads to Bari’s train station, dotted with a long row of disused and suggestive old workshops. The presentation text has been written by assembling social media status, text messages, street writings and spoken conversations excerpts, mixed to personal notes and turned into a fractured, hyper textual poetry. The text evokes the area around the exhibition spaces (with the presence of the railway, the cinema, etc…) and the same disillusionment, bitterness mood drawn by the works on display. The closing line singles out the so-called LIWC, a textual analysis software programme designed in 2007, to sift and analyse texts, detect linguistic dimensions and “emotional temperature” of the author. Some years ago, it was adopted by Facebook to analyse around 600,000 users’ textual posts for a controversial study on effects, manipulation and emotional contagion among users. Reading excerpts from this research, I wondered what results would have produced, if it had been employed for the images, of which social networks are more congested. The works on display acted like fragments of an imaginative text, echoing the contamination and the symbolism of our digitized language, and displayed in their intimate emotional and linguistic manipulative degree. Some works incorporated textual material, other where simply identified by eloquent titles.

AFA_off-site exhibition 63rd-77th STEPS - Art Project Staircase -jpgAFA off-site exhibition 63rd-77th STEPS – Art Project Staircase

ALWAYS BRIAN (ti amo)_offsite exhibition_63rd-77th STEPSALWAYS BRIAN (ti amo) offsite exhibition

AFF: What has been the response of the city, how online and offline relate in this context?
FS: Beyond the physical audience that constantly follows and supports the activity, 63rd-77th STEPS has moulded an online local audience, which might sounds paradoxical. Every physical exhibition is “instantly” transferred into the website, conceived more as a parallel fruition space than a mere documentary tool. I’ve pushed and insisted a lot on this simultaneous transposition as an active ground for visual and cognitive experience. Maybe, this constitutes the main newness and challenge in the local artistic scenario as it triggers, for the first time here, new processes of art production, distribution and fruition. Necessarily, it required a certain effort to be fully understood and perceived as a proper exhibition format, alongside the pre-existing commercial and institutional venues. An interesting aspect is the cultural exchange and debate established, through the web, with several people, in conjunction with every project. They usually request and are provided with extra online research materials, aimed at a deeper understanding of the issues and artists presented. This is one of the sides I enjoy the most, as it reinforces the role of cultural agent to which 63rd-77th STEPS aims within the territory.

AIRBNB Pavilion_Community Development Meeting BariAIRBNB Pavilion Community Development Meeting Bari

AFF: How your building and the local neighbours engaged with the programme? What has changed since you started?
FS: The funniest part is, undoubtedly, related to my neighbours that generously allowed me to set up the project on our common staircase, inside this typical Southern Italy building. Although totally unaware of any contemporary art, they supported and enjoyed it, but still waiting for hung paintings to recognize it as a proper exhibition space. It’s been a mutual exchange, based on simple gestures that also let emerged the necessity of caring after the common space. The neighbourhood is a special social dimension related to most of the Southern cities, especially in the popular districts. A necessary and, maybe, an inevitably forced resource that still preserves a human interaction based on generosity, support and sharing. In a too much legitimized, self complacent cynical system of ever shifting hierarchies, 63rd-77th STEPS might be also considered as an obtuse declaration of a more deferential stance, as well as a remark of the importance to shape your own space of privilege and criticality.

Sol Calero_Che Che Colè_63rd-77th STEPSSol Calero – Che Che Colè

AFF: I perceive 63rd-77th STEPS as dealing with quite opposite elements, as local focus and international programme, domestic and exhibition space, online and offline, collectivity and individualism. Do you feel these elements as present?
FS: They are totally present. As previously mentioned, all my practice deals with a kind of duality and interchangeability; it seeks frictions, interferences, in order to keep vivid the same tension that aims to record. Domesticity has always played an important role in my work, explored in its intimate and sculptural dimension and approached as a marker of social status, a crucial, active receptor of political and technological transformation. Internet burst into our houses and altered the perception and the mediation with the outside world, effecting our domestic living and its routine.
63rd-77th STEPS owes its name from a precise spatial portion defined by 15 steps, but acts fluidly and exposes its marginality to an exponential investigation in which, physical and virtual, high and low, exhibitionism and discretion flow into each other. It dwells a traditional domestic environment, where the art practice is economically unfeasible, wearing an exuberant mainstream dress. It adheres to a hyper digitized world but refuses its glorification.

AFF: What are the main challenges you encountered with 63rd-77th STEPS?
FS: I would say the same difficulties and frenzies that are usually ascribed to Art, increased by the specific gangrenous national climate.

AFF: What its next aspirations?
FS: I’m working for the next off-site exhibition, evaluating different locations. As one of Bari main highlight, and since always, its most important resource, I’d like to do something by the sea, maybe using a seaside beach, the nearby pier or the fish-market.

www.63rd77thsteps.com

www.fabiosantacroce.com