Marco Bagnoli

Villa Medicea, Artimino

The Villa Medicea, situated in Artimino in the countryside outside Florence, is where Rebecca Horn shot her film La Ferdinanda, and it is now the site of an installation by Marco Bagnoli. Inside, a long passage—through dark corridors and deserted rooms, up steep flights of steps—gives one a sensation of aimless movement, of climbing and descending the same stairs over again, of being caught in a labyrinth. There is minimal lighting, from small lamps on the floor that project unsettling shadows on the walls. The approach to (the idea of) the work of art is a tiring and uneasy one.

In an introductory space, a low opening leads into a small room decorated with frescoes. A sheet of paper on the floor is illuminated intermittently by a white light. The three words on the paper—“GOLEM DOLMEN GODEL”— suggest the theoretical propositions to be demonstrated (undemonstrable propositions, as will be seen). The journey continues, again through dark rooms devoid of furnishings; this second stage is even longer than the first. As one moves upward toward the roof of the villa the rooms become less vast, and as one enters the attic there is, finally, an illuminated space. In the largest attic room, beneath the tiles and beams of the villa’s roof, a second roof has been constructed, rising from the floor and nearly filling the space. But we are still in the “wrong” space; the artwork is better viewed from elsewhere; it is as though we were looking at a painting from its frame or edge. The walk continues through still more rooms and stairways, while the sparkling landscape of the Florentine valley repeatedly appears through small open windows. Then, after passing through a larger, darker area, one arrives once more at Bagnoli’s roof, seeing it this time from the correct viewpoint. The tile construction divides the large room in two. A chimney top on the right supports a crude, inadequate-looking lightning rod; light is admitted to the room through the space created by a missing tile in the real roof above, and it shines down on a long strip of paper, painted a faint red, which is unrolled from the real roof to the constructed chimney top—a flash of lightning, perhaps, hardly powerful at first glance, but, being neither conducted nor stopped by the lightning rod, sufficient to unleash its energy in a small fire. On the left, in fact, within the space of a real chimney, a projected slide of a flame shines forth, as if the lightning, having entered the (false) chimney top, had proceeded to ignite a fire in the (real) chimney.

Bagnoli is concerned here with issues of falseness, with the ambiguous threshold that divides the world of ideas from that of appearances. The roof, for example, appears in duplicate, in an internal/external dislocation which is both mental and material. But even while the interior roof seems to be a mirror image of the exterior one, the similarity of the two is limited. The axes of the false roof are not in alignment with the horizontal and vertical axes of the room and of the real roof. The mirror image, which introduces the idea of the double and therefore of a multiplicity of viewpoints, is particularly ambiguous since it reproduces reality in a displaced and displacing fashion. The light entering the room and its ignition in the form of the flame in the chimney seem to illustrate an inexorable law of nature; yet even this “truth” is overturned through a series of false reproductions. The paper “lightning” is lit up by a low-intensity flashlight which, as soon as it has been switched on, begins to lose power. So the light tends toward darkness, toward an inevitable zero point, since its operative force has been entrusted to a depletable battery. This incongruous use of a light source causes a further dislocation.

After this disconcerting epiphany there still awaits a vast dark room at the end of which appears, far away, a blue light. From this point on the experience becomes more symbolic; in the rooms that follow, Bagnoli’s work unfolds in an interweaving of irrationality and rationality, alchemy and reality. Along the architrave of the main entrance we have seen a photograph of the ruins of an ancient Islamic tomb, illuminated by a pale green light, at the moment just after nightfall. The villa, then, is a symbolic realm, where the signs to be interpreted go beyond the real world.

In the first of the final set of rooms the windows are closed. A chaotic pile of large wooden beams (here before the artist’s intervention) is clearly not a gesture to Arte Povera; instead it marks off the blue-lit room as a site of chaos, of disorder, of irrationality. In the second room the windows to the outside are open, revealing a red exterior light; the blue light of the first room and the yellow light of a third room filter in through two openings high up in the side walls. Here, in what might be called the room of rationality, the primary colors and their possible secondary compositions are defined. Wood appears again, this time in low, ordered piles along two walls. This is a place of geometry and logic. Next one enters the room illuminated by the yellow light, where a single window remains closed. Here wood is changed into another substance, from a solid to an insubstantial state, indicated by the traces of smoke smudging the wall above the chimney. Two small steps lean against the wall, leading nowhere in particular, just upward; this is a place of alchemy, of the mutation of elements, of passage from one state to another.

Finally, the last room contains the sum of all the elements: air, water, earth, light. A broken tile in the low ceiling reveals a glimpse, among the beams, of a painted fragment with the figure of a putto—a triton or an angel. Two flashlights, one on the floor and one wedged between the beams, project a white light toward each other. The rhythmic flux of high and low elements is closely linked to the beams of light that bind them.

The connecting thread for the overall work is the element of time—the long, diffused span of time demanded by the piece. The very location chosen by Bagnoli suggests the “historic” aspect of time, and imposes on the viewer a lengthening and shortening of vision—just as the windows are both closed and open, restricting or extending the view. This is not a univocal piece illustrating a particular hypothesis and leading to a final resolution. The space is experienced as a synchronic dislocation of events which do not lead to a central point; viewers must continually reevaluate their physical coordinates. The compartmentalization of space and time forces them to focus on a geography of signs, echoes, and resonances, advances and retreats; the contours of this geography are not continuous lines, but segments, broken grids, ellipses, and spirals. As in his previous work Bagnoli is concerned here with interacting structures that do not offer definitive answers but that do offer the possibility of metamorphosis into other meanings, other physical states, other locations—emphasizing a negation of function and necessity and the establishment of the principle of indeterminacy.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.