These two critical concerns merge in the series Flaminio Station (2017), a research project
where Samma studied histories of gay cruising spaces in Rome, Italy. The public toilet in
Flaminio, with its distinctive bright yellow ceramic tiling, is one of the few active cruising spaces left in the Italian capital, a busy environment where anonymous individuals circulate along its corridors and cubicles, leaving hastily written messages and phone numbers inscribed on the walls. Samma reproduces these inscriptions, collected by the artist on-site, on similar yellow tiles framed by a rusting iron frame, and places them behind a curtain of old-fashion toilet pulls made of rubber. These numerous loaded symbols – of sex, fetish, secrecy, and clandestine communication – make up an idiosyncratic monument to the anonymous community of Flaminio, and solidifies it as its own kind of urban myth that travels by word of mouth, through networks of kinship and desire.
The contestation of tradition and heritage in Mythology of the Toilet is continued and distilled in the artist ́s most recent work, a series of circular drawings inspired by embroidered patterns from Estonian folk costumes. As is the case in many post-Soviet countries of Eastern Europe, Estonian folklore holds a sacred and glorified place in modern society due to its importance as an anti-colonial (but legally accepted) form of resistance during the Soviet occupation. This has resulted in a continued proliferation of folk heritage as a vehicle of national identity that is potentially available to be co-opted by a wide spectrum of political forces including the country’s new far right. By appending folklore to an imaginary traditionalist, anti-Western, and heteronormative past – representative of “the good old days” absent of both foreigners and homosexuals – this new nationalist conservatism instrumentalizes folk culture to advance both xenophobic and homophobic attitudes.
Considered together, the artist asks his viewers to discuss what stories, subjectivities, and signs qualify for circulation in mainstream society – and what instead must operate in the margins, outside the purview of the public gaze and opinion. Could these set relations be re-negotiated – by way of quiet subversion or forms of artistic commemoration?
Text by Jeppe Ugelvig
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