Le isole fantastiche
Giacinto Di Pietrantonio
Le isole fantastiche, 2017, Silvana Editoriale
Le Isole Fantastiche (Fantastic Islands) is the title Matteo Rubbi gave to his project for the third edition of the Educational Day promoted by AMACI and of the Festival della Cultura Creativa. But before expanding on Rubbi’s creative proposal, I’d like to explain why this delicate project was entrusted to him. Matteo Rubbi’s work well suits this educational project because much of his practice revolves around education processes and learning practices and relations – all themes which have represented the poetic core of his art since the beginning of his career. Landscape too, is another recurring element in his work, in a variety of forms and interpretations: starry skies, mountain ranges, seas, and of course islands, as in this case. These elements then involve further aspects such as observation, travel, the exploration of remote, inaccessible places, and consideration of things infinitely great and infinitely small. Through art Rubbi in fact also explores elements that constitute nature and the objects around us, their classification, their atomic number, their constitution, and what they mean to us after we have experienced them. So, in Rubbi’s practice, a photographic representation or a video of a starry night is the result of a group journey up to the top of a mountain where everyone lies down to look up at the stars and their geo-spatial and mythological composition: the Milky Way, Sagittarius, Libra and Capricorn constellations, and so forth, reading them as space poetries mankind has used to bejewel the sky and that Rubbi wants us to rewrite, inviting the participants to place objects they brought with them onto a sheet of star-light photosensitive paper, creating a new map of the stars. To look up to the sky is one of our primary actions in our attempt to see and create a new world. At night we behold the stars until their light fades, and in the daylight we observe the clouds, and not because we are fascinated by their incessantly shifting shapes, but because we are taken by their endless toil as images creators. Even what seems perfectly still – like the mountains – in Rubbi’s work is subject to change, naturally, through art. Because when Matteo deals with the Alps, for instance, he presents us with an approximate reproduction of the mountain range (scale 1: 100.000), for which he drew inspiration not only from reality but also from the many representations other artists have given of the Alps throughout the centuries. I could carry on with more examples, but I’d rather move on to another aspect of the artist’s work, that of the journey, a journey across the seas especially. A journey that may be fictional or real, as in the case of the Bounty for instance, the famous British vessel that during the eighteenth century set out to sea for Tahiti where on their arrival part of the crew rebelled in one of the world’s most famous mutinies. For the Bounty project, which Rubbi carried out in different Italian and international institutions, the artist conceived an itinerant work, a journey, a Bounty that every time had to be reproduced in 1:1 scale sections, using a small model of the ship as blueprint. The task was carried out with the help of master artisans, like carpenters and tailors, and of astronomers, astrophysicists, and other professionals. But the bulk of the project however was executed through the institutions’ Education Departments, involving children and teenagers from different schools. And so, here we are, the Bounty has led us to the sea, a sea of metaphors of real or imaginary islands: after all, isn’t a ship like a small island floating across the sea? When we are at sea, aren’t we all islands? For this project Matteo Rubbi sent out a video tutorial to the Education Departments of Italian museums members of AMACI, proposing them to invite primary and high school students to imagine and draw their own Neverland fantasy island, ‘the kind of island we might find if we were to take the ‘second star to the right, and straight on till morning’. About 1500 children from all over Italy joined the project, drawing and imagining their Neverland island/islands that then were pieced together to form an archipelago – since Rubbi’s final aim is to invite individuals to join forms of collective education and training. These 1500 Peter Pans put all their effort into shaping their idea of island/islands and ultimately defining their own notion of the world. Yes, because since time immemorial, an island has always been a metaphor for something else, a place where many things can happen. It is no mere coincidence that whenever philosophers – the children of human thought – set out to define a new conception of the world, a new utopia, they always think of an island: think of Plato’s Atlantis beyond the Pillars of Hercules, Thomas Moore’s island of Utopia, or Tommaso Campanella’s Città del Sole (City of the Sun), that today has become the name of a famous Italian toy company. But now, the questions we need to answer are the following: who is the artist in this project? And what part of it is the actual artwork? Must this work be only credited to Matteo Rubbi, or should the children share part of the authorship too? These children who have drawn beautiful islands for this ‘unexpected trip around the world across the seas, exploring islands and imagining new cultures’ – a modus operandi compelling us to redesign a New Map of the World. An answer to these questions can only exist in our imagination, just like Neverland. The beauty of it all however is not in the answer per se, but in the effort we put into finding it, into imagining it, in that active process that turns a ‘neverland’ into ‘a land’. All this was possible thanks to the practice set in motion by Rubbi, the Education Departments, and all the children, a practice which I hope, will be embraced by those of us who are willing to continue exploring, because that is what keeps us alive through art.