Thomas Schütte

Being let in on a secret is always very exciting, particularly when what is revealed is something we thought we had already understood. It is disconcerting, not because certainties are overturned, but because places of the mind and of the heart, until then closed off, become accessible. This is how one felt upon seeing Thomas Schütte’s show. In fact, Schütte creates a connection between deeply submerged images and the birth of a new vision. The secret that he reveals is about the birth of subjective awareness that occurs in the exchange between what has already become conscious and what needs further elaboration.

In one of the two rooms of the gallery, Schütte lined up 26 wood sarcophagi along the back wall. They were empty, open, and as small as the ancient ones were. On the wall above each of them, a sheet of white paper hung by a corner, a mummy printed on each sheet. These were repeated, identical except for their colors. The wood mask used by Schütte for printing this particular image indicated, in its repetition, the mysterious unfolding of time over the millennia. On the other side of the room, sarcophagi were arranged on top of each other, alluding to the form of the pyramid, a symbol of the art and culture of ancient Egypt.

What was stimulating was not the discovery of buried signs of knowledge, but the recognition of the mystery that connects a contemporary sensibility to archetypal symbols of death. The figures of the sarcophagus and of the mummy speak to us of a distance that might seem accepted by reason, by archaeological discoveries. And yet, the moment that these figures are used to construct a contemporary vision, a secret reappears. It can never be completely revealed because what is always presented is the enigma that links life to death.

Schütte’s tale holds no drama, but rather a sort of serenity, for in the present, a passage opens up, making contact with the original, archetypal sense of creation. A shift is defined with respect to the inexorable slide of events; one experiences a pause in which the buried vision resurfaces at a conscious level.

Turin is the home of an important Egyptian museum, and for this reason, Schütte’s figures establish an immediate relationship with the space-time in which he creates his work. Indeed, the work prods us to find, in the present, traces of art’s eternal contemporaneity. Furthermore, the coincidence between what we see through the artist’s eyes and what we know is preserved in the city results in a focus upon the encounter with the world that surrounds us. This enabled Schütte to create a bridge with the work shown in the other room. There, 18 watercolors addressed the poetic nature of everyday life. One portrayed natural forms like a lemon or the drawing of a monument to the banana. They related intimate emotions, but at the same time they spoke of the continual evolutionary process by which a poetic verse passes from the mind to the word.

The watercolors surrounded three bunches of grapes that rested on the floor, at the center of the room. The grapes were made out of painted wood, two green bunches, one red one, while the stems were made out of copper, symbols of the transformations that human work impresses upon the earth. The perfect oval of the grape evoked the mystery of natural creation.

It is an enigma that kindles the desire for knowledge, but also makes us see that life is death, and that death is also a life. With his colors and his fruits, Schütte reveals this perennial desire, and allows us once again to find the antiquity of life within the antiquity of death. In the presence of this work, nature is perpetually regenerated, continually demanding a creation that communicates its mystery.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.