I Malus. A story of the apple

Sala colonne, Cittadellarte
Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 1 pm, Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 7 pm
Art, nature, food


Exhibition curated by andrea caretto | raffaella spagna in collaboration with "Let Eat Bi"

C’era una volta una mela a cavallo di una foglia 
cavalca, cavalca, cavalca,
insieme attraversarono il mare e impararono a nuotare.
Arrivate in cima al mare dove il mondo diventa piccino,
la mela lasciò il suo vecchio vestito e
prese l’abito da sposa più rosso, più rosso.
La foglia sorrise, era la prima volta di ogni cosa.

Riprese la mela in braccio e partirono. […]
Area-Demetrio Stratos, La mela di Odessa

The exhibition I Malus. Una storia della mela by the artists Caretto|Spagna stems from the desire of linking the agricultural and artisan world, the knowledge and the experience of pomologists and local producers of the "Let Eat Bi" community with the sensitivity, the interests and the practices of contemporary artists.

“The idea of an exhibition “about apples” was born from a proposal by a few members of the Association Let Eat Bi - the Third Paradise on the Biellese Territory, and in particular by Paolo Naldini and Gigi Spina, who have felt the need to create a link between the big Updated Apple Michelangelo Pistoletto has realized on the occasion of Expo Milan 2015 and the work carried out in the last few years on the Biellese territory.
Starting from this premise, Let Eat Bi and Cittadellarte have cooperated inviting the two artists from Turin Caretto and Spagna to conceive and realize the exhibition. Let Eat Bi has curated the journey through the territory the two artists have been on, which has brought them to explore the Biellese getting to know the stories of people who have dedicated their whole lives to apples, their knowledge, the ancient anecdotes and the contemporaneity of this territory, the farms and their products.”
Armona Pistoletto, President of Let Eat Bi

Curatorial Text by Cecilia Guida
The exhibition I Malus. A story of the apple, curated by the artists Caretto|Spagna, was born from the desire to connect the farmers’ and the artisans’ worlds, the knowledge and expertise of the pomologists and local producers of the Let Eat Bi – The Third Paradise on the Biellese territory’s community with the sensibility, the interests and the practices of contemporary artists, on the occasion of the work by Michelangelo Pistoletto Third Paradise – The Updated Apple, realized for Milan’s “Expo 2015 – Feed the Planet, Energy for Life” and subsequently donated to the City of Milan. This project, developed in dialogue with Let Eat Bi, launches Cittadellarte’s new residency programme for international artists: the “Connective Residency”, which has the objective of stimulating and generating connections between the guest artists’ researches and the projects of the Uffizi.
Caretto|Spagna, on this occasion in the role of artists and curators, as it sometimes happens with the modality of their artistic practice, summarize in a rich set up the path – of study, meetings, narratives, organization, physical work – taken in these three months of residency in the Biellese territory and not yet exhausted. New works are displayed, aesthetic and critical fruits of an artistic research, deliberately left open and in the making, on an unexplored theme of which a story among many gets to be narrated, one that has never been narrated before: the one about Biella’s apple producers. The issue expands, and elements which belong to both the world of art and the universe of the apple as if mirroring each other are placed next to the tension between the local and the global, logical short circuits and unimaginable similarities. Diversity, memory preservation, collecting: these correspondences turn out to be the most interesting aspect of the project. The apple represents a source of energy, expresses the possibility of life and it is a metaphor for art.
The title I Malus refers to the Latin word used in botany to indicate the apple tree Malus, a genus which includes about forty species, among which is the Malus domestica (or Malus communis), the most common and among the earliest species of fruit trees domesticated by mankind. I Malus (which recalls, by assonance, the I of the technological society populated by iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc., as established by the company “Apple”) gives the name, and nominating, it confirms the existence of a subjectivity, allows the apple tree to speak, gives it the status of an organism telling its own story (one of many possible ones) from its wild origin to its exact opposite: the exasperated domestication typical of the industrial agriculture. The apple tree has accompanied the whole of man’s history, from the myth of Paris and Helen to the biblical episode of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, to the legendary deed of the skilful William Tell, to the well known Newton’s anecdote, to quote a few instances. The apple tree has been modified through a long work of selection, till it acquired features almost opposite to the ones of the ancestral wild apple tree, the Malus sieversii. This archaic species of Malus, originating in the Central Asia mountains and considered the progenitor of the domestic apple tree, was characterized by a strong adaptability, a long life, resistance to illnesses and fruits comparable to the best variety on the market today. The domestic apple tree, which, as the name says, has been domesticated, has progressively become weaker and weaker, easily succumbing to parasite attacks and with less than vigorous root apparatus, because of a selection which has privileged those features more suitable to a production on industrial scale for the global market.
The exhibition is an attempt to tell the story of this evolution, as the subtitle A story of the apple says, to show the genus in its fragmentary and specific aspects rather than in its linearity, “spots” of an iconological, historical, biological, anthropological, naturalistic, procedural, expositive, material, narrative, commercial nature, and to summarize its essence through the languages, forms and practices of art.

