Nomas Foundation, Rome, 2017
March 8th – April 12th, 2017

Conveived by Raffaella Frascarelli and Maria Rosa Sossai, in collaboration with ALAgroup.

Cadere/Rose, Sreshta Rit Premnath’s first solo exhibition in Italy, proposes a constellation of relations between the Polish conceptualist André Cadere (1934, Warsaw – 1978, Paris) and the immigrant rose sellers of Rome.
The print Recto/Verso functions as a kind of cypher for the show. Here, photographs of the artist holding a bouquet of red roses are inserted into one page of a spread, which mirror the opposite page taken from the catalogue Documenting Cadere and featuring the last three photographs taken of Cadere before his premature death. Premnath proposes that Cadere’s round bar, which he is photographed holding, functions in much the same way as the flower seller’s rose, each object entwining contradictory symbolic and monetary values. Five folding rulers painted with rose extract, iron filings and green-screen pigment lean against walls, like tired bodies, but also like markers, pointers or indices. Titled Here, these objects continue Premnath’s use of folding rulers as bodies that both occupy and measure space. The three large Monochromes, printed on commercial vinyl, are photographs of anti police graffiti at Torpignattara, Rome, whited-out by the police. These prints build upon Premnath’s ongoing interest in erasure and redaction as a means of making things visible. Finally, the video Rosa Rosae, is a collaboration with the dancer and artist Kuldeep Singh who, trained in Odissi – a classical dance form from India – performs a series of structured improvisations based on gestures related both to the rose sellers of Rome and the rhythmic structures of André Cadere’s round bars.

This exhibition follows How to Live Together: The Common School, a workshop under the recommendation of the General Direction of MIBACT, conducted by ALAGroup and Rit Premnath with students at Istituto Einaudi, during his residency in Rome in January 2017. Copies of Ti Porgo Una Rosa, a zine produced by the students during the workshop, are displayed in the exhibition along with a video of the students’ interaction with Bachcu Siddique, the head of Dhuumcatu, a South Asian community group in Torpignattara.

Sreshta Rit Premnath

An unknown flower in a strange land
speaks to the poet:
“Are we not of the same soil, my lover?”
Rabindranath Tagore, Fireflies[1]

Cadere. To fall, drop, topple, tumble, crumble, slump. On July 3rd 1978, Cadere mailed three photographs to Barry Barker, of his emaciated self posing near the hospital international de l’université de Paris with his Barres de bois rond in hand. In one photograph he leans, like one of his poles, against a telephone post, a mere month before his death from cancer. To lean, fall, sink, settle, decline, perish. He specifically asked that the photographs not be sold.

“I don’t sell photographs, so please, after the show send me back the three photographs. But I sell stiks (sic.). I have here some pieces. You can buy one (the price in f.f. is 1.500 – I can give you a discount). You can try to sell something (public price: 3.000 f.f.).”

I ran a temporary school for architects and designers at Piazza Antonio Gramsci in Milan a few years ago. We discussed Gramsci’s ‘philosophy of praxis’ and considered what it might mean to design a public square. Who gets to design a public space and who constitutes the imagined public deemed to occupy this architecture? Families played ball, young boys played soccer, mostly white, and there was a brown man–brown, like me– who passed through the square twice a day selling roses.

Anxious, alone he would walk towards us to ask again, to urge us to buy a rose. He spoke Bengali, which I can’t, he had a few words in Italian, which I don’t and he could barely speak English or Hindi. He called me ‘brother’ but we were as far apart as could be. I, an artist surrounded by students, he a flower seller whose presence averted eyes.

Cadere’s sticks have stuck in my mind. Knobby spines organized in inscrutable color permutations. 123, 231, 312, 123; 321, 231, 312, 123; 323, 231, 312, 123; etc. The difference always a roll of dice. Tired spines leaning against walls, yet saturated and exuberant–present, alive. I didn’t know about their performative lives until Lynda Morris’ recent recontextualization of his archive. “Taking a round bar of wood with him to exhibition openings and on walks through city streets, Cadere questioned his, and by implication other artists’ reliance, on the gallery and museum as both a physical space and as a political institution.”[2] I assume that since his photographs were never sold the performative dimension of his work died with him, its corpse embalmed in dark photo archives. Always this schizophrenia between the critical work purportedly performed, and the circulation of the object, itself the prop, shell, trace of this performance. Massimo Minini talks about Cadere’s sticks in his collection. Sticks that he reorganizes and plays with–indeed plays off other work in his collection. He recollects the time Cadere discovered two Massai sticks in his collection that resembled Cadere’s own “and he took to playing with them and his work at the same time.”[3] The art object is always beside, beyond, detached from its intentions and reattaches itself to other associations. The hidden photograph tries to assert its intentional precedence, but the mark, the trace, the line is always zig-zagging away. I return to what drew me to his objects before I knew him, the pleasurable orientation of attention, a free and unimpeded movement.

