Collected

10 Years of Experimentation

NERO Magazine (Rome)

By Manuela Pacella

NERO is a quarterly magazine of contemporary culture - distributed in Europe and the United States - and a publishing house specializing in artists books, editions and catalogues on behalf of museums, foundations and private collections. NERO is also responsible for the care, art direction and advice of cultural and artistic projects.[1]

Issue 1. September-October 2004. Cover by Carola Bonfili

The reasons behind writing this article can be attributed to the above statement - a sublime example of synthesis – which does not give any real depiction of a story that turns 10 this year - a story that I decided to dive into, by retracing facts and phases and identifying both the points of strength and the Achilles heel. This article endeavours to explain the interest I have towards four key figures involved in NERO; Francesco de Figueiredo (1979), Luca Lo Pinto (1981), Valerio Mannucci (1979) and Lorenzo Micheli Gigotti (1979), who have appealed to me ever since I had the pleasure of working with them on a catalogue produced for an exhibition in 2012, held at the Project Space of the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.

Belfast and NERO are closely linked for me.[2] They are spaces where I find refuge every time the stifling Roman mugginess suffocates me, and I come out refreshed each time. Human and professional relationships, in both places, are always deeply stimulating and cause a prolific state of uncertainty – instigating an interrogation into one’s own role, into which each of us should continuously feed. It is the characteristic of this constant self-critique that makes the opening statement – a quarterly magazine of contemporary CULTURE – particularly appropriate.

NERO magazine, over the past ten years, has certainly characterized the contemporary Roman scene; not only anticipating moods, but straddling the spirit of the time - the zeitgeist - in a way I continue to envy. I often find the first issues of the magazine in the homes of my peers that don’t belong to the contemporary art world, and I’ve frequently happened to catch guests of mine - even those completely outside of the art system - reading articles avariciously. This doesn’t happen so frequently for other art magazines, and scanning the issues of NERO, from the first to the last[3], gives an idea not only of the interdisciplinarity the magazine has had since the beginning, but also of how this has evolved into true experimentation on paper, making it not so much “a medium as an object.”[4]

Before retracing the steps along this journey, I’d like to point out how significant it is - for me as much as for NERO – for this article to feature on a new cultural platform, by young people full of energy and ideas behind it[5], rather than a well established and distributed art magazine. Having said that, here is the story of NERO magazine, divided into four phases.

Issue 16. April-May 2008. Cover by Bruce La Bruce

First phase: The origins

The magazine’s editorial team first got together in the early 2000's, during university. Though it may seem almost natural now that a group of young Art History and Communication Sciences students should decide to start a magazine - it certainly wasn’t in the context of Italy, and in particular, Rome. I’ve always wondered what kind of strong synergy was within the group, what level of optimism, and certainly, of carelessness that led these young people, before finishing their studies, to launch themselves into an almost insane undertaking.

It is therefore essential to understand that the magazine wasn’t born overnight, but developed over a period of time. The path to NERO began a few years earlier when the four tested out working together collaboratively, by writing for a neighbourhood newspaper, where, besides defining their various interests, they determined a common strength and mutual aim. The magazine, not comprehending their attitudes and perhaps even their arguments, chose - instead of expanding - to close. They, on the other hand, decided to make their own.

At the time there were very few Italian art magazines, and any that existed were very specialized and somewhat traditional. Today the outlook is completely different and the greatest Italian contribution to contemporary art in the last ten years has been that of independent editorials, represented especially by NERO (2004) and CURA (2009) in Rome, and by Mousse (2006) and Kaleidoscope (2009) in Milan.

Second phase: From Issue No. 0 to No. 0.2 (2004-2007)

The stimuli and ideas that make up the roots of NERO not only trace back to its university context, but also to a series of external sources. A series of collaborators were added to the team of the four founders, including artists, writers, and art critics. Carola Bonfili, Ilaria Gianni, Emiliano Maggi, Michele Manfellotto, Francesco Ventrella, Nicola Pecoraro and Daniele De Santis[6] were the magazine’s main collaborators and animators, many of whom are still linked to the project NERO in different ways.

