Vlady Art: Gossiping Sicilians and “Old School CCTV”

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Vlady Art. Agata. Old School CCTV. Sicily, Italy. October 2016. (photo © Vlady Art)

A prankster and social critic in his public manifestations of art and installation, Vlady Art is one of a few artists whom we can think of in Europe today who consider their efforts an important catalyst for public dialogue. At times high-minded and conceptually sophisticated, at other times more obvious, the body of work thus far is often experimental with flashes of brilliance that engage.

Without a doubt, Vlady Art wants you to be involved in questioning your baseline assumptions about the foundations of society – and to observe your role in it. Heavy work, but not as confrontational as it sounds. Last year at the Emergence, an international urban actions festival in Giardini Naxos he even went as far as creating Rorschach tests on walls last year with a small clean tagline saying “you see what you want to see.”

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Vlady Art. Concceta. Old School CCTV. Sicily, Italy. October 2016. (photo © Vlady Art)

A new project on selected balconies of the Sicilian city of Catania is memorable for its shock and humor value, but beyond that the viewer will need to make their own evaluation of its possible meanings. The figures are mannequins posed on balconies, their bodies in attractive floral printed house dresses, the head of each figure supplanted by a surveillance camera that is looking down to the street.

The artist himself tells us that “An anthropological and social explanation is a must to understand the background of this artwork.” With many possible interpretations possible, the best outcome will be some open debate on the street. The worst would be that few see it.

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Vlady Art. Antonia. Old School CCTV. Sicily, Italy. October 2016. (photo © Vlady Art)

For the sake of brevity, we condense the extensive description that he gave us this series of installations called “Old School CCTV” as a commentary of the intrusive surveillance type observation practices of senior women and homemakers who exert an underestimated amount of social control over the population.

While this is a comical satire and the replacement of heads with electronic cameras could also be seen as derisive in the view of some, the greater critique is of a limited and limiting patriarchal system that gives Sicilian women few roles or options in society aside from serving their families and gossiping with one another.

He blames the lack in social mobility and opportunity on many culprits; chauvinism, a vertical hierarchy that is rigid, power vacuums filled by organized crime and the church, and conservative clan-based structures. It’s not just the limitation of women’s roles or access to power that is affected, he says, “any liberal, secular and open-minded concepts have always found plenty of obstacles here.”

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Vlady Art. Giuseppina. Old School CCTV. Sicily, Italy. October 2016. (photo © Vlady Art)

Vlady kindly describes for BSA readers more the background for “Old School CCTV” :

So why the mannequins? This is what you will see once you visit Sicily or the south of Italy; lots of signora cleaning, chatting or chilling out on their balconies and secretly (or not so) spying/staring at you. Is it still like this, like in the old days? Yes, it is an undeniable fact, at least, in the popular, inexpensive and working-class areas.

Women, while at home, are in control of the house: Nothing can happen around the premises without their acknowledgment. The other people’s life is being constantly under monitoring. Most of the old condominiums have a central yard called a cortile: this is exactly like a public arena or a modern Facebook, where women exchange useful or useless information.

The petty talks are here called “cuttigghi”, from word cortile. The cuttigghiare (the petty, small talkers) can be chatty and loud at times. They are relaxed and jovial on one hand, always arguing and complaining on the other. If you want to know if something has happened, you better ask a signora.

 

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Vlady Art. Nunzia. Old School CCTV. Sicily, Italy. October 2016. (photo © Vlady Art)

To be in somebody else’s affair (“not to mind your own business”) is both an indisputable characteristic and a strong prejudice about women and it persists today. As in the most of petty talks, the core subject is people. This can sound apparently funny and trivial but in reality it is a negative social control system in which many cannot live their own life without intrusions and in complete freedom without judgments.

In small towns youngsters and women are often under tight control and undergo strong criticism from their parents, relative, neighbors; for being different or simply looking “unusual” is perceived as a threat or a disappointment for the group.

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Vlady Art. Rosa. Old School CCTV. Sicily, Italy. October 2016. (photo © Vlady Art)

Sicilians, who were farmers for much of the last century frequently use dogs for the safety of their own premises, rather then installing CCTV. Fences are ridiculous high, considering that people aren’t rich. People stare at you more, much more than anywhere else, except possibly for some Arabic countries or those in Latin America. They control anything that moves and that is not “normal”.

The clan (or better, the herd) mentality is unfortunately very strong in some closed and archaic communities. The authority is not the major, the president or the prime minister, but the boss of the neighborhood, the father or the elder brother. Retired, widow or housekeeper ladies from the quartieri (neighborhoods, not the central or wealthy areas) are spending their existence on balconies, watching life from a window or throughout a railing. This custom or this routine isn’t unusual even in the main cities, such as Palermo or Catania.

Ignorance, sexism, prejudices, superstitions, wrong beliefs, the gender gap and a lack of know-how are still an evident setback that condemns the land to an eternal stagnation.

“Old school CCTV”, while being an apolitical, surreal and even hilarious artwork, is meant to include an activist and social message, quiet evidence for those who live or lived in this specific cultural background.  –  Vlady, 2016

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Vlady Art. Grazia. Old School CCTV. Sicily, Italy. October 2016. (photo © Vlady Art)

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