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Perhaps the only person to have defined Felix Fénéon with any degree of acceptable approximation is Alfred Jarry: for him, the ineffable intellectual par excellence (Critic? Anarchist? War Office employee?) was simply “celui qui silence”.
Yet despite this silence, Fénéon succeeded in making indelible – and strictly indirect – marks on almost everything of any artistic significance that occurred during his lifetime. Among the many other discoveries made after his death, it emerged that for approximately one year, he had anonymously published somewhere up to 1,500 Novels in Three Lines in daily newspaper Le Matin: crime stories and dramas in haiku form, fragments that contained entire stories in miniature – and almost always in less than 140 characters.
The point being that fontanesi’s work partly resembles these micro-novels. But in image form.
Created exclusively with Instagram’s Layout feature, fontanesi combines apparently unrelated photographs: forgotten corners, and occasionally dull, banal, or melancholic glimpses of the Italian everyday take on a whole new life. It might be a detail, a cut, or a reflection, but each image has something about it that tells the micro-story of a reality that fits almost perfectly with our own, just ever so slightly off-centre. His pieces resemble a series of glitches, enticing you to look more closely at your surroundings while you wait for the tram or do the shopping or grab a coffee, because anything might suddenly be transformed into a fontanesi.
It is therefore no surprise that Marsèll invited fontanesi to execute this campaign. The #FormeVisive project and the choice not to showcase products through advertising but to offer an invitation for the public to rediscover and explore the work of emerging artists, is a very important concept at a time when the incessant production of new images seems an end in itself. This stimulus to take a better look at the things around us is perfectly in line with the metaphysics (perhaps in fontanesi’s case, pataphysics might be more appropriate) of the enigmatic Turinese artist’s daily reality.
Until now, Fontanesi has only given one interview (it is rather concise, to say the least), which also serves as the About on his website: “fontanesi it’s a place in fontanesi where you can meet fontanesi and take pics of fontanesi.
There you can get a walk and then have a fontanesi, drive a fontanesi or enter in a fontanesi.” Aside from the vaguely tautological content, from which we can deduce that fontanesi is fontanesi and not much more than that, we can state with reasonable confidence that when written with an uppercase “F”, Fontanesi is also a carpark in Turin. Adding an Antonio in front of it turns Fontanesi into a 19th-century Italian painter, while adding an @ makes it an Instagram account where an anonymous fontanesi posts fontanesis. The photos that appear on this account are mostly taken in the Savoyard city, but you don’t necessarily need to know that. Sometimes the photos are taken specifically to be transformed into fontanesis, sometimes they aren’t. Fontanesi’s preferred compositions are not those with a lot of thought behind them: the results are best if created almost by chance, or instinct. Fontanesi works in the creative sector but has no interest in attaching an identity to these images, so he remains necessarily and irredeemably anonymous. Fénéon would say he aspires to silence.
If, on the one hand, this radical renouncement of the ego by an artist is a breath of fresh air in a world obsessed with presenteeism, on the other, his reticence to reveal himself places anybody writing about his work in an unusual – yet perhaps rather fun – position.
Essentially, fontanesi gives us total freedom to see whatever we like in his work. And while trying to define a person who has no desire to be defined does occasionally have the unpleasant sensation of hunting butterflies to pin them down, the lasting impression is that of taking part in a game of exquisite corpse in the Instagram age. First fontanesi plays against himself, then he invites us – spectators, critics, and curators – to continue the game with other means. And in doing so, we add yet another fragment to the fontanesi universe which, like all universes, tends to expand infinitely.
We all see what we want and need to in his tiny microcosms: irony, cynicism, grotesque or fantastic monsters, aliens or all-too-human humans, nightmares or dreams. Clearly, fontanesi’s gaze is not neutral – no gaze can be – but it is never judgmental and the decision to remain behind the scenes contributes to and invites this cathartic appropriation of his images. In a certain sense, the fontanesis say much more about us than they do about him.
Perhaps his work provides fontanesi with a form of therapy or escapism and sharing it is merely a collateral effect of his chosen method. Or perhaps this very text and all the discussions, reactions, and likes and comments on social media are an integral part of his artistic practice. The fact remains that taking a long look at a fontanesi is somewhat similar to reading palm lines or coffee grounds: sure, it’s a trick, but it often helps to reveal ourselves to ourselves. And perhaps, finally, when discussing fontanesi we should turn once more to Fénéon’s art of being concise. The extent of his praise for Seurat was transcribing the chemical formulas of the colours mixed by the painter to obtain that indefinable shade of blue and grey. For us to praise fontanesi, maybe we should simply state what we see in this exhibition at Marsèll Paradise — impossible cars, shadows with a shadow, and reflections of objects with no object. Islands on umbrellas, Escher-esque architecture, and putti with umarell bodies — and then be silent.
Chiara Bardelli Nonino.