Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Expansion: Cildo Meireles

Things discussed: HangarBicocca; Cildo Meireles; installations; Milan; stench; radios; glass; synaesthesia; Popes; bones; eggs; bullets; ice-cubes.

HangarBicocca is never a disappointment. (I am always more convinced it is truly one of the best art venues in Milan.) It wasn’t again when I went to see Installations by Cildo Meireles


Okay, the space is so beautiful and powerful that it is like the Arsenale venue at the Venice Biennale: you feel like whatever you put in will look awesome. Luckily, it’s not always true. But here at the Hangar Bicocca I always appreciate the way the location with its strong character, enjoyable by itself, is still very apt to contain an exhibition in a discreet way, without interfering too much with it or predominating.


In the 1960s, Meireles was one of the first to experiment with multi-sensory immersive installations addressing social and cultural issues that required the full involvement of the public. Installations is the first exhibition in Italy devoted to him,
including 12 of the artist’s most important installations, from 1970 to the present day. Meireles’ installations are pervasive. They aim at all the senses, they are to be lived, gone through, touched, heard, tasted, smelt. It’s not always a pleasant feeling, which is not what one should expect from art anyway, but it is always powerful.

In the big, high, black pavilion of the Hangar Bicocca, the 12 installations stand out like islands, each one a different world to explore. Like a kid, I was feeling in a playground not knowing from where to start, seduced by each one of them. So I started from the beginning.

I was taken away from the first installation, Atraves (1983-89), an area which you walk in at your own risk, stepping on broken glass and moving among vertical barriers that go from barbed wire to gauze, from fishing nets to big glass sheets. All of them very precariously put, you have to be careful where you put your feet, and where you turn, always hearing the sound of the creaking glass under your feet.

via Artribune

Walking slowly and on the alert, you get to the centre, where is a rough big ball made of cellophane (supposed to be lit from the inside, which wasn’t when I went). It was curious the different reactions this can elicit. In my view a perfect metaphor of life, I saw in the core a precious beauty to be found despite the hardship one encounters in life, a jewel that can be made of simple things (the poor material the ball is made of), while my companion saw in it a possibly dangerous object.

Next to it is
Babel (2001), a totem made of stereos, radios and digital clocks of different periods. They are turned on on different channels and volumes, piling up a series of sounds and voices in a big mish-mash. I smiled when, putting my ear close to one of the radios, I heard the news of the canonization of Pope John Paul II by Pope Francis in the presence of the retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Olvido (1987-1989) is the most putting off installation in terms of senses. In the middle of a beautifully ordered round enclosure made of 70,000 candid candles, stands an Indian tepee made with 6,000 banknotes from different American countries. From the inside of the tepee, covered with coal, comes the constant noise of an electric saw. The space around it and inside the candles enclosure is covered with 3 tons of bovine bones. I didn’t realize immediately that it was from them that came a sweetish smell, which soon turned into a sometimes barely bearable stench.

Amerikkka (1991-2013) is a surface made of 22,000 eggs. I stepped on them, which was painful, so I had to be careful at every step, added to the strange feeling on walking on eggs, and lied down. Above is another slanted surface, with a blue background filled with different kinds of bullets all pointing menacingly in your direction. The simple and direct way in which Meireles succeeds again in condensing in one experience the awe, the pain, the danger of life (for what I felt) without even making you feel the need to interpret in words, but just to feel the experience and recognising that he is speaking directly to a part of you that understands and is connected, is wonderful. But then, of course this was my interpretation, which again was different from the one of my exhibition companion, which makes the work even more interesting in my opinion.

Entrevendo (1970-1994) explores synaesthesia. After putting in your mouth an ice cube you enter a wooden cone-shaped tunnel that gets narrower as you proceed inside. At the dark end is a hot air blower. As the air pressure intensifies, the temperature also rises quickening the melting of the ice cube in your mouth. Your body experiences taste and temperature, while moving in space and time. I cannot explain well how, but with all these senses made active, I felt like something was being switched one, which wasn’t before.

I was finally a bit disappointed by the last installation, Marhulo (1991-1997), which was the work I was more expecting to see. Maybe because of the many people already sitting there and not wanting to leave, I didn’t manage to really convincing myself to be in a real place. Maybe this was not even the point anyway.

The illusion of being on a deck at crepuscule is well constructed. A sea made of open leaflets reproducing different kinds and hues of waves, ends in an imaginary far horizon, where a monochrome wall reproduces a compact, clouded sky. In the background resonates the constant sound of voices whispering the word ‘water’ in 85 different languages. Everything is so close to reality, and still it does not pretend to substitute it, it states everywhere its fake essence.

I admired the ability with which Meireles creates an environment breathing its own breath, a suspended dimension where the light and the waves are frozen in an endless moment, where what looks real is actually not. Still…

Still… this exhibition gave me one more occasion to appreciate the HangarBicocca and the works of a great contemporary.

Looking forward then for next visit to HangarBicocca.

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