A Confederacy of Villains

Milano, 23/09 – 23/12, 2010

Jerome Zodo Contemporary is pleased to present Federico Solmi’s new solo show, A Confederacy of Villains.

Concurrent to his participation in SITE Santa Fe Eighth International Biennial, New Mexico (USA), where he is presenting his latest video installation, Douche Bag City, Federico Solmi is creating a mise-en-scène for his solo show in Italy that will revolve around his latest animated video project. His work in this genre has not only been exhibited at major artistic events and international museums, such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Reina Sofía in Madrid, and the Drawing Center in New York, but earned him a prestigious video art award from the Guggenheim Foundation of New York last year.

A Confederacy of Villains, the title chosen for this exhibition, is inspired by John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces, which was first published in the US in 1980, eleven years after the author’s death. It probably isn’t necessary to have read Toole’s novel to get caught up in Solmi’s imaginary world, through the main character, Ignatius Reilly, seems to bear a strong resemblance to the artist; both are keen observers of the idiocy inherent in a certain kind of pop culture, which Toole describes as lacking “theology and geometry”. The parallel continues in the narrative convolutions: as the gang of dunces commits its follies in New Orleans, Federico Solmi’s confederacy goes on perpetrating age-old barbarities and blunders, tackling the alternating vicissitudes of its “villainous” life on the creaking stage of an apocalyptic theater. While for Toole, co-existence with stupidity turned into tragedy, for Solmi it has instead become a source of inspiration, an essential nutriment for his artwork.

The artist loves challenges, conflicts and reversals. He loves to grab people’s attention, stripping reality of all semantic contortions and presenting viewers with absurdist fables that highlight and amplify the aesthetic conditions of chaos. Solmi creates an idiosyncratic form of entertainment that blends video with painting, constructing a pantheon of anti-heroes, stars that are parallel and alternative to contemporary figures, like the main character in his latest project, Douche Bag City, Dick Richman—a sort of Bernard Madoff, the mysterious Wall Street guru who was responsible for the biggest financial scam in US history; or else a pope dressed up as Superman, committing an array of nefarious capital sins; the artist’s King Kong alter-ego, venting his wrath on America’s lobbies; or Rocco Siffredi dying in New York in 2005, honored with a memorable state funeral.

Federico Solmi uses art to comment, in a darkly ironic way, on an unstable, essentially unhinged system that can only accentuate, but not conceal, the idiocy and absurdities of society. His reflections are of a social nature, and he draws on the spirit of satire to criticize contemporary customs and attitudes. The target of his mockery is the sinister, petty behavior of his “villains”, ambiguous, corrupt figures who are archetypes in the utopian universe of our civilization.

His animation work is the result of a slow, painstaking process, a combination of drawing, painting, and 3D animation, assisted by a recent collaboration with Russell Lowe, a New Zealand-born professor of Digital Media at South Wales University in Sydney, Australia and Lee Gibson, professor of Industrial Design at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. In response to all the mechanisms aimed at concealing the paradoxes of mass religions, the artist’s position inevitably remains cynical and disenchanted. While his early works such as Rocco Never Dies or King Kong and the End of the World are infused with a feverish optimism whereby the human race finds peace and redemption in the empyrean realm of a “happy ending”, in Douche Bag City, catharsis witnesses its own end, in a process of maturation that has grown darker and more dismal over the years, to the point that that the last episode is titled Evil Always Prevails.

Douche Bag City (2010) is a ramshackle, neo-Gothic installation made up of 15 video panels with gorgeous inlaid frames arranged on a single wall at the gallery entrance, a mise-en-scène and en espace. The work is being shown here in Italy for the first time, concurrent with the 8th Santa Fe Biennial—“The Dissolve”—curated by Sarah Lewis and Daniel Belasco. This new project reformulates the episodic structure of modern video games, introducing viewers to the character of Dick Richman, a corrupt Wall Street financier who is exiled by the artist to the realm of Douche Bag City, a hellish Babel where criminals are tortured for their atrocities against society.

Accompanying it are the black and white animations of Rocco Never Dies (2005), an amusing reconstruction of the adventures of this Italian porn star, who ends up as a deeply mourned war hero; King Kong and the End of the World (2006), a fierce, apocalyptic allegory of false American myths; and a video from 2008, The Evil Empire, exhibited along with never-before-seen episodes titled Mr Pope Welcome To Hell, a visionary portrait of a demonic religious congregation.

The exhibition is rounded out by a pictorial preview of his upcoming animation project, Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth, commissioned by the Guggenheim Foundation of New York, and the kinetic installation Fucking Machine After Leonardo (2010), a grotesque mechanical contraption that reveals the frustrating, cynical dehumanization of humanity, a vivid emulation of the regression in technological identity.

For the occasion, Blanca De La Torre, curator of ARTIUM Museum of Contemporary Art (Vitòria-Gasteiz, Spain) and editor Giuseppe Liverani will be presenting the new catalogue published by Edizioni CHARTA, Federico Solmi Vol.1.

Federico Solmi was born in Bologna in 1973 and moved in 1999 to New York, where he is currently based. His works have been exhibited at many prestigious international museums: “The Dissolve” – 8th Santa Fe Biennial in New Mexico (USA), curated by Sarah Lewis and Daniel Belasco; the Centre Pompidou in Paris, at the cross-disciplinary art and video festival “Rencontres Internationales” (November 28 – December 7, 2008 – 2009); the 26th Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival in Germany (November 10 -15, 2009); Reina Sofía National Museum in Madrid; the Drawing Center in New York; the National Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow at IMPAKT HIGHLIGHTS: YOUR SPACE (December 17, 2008); Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin (June 30 – July 5, 2008); Palazzo delle Arti in Naples; the 16th Quadriennale at Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome (June 19 – September 14, 2008); and Experimenta at Collezione Farnesina (July 2008).