Materials: 16 C-type prints.
Dimensions: 90 × 60 cm each.
Cotton/Rubber was made over an extensive period in collaboration with the Pirelli tyre factory outside Turin. Invited to make an exhibition for Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan (sponsored and founded by Pirelli) she worked with the tyre factory site on a project that considered art and industry by exploring labour relations, media archives and the history of the international tyre trade.
Working closely with factory floor interlocutor Luca Gulmini, Condorelli mined Pirelli family archives, corporate archives and conducted interviews with factory workers. She inserted herself into the production process and for a time even called the production line to a halt.
The resulting artwork is based on tables in the factory she used to display the materials she found and made. These acted – during the time of the project – as a place to discuss the findings of her research with workers and to create a conversation about the role of the artist.
The materials – from rubber cuttings discarded on the factory floor (authored by their maker), to archival images of a young Alberto Pirelli – are extensively annotated by the artist. They include information about how Pirelli established an ultimately unsuccessful rubber plantation in Java to avoid the Brazilian rubber market, letters to his father providing observations of new techniques and improvements. His reflections on the competition between plantation and synthetic rubber production suggested they provide an ‘emblematic example of the painful interdependence that often links social and economic problems’ (1922). Included were images he’d collected of rubber tapping in Java, described as a ‘technique of half herringbone’, with Condorelli commenting on these materials by discussing the catastrophic effects of the rubber boom on the indigenous people of the Amazon and the seed-smuggling and nurturing that lead to Pirelli’s plantation efforts in Java.
Other materials describe the meticulous processing of rubber, and are mostly derived from a publication created for the Pirelli company’s 50th anniversary in 1922. Condorelli comments on the process of vulcanisation (the chemical curing of raw rubber which results in its elastic properties), that ‘the name and etymology of vulcanisation contributes to the mythical dimension given to the work going on inside the factory…’. Vulcan being the Roman God of Fire. For her, the photographic archive of the ‘vulcanisers’ at work ‘corresponds to a process of foreclosure… an image [being] a closed representation’, she’s connecting the transformative processes of the curing of rubber, the work and the foreclosure of documentation.
Material drawn from Pirelli’s in-house magazine is also present. It ran from 1950 to 1967 and is described by the artist as ‘both informing and representing its employees through the dramatic changes in the landscape of work taking place through the 1970s’. She selected contributions by Enzo Nocera – a photographer of the Italian social and industrial realities and images of new ventilation systems installed to improve conditions in the hot environment of the factory. A floor manager commented in 1972 that this ‘new ventilation system is a definite improvement, but…. [h]uman issues are no less important than environmental issues…’ It is this conflation of material processes and social relationships, that is really at the heart of Condorelli’s concerns: she writes in her extended captions to Cotton/Rubber, ‘The visibility of labour is fragile, precarious, as it is often represented by the very things that obscure it (produced objects). Labour takes place in and through material production, which is how I am using these images to peel the layers of its making.’