Marinella Senatore and the School of Narrative Dance in London

No.he last ten years, the School of Narrative Dance by Marinella Senatore has dragged a river of people into her performances. According to her calculations, six and a half million. Bonghists and majorettes, opera singers and choirs of the Alpine troops, guests of the RSA, children, the world of parkourthe women of Zen in Palermo, the spectators … Senatore, who is one of the most famous Italian artists internationallyamong the very few to appear in the “Power 100” de The Journal of Artmade them meet, dance, sing, play, occupy the halls of the most important museums in the world and peacefully invade the streets with joyful and overwhelming processions.

Marinella Senatore, Assembly, 2021. Battersea Power Station, London, 2022. Credits: Charlie Round-Turner. Courtesy: The Artist, Mazzoleni, London – Turin.

London comes alive

On its tenth anniversary, the school returns to animate cities after the forced stop of the pandemic, during which it mostly worked remotely. We start from London with Afterglow, the widespread exhibition organized by the gallery Mazzoleni. It will take place from 9 June to 26 August 2022 at the gallery’s London office at 15 Old Bond Street, as well as in selected key points of the city, including Battersea Power Station, where the main performance will take place on June 9 at 6pm. Next stop was Baden Baden, Germany, and in September the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

Marinella Senatore. Credits: Fabrizio Iozzo.

The School of Narrative Dance

Let’s start with the School of Narrative Dance: «A free, nomadic school, focused on exploring new ideas of community, empowerment and emancipation across different disciplines». Explain to us.
The focus is not knowing how to dance or sing, nor creating a choreographic experience. For that there are professionals, a visual artist did not need to open yet another school. We use the languages ​​of the show to do something that has much more to do with activism. We work with amateurs and associations committed to social issues. In London, for example, there will also be a dance formation composed only of girls of African descent, the “Pointe Black”. It is not Russian or French ballet but a form of activism. By the mere fact of existing they set in motion reflections on the iconography of the thin and white body, decidedly humiliating and exclusive for many of us. Not least for me, who am fat, and as a young girl I would hardly have been admitted to a ballet school.

Where is the art?
Art is in making, there is no secondary purpose. Nobody asks what the purpose of music is, but everyone asks about contemporary art, especially if it is participated. As if the social value took away the poetry or the uniqueness of the artistic act, or the transformative power it can have. Because it has it. During certain collective rituals the heartbeats agree, this is not me saying but the neurosciences can even align themselves in unison. Even among people who have never seen each other before, who have very different ages, histories, and lives. It seems to me one of the highest manifestations of humanity.

“The School of Narrative Dance”, Palermo, 2018. Credits and Courtesy: The Artist.

A call to dance for all

For the ten years he chose to call in volunteers who had participated in other performances. How do you recruit them?
I go to the place and talk to the people: associations, schools, employment offices, reception centers… Once I have identified the realities I would like to involve, the “open call” starts. We use all the channels we have available, from local TV to the neighborhood newspaper. And a lot of flyers, in all the languages ​​spoken in that place, even by the smaller communities. In these cases, social networks do not have great appeal, analogue works better. In Sicily I used to ride in a van with a megaphone. I want the message to reach as many people as possible, or it wouldn’t be a community project.

London, parade of ancient boats on the Thames for Elizabeth II

London, parade of ancient boats on the Thames for Elizabeth II

What happens next?
The museum or institution that invited me becomes a collection center. Sometimes so many people arrive that we don’t know where to put them, just arranging appointments is a huge job. In the preliminary meetings I explain the possibilities of the project and we begin to draw up a calendar of workshops together. Many courses we have to do in the evening, because people work during the day. If the museum can’t stay open, rent other spaces.

What do you do in the courses?
It starts with work on the body, which is the same for everyone. It is the only fixed rule, besides the fact that performance is done on the street. We work with local choreographers, if I’m not there I get mine, but it almost never happens. All the expressive possibilities unfold from dance, from singing to slam poetry, and all together the work is built. I am not an artist like Marina Abramović, in the sense that the artist’s body is absent in my performances. I feel closer to relational and participatory art, to figures like Tim Rollins.

