Artist JR’s “Inside Out” work on the issue of social isolation of the elders
Indeed, data is clear: the welfare system in most Countries (especially Western Countries, especially European Countries with a strong tradition for socialized subsidization – yes, Italy, we are looking at you!) is not sustainable anymore, because the youngsters are paying for the oldies instead of refurbishing their own funds for retirement age.
But while this holds true, it is also to be noted that the general opinion on the role of senior citizens in society might also be tragically biased by the pragmatic utilitarianism permeating our daily lives. We do not do things without motivation, for the things we take care of have to be of use; since old people do not work, they bring no economic benefit; hence, old people are of no use. When all is said and done, the question is clear: why should we take care of them, then?
Majoring in Arts, JR -ing in Social Issues. The question has been recently tackled by French artist JR (acronym for Jean René) in his latest temporary street art exhibit on the façade of Museo del Novecento, near the Duomo in central Milan.
The project is but a branch of the bigger, internationally spread, ever-evolving work named Inside Out, a participative artistic project that allows people from across the globe to get photographed in order to support an idea and share one’s own personal life experience. The project has been awarded with a TED Prize in 2011 – but the idea has well expanded since then, with 500 000 people (and counting) from 148 Countries joining the adventure.
The Milanese parenthesis brings the name of Ora tocca a voi (trans: It’s your turn, now), a hybrid outcome of JR’s focus on photography interlaced with actualité with the Ciao! campaign funded by Amplifon (producer of hearing aids, campaigning for social responsibility regarding hearing loss prevention and social matters related to seniority and inclusivity) in collaboration with some retirement homes – a project that set its foundations during the Covid outbreak, and is aimed at focusing on the issue of isolation of the elder generations during quarantine.
JR worked with the photography course of Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in order to compose a checked PVC surface of black & white portraits of elderly people currently living in retirement homes in and around the city, all encaptured in their serene smiles, which have faced herds of tourists and inhabitants of Milan for two weeks.
Ora tocca a voi! The title of the project is both an invitation and a (cynical but educational) warning towards the younger generations.
What we are experiencing towards the previous epoch is an existential gap that does not allow gen z to directly communicate with the generations from the 20th century. It is a terrifying sight: we do not know how to face each other, we have no digital nor educational common ground. Times and technologies have innovated too fast for humans to keep up – we are not all on the same page, each of us currently living different perspectives of the same life.
Elderly generations, in particular, are the epitome of this phenomenon: they have not been brought to this world embedded in technology, and the quickening of pace does not let them organically grow into the digital dimension the younger gens are breathing into (and have no idea on how it is to live without it anymore – a fish in the sea would not know how to define water). No one has helped them in this irreversible transition, no one offering to be their Charon; they have been left with remnants of the War, and have witnessed the technology they individually contributed into creating flying away over their heads, not being able to fully grasp it.
Old fashion in Milan. As the generation of the future, the one who is going to bear the passing of our grannies and the challenges of the future, it is our duty to act on our social responsibility to currently and actively integrate the old aged in society by bridging the widening gap among generations.
Every passing day, we are losing witnesses of the past: times have been eventful and rough, but it is by reconstructing from hard times that the fundamental knowledge on how to persevere can blossom.
Our ancestors have learned how to make stock with the vegetables that were too bad to be eaten raw but too precious to just be thrown away; they knew how to wash their hair with ash and hot water, and how to mend socks and reshape clothes to use them for longer.
Nowadays, we need that knowledge: the gap that consumerism has widened is not sustainable in the long run, and as much as we know it, we have to be ready to embrace it – the ancient, the slow and the tradition has never looked as revolutionary as it is now.
Ora tocca a voi is an ode to the elderly, to the timeless cultural baggage that they keep behind their smiles.
It is an ode to the thousands of souls who have fulfilled years of life and, suddenly, are considered not attuned to life anymore; to the ones represented in society as the the weakest link of a performing and unstoppable society.
It is an ode to the ones and the things we leave behind because they seem so out of pace with our fast rhythms, only to realize, too late, that all it ever took to find our own stability in this dynamicity is looking back at the past – only to find it there, as it always was, unwavering as ever.
Ora tocca a voi is an invitation to look back at the past, and a warning that, if we are not fast enough to pick it up, it will be lost on us forever.