Massimo Bartolini

Magazzino d'Arte Moderna / Frith Street Gallery

Massimo Bartolini recently had three important solo exhibitions—first in Milan, then in Rome, and finally in London (in a two-person show with Wiebke Siem). In Rome his intervention involved what has become his typical way of transforming the exhibition space. The gallery consists of one small room whose dimensions Bartolini further reduced by raising the floor level, as he has often done before. This time, however, the area occupied by the raised floor did not encompass the furniture in the room, which appeared as if abandoned. Moreover, the window and one of the two doors were walled up, and visitors could only gain access to the room one at a time by means of some little steps. For those who have come to expect Bartolini to disturb the perception of space, it was no surprise to realize that the floor was moving beneath the weight of their feet. As it turned out, the false floor, mounted on a central hinge, was horizontally pivoted at the sides, so that it dropped in a slow but quite noticeable movement as soon as one moved away from the center of the space. The sensation of sinking within the pure whiteness of the space, accentuated by the strong artificial light, was intense and was made even more disturbing by the rhythmic, mechanical noise emitted by a score of walnuts that rolled around in response to the movement. These too instilled a feeling of unnaturalness, due to their “abnormal” sliding by fits and starts, with almost automatic movements. One could understand the reasons for this only by touching the nuts. Each one had been carefully opened, its contents removed and replaced with a ball bearing, then perfectly resealed. This marriage of the artificial and the natural has become part of Bartolini's work, and it obviously exacerbates the sense of alienation communicated by his installations.

In London, Bartolini seemed to further heighten this alienating quality, with quasi-surreal results. Inspired by Melville's short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853), Bartolini constructed a path that transfigured the spaces through light and the arrangement of objects. At first the room appeared empty, illuminated solely by a green light emanating from a door opposite the entrance. This door was a heavy, white wooden structure with a sheet of glass in the middle, lit from within by a neon light. Through it one entered the adjacent room, which the artist had transformed into an office, where the natural light was momentarily colored pink, due to the optical effect of one's passage through the diaphragm of green light. The path concluded with the last room, the actual gallery office, which in turn had been transformed into an exhibition space. Here beat the heart of the entire installation: In the shadowy space stood a single bed, unmade, as if the sleeper had just arisen. Nearby was a sort of incongruous, even surreal, excrescence, a circular black basin full of water, which was not motionless but was agitated by a continuous and, here too, mechanical movement: An upward thrust, apparently obtained with a motor, raised the liquid mass at the center, delineating an excrescence or small protuberance, which immediately lowered, describing a concave surface. For the artist, this small “anomalous wave” arising in a bedroom (bringing to mind a recent piece of his in the form of a pool agitated like the surface of the sea) signifies the mental energy that accompanies manifestations of existence, even during sleep. The work stems from a reflection on sculpture as a manifestation of this same energy, on a formal plane, joined to matter—here apparently associated with the practice of sleep and transfiguring energy of the dream.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore