On 9 March 2020, all Italy with bated breath was in front of the television, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had just signed the #iorestoacasa decree and in videoconference, with unified networks, he announced: "There will no longer be a red zone, there will no longer be a zone one and zone two, but an Italy protected zone. Travel will be avoided except for three reasons: proven work issues, cases of necessity and health reasons".
Immediately after the Premier's announcement, there was panic: supermarkets stormed for fear that supplies would run out; hunting for cleaning and hygiene products that disappeared from store shelves in a few hours; hunting for masks, gloves and sanitizing gels that are practically unavailable and sold by weight in gold. A few hours after that announcement, Italy entered lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
The cities and streets suddenly emptied. People remained closed in their homes, being able to go out only "for work needs, health reasons and necessities" to be self-certified in a document to be shown to the police. Outside, a ghostly silence interrupted only by the sound of ambulance and police vehicles sirens. Of the first weeks of the lockdown, we will certainly remember the isolation, the long calls to hear neighbors, relatives and friends, but above all some particularly strong and violent images such as the march of army trucks with the load of coffins along the streets of Bergamo or that of Pope Francesco alone, in the rain in an empty St. Peter's Square as he turned to God asking him not to leave us at the mercy of the storm.
We have lived and are still living a reality that was unthinkable until recently. We have been increasingly involved in virtual communities made possible by social networks that seemed to convey our existence towards the virtual-technological sphere. And so in the early days of the pandemic, we worked to fill a certain technological gap by inventing a new everyday life: physical distancing, distance learning, home working, videoconferencing, etc. The advantages of the control of the pandemic were not lacking but as the days the months passed, we realized the importance of social relations as an essential element of our life as "social animals" that cannot be replaced by digital media. In other words, the pandemic by forcing us to stay away has made us understand how much we need each other. Never before have cities without men discovered a human face as in the time of the lockdown. “Everything will be fine”, we read on the balconies where at sunset the Italians gathered to send out a musical message of hope.
In the silence of those days, we all discovered something forgotten or to which we had not paid particular attention. This also happened to Antonio Riello who on January 21st will open an exhibition in the Danielle Arnaud Gallery in London, showing some of the works created during the lockdown period. There is Confined Tools series, a series of pen drawings that "explore" the domestic dimension.
Riello’s lockdown drawings, Confined Tools, are a very personal and tormented form of reportage of a kitchenscape. During these weird times, the artist started an obsessive production of a catalogue of his kitchen tools and food: just humble sketches, but together these might be considered tantamount to a lockdown visual dictionary; a sort of late-modern encyclopedia (currently 347 tools have been classified). This has now become a work in progress; a taxonomic classification of every creature ‘living’ in the artist’s domestic environment. Riello has turned himself into an XVIII century-style explorer re-discovering his familiar indoor spaces as if they were pristine unknown exotic islands. This evidently Linnean attitude echoes Riello’s passion for Mark Dion’s research. The aim is to set an anthropological museum of culinary ergonomy and domestic cruelty.
As the artist states, in addition to the domestic dimension, this series also explores a more complex environmental habit. For example, in Post it:
The great trophies of bourgeois and aristocratic safari (typical of mansions and important palaces/castles) are transformed into distressing warnings of an anxious and liquid age. Some of these drawings were made in a hermitage with the collaboration of an artist friend, Gabriele Bonato, who lives a monastic life in the hermitage.
Alongside this series on display, there will also be another very special series created by Riello. It is Ashes to Ashes, where the artist ceremonially burns some of his beloved and influential books, reducing them to illegible ashes. The ashes of each book are then placed in special urns designed by the artist following the medieval tradition of preserving medieval relics of saints.
Each urn (made of borosilicate glass) is properly printed with the book name and author, year of first publication and year of destruction: a virtual library, a book cemetery, a devote homage, a respectful funeral celebration of the printed books and libraries.
What will remain of this strange period? Antonio Riello’s show is full of ideas and emotions as his artistic practice has accustomed us for years.