Mountains and Science Walking Hand in Hand with Curating Art, and Some Italian Food
Egyptian Portal. One of my earliest art memories was my first visit to the Egyptian Museum in Turin—an extraordinary place. I was perhaps ten years old, and I remember perfectly that walking through the rooms seemed like a journey through time, suspended in an unknown, magical, and almost science fiction like dimension. Being in contact with Egyptian art was undoubtedly an opportunity for me to immerse myself in a world that I considered abstract and fantastic. I remember the energy emanating from the objects and the feeling of indecipherability of the sculptures and papyri. Ever since, it is like an open portal to and from time, which renews its seductive power every time I return.
Curating as a way to contribute to critical thinking. My first work experience (I was very young, in my early twenties) was at the Centro Sperimentale per l’Arte Contemporanea in Caraglio (Italy) and it was fundamental, as it enabled me to get to know contemporary artistic research and to have access to art history as a tool for training, knowledge and work. Later, after a period of working in some of Italy’s leading contemporary art galleries, I felt the need to move away from the commercial dimension of art and to understand contemporary creativity as a means of supporting and conveying environmental and social values. What led me to want to be a curator is the need to create narratives that can be generative for the audience. Creating narratives that can contribute to critical thinking and that can spread new values and biocentric approaches is certainly what drives me forward the most about curating. The experience of curating is an opportunity for me to explore the concept of curation itself. Curating means weaving in the same project the contents of an exhibition, the relationship with the artists, and the knowledge of the scientific partners involved. But the ultimate act of care and what I hope the exhibitions I present are able to exercise is to impact people’s imagination and consequently the world we live in. In a temporal discourse, I think the inclination to curate came first and as a consequence the need for an artistic education.
A Green Curatorial Container. Over the years, I have dialogued with many artists and the common thread that emerged and marked my artistic sensitivity is nature. I realised that an inner guide was urging me to explore the works of those artists interested in environmental issues, the landscape, and the macro theme of nature. It was 2010, and I understood that I was somehow creating a sort of personal archive on themes that would explode within the art world in a few years’ time—due to obvious and foreseeable manifestations of the climate crisis. What I decided to do was to collect this artistic research into a container. This is how Platform Green was born, an open web project presenting the different approaches with which artists and creatives deal with environmental issues. Platform Green was the tool that allowed me to focus on what kind of curator I wanted to be: A curator interested in curatorial storytelling as a tool for conveying critical thinking, for spreading environmental awareness, and for proposing narratives balanced between art and science that are useful for the community.
Art can be a healing experience in the true sense of the word. For instance there is art therapy, an activity with a medical purpose, capable of generating well-being on a psycho-physical level. And there is art as therapy for thought. The transformation of thought, from anthropocentric to biocentric, to which we are all called at the beginning of the 21st century, can also pass through the experience of an exhibition or an art event.
This type of approach guides the vision of the sustainability programme that we present at the National Mountain Museum in Turin. Since 2018, the Museum has dealt with the theme of the mountains through a speculative approach, also exploring ecological themes with a multifocal approach.
Science as a partner. In my practice, the dialogue with science is both a need and an opportunity. First of all, it is a need because I feel a strong sense of responsibility when I propose projects dealing with environmental issues. The involvement of Italian and international researchers is essential to ensure that the artistic narrative is accompanied by a series of scientific contents that are useful to the public. In my opinion, narrating the problems and opportunities of the current climate crisis solely through the medium of art may risk being an elitist experience and providing a partial interpretation of the problem. Combining data and technical investigation broadens the analysis and includes languages that can intrigue much wider audiences. Secondly, the dialogue with science is a great opportunity to get to know high-profile figures who can broaden the very horizons of the art world. I am quite curious and I am not too frightened when it is necessary to intercept new fields of study, start new collaborations and dialogue with new scientific figures. The world of science tends to be very open and interested in working side by side with a curator or an artist. Most of the curatorial projects that I presented at the Museum were born thanks to the dialogue with science. For Post-Water, I worked with researchers from the Polytechnic of Turin (POLITO) and the Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences of the National Research Council (ISAC – CNR), and for Tree Time, among others, we involved the Environmental Science, Policy and Management departments of the Universities of California and Turin. I am currently working on The Mountain Touch exhibition, which is based on ongoing research projects conducted by the Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health (ISS), the Groupe de Recherche en Education à l’Environnement et à la Nature (Laboratory of Affective Ecology, University of Valle d’Aosta), the CNR and more.
