Alors vous lui réapprendrez à danser à l’envers comme dans le délire des bals musette et cet envers sera son véritable endroit, Antonin Artaud
It was back in the 1930’s when Antonin Artaud was in and out of asylums; in the same decade, Carol Rama went daily to visit her mother admitted to a psychiatric clinic. The encounter with sick bodies and confinement conditions inspired her first watercolors.
In 1945, Rama celebrates her first exhibition in Turin. The gallery was closed and she was labeled as pornographic. In 1946, Artaud writes Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu, a radio creation that would be censored before its broadcast.
Those Apassionatas of Rama, naked bodies tied with straps, under a kind of cloud made of wire springs, or immobilized in wheelchairs… are not mere bedridden women, they do not submit easily to the prison system. The planters and flowers that sprout from their heads take them far from those disciplinary rooms, with their erect tongues mocking of their jailers, and snakes protruding from their vaginas. Although limbless, they transform their orifices into phalluses with which to masturbate themselves. They know that pleasure is political.
They have “freed themselves from automatisms”, they dance backwards, a delirious dance, as Artaud said that a body without organs should move, that is, a body without an organism to which being subjected. If the organs are disorganized there will be no God or medical science that can continue to instrumentalize desires, reifying the body.
Sin has been my only teacher, said Carol Rama when was asked about her influences. Today marks 100 years of her birth. Turin, her native town, celebrates it. The Musei Reali di Torino has acquired some of her paintings and is showing it at the Galleria Sabauda bringing it together with works of Rama’s friend Carlo Mollino, a famous designer and more underground as an erotic photographer. Carol and Molino were neighbors, physically and mentally.
In Via Napione, the two of them had confined themselves in their particular dark room: it was literally in the case of Mollino, because he revealed there his fetishistic photos; and figurative for Carol Rama, because she sealed windows and shutters, isolating her creative universe of urban rumors. In this lack of distinction between day and night gravitated her most intimate visions.
The poet Edoardo Sanguineti defined her as bricoleur, but her bricolage implied especially the body and its peripherals: foot prostheses, dentures, hairs, shaving brushes, urinals, glass eyes… Fossil testimonies of individual or communitary histories (as Levi Strauss calls them in The Wild Thought). For Carol they were residues of close persons that captivated her as a child and ended up treasuring in her house: shoe lasts of her shoemaker uncle, dolls with majolica eyes in her aunt’s room, mouth appliances, old tires from her father’s bicycle factory…
As well as orthopedics and suffering (also desiring) bodies were the main issues of her first drawings, the organic and inorganic themes would continue to overlap in her later work: in the 50’s, she camouflaged her visceral language under a material abstraction in accordance with the contemporary avant-garde, but soon the guts burst, subterranean cyclops emerged, claws scratched the burned land … In the 1960s, military aggressions were laminating with her own wounds, with her inner abrasion. In the 70’s, cannulas and syringes hang between worked rubber as if it were elephant skin in the hands of a taxidermist … So, the struggle between medical asepsis and organic overflow, between “enema” and “abjection”, returns.
In the 80’s, the figuration bursts back into the work of Rama and will no longer abandon it. The bodies are animalized, prefiguring what will be one of her last series, in the following decade, the one devoted to mad cow disease and massive sacrifice. Herbivorous animals contaminated by ingesting meat feed, anthropophagy induced by the food industry …, the reality always gave Rama the raw material to dig inside herself. I am the crazy cow, she said.
Neither a distant observer nor a tormented narcissist, but inner and outer reality overlap in Carol Rama, in her body of multiple sutures. She climbed into patients skin when she frequented hospitals, she also suffered burns and abrasions while knowing about the atomic bomb and napalm, later she was a mad cow … She went through the twentieth century and its horrors, still blinding her windows, still ignoring and being ignored by the student movement, feminists, avant-garde… and other peer groups of different periods. She only belonged to herself.
Musei Reali di Torino, Galleria Sabauda, Turín
Confronti 4: Animali e segni: Carlo Mollino e Carol Rama
until 4 th June 2018
Miart, Feria de Arte, 23 ed., Milano, abril 2018.
Carol Rama. Capolavori per Milano, 1938-2005.
curated by Maria Cristina Mundici
Simmons & Simmons