In 2004, Issue 0 was released, but was not available for distribution. Due to the support of the artist Cesare Pietroiusti - who was fascinated by the multi-disciplinary aspect of the magazine - he made the first issue distinctive with an artistic intervention on the four centrefold pages, by pouring red oil into holes made in the stacks of pages before they were assembled.

Issue 29. Spring-Summer 2012. Cover by Jochen Lempert

In its first phase the magazine was published in Italian, printed in black and white, distributed bi-monthly and free of charge (as it remains today). The articles covered all of the arts, from music to theatre to dance, and the magazine always closed with a section of reviews - not of exhibitions, but of musical releases, films and editorials. Browsing through them, there was an immediate awareness of the broad spectrum of interests catered for, and the almost 'scouting' quality taken by NERO in identifying the most interesting happenings at a national level. The tone of the articles was prevalently informal - easy reading despite its high level content.

Though its appearance was similar to a fanzine, the four directors wanted it to be recognized immediately as a real magazine and they commissioned specific projects to artists and distributed it everywhere (museums, galleries, clubs, music shops and social centres, alongside cafes, bars, pubs and various shops), initially just in Rome, and then in Milan, Naples and Turin where they often went in person. At the start, their undertaking was viewed with indifference and wasn’t always encouraged. As the director of the Italian cult music magazine Blow Up, Stefano Isidoro Bianchi himself said; “quality is seen, rightfully, in time”.[7] After a few issues, however, attention towards their activity increased and the first acknowledgments arrived. In 2004, Domenico Scudero wrote an article in LuxFlux, in which he maintained that one of the biggest qualities of the NERO project lay in the impossibility to distinguish the scheme of a system in it.

NERO’s first cycle concluded with a special issue, No. 14, which was distributed on an international level for the first time. It was written in English and compiled the best of issues from 2004 to 2007. This is, therefore, certainly the issue to look at and read in order to fully understand this first phase.[8] The final section in this issue was a feature called Special Projects / Tapes where all of the artistic works for the four centre pages of the magazine were republished. This theme was also proliferated throughout the issue, as NERO asked artists to list their Top Tens in music and film.

This first phase included:

 

  • Issue No. 3 (January-February 2005): Air Made Visible. A dialogue between Riccardo Previdi and Tomas Saraceno [9]

 

  • Issue No. 4 (March-April 2005): Francesco Ventrella, Masquérade [10]

 

  • Issue No. 5 (May-June 2005): Luca Lo Pinto, Io che intervisto Jonathan Monk via e-mail. And I will have an alternative title before 80 days [11]

 

  • Issue No. 12 (December 2006-January 2007). Justin Bennett & Brandon Labelle Talking [12]

 

  • The first publication by NERO dates back to 2006: a limited edition of 100 copies on Terre Thaemlitz, entitled The Crisis of Post-Spectacle “Live” Contemporary Ambient Performance (Or…. Why I Can’t Get Paid to DJ A-structural Audio).

Fishing With John, by Honza Zamojski 2013

Third phase: Lights and shadows (2008-2012)

In 2008, (as in 2004), NERO published an issue not for distribution, No. 0.2. It opened a new season, in colour, with more pages and with a new graphic look courtesy of Nicola Pecoraro, who joined the core group and became Art Director of the magazine.

During these years many changes came about in NERO. The main one was the desire to bring together everything in the world of visual arts, as a discipline in which they could create links between the other arts - as was happening everywhere. This decision, though it encouraged some more experimental projects already present, meant the departure of some collaborators and supporters. Other changes included the columns in NERO - some constant, others movable - were created. Bit by bit the reviews disappeared completely, and English translations of all articles were inserted (beginning in Issue No. 20). Over those same years, Ilaria Leoni offered a major contribution to the entire project, thanks to her collaboration in marketing and institutional relations.

The flexibility of NERO enables its involvement in the curation of musical sections and artistic events and vice versa. NERO structured a large and strong network of relationships, through which it developed projects in some of the most interesting art and music events in institutions and museums. At the Turin Fair, Artissima, as part of the relaunch under the direction of Andrea Bellini, they curated Artissima Volume for two editions (2007-2008), while for the Roman festival Dissonanze (2009-2011) they were responsible for the visual and performing arts section.

