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BalenaProject, since 2004
BalenaProject, 2004 - 2010

Wool fabric, padding fiber, inflatable air chamber

24 x 4 m appx   It is a project in progress, consisting in the creation of a lifesize fabric rorqual. The wool fabric is simply sewn, in the most faithful reproduction possible of the anatomical characteristics of this cetacean, the largest and the fastest in the Mediterranean Sea..
As soon as it was completed the whale began a journey, a long itinerary through different places and situations. It has come to life in performances. It has traveled around Italy and other countries that have hosted it. At times it has been beached in a museum or a gallery room, on the seaside, along a riverbank, in an historic square. It would have liked to rest alongside a glacier, in a suburban neighborhood, in the courtyard of a school. It became a pretext for gathering stories, engaging the eyes, expertise and passions of many people.       

History of the project
Balena Project started materially in 2004, but it had already taken shape a few years before in the image of a great fabric whale beached in a space too small for its size.  An image of restrained power, forced to assume shapes that were not its own. To this first thought another was immediately added, enriching it and providing a sort of historical motivation for the project.  A personal story, first of all. In the nineteenth century skeletal remains of large cetaceans were discovered in the sandy cliffs of a valley near Piacenza.  I had spent many summers in that same valley, searching for fossilized shells, as fragile as the sand that had preserved them.   That plain was once covered with salt water.  Instead of grape vines and fields of corn there grew expanses of seaweed, mollusks sedimented and castles of calcium carbonate took shape.  Instead of flocks of birds, as Leonardo da Vinci said, swam fish of the strangest shapes and large marine mammals.

A great story related by several friends and, then, by a Swiss man, Jean Rezzonico, who travelled with it for 20 years. It is about GOLIATH, a real whale, a Balenoptera Physalus beached somewhere in Northern Europe in the fifties, eviscerated and conserved through injections of formaldehyde, and which toured the piazzas of Italy and Europe (Eastern Europe during the sixties) as a macabre circus attraction.  Held in a container of over 22 meters long, illuminated with orange lighting, it was a malodorous and wrinkled animal.  A a strange and deathly image that attracted numerous visitors, many children accompanied by parents who still remember its enormous eyes staring into the void.  By the early eighties it was to be heard of no more, after having been bought by a Spanish circus.
I did not expect that from an initial idea, as yet imprecise in its details, would develop so many different relationships, stories, events, some extraordinary.

I did not expect that Balena Project would become what it is today.I could not have imagined that I would find those who would freely offer their support.  In part it was a matter of financial assistance, but also and especially of active involvement, in the first person.Those who offered me the fabric to realize this whale, the place and the technical knowledge to sew it.  Those who offered their time to tell stories about it, through images.Those who lent their former enthusiasm for the protection and the safeguarding of marine mammals.Those who spent words, connected the threads to create a tapestry of possibilities and make them go far.Those who recited, sang and played on and around it on the road.I will not list the names of all of the people involved, in one way or another…it would be too long. What started all this?The desire to put oneself to the test with something “big”, difficult to realize as well as to construct, given the initial economic circumstances.The necessity to construct a tale that carried with it an affirmation of meaning: the image of a great beached animal--one that is truly in danger of becoming extinct--appears in places that one would not expect to see it and becomes an instrument for activating parallel, and sometimes autonomous, situations. It is a multi-faceted subject in which different things can be read, depending on how one sees it. Conserving this independence of interpretation has been important over the years. The conclusion of the project, not yet determined, will materially transform this “woolen whale” object into so many other objects…it will not be a death but a transformation into other smaller stories that will go on to nourish still others.
Nothing gets thrown away.  Not even a thought.

Pictures from:
_Balena Golitah, dall`archivio fotografico Casa_Studi Ferdinando Melani, Pistoia.

_Dwalvis Van Jean Mikkenie, about another whale, Jonah, traveling through Europe during the Fifties and The Sixties

_Béla Tarr, Werckmeister Harmonies (1996-2000)
Then, years later, I happened upon an extraordinary film by Béla Tarr, Werckmeister Harmonies…in which, the story, in fact, revolves around a whale that is taken on tour in a large trailer.