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by Domenico Ermanno Roberti

Interview with Montecristo Project

Montecristo Project is an exhibition space in an undisclosed and deserted island along the Sardinian coast. Founded in 2016 by Enrico Piras and Alessandro Sau, it has hosted solo shows by Salvatore Moro, Tonino Casula, and Lorenzo Oggiano, and in August 2018 it presented a collective exhibition titled I S L A N D featuring the works of Carlos Fernàndez-Pello, Karlos Gil, Alfredo Rodriguez and Alessandro Vizzini. The island is remote, and the exhibitions are only physically accessible to the invited artists. Photographic and written essays are available on

Domenico Ermanno Roberti: How did you decide to start this project, and how important was the choice of the location in relation to the programme?

Montecristo Project: The Montecristo Project didn’t come out of the blue, rather it evolved out of a previous work called Occhio Riflesso. This earlier project consisted of a series of six exhibitions in which we installed our own works in unique and peculiar locations around Sardinia—for instance, an artificial cave, otherwise known as a Domus de Janas (an archaeological tomb). Locations were chosen to be “work-specific”—reversing the idea of site-specific and thus using the space so as to enhance and respond to our pieces. We had no public presentations, and the installations—including the materials that were used to display the works, such as lights and electric generators—lasted only one day. We who installed the works were the only viewers. Everything was then spread by the photographic documentation we created. All of these are elements that we kept for the Montecristo Project. What has changed is that now we invite other artists to exhibit, and we take the role of constructing the spaces, either conceptually or aesthetically, and then we document every project with photographs, which we integrate as works into our own practices.

The idea of locating our space on a deserted and secret island came in 2016 when considering what space should host the first artist we decided to present: Salvatore Moro (1933-2007). Our need to carefully control the framing, presentation, and discursive contextualisation of our work brought us to a further radical exploration of the idea of the artwork existing autonomously, despite its public legitimation, as being located “elsewhere,” outside time and space. Salvatore Moro's work is very peculiar, weird and borderline; it is rooted in Sardinian archaic imagery. We wanted to keep its ahistorical, anti-classical barbarian spirit by creating a white cube in this sacred space, somewhere nobody could ever reach: a deserted island out at sea.

We tend to conceive the need for expression of someone like Moro, and other artists we appreciate, as something coming before Art as a conscious category; primitive or Egyptian art had an autonomous being, they existed for a purpose which was not necessarily always that of being seen. That makes our idea something very ancient rather than new and subversive.

Montecristo Project island, Mediterranean sea, Sardinia

DER: In Pictures and Tears, the author James Elkins collects stories of the emotional responses of the public when experiencing artworks. At the same time, curator Henry Urbach in a poetic article published on Log20 defines the need for exhibitions where the content is not present but only told through other elements to have an atmosphere. How does your curatorial practice address the physical distance between the original object and the viewer and the impossibility for the atmosphere of an exhibition to be experienced, other than through your documentation?

MP: It is very interesting to experience a work of art through the filter of someone else’s memories and impressions. This secondary lens creates manipulations that might deliberately or otherwise lead to misreadings that, had one been able to experience the artwork directly, never would have arisen.

Thus, beginning from the last question, we would say that our narrative filter (an attempt to mediate content through text and images), which applies to everything regarding the project, is fundamentally about creating the atmosphere of it. This applies to everything from the island being kept secret, to the fact that it is only accessible through the imagery that we created.

Absence is a key concept for us, and it is something recurrent also in architectural-spatial concerns. Consider, for instance, the iconostasis in early churches as a physical and ideological structure to separate the liturgy from the public, the sacred from its becoming seen. This affirms the idea of the mystery that surrounds revelation.

Displacing this idea into a contemporary art system is a delicate topic, since the gathering of fragments, and the conceiving of an exhibition which is made of things that are not there, is something we believe is part of an artistic, rather than curatorial, strategy. The boundaries between these roles are now more permeable than ever, but isn’t it the curator's task to arrange the visibility or lack thereof of the artworks? There is this famous letter that Robert Morris wrote to Harald Szeemann to withdraw his works from documenta V, as he indicates that the roles of artist and curator were taking on an unpleasant dynamic from his perspective. Morris asked not to be manipulated, not wanting his work to become illustrative of somebody else’s discourse. We think that our need to create and keep control of the frame, and the way that everyone accesses the work, responds to this need to refrain from being absorbed into a larger curatorial discourse. Naturally, this coincides with a partial withdrawal from the public, as we shift to the role of mediators. We treated the island as our own iconostasis in order to better allow the work to live in its own dimension.

DER: When reading Kant's "Was ist Aufklärung?", Michel Foucault highlights the notion of Publikum, where the author makes himself a conductor of the meaning of his times and uses writing as an institutional tool to establish a connection between writer and reader. Who is your Publikum (audience), how do you position yourself towards them, and what instruments do you use to send your messages?

