English for Foreigners is the first solo exhibition in an Italian public institution by Stephen Prina (Galesburg, Illinois, 1954), one of the most seminal and influential contemporary American artists. In his research – which involves visual elements, sound pieces and performative acts – Prina explores the legacy of the conceptual artistic practices of the sixties and seventies, analyzing their historical matrices as well as their possible transformations. The exhibition, which comprises an entirely new body of work realized for this occasion, was conceived by the artist as the ideal follow-up to the two exhibitions “galesburg, illinois+” devoted to his hometown and presented in 2015 and 2016 at the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen (Switzerland) and the Museum Kurhaus Kleve (Germany).
In his exhibition at the Madre the artist goes indeed back in time to relive the journey that led his father to travel, in the first half of the twenty century, from Fascist Italy to the United States. The artist writes: “Peter (Pietro) Prina, my father, played clarinet for the local band in the Comune di Canischio, in the Piedmont region of Northwestern Italy. One day the Black Shirts arrived and demanded that the band perform the anthem of the Italian National Fascist Party. This event convinced him it was time to emigrate from Italy — immigrate to America— at the age of 17 in 1923.”
Second Book in English for Foreigners in Evening Schools by Frederick Houghton (American Book Company, 1917), is the title of the book used by the artist’s father to learn English in his new country: handed down to Prina, among many other objects of his father, it became the starting point for this exhibition in which individual dates and events are connected, from 1917 to 2017, telling a personal story which, however, reflects the stories of many other fathers and sons.
Stephen Prina / Photos Matthew Hong
The themes developed in these narrative works and films – through their examination of the intricate ties between sedentariness and migration, the affirmation of identity and its uprooting, monumentality and intimacy – are brought back as vinyl writings on the wall, sprinkling the gallery and outspeaking the emotional and conceptual roots of Prina’s project at the Madre. A full-blooded account with images and sounds, which, from the story of a father and son, becomes an exploration of the statute of the work and the exhibition as a source of multiple references as well as an analysis of the dynamics of memorials and of the relations between personal and collective sphere, between stories and History.