Taking as a starting point their collaborations with a number of new private institutions, such as the Depart Foundation, Giuliani Foundation and Nomas Foundation, and Italian museums, NERO consolidated its editorial activity by combining the publication of catalogues and artist books. The editorial section of NERO stands out for its quality and character by showing a propensity to push traditional formats and to build, from time to time and in collaboration with artists, widely circulated ad hoc editorial projects.

The Dry Salvages,by Elisabetta Benassi 2013

NERO produced more than 50 publications, which include the following:

 

  • The book of the project curated by Cecilia Canziani and Ilaria Gianni, A Performance Cycle. Archiving, gathering, exhibiting, recounting, remembering, loving, desiring, ordering, mapping, produced by Nomas Foundation (Rome). [13]

 

  • Documenta 1955-2012. The Endless Story of Two Lovers, a simple photographic book, realized with the support of the dOCUMENTA archive in Kassel, that depicts the long relationship between the two elements that make art history possible: artwork and spectator. A visual journey into more than 50 years of Documenta's history. [14]

 

  • Abstract speaking sharing uncertainty and collective acts: a publication released on the occasion of the Koki Tanaka exhibition at Japan's Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition – Venice Biennale, 2013. [15]

 

  • The artist’s limited edition (50 copies) of The Dry Salvages by Elisabetta Benassi: a compact wooden box, containing the artist’s book and one of the 10,000 bricks from the exhibition vice versa – curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, The Italian Pavilion at the the 55th International Art Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia – representing a unique piece of space debris. [16]

 

  • Fishing With John: an experimental book by Honza Zamojski, stemming from the uniting of two concepts, that of the 'artist book', and that of scholarly study. [17]

 

In the meantime, the allocation of roles at NERO were defined, in an almost natural way: Luca Lo Pinto and Valerio Mannucci remained at the magazine, with Nicola Pecoraro as Art Director; Francesco de Figuereido as Art Director of publications and all output from NERO, and Lorenzo Micheli Gigotti as editor and supervisor of the publishing section.

NERO paired together the creation of events and cultural projects of various types with its purely editorial activity. The Depart Foundation, for example, brought NERO into the curation and production of two large exhibitions: New York Minute at MACRO Testaccio in 2009, and When in Rome at the Italian Institute of Culture, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2011.

Documenta 1955-2012. The Endless Story of Two Lovers, 2012

2007-2010 was most likely the time when NERO reached the peak of its success. As a result of commissions from important museums and foundations, art fair events, biennales and festivals, NERO became very famous - at least in Italy – so much in fact, as to arouse envy and slander. Although superficial, and prevalently dictated by the jealousy typical of the system, the criticisms made were, basically the same ones NERO made against themselves at the time. Success can lead one to commit errors and to underestimate the consequences of certain thoughtless dynamics. At that time they had started to deal with a Rome that felt in part excluded by them, as a result of their popularity. In those last years, the only projects that accompanied NERO’s editorial activity were MAXXIMALISM at the museum MAXXI of Rome (2010), and the curation of musical events of the fair Roma, The Road to Contemporary Art (2011-2012).

Omar Souleyman. Maxximalism. MAXXI, Rome. Photo: Alexei Popov

That said, the magazine had moments of pure experimentation, including; Sommarione, present in three issues (18, 19, and 20). The basic idea was not just to have a simple summary, but also to have a place where NERO could evaluate and judge itself, with the completed articles, an editorial, so to speak. Unfortunately, from Issue No. 21 it became a simple summary, where NERO limited itself to a description of contents, only for Sommarione to then disappear completely from Issue No. 24 onwards.

There were also columns where artists and musicians were interviewed, engaging with different means by using images and text. Among the most interesting articles were certainly those by Michele Manfellotto (artist and writer) and by the artists Rä di Martino and Caterina Nelli. Of note is Composites (from Issue No. 24), a true exhibit on paper, in which a series of artistic undertakings were republished, having been created in the past for newspapers, magazines, and periodicals.

Koki Tanaka. Abstract speaking sharing uncertainty and collective acts, 2013

Fourth phase: From No. 30 (Autumn 2012) to present

In the autumn of 2012, NERO changed again. The editorial says:

                                                     

Eight years after its founding, NERO presents a new editorial structure.