MP: This one is a very delicate question because, as we said, we have no direct public, and it is therefore not possible for us to point at an actual audience. In fact, it is important to us to specify that we do not work for the public, but for ourselves. What this implies is that there is a risk that every project we do could pass by totally unnoticed. In this sense, every time we publish a new project or exhibition it is like throwing a stone into a pond. Concerning the Foucauldian interpretation of the role Kant took as a communicator to reach a wide audience (still made highly up of specialised academic readers), we try to address, from our peripheral position, some themes we feel are crucial in the sphere of a contemporary debate: the role of artist-curators, as well as matters of colonisation and resistance. However, we look to address them from an oblique perspective and to take examples from Sardinia specifically—its history, art, and culture.

The instruments we use to spread our work (we either realise exhibitions, write texts, or create hybrid projects such as our last guide-tour of Sardinia) are social media, and more broadly the Internet. Over time, we have established a series of connections and collaborations that constitute a public of sorts. So, probably this highly specific audience, made up of curatorial and artistic entities with whom we are in dialogue, constitutes our main audience.

DER: You have chosen to use the camera as the single instrument which visually communicates the experience of the artworks you present. How do you feel about your viewers being recipients of a single interpretation and framing—yours—of the artist's work? And what is the artist's response?

MP: Our choice of spreading the exhibition’s through their photographic documentation was at first the only way we had to leave a trace of our Occhio Riflesso exhibitions. It all emerged from an attempt to establish a simple yet radical relation to our works and their existence, to refuse traditional ideas of presentation, space, curatorial supervision, and public. At this stage, taking pictures to document the relation between the works and the space was just a necessity. However, in the process of working to create these images, we started to understand the importance of documentation as a work of art itself. We started to consciously operate with the camera by those implicit canons that are present in all conventional gallery and museum documentation, but conceiving of those photographs as highly complementary to the artworks. To answer your question: we made this so as to propose our own framing of the works, instead of them simply being a part of a curatorial document. That is precisely what we wanted to avoid, because we felt it was misleading, and weakened the pieces themselves.

Models of display, (our most beloved techno-archaic artist) Tonino Casula at Montecristo Project, 2016, curated and documented by Enrico Piras and Alessandro Sau

Until now, every artist we have collaborated with has been very happy with this approach. Our documentation and their works become a single thing—an artistic collaboration—that we establish with all the invited artists, that works alongside the experience of the solitary shows on the island.

At the moment we are conceiving several new experiences that are accessible to the public, in particular a new work which includes the visit to a series of monuments and sculptures that are part of our latest research: “A guided-tour of the Sardinian archaic, weird and marvellous stone sculpture—La Costante Resistenziale.”

DER: Photographs Not Taken is a series of essays from photographers describing an image they did not manage to freeze through their lenses. Do you ever feel your exhibitions could have been told, written, or photographed differently and, in your view, would an outsider’s eye have worked to build a different narrative?

MP: This is something we have been reflecting on since the very beginning of the project. The answer is yes: we think everything could have been done in many ways different than our own. One thing we would love is to have different artists documenting our island, or creating an exhibition with the existing photographs that would then be narrated in their own way, but it’s something we still need to keep working on. Three years ago, we hosted our Madrid-based artist friend Carlos Fernández-Pello who took video footage of Occhio Riflesso's locations. Sadly, the material he shot got lost when he later went to Antarctica for a new research project. Although everything was gone, it disappeared in a very fascinating way, in a faraway and unreachable land not unlike our own island.

Carlos Fernandez-Pello, A futile attempt at creating cult objects, 2018, courtesy of Garcia Galeria, stoffa, gommapiuma, 31 x 22 x 40 cm

Enrico Piras (b. 1987, Cagliari) and Alessandro Sau (b. 1981, Cagliari) are two visual artists and curators. They started collaborating in 2013 with a project called Occhio Riflesso, and in 2016 they founded Montecristo Project, an artistic and curatorial office and exhibition space located on a deserted island along the Sardinian coast.

Domenico Ermanno Roberti is an architect and curator based in Zürich. His recent research focuses on the links between architecture and gender studies, more specifically the significance of the role played by the manipulation of space in the creation of normalised identities of gender. He holds a MSc in Architecture from the Accademia diArchitettura di Mendrisio, Switzerland and he is currently a postgraduate student in Curating at the Zürich University of the Arts.

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Issue 41

Centres⁄Peripheries – Complex Constellations

by Ronald Kolb, Camille Regli, Dorothee Richter

by Heike Biechteler

by Ella Krivanek

by Giovanna Bragaglia

by Francesca Ceccherini and Noriko Yamakoshi

by Paola Granati & Ronny Koren

by Domenico Ermanno Roberti