Interviewing Ilaria Bonacossa, Director of Artissima Art Fair

Umbigo Magazine spoke with Ilaria Bonacossa, Director of Artissima 2019, to discuss the fair, its intentions and how this year’s theme is reflective of the times in which we live.

Now in its 26th edition, the fair posits itself on the dichotomy of desire/censorship to explore notions of the body, technology, and the permeation between the personal and the political within its experimental, contemporary art setting.


Myles Francis Browne – Artissima has come to be known for its experimentalism. How is this spirit of experimentalism seen this year? 

Ilaria Bonacossa – This year too we have tried to experiment with new models. The two special projects Abstract Sex: We don’t have any clothes, only equipment and Artissima Telephone are exhibitions presenting works on loan from galleries at the fair and on sale. The first is a curated selection by Guido Costa and Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti, the second a call to the galleries taking part in the fair: starting from more than 40, Vittoria Martini selected 23 works that deal in different ways with the theme.

MFB – The fair operates within the dichotomy of desire/censorship. The concept is, seemingly, quite timely. What were your motivations in discussing these ideas?

IB – I felt that our contemporary times are marked by a sense of growing repression and anxiety. There are more border walls now than in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell! Through art, desire has often pushed the borders of mechanisms of repression or simply of the conservative status quo, allowing for unexpected visions and moments of epiphany. In some way this dichotomy is behind all artistic production, since creative desire has to deal with self-censorship. I feel this theme of desire/censorship says a lot about how we consume digital images, what is shown and what is censored by algorithms we do not fully know about.

MFB – How often are transgressive aesthetics successful in breaking taboos? Does the censorship of art works always inhibit this process?

IB – The most transgressive works do not always reveal the most about taboos; as we were saying, often the personal becomes political, and personal stories can be transgressive in their honesty! Contemporary art can find a way around censorship, often allowing it to become a form of amplified communication. What is more problematic is how algorithms censor the images or contents we are offered on the web, because we have no knowledge of what is happening behind the scenes.

MFB – What are the relationships between the Telephone and desire and the Telephone and censorship seen in Artissima Telephone?

IB – A very interesting example is the work of Shadi Habib Allah, who presents an intricate series of old phones using 2G technology calling each other as a way of telling how the Bedouins of Sinai communicate and trespass in Egypt, protecting their business and their activities, inventing a parallel information system.

MFB – How does this duality converge and coalesce through the medium of the Telephone?

IB – The two works that represent this duality best are Emilio Vavarella’s Do you like cyber, in which the artist shares audio files of chat bots from a famous app, Ashley Madison, that was at the centre of a scandal when it was discovered that bots were responding to dating messages, leading to the hacking of the site, after which the bots started to act freely, disobeying the rules of the game. The second work is …Typing by Axel M., in which a recovered phone bought in a thrift market had only one phone number and one chat, between Thea and Max, sharing intimate text and scenes of nudity which the artist transposed into watercolours…

MFB – For me, the mobile telephone is emblematic of globalisation. It is double-edged – it provides instant connectivity, yet simultaneously isolates; conversation, connection, shift from the interpersonal to an interface. Are these ideas sustained or challenged by the works in the exhibition?

IB – I guess both are! Some works talk about an impossibility to communicate and maybe do it by allowing the public to spy on a very personal conversation; others use the medium and play with its specificities. For example, in Matthew Attard’s work we listen to news broadcasts on climate change from different parts of the world, and we are pushed to question which news is true and which is false propaganda. Cesare Viel’s piece is very intimate: the artist tries to call his father who is no longer alive and the connection is constantly cut off.

MFB – The fair invites “reflections on the power of the image: contemporary ambitions and utopias; the impulses that shape our times”. What are the defining ambitions and impulses seen within Artissima 2019?

IB – I feel art is picking up on a sense of instability and the precarious social and political situation. This is not always linked to a negative or pessimistic production, but to a form of questioning of the status quo. Other works seem to become abstract, calling themselves out of the politics and social life that surround them. Traditional materials like marble, bronze or drawing are very much at the centre of artists’ reflections, while the digital phone revolution is questioning who is a photographer and what his or her role is in society.

MFB – You stratify desire as being a liminal space between “the body and society”. What are the consequences, seen in the works present at Artissima, of this state of being in contemporary society?

IB – I guess already being an object of thought and not merely of consumer culture is a specific status of contemporary art works that demands understanding in order to be valued… in front of an artwork we are called into question as bodies acting and desiring in our society.


Artissima 2019 runs from 1 November to 3 November, at Oval, Turin, Italy.

Myles Francis is an arts journalist & writer, originally from London, now based in Lisbon. He has worked with such publications as Nicotine, TANK, Vogue Portugal, and now currently writes at Umbigo magazine.

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