Iron Dust - Reflections, 2017
A project on the ethical, moral and visual landscape after the industry

In Kladno, walking amongst the ruins of ancient steel factories, is like visiting an archaeological site that - just few years ago -  was part of an unusual life in the shadow of Stalinism. But the factory only proposes an apparent absence and vacuum. Volunteer workers' voices are still here: judges, lawyers, poets, philosophy professors, uprooted from their own houses and lives, during the Communist regime, to carry out unknown jobs in extreme and dangerous conditions, amidst criminals and political prisoners. The plant decommissioning, one-sidedly decided by man, it's an impossible condition. The dialogue with nature throughout the seasons, the gradual change of colours, the daylight shaping new volumes and unexpected architectures within the abandoned buildings are all part of a process that is continuous and unavoidable. Read the full statement here

Iron Dust - Reflections is a portfolio with images and film taken in Kladno during my residence in 2017 in Czech Republic.
The portfolio is comprised of 24 fine prints in limited edition and a film installation which are available for acquisition and exhibition.


Film

Specifications

Video Formats: 3 HD screens or a single UHD screen according to gallery space
Audio Formats: Dolby Digital 5.1 or Stereo with Narrating voice in Italian, English and Czech languages
Running time: 8m 48s

Credits and Contributions

Artistic supervision: Laura Di Nitto
Italian narrating voice: Riccardo Mei
English narrating voice: Peter Bishop
Czech narrating voice: Jiri Dvorak
Soundtrack: Bob Bradley e Tomas Balmf
Graphic Design: Niccolò Iannone
Co-produced with Eleutheria Foundation Prague


Introduction by Marisa Milella

IRON DUST - Reflections
The essential that goes through detail

Kladno. This is where Danilo De Rossi's Skilled Visions[1] start. A way of approaching places, history, emotions that seems to consider vision as a mainly social and cultural activity, an expert practice, which depends fundamentally on the peculiarity of environments and their meaningful artefacts. Skilled Visions as competent look or, better, as proficiency in the way of seeing, which suggests De Rossi is not at all conveying a spontaneous representation of reality. On the contrary, his vision is given in consonance with his culturally accomplished understanding.

To indulge in a literary reference, we may create a comparison with the miniaturist of the novel My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, and his longing for blindness. He, as a matter of fact, does not want to look at the mere reality, dull illusion that fades away despite the fact of assuming the power of iron and steel, of human creation; he rather pursues the essence of things, “the way they are in God's mind, too”[2].

The representative evidence of the photographic image offers us things with autoptic spontaneity, accomplishing effects that are not far from the ones achieved through verbal images.
De Rossi's photography itself becomes verbal event, outcome of a formal choice conditioned by the language through which the photographer tells about present reality, reflects on it, ponders its genesis, and rebuilds it on the basis of his own emotional and intellectual articulation. As a fruit of this re-composition, the photographic pictures, in their graphic and tonal sequence, gain a polished formal cadence that allows us to somehow “listen to” the rhythm of the representation, which would otherwise be imperceptible.

If the nature of seeing is at the same time “phenomenological and historical”[3], in Iron Dust the author is not seeking the representation of the world but he's rather searching for the reading codes of the world, of a story. The story of “beautiful” Poldi, Huť Poldi (Poldi steel plant), business gamble of Karl Wittgenstein, tycoon of Austrian steel and father of the philosopher Ludwig[4].

Kladno factory, crown jewel of Bohemian economy, last century's manufacturing symbol, expression of economic strength, of literary charm that connects it forever to the name of Bohumil Hrabal. The thirty years old Hrabal, with his unpublished poet's past, ends up working at Poldi steel plant, ‘Poldinka’, little hell, as the workers would call it; a place where, as we read in Beautiful Poldi (1950), “God drives the ambulance and he alone picks up broken angels and transports them at night”. That three-year long experience will mark not only his writing but, most of all, his way of seeing. The utterly meaningful text of this total realism phase is the short story Jarmilka, pitiless portrait of a fellinian features' woman, in charge of meals distribution, living in the bowels of the steel plant: an ugly creature, pregnant, carnal; to be compared to the deranged Nadja told by Breton.

The essential nature of De Rossi's work drags him close to the charming hrabalian style, which is mentioned by the author himself in the inspirational place: “only in Kladno my second-hand pseudo-artistic world fell down and I spent one year looking around and I would just see and hear essential things and essential words… and I started writing, as if I wrote for a newspaper, a reportage about people and their dialogues, their jobs and their lives. That's how I started writing Jarmilka”.[5] And that is how Iron Dust seems to have come to light!

