Call for paper Venezia Arti 2023, vol. 23
Thematic call METAMORPHOSIS and ALIA ITINERA miscellaneous section
With its roots stretching far into ancient times, the topic of Metamorphosis is a prolific one both in the Arts and, more generally, in Cultural History. The transformation into something else -found in nature and in the animal kingdom- exists in many mythologies and religions of the past, and has been reiterated and taken up in the following literary traditions (up to Kafka and beyond): above all, Ovid still stands as the most emblematic author of this crucial perspective (as is well known, not exclusively Western), precisely because of his celebrated Metamorphosĕon libri XV, a brilliant synthesis of its poetic, erudite, figurative and plastic precedents, but also an indispensable source for almost every subsequent revival. Apollo and Daphne, Venus and Adonis, Narcissus, Prometheus, Leda and the Swan, Danae, Callisto, Actaeon, Perseus: the list is full of celebrated masterpieces and revivals in every century (even in the present one). There are also examples of critical historiography (from Warburg to Saxl, from Panofsky to Wind, from Fumaroli to Lévi-Strauss, to Roberto Calasso) that established a constant in art-historical research since the discipline’s inception up to the present day. The theme has also been crucial for the natural sciences, in the passage from astrology to astronomy, and of alchemy into chemistry, and also in philosophical speculation: we need only refer to Nietzsche’s founding role in modern thought, up to the much more recent investigations by, among others, Emanuele Coccia.
The 2023 issue of Venezia Arti proposes to scholars to produce up-to-date contributions, from late antiquity to the contemporary scenarios, concerning the theme of Metamorphosis declined on several possible registers, i.e. mutation/transformation, which starts from the assumption of an adaptation between the human species and the biological dynamics of plants and animals; or in the so-called mutant morphologies, where the object of representation hinges on the notions of ‘hybrid’, ‘monster’ and ‘cyborg’: while in the Middle Ages collecting them together was considered a celebration of the monstrous or, later, the grotesque, today these aspects appear to us as salient features between the end of modernity and the beginnings of what we call post-modernity or, better, the post-human era. For the Greeks, the greatest sin was hybris – an unacceptable violation of the cosmos’ order – and centaurs, chimeras, and satyrs dared to escape a world ordered in necessary and rigid categories by the simple and arrogant composition of their bodies. Similarly, the presence in today's art of biological forms, just as singular as those of the monsters of the past, is the manifestation of a modern kind of hybris, but also the symptom of a society in crisis.
While considering the ‘fortune’ of the Metamorphosis topic in the modern era, we cannot overlook the numerous popularisations -and moralisations- of Ovid’s work: the editorial fortune of his Metamorphosis, which had already become a classic at the time, also reverberates on the illustrations of numerous printed editions, in pictorial cycles or in “movable” works, from paintings to tapestries, throughout Europe.
For instance, among the indispensable studies, we must mention the iconographic repertoire edited by Claudia Cieri Via (L’arte delle Metamorfosi. Decorazioni mitologiche nel Cinquecento, Roma, 2003): it consists of a substantial mapping of the figurative occurrences of painted Ovidian episodes, albeit within the geographical limits of central-northern Italy -all the more reason to turn our gaze along geographical routes not considered at the time, and works realised on other media. As a further example, we can also consider Giuseppe Capriotti’s studies dedicated to Lodovico Dolce’s ‘time of transformations’, and mention two bibliographic references in an illustrious publishing context: «Le quattro stampe di Giovanni Antonio Rusconi aggiunte alla seconda edizione del 1553 delle “Trasformationi” di Lodovico Dolce», in Galassia Ariosto. Il modello editoriale dell’”Orlando furioso” dal libro illustrato al web, edited by L. Bolzoni, Rome, 2017, 309-324; and the study by Federica Toniolo “Immagini in trasformazione. Le Metamorfosi illustrate dai manoscritti ai libri di stampa”, in Ovidio. Amori, miti e altre storie, edited by F. Ghedini, Naples, 2018, 95-103. All of these contributions, be they more or less extended, equally attest that the spheres of visual and literary culture in the 16th century were osmotic, and confirm once again the Horatian paradigm of ut pictura poësis as Rensselaer Wright Lee investigated it in his celebrated essay (Ut Pictura Poesis. A Humanistic Theory of Painting, New York, 1967).
