Anna Scalfi Welcome to Italy

by Julia Trolp

The Inter-ParliamentaryUnion in Geneva publishes statistics, regularly up-dated, about the percentage of women in the national parliaments world-wide. According to the data published on March 2007, Italy is at the seventy-sixth place in the world ratings because the Italian parliament only has 17.3% female members of parliament. This is a fact that causes us to pause and reflect; it can also lead to an art project. Anna Scalfi, an artist who comes from Trento, has placed in the piazza of Mart the flags of all those countries where womenrepresentation in parliament is greater than in Italy. The order of the flags is determined by official data of the statistical survey and, therefore, follows a scientific logic: the first place is occupied by the flag of Rwanda which, surprisingly, is the country in which women are most highly represented in parliament. There then follow Sweden, Costa Rica, Finland, and Norway. In the seventysixth place is the Italian flag, the last in the parade.

These flags, though, aren’t simply arranged in order. As already hinted at, they have been cut up: in fact Anna Scalfi asked two tailors form Trento to cut down each flag on the basis of the percentage of women in the national parliament. So the Rwanda flag is 48.8% complete, while the Italian one is reduced to a tiny green strip corresponding to only 17.3% of the national tricolour. The installation is rounded off by a video that documents the work undertaken by the tailors. During the opening, finally, a conference is held in which various leading figures of politics and culture take part in a debate about the theme raised by the art work. So Anna Scalfi’s work consists of three distinct elements – the installation, the video, and the debate – each of them is an integral part of it. The installation in the piazza of Mart, doubtless the most imposing and physically impressive element, interacts with the monumentality of the internal courtyard of the museum, planned by the architect Mario Botta with the collaboration of the engineer Giulio Andreolli. Furthermore, the artist seems to respond to Botta’s idea, according to which this internal courtyard should be a genuine “piazza” in the tradition of an ancient Italian piazza: in other words, places for meeting and for political discussion. Differently from the installation, the video is not so much a visual metaphor as the record of the project’s development. With their cutting and sewing, the flags have been removed from their usual context and their original meaning and aim. They have been transformed into something else, into the elements of an art work. And how could such a work remain in a merely symbolic sphere without causing a genuinely political debate? The conference on opening day is the logical culmination for the project since it will allow “Welcome to Italy” to make its fullest impact.

With this most recent work, Anna Scalfi enters a museum space for the first time. Until now she has preferred to make use of public spaces, almost incognito and not immediately recognisable as an artist. This, for example, happened in 2005 when she transformed the traffic lights on the main road from Rovereto station to the museum so as to turn the male figures symbolising the pedestrians into females. Dressed as a road maintenance worker, and escorted by a traffic warden, Anna Scalfi changed the shapes on the traffic lights from male to female. The little luminous men suddenly became women. In this “undercover” strategy for her actions we can see a great affinity with the operation of the “Guerrilla Girls”, a group of feminist artists active until 1985. The real identity of the “Guerrilla Girls” is unknown: each one of the group took on a pseudonym and, during their public actions, put on a gorilla mask. With funny posters, actions, and conferences, these artists called attention to the inequality between the sexes both within and without the art system. During the 2005 Venice Biennale the “Guerrilla Girls” planned a series of six posters that concerned the role of women inside the Biennale as well as in the art and political systems. Just like Anna Scalfi the “Guerrilla Girls” often made use of official statistics, and so the situations highlighted by a poster or an action are accompanied by scientifically-proven documents and have a more evident importance.

The main elements of the installation by Anna Scalfi are the flags – objects which, as a result of their strong symbolic significance, have been variously re-elaborated and interpreted in many art works in the past. For now we only want to refer to a photo by Tina Modotti (Udine 1896 – Mexico City 1942) titled “Woman with Flag”. In this image the person bearing the flag on her shoulder becomes the symbol of the independent and politically active woman and, in a certain sense, becomes a portrait of Modotti herself.

“Welcome to Italy”, then, is a work that has many relationships with the works of other contemporary artists and presents various references to the history of art. The most recent action by Anna Scalfi is, what’s more, a project that widens the sphere of action of art, and is in tune with the concept behind Joseph Beuys’s social sculpture, giving an important social function to art. (2007, Anna Scalfi. Welcome to Italy, edited by Julia Trolp, Mart-Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto)

Julia Trolp

(2007, Anna Scalfi. Welcome to Italy, edited by Julia Trolp, Mart-Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto)