During the early 1990s, the swell of migrant workers and refugees triggered a phenomenon previously unproblematic in Italy: racism started to become a severe national issue. Since the 1980s the number of North African migrants living and working in Italy had significantly increased, sustained by a strong and mounting demand for cheap labor. Where Italy had previously been a great exporter of labor during the first half of the Twentieth Century, the proliferation of a home-grown export-oriented industry in Italy at the turn of the century called for an unprecedented volume of seasonal, low-skilled and flexible employment; a demand readily met by an increasing migrant community. In response to the social unease surrounding this new phenomenon and coinciding with the founding of the Northern League - a political party that exploited public resentment over immigration - Cattelan formed and coached his own soccer team recruited entirely from the proliferating populace of North African migrants. Naming his team A.C. Forniture Sud (Southern Furniture Suppliers Football Club), Cattelan’s immigrant squad collectively alluded to a seemingly endless supply of willing and exploitable labor. That the team competed in the region of Emilia-Romagna and lost every game it took part in further surmises the subjugation of a defeated and powerless minority. Indeed, as the project surrounding A.C. Forniture Sud attests, failure and a scrutiny of power hierarchies began to emerge as dominant tropes within the larger spectrum of Cattelan’s oeuvre.
With the legendary game of foosball that was to shortly follow, Cattelan’s politically loaded farce reached an apogee, as documented in Cattelan's photographs of the event (see lot 64). Exercised within a gallery setting as part-protest and part-performance, Cattelan’s outrageously inflated common-room game boldly parodied this new wave of xenophobia in Italy. The match pitted two teams against each other solely delineated by race: an all-white, all-Italian side competed with Cattelan’s very own all-black team, A.C. Forniture Sud. Standing opposite each other uniformly regaled in opposing team kits, the stark racial division of players huddled over Stadium’s narrow and absurdly extended table-top pitch made for an undeniably comical sight, a farce compounded by the team’s inevitable and prescribed failure. Within the context of Cattelan’s live football match, the maneuvring of miniature color-coded figurines across a tabletop came to invoke a much larger metaphor for the greater theatre of world politics. By flippantly enacting these newfound racial tensions through Italy’s national obsession with soccer, Cattelan masterfully exercised a contentious balance between recreation, entertainment and indignant social critique.
Bearing the sponsored branding of the invented company ‘Rauss’, as seen emblazoned in orange on the all-black kit of A.C. Forniture Sud, the symbolic value of Cattelan’s soccer team casts further political allusions to the troublesome history of racial oppression in Europe. Furthermore, by locating Italy’s contemporary problems within the remit of gameplay and specifically using the word ‘Rauss’ to confront these serious issues, Cattelan’s A.C. Forniture Sud project has forged an incendiary lineage of sculptural works that scrutinize both contemporary politics alongside the tarnished recent history. Entailing the diminutive and submissive reimagining of Adolf Hitler, Him, 2001, alongside the notorious address of three disembodied Fascist salutes, Ave Maria from 2007, Cattelan’s daringly irreverent and politically inflammatory canon poses an iconoclastic challenge to icons of power. Standing at the very beginning of this extraordinary artistic dialogue, to quote Nancy Spector, “…the A.C. Forniture Sud enterprise perfectly demonstrates how Cattelan can wed the preposterous and the incisive to create a work that reverberates with profound cultural and social implications.” (Nancy Spector in Exh. Cat. New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Maurizio Cattelan: All, 2011-12, p. 50)
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