But ideology is the invisible medium in, through and beyond which we imagine freedom. Fanon describes this unconscious proprioception and self-choreography of the colonized body: “Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity. It is a third person consciousness. The body is surrounded by an atmosphere of certain uncertainty. I know that if I want to smoke, I shall have to reach out my right arm and take the pack of cigarettes lying at the other end of the table. The matches, however, are in the drawer on the left, and I shall have to lean back slightly. And all these movements are made not out of habit but out of implicit knowledge. A slow composition of my self as a body in the middle of a spatial and temporal world…”[4]

What directed my attention? What drew me to the object? What primed me for that encounter?

The flower seller, that particular flower seller, Kamal, was also trading in aesthetic beauty and symbolic value, when he said, “brother, you must buy a rose, only two Euro.” The casual clasp of the bouquet upside down swinging by his side as he walked away. Apparently roses last longer upside down. I don’t know if it’s true. Or for that matter whether Aspirin, or the freezer in local restaurants–easily accessible to fellow countrymen–extend a rose’s life. But at the urgent moment of sale the flick of the wrist, the focussed eyes, “brother…?” Brothers in Italy where we are equalized by skin and drawn to each other, recognizing an unspoken entanglement. Tongue tied except for the meagre language of commerce “…only two Euro…” both aware that there’s something else that drew us together. A slipstream pulling us through the atmosphere, which we had only now perceived as being viscous and full of resistance. I remember that feeling of returning home for the first time, my shoulders relaxing as I stepped out of the airplane into the crisp monsoon air. A spontaneous ease that orients, primes, conditions, unnameable but present beneath presence. I don’t remember the smell of the roses, but there was something odd in the gesture, overdetermined by that empty signifier, the rose. Kamal– “beauty” or “perfection” in Arabic–must have to cross that threshold of recognition every time he offers a rose to a stranger.

Cadere too, the Polish born immigrant from Romania, was anxious to be recognized in Western Europe. Before he was known, he focused on going to every major opening attended by Konrad Fischer, the powerful dealer, so he could be seen with his round bar of wood. “Cadere anticipated that he would be prevented from bringing a large barre into the gallery and so [he] hid a very small second rod in his pocket. Cadere fought his host’s attempts to expel his presence; after being denied entry with the larger work, he smuggled in this miniature parasite instead, and a tiny striped rod soon appeared on the gallery floor.”[5] Although his pole functioned as a symbol of contention and transgression–of the devaluation of the gallery as a privileged site for art viewership-he was also driven by the desire to be a part of the very context and scene he critiqued. To be seen by Konrad Fischer was after all the first step to be show by Konrad Fischer. Is it too cynical to say that even the transgression was only on the order of spectacle, and that as the poles found refuge in galleries and art collections the photographs disappeared?

But even that is too simple. It is the the tug of love, the contradiction between the desire to have and to give, that produces a space of possibility. However, the worry remains that this possibility is too open and without orientation. Essentially an empty signifier. This begs the question, does an abstract art object necessarily depend on an explicative order to frame or orient it? Or could the emptiness of the signifier allow for a productive collapse? A falling of high into low, a deviation of value in which the flower seller’s wager is no different from that of Cadere’s?

1 Tagore, Rabindranath, and Sisir Kumar Das. The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1994. Print. Pg. 586
2 Cadere, André, and Lynda Morris. Documenting Cadere: 1972-1978. London: Koenig , 2013. Print. Pg. 3
3 Ibid. Pg. 17
4 Fanon, Frantz. Black skin, white masks. London: Pluto Press, 1986. Print. Pg. 83
5 Daniel Birnbaum, “Andre Cadere: Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany,” Artforum, January 2008, 271.

Documentation by Marco Passaro