Oh well, food is one of my greatest passions, Italian cuisine is in my opinion one the best in the world and my favourite dishes are many. I have a huge sweet tooth, tiramisù is one of the things that makes me the happiest. It is a dessert that is very well known throughout Italy and the world. There are many different paternities of its birth but one says that it was created by a pastry chef in Turin specifically to support Camillo Benso Count of Cavour while he was carrying out his political activities to unify Italy. It is very easy to make but at the same time it is very complex to achieve a tiramisù in which the textures are well balanced. My favourite version is the one with “pavesini” biscuits, although the official version has other biscuits, called “savoiardi”. Also, I have recently discovered a passion for rum. My next goal is to better explore this fascinating beverage.
Managing several projects at the same time is very complex, and often extremely stressful. It requires a lot of organisation and coordination. I have no particular secret weapons to tackle that, other than carefully planning every action and step of a project. At the moment I am curating the Museomontagna’s contemporary art programme, while at the same time organising a cross-border festival on art and sustainability, running a public art project, and planning an artist residency for the autumn. Within the week it is essential to dedicate time to all these activities so that they can all proceed at the right pace.
Currently I am reading “Losing Eden, Why Our Minds Need the Wild” by Lucy Jones, a book that I find very interesting. It explores the beneficial power of nature on human biology and psychology. The writer’s approach is quite scientific. Which I appreciate very much.
I am not too technologically oriented. My favourite piece of tech is probably my Mac computer. It’s my most important technological tool and the one I know best.
In my wardrobe you can always find white and blue, the colours I use the most.
The one guilty pleasure I can come clean about is chocolate. I’m a big chocolate consumer, I think I deserve a free supply as a bonus.
If I were an artist I would produce environmental installations, probably with natural materials.
If I were a collector I would buy one historical work by Giuseppe Penone, one by Wolfgang Laib, but also a big work by Katharina Grosse. My dream would be to be able to create a collection solely focused on nature. In my next life, I hope to be a collector with a large wallet.
If I wasn’t curating I would like to be a top-notch pastry chef, one of those who creates incredible desserts.
Curator at the National Mountain Museum
Andrea Lerda (1983) is an art historian, curator, and founder of the online project Platform Green. For years, he has focused his work on environmental issues, using the languages of contemporary creativity as a tool to propose useful narratives for overcoming anthropocentric thinking, favouring an interdisciplinary art-science approach. Other fields of investigation are those related to the universe of public art and the dialogue between art and community.
Since 2018 he is curator at the National Mountain Museum in Turin where he has presented exhibitions and publications such as Ecophilia. Exploring alterity, developing empathy (2021), Tree Time (2019), and Post-Water (2018).
He has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as the MUSE – Science Museum of Trento, the Kunsthalle Eurocenter of Lana-Bolzano, the CRC Foundation of Cuneo, and for many private galleries such as Michela Rizzo Gallery in Venice, Renata Fabbri arte contemporanea in Milan, Studio la Città in Verona, as well as the associations Art.ur of Cuneo.
He is curator of Over Time by Laura Pugno, a winning project of the Italian Council 2020 that has been presented in numerous institutions in Italy and abroad such as: Cittadellarte Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella; Musée Gassendi / CAIRN Centre d’Art, Digne-les-Bains; SÜDPOL, Lucerne; Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; Fondazione Zegna, Trivero Valdilana and MUSE – Museum of Sciences, Trento. Lerda has collaborated with Italian and international researchers and research institutes such as the University of California at Berkeley, the National Research Council, the Polytechnico of Turin, the Italian National Institute of Health in Rome (ISS), the Fondazione Edmund Mach in Trento, the National Institute of Research (CNR), the Fondazione Edmund Mach in Trento and many others. Among his recent publications are: Nature’s Creative Balance: On Italian Eco-art, in Landscapes, Natures, Ecologies. Italy and the Environmental Humanities, curated by Serenella Iovino, Enrico Cesaretti and Elena Past, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, March 2018.
One of his upcoming projects is: The Mountain Touch at the National Mountain Museum in Turin.