August Review 2015
Aldo Mondino at Isabella Bortolozzi
Michael Smith “Excuse me!?!…I’m looking for the ‘Fountain of Youth’” at Greene Naftali
FEATURED ARTIST: Donna Huanca, Tattoo Shoes, 2015. Nylon, wood….
Postcard from PalermoThe residency show is installed in the Cappella dell’ Incoronazione, a Norman Chapel used since the 12th Century for the coronation of successive Kings of Sicily. The Chapel includes an outside courtyard and a crypt as well as a main room formerly dedicated to prayer and ceremonies. The arches and high ceilings in that space create diffuse shadows while the courtyard features a set of columns running around its perimeter, yet these columns carry no roof. This has the effect of leading one’s eyes up to the sky, and the outline of one upper segment of Palermo’s Cathedral with its arabesque patterns. Such a complex interplay between the natural and the manmade – as light interacts with the particular architecture of a city and region with a complex cultural history – required a subtle response from the selected artists. The resulting exhibition suggests an accord being made between the individual artist and that environment via the artwork, attempting to identify through poiesis what cannot be truly represented.
Whilst socio-political aspects relating to the ‘landscape’ were conspicuously absent, a wider narrative of beauty and the sublime was construed. The resulting exhibition demonstrates that sometimes, beyond all discussion on urbanisation, gentrification and man made climate change, there remains at times only a sense of awe. This is a point well expressed by Ignazio Mortellaro’s piece Ed è subito sera (And Suddenly It’s Evening, 2015), a brass rod measuring 3 metres in length representing the horizon and bearing an inscription of a hermetic poem written by the 20th Century Sicilian poet Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968):
Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
trafitto da un raggio di Sole:
ed è subito sera.
Each of us stands alone at the heart of the Earth
Pierced by a ray of sunlight:
And suddenly it’s evening
The poem is a reflection on mortality, but also upon the entwinement of man and nature. The piece is positioned to reflect sunlight and is aligned perfectly across the East-West axis of the compass.
Adrianna Glaviano, Photograph (2014)
Inside the chapel itself, the works of Adriana Glaviano and the identical twins Carlo Fabio Ingrassia complement each other. Whilst the former printed photographs of fabrics which appear on first glance to be painted, the latter two artists presented miniature photo-realist pastel drawings. In both cases the depicted scenes represent fragments of landscapes or townscapes saturated in light, like glimpses caught through half-shut eyes, reflecting lines from Emily Dickinson’s poem which describes the oppressiveness of the midday sun in Sicily:
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath
When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
The Ingrassia twins work obsessively on the same piece, drawing from the outside of an image towards the centre and meeting in the middle. Their laborious studio process results in effortless-looking harmonious compositions such as Frammenti di una Triologia (Fragments of a Trilogy, 2015), which was displayed in the main chapel. Here, the use of colour and shadow evoke the unsettling atmosphere of dusk, continuing the theme of light and shadow as absolutely crucial to an understanding of the island of Sicily.
Paula Karoline Kamps’ trio of large scale ink paintings, also displayed in the main chapel, take a more personal approach to the landscape via an exploration of its effect on the body, both of human and animal. It’s Like no Tomorrow (2015) depicts a moonscape overlaid with a human torso and legs, and several newly hatched turtles. The work is based on the experience of a moonlit walk across the beach close to Menfi in the region of Agrigento, in which the artist witnessed turtles hatching and walking in file across the sand and directly to the sea. The suggested contortion of the human figure, which floats ethereally against a regal Prussian Blue backdrop, meets with the sensation of being blanketed by the depicted sky and moonlight. One senses less a domination of man by nature and more a wilful submission to its cycles.
John Kleckner, Nervous man in a four dollar room (2011)
The strong presence of painting in ‘When the Landscape Listens’ is echoed across town in a group show held at Galleria Francesco Pantaleone. The exhibition, entitled ‘La declinazioni della pittura’ (the declinations of painting) and dedicated to an investigation of the resurgence of painting and the jettisoning of the strict formal distinction between abstraction and figuration, was curated by Ariana Rosica. It includes a work by John Kleckner entitled Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room (2011), based on a collage ‘sketch’ from which the artist diverged during the process of painting. Kleckner, who is based in Berlin, focuses on qualities of light and space, producing images that oscillate between areas of flatness and depth, as well as between abstract fields and figurative elements suggestive of human or other forms.
Gianni Pettena, Werable Chairs (1971), Installation, Collapsable chairs in cardboard
This mixing of visual codes could also be seen at Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Palermo (GAM), where Lorenzo Bruni has curated a show bringing together the architectonic works of Gianni Pettena and the paintings and sculptures of William Mark Zanghi. The latter produces paintings depicting phantasmagoric landscapes populated by dogs who take on quasi-human characteristics. Such an approach mocks the human tendency to project anthropomorphic qualities onto animals and nature. The subject matter could not be more fitting in Palermo, where the city’s population of both stray and domestic dogs move wolf-like through the streets, lurching from shadow to shadow seeking food scraps and water in the city’s oppressive heat.
‘Il Museo Delle Palme’ (The Museum of the Palm Trees), installation view
The relationship between man and nature is also central to ‘Il Museo Delle Palme’ (The Museum of the Palm Trees), a temporary project curated by Giuseppe Buzzotta and Vincenzo Schillaci from the Palermo based artist run ‘L’A Project’ space, in collaboration with Carlo Pratis, director of Rome’s Galleria Operativa. The project re-opened a closed wing of a museum dedicated to depictions of palm trees at the Orto Botanico di Palermo (The Botanic Gardens of Palermo). The collection, amassed by a former museum director is hung salon style from floor to ceiling and features unknown artists alongside established names such as Bruno Ceccobelli. To these works a new collection has been added in a parallel wing, including works by young Italian artists such as Leonardo Petrucci, who designed a wallpaper. At firstit appears to be a generic design of the 1970s, yet on closer inspection the palm trees are accompanied by repeated images of the Red Palm Weevil, a beetle which has devastated palm trees across the Mediterranean since the ‘80s.
Leonardo Petrucci, Coniunctio oppositorum, wallpaper (2015)
Further works – some of which were realised during a two week residence attended by, amongst others, Emiliano Maggi and Matteo Nasini – are to be found throughout the Botanic gardens. Rome based artist Nasini place zig zagged threads of dyed wool clustered together between several Silk Floss trees, making a kind of barrier which will over time accumulate a layer of natural undyed wool which is produced by the trees itself, creating one white woollen mass effacing the form and colour scheme of the artwork.
Such an intervention helps to draw attention to the element of chance always present even in a heavily designed space such as the Orto Botanico di Palermo. The gardens and their buildings were designed by French architect Léon Dufourny to house the faculty of botanical studies of the Accademia dei Regi Studi. Its lavish form bears witness to a time when Palermo was a central power at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Far East, a position it held on and off for centuries. This can be seen equally in its Arab-Norman architecture, several examples of which were awarded UNESCO heritage status this month.
However, it’s also clear that no architecture ultimately can compete with the overwhelming sky of the region. As Pier Paolo Pasolini observed while writing The Long Road of Sand (1959), ‘more South than here is not possible’. It is a place dominated by the in-between worlds of midday and dusk. In this respect it will be interesting to see how Manifesta, the ‘European art biennial’ establishes itself in Palermo in 2018. Disregarding fears of looming corruption, and mismanagement of cultural budgets – which are both factors which will have to be contended with in Sicily – it remains to be seen how the hallmarks and trappings of the contemporary art scene will translate against the unremitting backdrop of Sicily’s capital, and nature.-->