Damiano Bertoli

Personalities and figures from the Italian counterculture movement of the 1960s and '70s collide with those from ancient Rome as Melbourne artist Damiano Bertoli brings his debut London exhibition, ‘Superpositions’, to Neon Parc in Brunswick. Presenting photographic and video works, the show engages formally with principles of montage to draw correlations between seemingly incongruous moments in history and time.

Italy in the ’60s and ’70s was a significant period in Italian culture. It was the era of political turmoil and social change and the period that took the country from modernity to postmodernity. The Italian national broadcaster RAI (like the ABC in Australia) supplied a vital voice for the political and radical movements of the time. This era is, for Bertoli, a fount of inspiration – ‘I was always interested in this decade because, within TV, it was the golden age in terms of processing voices, ideas, and progressive thinking, that took Italy kicking and screaming into postmodernity.’

Prior, modernity encompassed the Italian tradition of the artisan. Arts training was a high-quality, distinctive hands-on approach that required years of dedicated focus to achieve mastery. By contrast, the counterculture movement allowed artists to shortcut the acquisition of skills to easily express themselves through graphic and media representation in the visual arts and politics. One such artist, in the photographic print Superpositions #6 (2019), is singer-songwriter Lucio Battisti, who is montaged with the Roman statue of Mercury – the God in of messages, communications, and tricksters.  Even though Lucio was known to be apolitical, he still represented a working-class voice who, through his music and lyrics, spoke to the masses; much like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. Famously known as a mediocre singer, it is said that once Battisti was questioned by the media about his poor-quality voice and replied, ‘who cares – Bob Dylan can’t sing – what’s the big deal? It doesn’t matter – it’s not about skill.’

The classical statues may have been the first form of visual media in ancient Rome and included the counter-culturists Julius Caesar, Lucius Sergius Catilina and Marcus Tullius Cicero. Bertoli’s video installation, Beware the Badly Belted Boy (2019), is a direct take on Julias Caesar, who fought against the dominant political culture of the time with his lifestyle and aesthetic choices – such as how he shaved and wore his Toga.

Superpositions #3 (2019) depicts Mina Mazzini – a popular TV personality and singer who whose edgy music pushed gender issues. Notorious album covers included Mina as a bearded lady, a muscle-bound man and even as a biscuit. Bertoli montages Mina with a formal statue of a Herculaneum woman, carving open a space to consider the politics of gendered power throughout history.

The ’60s and ’70s was a significant period in Italy because it is when society started to find its voice, with public protests and graphic representations. Civil rights and women’s rights became vocal on significant referendum issues such as legalised divorce and abortion. Within community broadcasting, counterculture language was rife. Bertoli’s work centres on this tenor of language, working ‘with the language of the idea’, and each work sits in a space with multiple voices spanning history. By revisiting and reframing history, the artist brings together the lapsed past and the transient present. He explains, ‘I get a lot of energy from the idea of the future and the past, and challenging the truth of history is interesting.’

Damiano Bertoli: Superpositions
10 July – 8 August 2020
Neon Parc, Melbourne

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