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Notes on the Dolomites

A visit to the 9th Biennale Ghërdeina, AR/GE Kunst in Bolzano and the GaMec in Bergamo.

If you consider that 230 million years ago, the Dolomites were part of an ocean, you can hardly keep from thinking of the sky as a fluid surface to cross, like a sea reptile. Weaving my way through the artworks currently exhibited in the 9th Biennial of Gherdeina, the seabed of my thoughts found its reflection in the fluttering, shiny fabric of a sailing veil attached through a hole of a window from the offices above the gallery of the Biennale's founder, Doris Ghetta. The Veil is tied to the floor of a generic room that the Atelier dell'Errore (abbreviated here as AdE, and translated into English as Studio of Mistakes) emptied out for the exhibition of a giant marmot. Or is it a pigeon? Or is it a goddess?



It’s a Marmotoloid, says the artist Luca Santiago Mora, the founder of AdE. It’s beyond the zoological: Mora’s creative ethos revolves around transformation and metamorphoses beyond traditional categorizations. The artist enchants the group of visitors with a poetic and playful description of the works exhibited. In the Atelier’s artistic process, nothing is ever erased, preserving and harnessing the potential inherent in every perceived "error." The resulting artworks are not merely individual creations, but intricate components of a larger relational process, akin to the organs of a living being. AdE started in 2002 as a visual arts laboratory for neurodivergent children under pediatric care in Reggio Emilia and Bergamo. As these children approached adulthood, they found themselves outside the pediatric health system, prompting them to establish AdE as a professional artistic collective in 2015.

The Marmotoloids are depicted in different, rather awkward positions: one has a golden face and no skin, like a pre-Hispanic deity, or an image of San Bartolomeo. Another one has huge tears below their eyes; the body resembles a dysfunctional, rather chaotic, parliament. The ninth edition of the Biennale Gherdeina, is entitled "The Parliament of Marmots” after the Marmotoloids presenting an intriguing exploration of the relationships between humans and nature. Here, in this generic office in Pontiffs, the industrial, rather ugly part of the otherwise-photogenic Dolomites, the Ladin myth of the Fanes provides a departing point to connect ancient narratives with current climate and humanitarian crises. The exhibition is in no way explicit, yet it breathes life into ancient narratives, and brings them into a contemporary context, urging visitors to reflect on interspecies harmony and the disruption caused by modern environmental destruction.


Fig. 2

The curatorial frame that Lorenzo Giusti and Marta Panini give to the exhibition encompasses the picturesque landscape of Val Gardena, thoughtfully placing the commissioned artworks in both natural settings and urban spaces. Each piece contributes to a collective dialogue about nature, mythology, and human impact. However, the nature of collectivity here is rather heterogeneous. The collectivity here responds to its members in a coequal way. Whilst the Atelier dell'Errore sets a powerful tone with their installation at Pontives, the homage to the late Lin Mae Saeed at Sala Trenker comprises a historical contextualization of an artist who devoted her practice to fostering awareness of human behavior towards non-humans, but also to language as a channel to connect to everything. At AR/GE Kunst, Eva Giolo’s analogue film Memory Is an Animal, It Barks with Many Mouths (2024) rehearses a patchwork of slang, onomatopoeia, bucolic scenarios with women and children as protagonists, and images of wooden puppets and clouds against blue skies. Giolo’s documentary visual language conveys the physical survival of Landino, a language spoken by only a few thousand people, creating resonances like the building of an image in a puzzle. Curated by Francesca Verga and Zasha Colah, who will direct the upcoming Berlin Biennale in 2025, the exhibition in Bozen is part of a repertoire of venues for the Biennale.