The essential that goes through the detail. An Ejzenštejn's echo that focuses the attention on the particular, on what is seemingly meaningless and literally dragged out of the shadow where the narration, in its seeking logic in actions, shut it in, to rise up as a privileged object in the story. Yellowed papers, or maybe papers that were already yellow then…. A red bottle. A car seat turned towards a space looking at nothing.

Experiencing hand labour as well as the contact with workers, marked a turning point in Hrabal's perception of the world, and in his poetry too, inaugurating the total realism phase. This is the world suggested by Danilo De Rossi, in opposition to the “white collars'” one, incapable of “leaving any trace”. It's the world where man is compressed in between the machines and the scraps that wait to be melted, where “metal” and “gears” are the constant human background of Jeri Menzel's wonderful film “Larks on a String”[6] (1969).

Inspired by Hrabal's “An Advertisement for the House I Don't Want to Live in Anymore” (1965), the film is set in Kladno steel plant, where “men are melt to create the new man”; where, in a hell of smoke, heat ad sweat, dissidents and political prisoners would work to be “re-educated”, “re-melt”.

In its aesthetics made of glass windows, sacred monument to industrial progress' dream; of formal search for an aesthetic rationalism with its own vision of relationships, balances, rationally recognisable frequencies; in its mix of surrealism and European constructivism, Iron Dust doesn't grant much to colour. And when it does, it reminds us of Vladimír Boudník and his ferrous colour; an original and independent artist, inventor of “explosionalismus”; one of the “sweet barbarians”[7], whose engravings – half way between a metallic Mirò and a socialist suburbs' plunderer – Hrabal describes in his books.

And right here, among Kladno's “skeletons”, the collage of experiences comes to life, this time with colour, in the montage of emotional attractions.

A Nature that underlines the “constant change process” of the human being. Here in Kladno, in the factory, amongst writings, images and life, amongst discourse devices and forms of the ordinary, we live the history that defines who we are rather than what we are. The uniqueness of a life in the proceeding of the existences' exposed moments, marked by decisions, turning points, events…. by a tiny “switch”.

References

[1]                C. Grasseni (a cura di), Skilled visions: Between Apprenticeship and Standards, Berghahn Books, New York 2007.
[2]
                C. Grasseni, Dai saperi dello sguardo all’ecologia critica della visione, in Forme e modelli. La fotografia come modo di conoscenza, Atti del Convegno SISF a cura di F. Faeta e G.D. Fragapane, Carisco Edizioni, Messina 2013, pp. 79-92, pag. 79.
[3]
                A. Marazzi, Antropologia della visione, Carocci, Roma 2002, p. 74.
[4]
                The name Poldi is inspired by Karl Wittgenstein's wife name, Leopoldina.
[5]
                B. Hrabal, Jarmilka [Sebrane ́ spisy Bohumila Hrabala ], Praha, 1992, pp. 276–279.
[6]
                Skrivanci na niti https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuxXslPiJ7k with Italian subtitles. The film, banned for more than twenty years in reason of the references to Communist regime and Fifty's censorship, reappeared after Berlin wall's fall and got the Golden Bear in Berlinale Film Festival. 
[7]
                Vladimír Boudník (Prague, 1924-1968) was deported in 1943-1944 to forced labour in Dortmund. Back in his homeland, he goes back to his labour work and studies Graphics in the national school. In 1949 writes the first manifesto of «explosionalismus», a poetic of associative reaction to daily visual and emotional situations which aims to stimulating the spectator's creativity.   In 1952, during a work shift at Kladno steel plant, he meets Bohumil Hrabal, inaugurating a friendship which would, among the other things, inspire the literary character of  Vladimírek (B. Hrabal, Un tenero barbaro, 2012 edizioni E/O).

 

Marisa Milella


From 1979 to 2016, as Art Historian Director Coordinator at MiBACT (Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism), she covered a number of positions, among which she was Director of Copertino Castle (Lecce), in charge of managing EU projects, within the Exhibition and Events branch. Professor at postgraduate masters courses in Cultural Heritage management, she curated national and international exhibitions. Among others: Andar per mare (Bari 1998); Il Tesoro di San Nicola (Mosca 2005); Santi sull’Adriatico. La circolazione iconica nel basso Adriatico (Bari 2009).

As a scientific consultant in cultural enhancement projects, she participated in numerous conferences and seminars. Author of more than sixty essays and research papers, she coordinates international projects and multimedia productions. In 2017 she has been appointed Artistic Director at Fondazione Maria Rossi for the creation of the Grottole Art in Nature Park (Puglia – Italy).


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