Critics’ Picks

View of “NaOH,” 2018.


Francesca Grilli

Umberto Di Marino
Via Alabardieri 1
June 7–September 22

For the Italian pavilion at the Fifty-Fifth Venice Biennale in 2013, Francesca Grilli installed a colossal iron wall and a hanging microphone-Fe203, Ossido ferrid (Fe203, Ferric oxide). Invited to interact daily with the sculpture-the mic was connected to the wall via a device that discharged water droplets onto the metal in response to sonic intervention-female performers gradually bore a rusted wound into the structure's center.

This exhibition, “NaOH,” also takes its title from the chemical formula for the element on which the project pivots—namely, sodium hydroxide, a base for everyday detergents. The pungent, familiar scent of Marseille soap assaults the three gallery spaces, creating an evanescent point of connection among the works in the show. Nine off-white slabs of soap and five plates of stamped zinc make up the installation KOH, 2018. These surfaces—traces of wiping, scrubbing, and purifying—were used to make the eight prints, titled Na, 2018, that hang framed on the wall. With bronze sculptures such as Brush and Soap, both 2018, Grilli records the human body in negative, posed in stances of cleaning. In the video performance Connatural, 2018, however, the body itself becomes the subject: a close-up of the polished and thick-muscled bust of a contemporary kouros. Here, as in Fe203, the artist considers the body—that primary, irreplaceable tool of awareness of the world and communication with the other—as a resonant source often untapped. Simulating the act of scouring himself with an invisible bar of soap, the performer on-screen rediscovers, upon contact with his own body, the primal revelations of skin and nature that are often ignored when caged within society's frameworks.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.