Fig. 3

The abandoned Hotel Ladinia in Ortisei is the stage for a vibrant fusion of North African aesthetics clashing against the Alpine surroundings. The author of the colorful ornaments on its façade is Nassim Azarzar, whose mural's intricate, mosaic-like composition invites passengers to ponder the interconnectedness of contrasts and the cosmos as a whole, reflects a sense that is both timeless and contemporary, resonating deeply with the exhibition's themes. Inside, Ruth Beraha’s Fortune’s always hiding, I’ve looked everywhere, (2024), displays several porcelain birds entering or melting with the walls, expressing an uncanny take, dismantling romanticized perceptions of nature. The simplicity of this intervention in the hotel connects with the one at the town’s museum. In the darkness of the disused theater hall of Gherdeina the work is beautiful and distressing at the same time. Whilst the half-birds might slide into kitsch, the bird calls, recorded by amateur ornithologists in the valley of Gardena, transports the listener to a serene, natural world menaced increasingly by human-made white noise disrupting the soundscape.


Fig. 4

This kind of disruption is also manifested on the main street of Ortisei, namely with a monument on burnt wood entitled Beetle on a Horse (2024) by Julius von Bismarck. The equestrian statue is perhaps one of the roughest pieces here, replacing the traditional warrior figure with a bark beetle, such as that which has a devastating impact on the advance of climate change. This tiny insect, sculpted with local artisans in a Kippenberger-esque manner, typically viewed as a pest, is actually the subject breaking the boundary between heroism and villainy, pointing a finger back at human activity as the true culprit, as the creature can only jump so easily from tree to tree in human-made forests, in which trees are planted too close to one another allowing the beetle to thrive. The industrial forest is one of the main issues treated both kindly and critically throughout the exhibition, as in Nadia Kaabi-Linke's Mushroom (2024), an underground installation which offers a compelling commentary on the encroachment of urban spaces on nature. In the piece tree roots penetrate the concrete, creating an immersive experience that speaks to the resilience of nature and the often-overlooked presence of the natural world in urban environments.


Fig. 5

The exhibition’s opening days were rainy days. The clouds dispersed for a dry minute in the valley of  Vallunga, where Chiara Bersani performed a brief but all-encompassing, and breathtaking instance in which she gently moved, and moaned “wait!”, as if the words could transform into river, air, or rocks. L'animale selvaggio (The Wild Animal) unfolds like a haunted slumber. Perched atop a large boulder, Bersani sang, blurring the boundaries between human and animal, myth and reality. Her presence invites passersby into a deeply personal and visceral engagement with the natural world, fostering connection and introspection. And, if you don’t pass through the valley, but do visit Hotel Ladinia, her drawings can give you an idea of the passages she envisions for our bodies to use to connect through how we dream. Next to Bersani’s drawings are Daniele Genadry's small-format paintings which offer delicate, pastel meditations on light and landscape. Each brushstroke captures the ephemeral beauty of the Dolomites, emphasizing their fragility and transient nature. These works gently remind us of nature's vulnerability in the face of human activity.


Fig. 6

In Ortisei, Sara Ouhaddou's Les mains fertiles - Fertile hands (2024), a series of wood sculptures in a shop window, blend cultural and natural motifs. Collaborating with a local sculptor, she creates animal figures inspired by the zoomorphic pottery of the Atlas Mountains, and sets the works against Moroccan poetry. This fusion of materials and cultures enriches the narrative, underscoring the points of contact between nature and art, as the artist draws inspiration from ancient traditions. Her figures, crafted in clay and cooked in an oven, echo the art created by women by the fire since the Neolithic era, and surely beyond. Invited to stay for a week at a retreat for artisans of the ballet, she planned an abstract geometrical landscape inspired by Atlas Mountain crafts. Her creatures, including wolves, foxes, snakes, and bears, resonate with the valley's inhabitants, symbolizing a beautiful collaboration between invited artists and local craftspeople.

