Many artists have developed their artistic practice by reflecting on current and socio-cultural phenomena, but few of them were able to give an ironic, controversial and scathing point of view like Stefano Cagol. Born in 1969, Cagol studied at the Academy of Brera and Ryerson University in Toronto. Between 1995 and 2015 he participated in many artist residencies and received scholarships including: International Center of Photography in New York; International Studio and Curatorial Program ISCP in New York; BAR International in Kirkenes, Arctic. He had exhibits in Italy and abroad, such as: Manifesta 7 in 2008, the 54th Venice Biennale at a collateral event and at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 where he was invited to show at the Maldives Pavilion. In 2009, he won the Terna Prize for Contemporary Art and in 2014, the prize of the German foundation: Visit RWE. In 2015, the project "The Body of Energy (of the mind)" was presented at the Maxxi in Rome, Madre in Naples, Maga in Gallarate, Museion in Bolzano, Kunsthalle St. Gallen, at ZKM in Karlsruhe and the Museum Folkwang in Essen.
"The Body of Energy (of the mind)" is one of his so-called "itinerant projects". Created, with the support of the Foundation RWE Stiftung fur Enerie und Gesellschaft gGmbH, "The Body of Energy" is a project in which the artist invites the audience to participate. While impressing the energy of its hands and body on the walls and architecture of the hosting space an infrared camera records this symbolic exchange by returning images without any individual recognition. The images are in stark contrast to the contemporary trend that is focused on selfies and the personalities we choose to share on a daily basis in our social networks.
In 2013, on the occasion of the Venice Biennale, he put along the shore of Venice an ice monolith of the Alps and left it to melt under the summer sun. The concept was to bring attention to a problem with a global interest, one that is related to the loss of something essential for our existence and for the future, not only of humanity, but of the planet. Another exhibit—a video installation at the Pavilion which projected mountains emerging and disappearing—was an opportunity to create a space for debates, questions, doubts, utopias, involving not only the experts, intellectuals or politicians, but all of us—as the future is the future of us all. A few years before, in a show curated by Achille Bonito Oliva, Cagol created a participatory project at Ilva in Taranto titled Sparkling and Ash, 2010. On that occasion he invited Taranto inhabitants to choose from sparkling and ash. The concept was to call into question the contradictions of the territory divided between the employment opportunities offered by Ilva and the environmental and health problems determined by the dust. The artist asked the participants to find and bring sparkling things; then the artist composed in an installation within the castle, while outside of it he placed a banner bearing the word "ash". A kind of collective monument that exactly mirrors the surrounding reality, intended to tarnish by the dust in the air.
Now the Galleria Civica in Trento dedicates to Cagol a maior retrospective that retraces the steps of his twenty-year career. On display, were about 40 works—including the itinerant and participatory projects, of which, I remembered as the better-known ones. Cagol retrieved last century’s experiments and updated them with new tools, such as: relying on technology and the languages. Through the hybridization of media, tools and messages, he makes real projects embody the figure of artist-designer. The survey is mainly focused on the immateriality of knowledge creation and the formation processes of public opinion. In addition, among the themes dear to the artist, we can find interests in global scenarios and reality.
Is there a place in our daily lives for responsibility, ethics, and commitment? Can art help us to develop this sensitivity or retrieve it if we lost it? Can we try to create a sustainable transformation of society? In each of these cases Stefano Cagol's artistic practice can be an important reference point.