The first of these “spots” is the Section of Golden Apple, a small but precious icon chosen as the symbol of the exhibition, realized starting from the scan of a cross section of an apple, which has then been solarized. As per image, the cross section of the apple shows the five chambers of the ovary surrounded by ten dots (the marks of the stamens of the flower); this star-like conformation delimits a pentagon, which is the base structure of the gold section and contains the generating principle which regulates many forms in nature, allowing the two artists to develop one of the key themes of the exhibition project: the gradual shift from the particular/the Biellese territory to the general/the universal. The procedure of solarization turns the image into a sort of sacred icon of an ultramarine blue and gold colours, a reference to Giotto’s starry skies and medieval frescos on one side, and to the thousands of on line images picturing the dark matter of the universe on the other.
The work Memory exercise is a double projection which sees the farmer and independent researcher Marco Maffeo, among the biggest experts on apples in the Biellese and a member of the “Let Eat Bi” network, as the protagonist. The work refers to the genetic, cultural and commercial memory linked to the farming of apples, and to the relationship between biodiversity and the utopia of a preservation of the variety unaltered. In the first video the protagonist, filmed from up close to emphasise the landscape of his face, takes on the challenge of trying to remember as many names of varieties of apples as he can, quite the endeavour considering that there are hundreds, thousands rather, of different kinds, being the apple tree easily crossbreedable. At the beginning Maffeo is relaxed and remembers the names without any problem, he then starts to feel the strain, to take longer and longer pauses, he struggles to remember, he resumes, and eventually gives up. Afterwards, he realizes that he has not mentioned a few of the most common varieties, even if he knows them very well. He nevertheless manages to mention over two hundred varieties in about thirteen minutes (the duration of the video), even if he is familiar with many more, and the names, pronounced by the man with a rather strong accent, accompany the public over their visit resounding in the exhibition space.
In the second video Maffeo is filmed standing still (as a watchman) in his experimental orchard, a sort of genetic bank of the ancient varieties of apples, where he farms and produces about 180 varieties. Through grafting, the farmer tries utopically to perpetuate the preservation of a genetic heritage into eternity, at the same time conveying the human effort to preserve the memory of places and traditions. Standing against the trivialization and simplification of the varieties of apples carried out by the global produce market, the farmer-breeder resists the genetic impoverishment of the Malus domestica, and, paradoxically, he does this through artifice: the traditional practice of gathering scions and grafting them. It is a technique through which the genetic endowment is cloned, something different from the natural reproductive process of cross-pollination typical of the apple tree, but which allows the survival of thousands of varieties otherwise destined to extinction in anthropized contexts like the ones we live in.
At this point of the room, stepping onto a wooden platform, you can go out onto the terrace, where, “breaking through” one of the windows of the building, the two artists have created a passage towards the outside – a sort of zone of exchange between inside and outside – and have recreated Maffeo’s orchard on a small scale. In this garden called I Malus nursery, you can see over 70 different varieties of apple trees, all for sale to possible visitors/buyers. The opportunity to purchase them, together with the passing of the seasons (the exhibition will close at the end of October), make this artistic intervention consumable and modifiable, never the same throughout the duration of the exhibition.
Rectification Trials_James Grieve X Granny Smith is a 9 meter long linear element suspended diagonally across the exhibition space, a sort of graft/crossbreeding between the branches of two different varieties of apple trees, James Grieve and Granny Smith, also coming from Maffeo’s orchard. The two original branches have been cut into small pieces and then recomposed according to diametrical classes trying as much as possible to avoid bends, so as to obtain a straight line. This sculptural artefact, an abnormal achievement of a violent human act of simplification of natural forms and literal straightening of a branch, which has by nature a complex form, is the re-elaboration of a previous work of rectification carried out by the two artists on four branches found on the banks of the river Rhone in France. This group of works, called Essais de Rectification, is an experiment investigating the issue of how the shape of things is a feature determined by the context, the expression of a force field, and of how it carries inherent information.
False Fruits is an installation displaying the reproduction of 105 ancient traditional Piedmontese varieties of apples, some autochthonous some imported, realized by Davide Furno, a wax modeller from Occhieppo Superiore, in the province of Biella. The artificial fruits are made from casts of real fruits, following the technique elaborated by the famous 19th century wax modeller Francesco Garnier Valletti. From a botanical point of view the apple itself is “false fruit”, not a real one, since it originates not only from the ovary, but also from another part of the flower (the receptacle), which swells to generate a fleshy structure (technically, the core of the apple would be the actual fruit). Furno’s 105 “metallic” looking apples are displayed on glass shelves as if they were sculptural objects at different production stages: rough, just out of the cast, semifinished and finished. Caretto/Spagna invite visitors to concentrate their attention on the morphology of each variety rather than on the chromatic aspect of the fruits. The different shapes indicate the diversity of the apple species but, since the apples on display are made of wax and hollow, they actually express an emptiness, a “false” identity, fruits of another kind of selection and preservation.
Following the exhibition route and almost opposite the platform leading to Maffeo’s outside garden/nursery, levelled with another window offering a nice view of the river Cervo, is another wooden platform, which allows for a view of the exhibition from above. In this area visitors can stop and watch sequences of images or consult the material gathered by the Biellese network and selected by the artists for this occasion, lie on the pillows, observe for a few minutes the process of fermentation of the “Mother” of vinegar, make themselves an apple infusion, or simply enjoy a moment of relax. On display, and for sale, are also the apple based products of the “Let Eat Bi” network partners, the only new element in this Caretto|Spagna’s exhibition, but a natural integral part of this “collaborative” project.
The last tale in this narrative of the history of the apple is the one about the vegetarian bear from the Kazakistan mountains the two artists learnt about through the documentary “Les Origines de la Pomme”, by the French director Catherine Peix. Throughout the millennia this bear has mainly eaten the sweetest and biggest apples, in other words the best varieties, becoming the first selector of the species, well before humans. Might this be the right ending to a story on domestication, on human beings’ instincts as opposed to non human beings’ instincts or to the incontrollable forces of nature?
Cecilia Guida