Esraa Elfeki’s collection of 50 drawings documenting her journeys between Egypt, San Quentin, and the Alps revolve around the pursuit of endangered butterflies. The exhibition at the Museum of Gherdeina places these beautifully borderless drawings alongside taxidermied butterflies from the region. Through the dialogue, Elfeki reflects on the deep relationship between landscapes marked by apocalypse, extinction, adaptation, and catastrophe. The butterfly in Egypt, confined to a high-elevation valley, symbolizes the fragile balance of existence, always teetering on the brink of extinction.


Fig. 7

As if depicting what humans see when they open and close their eyes after eating magic mushrooms, Eva Papamargariti's three-channel video installation in a residential garage titled A whisper, a murmur, a roar (2024), mesmerizes with a special, eerie journey into the wilderness. I’m unsure if this is the ideal placement for such an intimate alternation of poetry, computer-generated and quasi-documentary footage of a stroll through the woods, one undertaken as both humans and spiritual beings. Regardless of the disruptive surroundings of the humid basement of a building, the piece transported me to a mythological space, exploring themes of change and the uncanny. The artist’s digital manipulation of natural landscapes creates a surreal, dreamlike experience, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.


Fig. 8

In the courtyard of Castel Gardena, Diana Policarpo's alien sculpture and sound composition Anguane’s Fountain (2024) pay homage to Ladin mythology. The translucent, soap-foam-like sculpture, accompanied by an evocative soundscape, blends feminist standpoints with perspectives on interspecies relations, creating a multifaceted narrative that is both haunting and enlightening. Amidst the works of the myriad participating artists at the Biennale Gherdeina 9, the viewer embarks on a thought-provoking and visually stunning journey into the intricate relationships between humans and nature in the present moment. The exhibition does not claim to answer all questions; instead, it repeats like a litany the actions we must take: reconsider what nature means, reconsider our relationship with it, respect its rhythms, recognize our interconnectedness.

This insistent and continuous undertone challenges visitors to reflect on their role in the natural world and the impact of their actions, leaving a lasting impression that transcends the boundaries of the art itself. In a similar vein, "Thinking Like a Mountain", the exhibition at the GaMec in Bergamo, invites us to adopt a broader, more holistic view of our environment. By encouraging us to see the world through the eyes of a mountain; it deepens our understanding of ecological interdependence, and the long-term impact of human activity. Together, these exhibitions echo a powerful message: to truly care for our planet, we must embrace a perspective that honors and integrates the wisdom of the natural world.


Fig. 9



  • Images:

    Cover image: Diana Policarpo, Anguane’s Fountain, 2024. Mixed media sculpture. 280 x 120 x 120 cm. // Anguane’s Fountain, Stream (COBRACORAL), 2024. 6 multi-channel audio installation. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 1: Atelier dell’Errore, Marmottoloide, 2024. Mixed Technique and Gold Leaf on Polyester and Carbon Fibre. Variable Dimensions. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 2: Laurent Le Deunff, Chouette des neiges, Crocodile, Escargot, 2024. Installation with Concrete Sculptures, Earth, Tree Bark, Dead Leaves, Moss and Various Species of green Plants and Saplings. Variable Dimensions. Courtesy of the Artist and Semiose, Paris. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 3: Ruth Beraha, Fortune’s always hiding, I’ve looked everywhere, 2024. Ceramics. Variable dimension. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 4: Julius von Bismarck, Beatle On A Horse, 2024. Stone Pine Wood. 444 x 125 x 233 cm. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by IFA - Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 5: Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Mushroom, 2024. Installation. Variable Dimensions. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by IFA - Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 6: Chiara Bersani, L’animale selvaggio, 2024. Mixed media on Paper. Variable Dimensions. Performance on 31.05.2024. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 7: Sara Ouhaddou, Les mains fertiles - Fertile hands, 2024. Half-Relief and Sculptures. Wood. Variable Dimensions. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo

    Fig. 8: Eva Papamargariti, A whisper, a murmur, a roar, 2024. Three-Channel HD Video, Color, Sound, 9’. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by LUMA Arles. Photo by Tiberio Sorvillo




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