Artist Francesca Bifulco has found herself some unlikely muses, and in the most unlikely of places. It seems that in Forcella, Naples, which by all accounts is a pretty rough neighborhood, a crew of men of a certain age, ranging from distinguished to elderly, gather on the same corner to play cards every single day. They also smoke and drink coffee — so much coffee. Captivated by the theatricality of their casually intense ritual, Bifulco, who is Italian herself, went on to spend some three years in their company, and in the end she could not help but paint them.
The resulting “Forcella Reigns: The Men Who Play Cards” is more than an art show. Bifulco’s paintings already manifest a unique technique whereby she adds dimensional, sculptural elements to her compositions, creating a trick of the eye that is not a trick at all. She enjoys the process of working this way, and the visual drama and heightened experience it imparts; perhaps it's the lingering effect of her early background in set design. At any rate, back in Naples she soon enough realized that even her enhanced paintings could capture only part of the rhythm, sense and feel of the place, so she dove into doing more.
Ultimately heading back to Naples for a longer engagement, Bifulco previews “Forcella Reigns” for three dates in North Hollywood. A hybrid of art exhibition, improvisational performance and panoramic installation, “Forcella Reigns” is performed by sculptural paintings instead of living actors, augmented with video and field-recording sounds. “Video and sound gain their official role as part of an atmospheric set,” the artist says, “where each element functions as a character in a play.” Composing all the various elements of the installation in a black-box space allows viewers to experience the work through its shifting narrative, their own freedom to wander, and the engagement of architectural space. The artist will be present for the duration of the exhibit-turned-installation, which will be open for 15 hours in total.
“Forcella Reigns” is Bifulco's first foray into immersive multimedia installations. She worked with collaborators Marina Piccola Cerrotta, a Naples-based anthropological art historian, and Alex Schetter, a digital artist/sound engineer, to realize her vision. “Whenever I would go back to Italy,” writes the artist, “nothing would be more captivating than Forcella. It is here that I discovered the men, who, through the cards they deal, turn Gradini Forcella, their corner staircase, into a theatrical space full of rituals. ... As I was documenting the habits, moves and mimicry of these men, in this small yet powerful open-air theater, I realized that 'Forcella Reigns' was allowing me to fully blend my experience in set design with my way of painting — creating something I like to define as an immersive set [where] the paintings become scenes of specific, close-up, tangible moments.” You probably can’t smoke in there, though.
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"Forcella Reigns" is open Fri., April 27, 7-11 p.m.; Sat., April 28, 5-11 p.m.; and Sun., April 29, 3-8 p.m.; free. Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group at ZJU Theater, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; facebook.com/events/310250512834421.