I\O_ project / 55. venice biennale

I\O_ currents / santa fe_usa

Other Brothers: César Meneghetti’s I\O project

San Servolo, a small island in the Venetian Lagoon, was the site of a historic 18th-century asylum, which closed in 1978 after psychiatric-care reforms went into effect across Italy. Now, San Servolo is home to Venice International University, a consortium of educational and cultural institutions. It is also the site of a major work by Italian-Brazilian artist César Meneghetti, whose project I\O_I Is an Other appears in this year’s Venice Biennial. The title is partly taken from a line by Arthur Rimbaud. Santa Feans have an opportunity to experience part of I\O at Currents 2013 at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, where Meneghetti’s I\O Opera #01, a video installation, is being shown. For the overall I\O project, four years in the making, Meneghetti collaborated with members of Rome’s Community of Sant’Egidio who were involved in an ongoing art lab program. The art lab works with the mentally and physically disabled — many of whom were directly affected by the closing of the hospitals in the late 1970s — allowing them opportunities for creative self-expression. San Servolo has been a major component of the project, because of its history. Meneghetti discusses I\O at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art (435 S. Guadalupe St., 982-8111) at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 15.

I\O was conceived in several stages, which Meneghetti calls “verifications,” and culminated in a multimedia work. The first verification involved interviewing members of the community who then were given an opportunity to interview Meneghetti, volunteers from Sant’Egidio, and curators Simonetta Lux and Alessandro Zuccari. “We set up about 30 questions about some issues of existence: love, god, death, things like that,” Meneghetti said. 
“I don’t call this an interview. It was a horizontal relationship. I observed them; they observed me. I never met, don’t have in my family, and don’t have friends who are disabled, so for me it was a way to break through this barrier of preconceptions. I think we did break this barrier.”

For the second verification Meneghetti taught the participants about new media. “We talked a lot about what is reality, and what is truth,” he said. “One of the issues was self-portraiture, how they see themselves and how they see the world — different from how I see or how we see the world as pseudo ‘normals.’ ”

The third verification was a type of conference that involved philosophers, writers, poets, art historians, and staff from the Franco Basaglia Foundation. (Basaglia, a psychiatrist, was an outspoken critic of Italy’s mental-health facilities and was instrumental in reforming them.) The conference was held at San Servolo. The fourth verification involved filming a series of workshops with deaf, autistic, and other mentally or physically challenged members of Sant’Egidio. Meneghetti later arranged the results into a video presentation. “They talk about love, about life, reality, discrimination,” he said. “Humanity is 360 degrees. If you exclude people for race, for religion, or for mental conditions you are missing something of humanity. That’s the thing.”

Michael Abatemarco  / The New Mexican’s Weekly Magazine