Berlin/London

Flavio Favelli/Graham Fagen/Flavio Favelli

“My Home Is My Mind”—the title of Flavio Favelli’s exhibition in Berlin: a quintessentially compensatory statement, a way of making sense of one’s essential homelessness. Favelli has since the mid- ’90s constructed a number of site-specific works in disused buildings, often by means of modifications to the existing architecture and appurtenances. These locations have sometimes become the houses in which he has lived—in fact, as he told the show’s curator, Stefano Gualdi, “I began my career as an artist by renovating my house.” Favelli’s project, I would guess, is to make himself more at home with his felt lack of at-homeness.

In a gallery context Favelli works more or less the same way: not so much by filling a container with objects as by using objects to modify the viewer’s perception of the space that contains them. Naturally the objects can, if one wishes, be taken home and reinstalled like any other; they’d be just as discomfiting—and just as understatedly so—as they were here. Indeed, the first time I saw Favelli’s work was at an art fair: A painted, tablelike wooden construction was being used as a desk by the gallery that was showing it. At first I didn’t even notice it as an artwork, but when I finally did, it set off reverberations that kept me thinking for days—a strange synthesis of painting, sculpture, and even institutional critique. How many artworks can really stand up to the oppressive commercial context of a fair? Undoubtedly it was the poetic obliquity with which Favelli’s piece seemed to lose itself there that allowed it, in the longer run, to triumph.

In Berlin, simple structures like a low, almost benchlike white wooden platform extending out from a wall and running almost the length of the space, and a similar low wall surrounding a preexisting iron railing around an opening to a lower level seemed to function as eccentric outgrowths of the interior architecture itself. They were somehow parts of the room’s structure, but the parts that couldn’t fit in. Some of the more self-contained objects—among them a pair of carpets pieced together from segments of other, unmatching carpets—were placed at a distance, visible at basement level past an inaccessible flight of stairs that was blocked at the bottom by a door with pink curtains. Just as Favelli’s objects modify the space by making it into an intimate, tactile proximity, he uses the space to modify his objects by showing them, as it were, through the wrong end of the telescope.

Another such carpet collage was shown in London, where Favelli’s works were interspersed with the normal decoration of the Italian Cultural Institute as part of a two-person show with Graham Fagen, “Where Is My Home?” For Archivio (Archive), 2002, Favelli replaced one of a pair of gold-framed mirrors with another patched together from a grid of small rectangular pieces, thereby breaking up the image of whatever it reflected, such as the landscape painting hanging on the opposite wall. “La mia casa dov’è? ” (Where is my home?), 2002, was a series of drawings the artist made by partly covering over parts of old architectural prints, as if Favelli had considered the palazzi they picture as possible dwelling places—for the soul, at least—and ended up effacing them instead. The implicit response to the question in the title: Well, not here, anyway.

—BS