"Oscuramento: The Wars of Fabio Mauri" focuses on the series Picnic o Il buon soldato, a sobering, direct and poetically reflective body of work that depicts the repercussions of conflict on collective cultural memory. Contemporary a group exhibition exploring themes of fragility, vulnerability and protection as they manifest in a variety of guises.
Oscuramento. The Wars of Fabio Mauri
‘I patiently recompose, with my own hands, the experience of the shameful. I explore its mental possibilities… I behave as if that reality (that history) had not had its final condemnation, but were still adding further data right up to our time today.’
– Fabio Mauri
Hauser & Wirth is honoured to present a historical solo exhibition of works by Italian artist Fabio Mauri. Organised with Olivier Renaud-Clément, this will be Mauri’s first solo show in London for over 20 years, and follows a significant presentation of his work at the Venice Biennale and Istanbul Biennial in 2015. Mauri’s practice spans performance, film, installation, found-object sculpture, mixed media works and theoretical writings to question readings of history and the associated power of language and ideology. ‘Oscuramento: The Wars of Fabio Mauri’ focuses on the series Picnic o Il buon soldato (Picnic or The Good Soldier), a sobering, direct and poetically reflective body of work that depicts the repercussions of conflict on collective cultural memory. The exhibition brings to light the political dimension of the image, as it is projected and proliferates throughout contemporary society.
Born in 1926, Mauri came of age in the context of Fascist Italy and Europe at war and was so profoundly affected by the events he witnessed first-hand and through the media that he suffered severe psychiatric problems. His artistic practice evolved predominantly as a means of resolving his own personal trauma. Mauri was unable to fathom how these deeply disturbing events had been accepted and relegated to history, distanced from reality by being classified as ‘the past’. This exhibition presents how Mauri explored the mechanisms of war through three distinctly separate approaches: the manifestation of political power, the private experiences of soldiers and citizens, and how events of war were expressed in the media.
Set inside a separate room within the main gallery space is ‘Oscuramento’ (1975), which translates literally as ‘Darkening’. Conjuring themes of censorship and repression, this life-size installation at the centre point of the exhibition presents 29 waxwork figures in military garb staged around a long table and surrounding their leader, Mussolini. ‘Oscuramento’ (Darkening) is a reconstruction of the last session of the ‘Gran Consiglio del Fascismo’ (Grand Council of Fascism) that took place on 24 July 1943, and sanctioned the arrest of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini is represented here together with the highest leaders of the fascist regime, although not every figure is an actual portrait of a real historical figure. Through this restaging, Mauri invites us to consider the powers that governed the fate of so many, and to inspect and scrutinize this covert and sinister event, exposing the perpetrators of Fascism.
Mauri confronts the private agonies and experiences of being a soldier, bringing the truths and horrors of war into the realm of individual experience. In the mixed-media works from the Picnic o Il buon soldato (Picnic or The Good Soldier) series, Mauri incorporates found objects reminiscent of war – such as a gas mask, a lamp, a compass and a broken aeroplane – and affixes them to impermeable sheets of iron, presented as a traditional painting on canvas. Using ubiquitous objects allows Mauri to approach ‘history’ in a new way, and to find a place where the universal and the personal converge. Commonplace items conjure personal memories, creating a more direct language that is not usually used in memorials for remembrance.
In one of Mauri’s most well-known works, ‘Il Muro Occidentale o del Pianto’ (The Western or Wailing Wall) (1993) a barricade of suitcases carrying individual luggage tags stands as a symbol of exile – a monument to the transmigration inflicted by war. In resurrecting historical memory, alluding specifically to the Holocaust, Mauri addresses the story of discrimination and persecution. The haunting presence and form of this work is echoed in ‘Monumento a tre militari’ (Monument to Three Soldiers) (1998) on display here: picnic baskets, characteristic of those used by soldiers on duty, are stacked on top of one another and piled high creating a precarious, towering sculpture. The baskets become poignant objects that resonate with loss and imply the absence of their former owners – bearing identities that have been reduced to ash. Presented en masse, the baskets cause us to reflect on the innumerable lives cut short.
For Mauri, the rhetoric of war was insufficient to convey the reality of experience. Through language we are capable of distancing ourselves from reality, and of disguising and diluting the horrors that we know to have occurred. ‘Linguaggio è guerra’ (Language is War) (1975) comprises 88 photographs in a sequence, transformed by cuts and montage. The images are a selection of photographic reproductions taken from German and English magazines covering the Second World War. The artwork was succeeded by the publication of the book ‘Linguaggio è Guerra / Language is War’ in 1975 by Massimo Marani in Rome. Throughout his practice, Mauri consistently employed tools used by the media, both in terms of printed matter and film. He often returned to the motif of the cinematic screen, such as in his Schermi series, where raw or whitewashed canvases function as blank surfaces to be projected onto. In a sense, any experience imaginable could occur in this forum; the possibilities are endless and cannot be defined by reality.
