"I am for an art that takes its forms from life, unabashedly twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips and is sweet and stupid as life itself. I am for the artist who disappears and reappears wearing a builder’s cap to paint signs and billboards. I am for art that comes out like a plume of smoke and is dispersed into the environment (...). I am for the art of red and white petrol pumps and the alluring advertising of cookies (...). I am for the arts that emit sparks and light up the night."
The origin of the term SPAM certainly is a rather peculiar story, to say the least, and apparently not very relevant to the meaning given to the term through the years and that it currently has in our society today.
If we look the word up in the dictionary, the word Spam is described as: meat, esp. canned pork ham.
Indeed, as often happens, the etymology of a word has an unusual and rather bizarre origin, as is the case of the term spam.
It is in the US, in the mid-1930s, that Hormel Food Corporation launches a product called Spam, which becomes so well known and widespread that it replaces the expression corned beef in American slang. Over the years, as we know, fashions and tastes change and Spam is given the meaning of bad food, poor quality food, which also harasses us continuously through advertising all over our cities, on newspapers, television, in every space of everyday life. We can bear no more, to the extent that even the popular Monty Python’s devote a television sketch to it.
The die is cast. We can’t do anything about it. The continuous flow of advertising has invaded the true dimension of life and is now inevitably associated with the term spam, meaning “rubbish”.
Reaching our times, it is 1978 when the first e-mail regarded as spam is sent out. The outcome today of what was then triggered is well known, a situation that is out of control, the harassing effect of the never ending proposals which make their way to our email boxes every day to promote materials, products of every kind and miraculous pills to obtain wonder sex performances, as well as political and ideological messages. Thus, the primary purpose of spam is advertising, reach as many people as possible with all means available, both legal and illegal, with virtual or real goods, or just an idea. Someone has compared spamming, hence also advertising, to a deity, being ubiquitous, a presence that sees yet does nothing for us, it just helps us to spend more, make more products to consume more, desire everything, at any cost, even managing to change our tastes, our dreams, our thoughts, thus ourselves, entirely.
It’s been now quite a few years that Andrea Francolino has been travelling amongst the ambiguous and often subtle advertising messages, dealing with this parallel dimension, which puts appearance and everything which refers to visual perception before anything else. The glance advertising takes at us glides over skin, remaining in a constant state of pregnancy and never actually giving birth to the intrinsic identity of the real.
Therefore, the point Andrea Francolino starts from is the so-called consumerism products, the icons so "kindly advocated " by the media, an endless file of images which is captured by the artist, decontextualized, and then re-contextualized in a different guise.
The mind inevitably goes to Marcel Duchamp, who unveiled conceptual art to the world, even though in the case of Francolino, besides the object, there is also the appropriation of the the image and, more specifically, of a popular person or character. Therefore, we might be closer to Pop Art reasoning, since also Andrea Francolino’s search is taken over by a sort of "kleptomania" for the tangible, for the palpable contemporary which, once taken in its original form, is then revisited in the shape of the object, dramatically reversed in meaning and, consequently, in the message communicated.
Imagination in Francolino’s mind seems to have no limits, producing unexpected and unthinkable association of ideas, which lead him towards a mental process, which consists in matching the commercial product with the consequent endorsement. An example is the box containing the Camembert President cheese, developed in its first version with printed images of the most influential country presidents of the world or, as in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, to raise awareness about her imprisonment and claim her legitimate role as President. The packaging of the famous French cheese also becomes the means to show what three of the most well-known mafia bosses of all times looked like, that is Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Toto Riina. A clear and conscious awareness of how organized crime has always been doing business and has been associated with the political power, to the extent it has penetrated the scope of politics, taken over and, thus, become the true President in force.
Undoubtedly, the means used to acquire power are not always exactly “fair” ones and, besides the ever so "popular" corruption, one of the preferred modes is to intimidate people, making use of force, brutality, wickedness, thus also murder. The most striking examples are the acts of terrorism against those who would not be corrupted, as in the case of Mr. Falcone and Mr. Borsellino, who become two TNT endorserers, with a clear reference to their dramatic killing by means of the explosion of dynamite bombs. The transition from victim to murderer is played by the “delivery boy” Bin Laden, who delivers an evil bomb parcel to the World Trade Center that will change history.
Open your eyes, but Open your mind especially. This is what Francolino wants to communicate to us. Let’s not limit our view angle, let’s extend the point of view, trying not to get overwhelmed by visual, thematic and material junk, by the overflowing amount of mental pollution that invades our daily lives. The bombing is underway right now. It is not only a frontal attack, it also flanks us hypocritically, slowly making its way like a worm into wood, to then creep like a virus and take possession of our tastes and preferences, influencing our choices.
According to Francolino, a supermarket becomes a sort of library or, better, a bookstore we let ourselves be attracted to, intrigued by the goods on sale, with its infinite amount of products that invade the shelves, so we can then wander around this maze of merchandise, carefully studying the packaging and the behavioural psychology of purchasing customers.
Once the object has been located, not only bought but also often found in the street, a reasoning is triggered that leads to the association with a famous person, who will have the "honour" to be its endorserer. In this situation the well known Francolini’s irony certainly has a key role. It is irreverent, sharp and pungent, unquestionably imaginative, careful and prepared to capture both the evidence and every minimum nuance of the world and of key protagonists of that society.
One of the latest works created could not fail to deal with our Prime Minister, who uses his ever-present and dazzling grin to recommend us the Ex-Dur as a brand of condoms.
Irony, however, is only one aspect of Francolino’s work. His research inevitably and very carefully also looks at history, social issues, the latest news, politics, in short on everything related to that animal that walks upright, that it is not entirely covered with feathers or hair, but that seems to actually come from an ape.
Then comes the search for who can physically resemble the endorserer of the product to be advertised, who will be involved by the artist in his study to pose and be portrayed through photography. It is a true shooting set, which Francolino recreates every time in different ways, designing it with objects and scenes, in order to perfectly contextualize the portrayed subject. The stage set-up and the body of our endorserer are ready. Only the face is missing, which is developed by means of accurate digital reworking.
The character can now be transposed on the consumer good packaging, which in some cases is maintained in its original size and in others is completely changed, radically increasing the size of it. The effect is disorienting, deliberately destabilizing, resulting in the user as a feeling of invasion of both his vital and mental space, a forced intrusion in the intrinsic sphere, which very effectively and truly emphasizes the persuasive and interfering power of advertising.
Looking at the packagings made by Francolino, another characteristic and recurrent feature is immediately evident in all his works, which consists in what deceptively appears as a number of burns, aggressive and corrosive, which instead are actually made by means of tar, applied on the object through a meticulous painting process. For the artist, tar becomes the essential ingredient to tell about the current times, marked by a continuous deterioration of values and contents. A vehement and tenacious symbol that emphasizes the degenerative aspect of industrial and serial production, whose effects in turn lead to a kind of compulsive consumerism, ending their life cycle as endless mountains of rubbish.
It is about clearly, decisively and inevitably becoming aware and putting your foot down, as in the work Finish power, through which Francolino builds our awareness on the tragedies that the people of Egypt and Libya are going through, yet at the same time inviting us to play down, laughing out loud at Gaddafi and Mubarak depicted as two expert dishwashers.
Andrea Francolino cannot draw the solution to clean up the spam harassing our lives out of his magic hat but, being a sensitive connoisseur of society and of the "trade products" it yields, and after acquiring and processing them, producing his irony about them and analysing them, he works out a possible different view of globalised reality and of us being integrated in it.
Alberto Mattia Martini