A painting can be sold. A performance?
Also. It is a not very widespread genre of collecting, but it exists. Of some you can buy the protocol, which gives you the right to replicate them. In this case you buy the action, in others the storyboards, videos, photographs, preparatory drawings. An artist like Tino Sehgal sells the description of him, I reworked the lineup in the form of artwork. But you can also live on commissions alone, I’ve done it for many years: museums and institutions cover the production costs and pay the artist a fee for creating that specific project.

Marinella Senatore, “We Rise by Lifting Others”, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. Credits: OKNO Studio. Courtesy: The Artist, Palazzo Strozzi Foundation.

Not just dance

She also uses other mediums. Drawings, collages, illuminations that convey writings. The one installed in Florence during the pandemic, for the exhibition We Rise by Lifting Others (We rise by raising others), he went around the world on Instagram.
Yes, we installed it in the courtyard, people passed by even just to photograph it. The lights speak an ancestral language, which is why they attract us, and it’s nice to see them transform into energy catalysts, magical elements that make things happen.

Marinella Senatore, Dance First Think Later, 2021, mercury-free and methacrylate-free neon mounted on a painted aluminum panel. Credits: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy: The Artist, Mazzoleni, London – Turin.

On the High Line in New York, the famous park on the causeway, in 2015 with the illuminations he wrote “Give Your Daughters Difficults Names“, Give your daughters difficult names. What it means?
It is a verse from Warsan Shire, an activist of Somali origin. It refers to the fact that blacks often have to change their name to make it easier for us whites to pronounce. That phrase resonated a lot in the New York population. Many women from the black community met under the sign to testify their stories. Stories of names they had had to give up, even if they were those of their grandmothers, in order to be accepted.

She was born in Cava de ‘Tirreni, in the province of Salerno. Her mother is an elementary teacher, her father is employed at the post office. How did they make your decision to be an artist?
I don’t think they took it seriously. They made me study music, I graduated from the Conservatory, and my sisters also play violin and cello. At home art wasn’t an extravaganza, but they didn’t really realize I wanted to make it a job, or they would care. They let me do it, they thought that life would decide for me. After the Academy of Fine Arts I went to Rome to study at the Experimental Center of Cinematography. I worked as a photography assistant and in the meantime I followed my projects. Then I moved to Spain, where I got a second degree and started teaching. I became a full-time artist, while still teaching, only later. I think it was 2011, I was invited by Bice Curiger to the Venice Biennale. I was already grown up, in short.

Marinella Senatore, “Make it Shine”, 2021, collage and mixed media on cotton paper. Courtesy: The Artist, Mazzoleni, London – Turin.

Do you think it would have been easier for a man?
My male colleagues, for the same curriculum, are paid fifteen percent more. To convince myself that I was good I had to do three times the effort, as if I had to justify myself. When you are successful they ask you who you slept with. Maybe, I say. If certain doors have opened I have to thank my obstinacy, certainly not the fact of being a female. But she cost great sacrifices. For example, I have not been able to have children.

Being a team is sometimes difficult

Are you on good terms with other artists?
I have the best relationships with people who are older than me, or who live in other countries. I like to work as a team, but in Italy it is difficult, there are few opportunities, we fight what is there. Instead of making a system, you end up isolating yourself, everyone against everyone. Since I got rich, let’s face it, I have been surrounded by evil. I’m forty-five years old, I’ve been in this delirium for twenty. Many give up first and maybe they would be better than me.

What can be done?
Much. In other countries, such as Germany, artists have much more benefits. Here we are also half figures for the taxman: if a sculpture is not made completely by hand by the artist – so if you have to work with a bronze casting or a 3D printer – it is not considered a work of art. Equivalent to a ham, the VAT you have to pay is the same. So you cost more, and collectors prefer to invest elsewhere.