During the exhibition, Hauser & Wirth will host three reactivations of one of Mauri’s participatory performances, ‘‘Rancio’ da Picnic o Il buon soldato’ (Performance ‘Meal’ from Picnic or The Good Soldier). The performance takes the preparation and serving of a standard military meal as its setting. A soldier dreams of a girl, and the figure from his imagination enacts the routine of serving rations of Zuppa to the audience. During this performance, the 1959 Soviet film ‘Ballad of a Soldier’ directed by Grigori Chukhrai is projected onto another woman’s back – for Mauri, the body is an important tool linked with association and memory. In this instance the body is the device through which images of war are brought into the present and into the realm of the individual, acting as a reminder of the continuing presence of intolerance throughout the world and the universally alarming tendency to forget how easily such behaviour can become endemic.
‘‘Rancio’ da Picnic o Il buon soldato’ (Performance ‘Meal’ from Picnic or The Good Soldier) will take place on Thursday 10 December 2015, 6.30 pm, Saturday 12 December 2015, 1 pm and Saturday 6 February 2016, 1 pm. The exhibition and performance are accompanied by a reprint of the original catalogue for the 3-part performance, ‘Oscuramento’.
As part of the exhibition there will be a performance of the work 'Rancio' da Picnic o Il buon soldato (Performance 'Meal' from Picnic or the good soldier). The performances times are:
Thursday 10 December 2015, 6.30 pm
Saturday 12 December 2015, 1 pm
Saturday 6 February 2016, 1 pm
Hauser & Wirth London draws together the work of nine artists in ‘Maisons Fragiles’, a group exhibition exploring themes of fragility, vulnerability and protection as they manifest in a variety of guises. Spanning 60 years of artistic practice, the exhibition includes work by Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Isa Genzken, Robert Gober, Eva Hesse, Roni Horn, Gordon Matta-Clark, Fausto Melotti and Richard Serra. These artists share an innate sympathy towards architecture and a common preoccupation with materiality; each exploits the properties of their chosen materials – whether that be reflection, transparency or malleability – in pursuit of a mastery of form and space.
Louise Bourgeois and Roni Horn deal with notions of psychological fragility, as they explore fluctuating mental states, fluid definitions of identity, the subjectivity of memory and the precarious nature of human relationships. Bourgeois’s art inextricably entwines personal experience and artistic expression – much of the imagery and materials she used can be traced to her own life, particularly to the experience of childhood traumas and the fraught terrain of femininity. ‘Maisons Fragiles’ (1978), the work that lends its name to the title of this exhibition, confronts the deeply repressed issues that conditioned Bourgeois’s youth, and represents an exploration of the artist’s psyche. For Bourgeois, architecture functioned as a personification of the human condition. The perceived frailty of ‘Maisons Fragiles’ comments on the dialectical tension that exists between interior and exterior – the legs of the sculpture evoke the parameters of a house, while the empty interior speaks to the solitude of domestic life. Despite their fragile appearance, the structures are rendered in steel, endowing them with a strength and resilience that appears, at first glance, to be lacking. Although balanced precariously, the work’s frail appearance is only an illusion.
Grappling with a series of complex binaries that engage with an ongoing exploration of identity as a fleeting experience, Horn’s ‘Two Pink Tons’ (2008) plays with the disjunction between the physical properties of glass and the pictorial illusions of its presence. Slightly bowed like liquid under tension, the sculpture appears as two pools of water fixed in time and space. Themes of sameness and difference and mutability of form surge and resurface through this composed pair which invites comparison and contemplation. As the alchemical qualities of glass interact with movement, the experience between the object and viewer highlights changes in the sculpture’s texture and materials. The sides of these two sculptures are translucent and rough-edged from contact with the mould, whilst, by contrast, their flat surfaces appear highly reflective owing to being firepolished. As the sculptures’ appearance shifts, the viewer realises their own existence as a state of mutability and becoming.
Robert Gober’s uncanny explorations of architecture and objects call into question notions of ‘home’. He destabilises and subverts everyday scenes to uncover the disquieting, the disarming, the unnerving and the disconcerting. Gober takes objects – a bed, a crib, a door – which while anonymous are also universal, and plays with the tension between the disrupted forms and the strong emotional and physical connotations we attach to them. In transforming these objects, Gober transforms a viewer’s emotional and physical reality; the common made uncommon. ‘Untitled (Bent Door)’ (1988) is a door which appears to be folding in on itself. It is installed broken to triangulate with the floor, and the viewer encounters it as an obstacle as they traverse around it and through the gallery space. Installing the work thus, Gober creates a sense of movement and of change, as, depending on one’s outlook, the door is either precariously propped while collapsing down on itself or about to rise back up to its vertical and functional state. As in all Gober’s work, the manner of construction of the door is a central part of its mystery. Rather than take an actual door and modify it, here, the artist has crafted a new door as wooden sculpture.