A further possible register focuses on the visual persistence of classical mythology, that led to the ‘manipulations’ found in the modern and contemporary age. In this era, the hybrid is considered as a cross between human and animal, spiritual and carnal; it is also a metaphor of reality, a point of view on the world in a thematic itinerary through different ages, styles, and conceptual contributions. Many artists tackled this issue, among whom we can mention Böcklin, Moreau, Rodin, von Stuck, Redon, de Chirico, Magritte, Grosz, Klinger, Picasso, Chagall, Arturo and Alberto Martini, Savinio, Delvaux, Bacon, Kahlo, Picabia, Mendieta, Clemente, Chia, Paladino, Barney, Cattelan, Bourgeois, Sherman, Kiki Smith, up to Aspassio Haronitaki and his work, Giuseppe Maraniello (and the list could go on).
The metamorphosis also relates to the theme of identity/otherness, which is, if possible, an even more dilated one. As Arthur Rimbaud noted in his Letter from the Seer of 1871, «je est un autre» (I is another): our identity is open to infinite possible transformations, induced by our sensitivity and the conditions in which we live. A question to which artists, from the historical avant-gardes to the present day, have continued to refer, experimenting through works in which their very face and body become the object of disguises, camouflages, and doubling of identity, in both an ironical and critical sense. Master of them all is Marcel Duchamp, but many other artists have played with disguises, as Luigi Ontani did.
In more recent times, transformism has been accompanied by reflection on the ‘manipulation’ of the body, from cosmetic surgery to genetic medicine. It is often female artists who work on these themes, such as Orlan, Marina Abramović, Mariko Mori, who in her performances in the 1990s played the roles of post-technological geisha, plastic mermaid, young manga heroine, to show the different faces of an oriental female iconography that responds to the desires of a male chauvinist society. Cindy Sherman has made transformism and camouflage the basis of her work: over time, she put on different make-ups, playing the roles of hundreds of female protagonists of the most famous modern and contemporary films, reflecting on the conditioning and commonplaces about female actresses in the film industry; she has interpreted the female protagonists of great works of art, from Venus to Judith; she has staged the American manias and standards of female beauty; she has created terrible theatres of mutilated bodies, to stimulate debate on the theme of violence against women.
There are many examples, such as the camouflages of the Japanese Yasumasa Morimura and the Chinese Liu Bolin. The former is literally obsessed with comparing himself with the most famous Western artists of the past, whose famous works he reproduces, from Van Gogh’s self-portrait to Manet’s Olympia, in highly sought-after and meticulous sets where he portrays himself in make-up like the protagonists of these paintings. The latter disguises himself in environments or in front of great works of art, literally becoming mimetic with them, underlining the danger of losing the identity of things in the globalised world. Up to the experience of Russian performer Vladislav Mamyshev Monroe.
Today’s scenario seems to be hosting a radical change, urged on by the continuous visual alterations of installations, sculptures, performance actions, paintings, and videos that invite the observer to reflect on the meaning of perception, and to penetrate the silent language of a nature that, precisely in metamorphosis, shows itself as an alive and quivering entity. In essence, we witness a transition to the transitory and impermanent, which no longer has anything to do with the nineteenth and twentieth-century idea of ‘change’, as Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev recently pointed out, arguing that today’s concept of ‘transformation’ is more appropriately connected to the idea of ‘metabolisation’.
The 2023 issue of Venezia Arti will host, in the specific section “Alia itinera”, selected contributions that go beyond the monographic theme Metamorphosis.
- Abstract submissions: 15 May 2023
- Notice of acceptance of abstracts: 31 May 2023
- Article submission: 31 August 2023
Abstracts should not exceed 2,500 characters, spaces included.