Critics’ Picks

View of “Goshka Macuga,” 2016


Goshka Macuga

Fondazione Prada | Milan
Largo Isarco 2
February 4–June 19, 2016

Goshka Macuga’s work envisions the apocalyptic fate of a human species whose demise is hastened by a robot takeover, the robots being instances of a “man-made man” (as exhibition didactics put it) whose processes of learning and execution improve. Her practice encompasses various disciplines (sculpture, installation, photography, architecture, and design) and synthesizes the art world’s various roles (curator, artist, collector, researcher).

An android with human facial features and a scrambled body that gives the show its subtitle, To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll (all works cited 2016)—a modern Icarus, or an updated Frankenstein—occupies the ground floor, dispensing phrases of great thinkers. In the vicinity, works of impressive scale evoke the idea of the cosmos by artists such as Phyllida Barlow, Robert Breer, James Lee Byars, and Ettore Colla.

On the upper floor, neon spelling out “What Was I?” interrogates a distant past, perhaps one that never truly occurred. Here, the installation Before the Beginning and After the End, a collaboration between Macuga and Patrick Tresset, presents six tables on which very long sheets of paper, covered with sketches, drawings, texts, mathematical formulas, and diagrams drawn in ballpoint pen, created with the help of a robotic installation, illustrate the history of human progress. Works by Hanne Darboven, Lucio Fontana, Sherrie Levine, Piero Manzoni, and Dieter Roth, alongside rare objects, books, and documents, appear around the collaboration.

A new installation by the artist in the three cisterna spaces comprises seventy-three bronze heads of sixty-one historical and contemporary figures (from Albert Einstein to Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King to Karl Marx). Connected to one another by long metal bars, they form a molecular structure, a mental map of human knowledge. Meanwhile, in a small office space, Macuga stages public readings in Esperanto of a series of significant texts.

Overall, the work offers reflections on the concept of memory both as personal and individual baggage, and as a collection of universal knowledge and stories, where art becomes an indispensable tool of preservation.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.