Gordon Matta-Clark, who trained as an architect, focused on the dehuminisation of the modern world, and developed a personal idiom that combined elements of Minimalism with architecture. Using abandoned buildings for his medium and wielding a chainsaw as his instrument, he cut into the structures, creating unexpected apertures and incisions. He is best known for his ‘building cuts’, which have been seen as an outright rejection of the architectural profession. His practice introduced new and radical modes of physically exploring and subverting architecture, and some of his well-known projects involved laboriously cutting holes into floors of abandoned buildings or, as with ‘Splitting’ (1974), his iconic rearrangement of a suburban house in New Jersey. The light from the incision invaded the interior and united the rooms with a swath of brilliance.
The delicate papier-mâché works by Eva Hesse take the form of geometric cubes, projecting a sense of containment and underscoring her interest in the psychological experience of domestic space. In ‘Inside I’, she covers an open wooden box with painted grey papier-mache. Deep in the bottom of this cube sits a snarly tangle of painted cords, wire and twine, a mass of snakelike forms that are statically fixed but anticipate hissing reverberations. ‘Inside II’ is similarly composed from a thick-walled open box that holds two amorphous weights wrapped in paper, bound with cord, and again painted grey. Throughout her sculptural work, Hesse responded to the rigidity of Minimalism by tangling, binding, complicating and enclosing space in order to underscore the expressive possibilities inherent in abstract sculpture. Provisional and raw, through rough edges, chance groupings, and the clash of smooth exteriors and irregular interiors, Hesse was able to register the expressive capacity of the body and the mind.
Isa Genzken and Richard Serra here explore spatial relationships between object, environment and viewer. Executed in 1975, Serra’s monumental ‘Untitled’ reflects the artist’s preoccupation with sculpture as a means to create and organise space. Crafted from corten steel, its equilateral proportions encapsulate the artist’s minimalist practice. A flat wall sculpture, ‘Untitled’ reinterprets the relationship between an artwork and its environment – making both distinct to the spectator. Serra uses material to investigate, divide and organise space in both two and three dimensions. The corten steel, designed to acquire a dark, even patina of rust over time, adds a fourth dimension to the work – time. ‘Untitled’ takes on an active quality, distinct from the immutable geometry of Minimalism. It alters space and is altered by time, a visual manifestation of Serra’s interest in the collision of matter and space.
Genzken has been inspired by two grand themes: modernity and urban architecture. Ranging from largescale sculptures that draw on Constructivist and Minimalist aesthetics, to rougher, more overtly architectural concrete works that conjure ruins, to paintings, photographs, and found-object installations that have redefined assemblage for a new era, Genzken’s body of work represents both a rare artistic freedom and a disciplined, almost obsessive sensitivity toward the relationship of individuals to their sculptural surroundings. Her concrete forms rest on special metal tables in which sculpture and display achieve a visual unity. Her concrete works are like Brutalist architectural models, with rough-hewn shells of empty buildings and various wall configurations.
The works of Alexander Calder and Fausto Melotti are exercises in articulating space. Their sculptures dispel sensations of ambiguity and fear – fragility is displayed not as a weakness, but instead represented asdexterity and serenity. Melotti’s ‘I lavandai (The Launderers)’ (1969) encapsulates the artist’s lyrical approach to sculpture, drawing on the lightness and tactility of the delicate materials from which it is crafted to create a work poised between geometry and representation, abstraction and narrative. It eschews the noise of welding or firing, carving or cutting, for an art whose power rests in the liminal, the border between seen and unseen, the physical and the ephemeral. Dematerialised to the point of weightlessness, the artist’s work stands in space like an aerial drawing, incorporating space and air into its essence.
In a feat of equilibrium archetypal of Calder’s groundbreaking sculptural innovation, the floating network of interconnected elements that define the composition of ‘Untitled’ (1974) is delicately and perfectly balanced, suspended in mid-air. The constellation of forms that Calder has brought together in ‘Untitled’ move in asymmetrical symphony. The shapes the artists chose to use here are abstract, though they reference both organic and man-made shapes – including leaves, blades of paddles, fins, tails, and sails. Calder’s embrace and celebration of natural forces was arguably as integral to his practice as his favoured media of sheet metal and wire. Indeed, encouraged to move organically with the subtlest breath of air, this mobile epitomises the captivating dichotomy of the material and the natural, of stasis and mobility, which is so central to Calder’s practice.
Image: Fabio Mauri, Monumento a tre militari (Picnic o Il buon soldato) [Monument to Three Soldiers (Picnic or The Good Soldier)], 1998
Basketwork, leather 270 x 53 x 50 cm / 106 1/4 x 20 7/8 x 19 5/8 in. Photo: Claudio Abate
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Opening: Thursday 10 December, 6 – 8 pm
Hauser & Wirth
23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET
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Holiday closing times: Wednesday 16 December 2015, from 12 pm and 24 December 2015 – 3 January 2016 inclusive