Conceived as a compendium of autonomous sections, NERO is a publication that collects other serial publications within it; a story composed of various chapters that share no narrative links, but that do belong to the same imagery. This is an editorial model in which each section corresponds to a project intended to activate interpretive processes or to rethink the modalities of presentation and fruition of the contents. New sections will be added and others will disappear: Commissioned projects, authorial journeys and personal experiments. A way of thinking of the magazine not as a medium but as object.

 

There are, therefore, almost autonomous sections that could be collected together one day. One could almost speak of small publications in chapters, which are released with each issue of the magazine. Examples include:

 

  • Adaptation: an online exhibition launched in advance in the magazine via its press release, but only becoming visible online on the official opening date (the first exhibition, for example, was Liking Animals by Ruba Katrib). [18]

 

  • Ruins of Exhibitions, a representation of significant exhibitions from the past, with the publication of images and various archival materials, such as press releases and reports.

 

  • Words for Images, a section where writers are asked to react in words to images given to them, but whose author or origin they do not know.

 

  • Offlines, projects born online and introduced again as fossils on paper.

Upon closer observation, one with a certain knowledge of the magazine, can probably see that this new version featuring sections is none other than an adaptation of the previous division of columns. Many of these ideas have been outlined in this article, reflecting the developmental phases of NERO. I find however, that the ambition of creating a series of separate units could potentially be thwarted in a future scenario, by sudden changes or the disappearance of some sections, suggesting that NERO's vision may be confined in a too rigid format. Despite all of the constructive analysis and critique undertaken by the team in the development of NERO, I believe that, unfortunately, there isn't adequate consideration given to readers who may not understand some sections at all. This is on account of the time scales and underlying histories involved in certain elements, and a lack of clarity about the origins of particular segments, which may impact on sections such as those on Julia Frommel and Rä di Martino.

Furthermore, the column Adaptation cited earlier, presents another problem; the Internet. The earlier idea of launching an online exhibition on paper is almost genius, but because of the widespread use of the internet, its gravitas is not the same. The more superficial eye of the users must be taken into account, and to sustain a certain level of curiosity there is a necessity to build on this, or to be more present; otherwise perhaps it would be almost better to keep silent.

The website of the magazine is certainly a place where one can experiment, and in some ways NERO are doing that but, in my view, the most important aspect is missing: the story that has been told up until now, made of human relationships, ideas, transversal collaborations and experimentation. One of the steps that NERO are taking to address this, is by working with younger generations, something that has already been achieved in the past few years with the involvement of Federico Proietti and Francesca Coluzzi at NERO. Proietti is an artist and graphic designer who gives the magazine a fresh look on new forms of expression and artistic communication. Coluzzi, on the other hand, is an expert on digital publishing and is studying new solutions in the field of production and editorial distribution. Their skills will be valuable assets to NERO and integral for the growth of the organisation on a longterm basis.

For many years NERO has managed to redefine what was a given and what was taken for granted, in avant-garde, experimental ways. Since this is their passion and driving force, I hope that they can do it again, by evolving and developing another completely different, successful phase in the future.


[1] From the website of NERO magazine (www.neromagazine.it).
[2] This is why I chose to participate in the brand new online magazine COLLECTED with this contribution.
[3] Available in PDF format on the website.
[4] Quote from editorial note of Issue 30, (opening of the last phase of the periodical).
[5] People to whom I wish prolific and long-lasting activity with all my heart.
[6] Daniele De Santis - nicknamed the Danz, who became the graphic designer for the entire first phase of NERO.
[7] Stefano Isidoro Bianchi in conversaton with Valerio Mannucci for an interview published in Issue No. 3.
[8] Special Issue available online.
[9] Air Made Visible available online.
[10] Masqérade available online.
[11] Io che intervisto Jonathan Monk via e-mail available online.
[12] Justin Bennett & Brandon Labelle available online.
[13] A Performance Cycle available online.
[14] Documenta 1955-2012 available online.
[15] Koki Tanaka available online.
[16] The Dry Salvages available online.
[17] Fishing With John available online.
[18] Liking Animals available online.