‘Gradi di libertà’ at MAMbo, Bologna. Are we really free?

Gradi di libertà is a showcase for contemporary artists who wish to explore and transgress the limits of freedom. Organised by Fondazione Golinelli in association with MAMbo the exhibition aims to combine art and science in order to delve deeper into the meaning of freedom and the social limitations that restrain our complete liberation.

Gradi di libertà opens with Susan Hiller’s Die Gedanken Sind Frei (Thoughts are Free), name of a popular German song which celebrates freedom of thought. This installation contains 102 protest songs regarding political freedom, benches, books, headphones and a jukebox – the perfect invitation to reflect on how music can be a powerful means of promoting freedom. Hiller’s artwork combines text and audio, inviting visitors to be interactive and exert their free will by choosing the song that will be reproduced in all headphones. Hiller not only strives to reconsider the concept of freedom, but also wishes to find a universal meaning by including popular songs whose message is ubiquitous.


Susan Hiller, MAMbo

Susan Hiller, ‘Die Gedanken sind Frei (Thoughts are Free)’, 2011-2012. Image courtesy @Susan Hiller


Further on, you bump into Dr Lakra’s Initiation to Nothingness, an incredible mural depicting a surreal and grotesque world governed by symbols. These symbols are recognisable and derive from religion, superstition and pop subcultures. Dr Lakra uses a blue ballpoint pen to put into action his skills as a tattoo artist and bring to life devils, animals, skulls and pop icons. Nothing is arbitrary, for a deeper message lies beyond the artistic and visual pleasure of the artwork. The aim is to raise a question on how religion and superstition inhibit and constrain individual and social freedom.

All throughout the exhibit, glass cabinets displaying objects such as model cars, money and items of technology remind us how progress, which we often take for granted, has helped mankind develop freedom by granting people more free time. Projections on the walls also insist on how essential freedom is to our existence and how society is often the main constraint on individual freedom.

Vanessa Beecroft’s static models defy our understanding of reality and appearance. Although seemingly human, the models could be confused with mannequins because of their static and lifeless demeanour. The piece examines society’s relationship towards the feminine body, which is constantly scrutinized and bound by strict, uniform models of beauty which efface any form of individuality.


Vanessa Beecroft, MAMbo

Vanessa Beecroft, ‘VB26 021′, 1997, Vibracolor print,101,6×152,5cm, Image courtesy Galleria Lia Rumma, Milano/Napoli


Igor Grubic is also featured in the exhibition. His 366 Liberation Rituals are photographic instances of his peaceful intervention in the cityscape of Zagreb. By means of small, apparently unnoticeable acts such as writing messages on banknotes and placing red noses on the city’s statues, Grubic fully exercises his freedom and trespasses the established order to gain possession of public spaces. Grubic also brings to light the limitations of individual freedom in public spaces due to tacit social norms.


Igor Grubic, MAMbo

Igor Grubic, Scarves and Monuments. Action in public space (2008), from the series ’366 Liberation Rituals’. Image courtesy http://www.irmielin.org/


Ryan McGinley’s work captures the beauty and freedom of youth. His Polaroid snapshots of naked teenagers radiate vitality, rebellion and a desire to conquer and discover the unknown world, unrestricted. The same energy is portrayed in Halil Altindere’s Wonderland which records the feelings of hope, rage, and revolt against society of a group of teenagers from Sullukule, a decrepit neighbourhood in Istanbul which is slowly being taken over by gentrification. The video-clip hints at hip-hop and cinema culture and focuses on the gang of teenagers running free through the streets of their decaying neighbourhood, reclaiming it as their own and rising against authority. Against gentrification, the video-clip aims to portray social inequality and how music can become a weapon to fight against the destruction of the historical memory of the neighbourhood.


Ryan McGinley, MAMbo

Ryan McGinley, ‘Untitled (Hot Spring)’, 2005 C-print, 27.9×35.6 cm. Image courtesy Team Gallery, New York

Ryan McGinley, MAMbo

Ryan McGinley, ‘Whirlwind’, 2004 C-print, 101×68 cm Image courtesy Team Gallery, New York


This is only a sample of what is to be found at Gradi di libertà. Other artists showcased include Tehching Hsieh, Cao Fei, Bob and Roberta Smith, Ryan Trecartin Pietro Ruffo and Nasan Tur. So if you’re in Bologna do not miss the chance to go and possibly be inspired to join the ongoing struggle for absolute freedom.

Gradi di libertà, presented by Fondazione Golinelli and curated by Cristiana Perrella and Giovanni Carrada, is on show at MAMbo – Modern Art Museum of Bologna until November 22, 2015.

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by Clara Ollier
in Focus on Europe

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