Critics’ Picks

Micol Assaël, 432 Hz, 2009,
 sound, wood, wax bees, honey, 13 x 10 x 8'.

Micol Assaël, 432 Hz, 2009,
 sound, wood, wax bees, honey, 13 x 10 x 8'.

Milan

Micol Assaël

Pirelli HangarBicocca
Via Chiese 2
March 24–May 4, 2014

From the start of her career, Micol Assaël has conceived of her works as total sensory experiences that engage—often rather aggressively—sight, sound, smell, and touch. This miniretrospective in Milan (with the unwieldy title “ILIOKATAKINIOMUMASTILOPSARODIMAKOPIOTITA,” a sort of tongue twister made up of both Greek and invented words) comprises five installations that can be accessed by two or three viewers at a time. Of these, only one principally depends on the audience’s vision: Sub, 2014, a metal and glass box created for the occasion that contains a rudimentary Kelvin generator producing small electrical charges. The other installations challenge visitors with contained spaces plunging to temperatures of negative twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit (Vorkuta, 2003); icy jets of air and metallic, clanging sounds (Senza titolo [Untitled], 2003); and the noxious odor of naphtha coming from old electric motors (Mindfall, 2007). Viewers find respite only in 432 Hz, 2009, a small wooden room in which honeycombs set into the walls emit a soft, amber-colored light, the faint buzzing of bees, and a delicate odor of beeswax. Looking carefully, one discovers that the artist has plugged up some of the honeycomb’s cells, thus delineating rudimentary figures, such as a spiral.

Until now, almost all of Assaël’s work has been marked by the threatening allure of old machinery. 432 Hz departs from that aesthetic, but the piece fundamentally adheres to her general principles. Whether her art assaults the senses or insinuates itself into them, she seeks to make viewers aware of the nonhuman forces that surround them at every moment: physical phenomena such as electricity and magnetism, or, in this case, the activity of other living species. From this viewpoint, her works, even those that are most apparently repellent, invite a form of meditation, and their impact seems less dictated by a desire to overwhelm viewers than by a need to confront them with their limitations.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.