“But you don’t say: that man is not an artist… If you don’t define him as an artist you cannot define him as a man neither, and this would be a huge reproach. Say instead: he is an artist because he is a man”.

Bertolt Brecht, “On Everyday Theatre”

The title of the video “Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder” realized by Katia Bassanini derives from a theatre piece of Bertolt Brecht. Mother Courage, that makes of war its source of profit, sings alternatively (and with the same sincerity, the author notices) praises and curses depending if it gives her the possibility to survive or to overwhelm her children. “The Courage is most of all seen as a mother, as a Niobe that doesn’t manage to protect her children from the fatality of the war” writes Brecht. The work of Katia Bassanini consists in a performance brought without public with the aid of a video camera, a wig and “the thing”. A manipulated object that is exchanged for a baby, for the conventional pictorial representation of the mother that rocks her son in her arms, even if the puppet doesn’t have anything of the baby except the gift its ribbon. It is a habit to send a picture of the newborn to family and acquaintances to announce the happy event: in this notice often the newborn is decorated with ribbons or put into baskets or similar factitious situations. “I often found this images more terrifying than happy and probably the silence of the little being plays an important role and maybe this silence is not so far from that of a pet in front of his owner talking to him.” said the artist. “I see these little incidents repeat itself: a woman is speaking to her dog since almost fifteen minutes as it was her son, and what if I, standing beside her, should start an animated conversation with my handbag?”.

The analogy puppet/pet is also given in the video of the Swiss artist by the use of objects like bowls and leashes. “I think that the object relation, in this case, it’s strictly connected to the fact that a newborn as well as a pet do not have the ability to speak”, said the artist. “The manipulated object, “the thing” is meant as a support, a projection screen”. In a lot of paintings or frescos in which the protagonist is the Madonna, or also in representations of women in domestic scenes, the son is kept in the arms, acquire different significations if represented young but adult, naked or dressed, close to the breast or on earth in an interminable unthread of the Madonna with large eyes to the Madonna of the Vispo Child, idiomatic expressions that often serve to identify the author of the painting... It is a tradition that arrives until “L’esprit of the geometry” of René Magritte realized between 1936 and 1937, inspired by the iconography of the Madonna with Child where Magritte, with metonymic inversion, switches the face of the mother and her son. In the same period, Frida Kahlo paints “My nurse and I” (1937), a work much loved by Frida herself, who paints herself as a newborn with the body of a baby and the face of an adult, while the face of the nurse is like a stone pre-colonial mask. The artist founds the references interesting that can be made to the history of the painting as to the pure performing aspect highlighted by the (fixed) videocamera that has no other function than to register the action. “Often the artist itself defines those events as “actions without public” that, everytime, are constructed to involve us as witnesses of situations in which the action is often reduced to minimum terms and is the semantic ambiguity itself that becomes the protagonist” (Roberto Pinto). The video give the possibility to reiterate the performance, so that the “action without public” becomes an action searching continuously its public. Instead, the possibility to meet differentiated public is enlarged, public with a different target as we would say today. The video voids and makes uncertain the “hic et nunc” (here and now) of the performance. Wigs, as that one that characterises the motherfigure, and other disguises, as the jackets full of explosives in the series Casual Friday, underline the strong link, immediately noticed by Paolo Colombo, with the comedy of art. Pinto remarks that the tone of the videos of Katia Bassanini is deprived of emphasis and that is -in my opinion- the point of differentiation from the comedy of art, made of underlinings. The mother (courage?) of the Katia’s ironic video, “incorrect”, provocative towards the prestabilized iconography of the motherfigure venerated as sacred in our culture, first she cuddles the puppet then she scrambles it in a growing act that makes foretell the tragic result of an always darker daily news. Mother, courage, another effort.

Laura Cherubini