Marzia Migliora

Beginning in 1986 the Hungarian writer Agota Kristof published a trilogy of lucid, merciless novels, The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie, which tell the story of a pair of twins who, abandoned by their mother, use their relentless intelligence to devise survival strategies. Inseparable and interchangeable, the twins play with their respective identities until their lives merge. At a certain point the reader no longer knows if the story is about two separate people or one person with a split, ambiguous personality. Pari o dispari (Odds or Evens), 2004, the video and sound installation created by Marzia Migliora for the Fondazione Sandretto, takes the idea behind this trilogy as its point of departure, touching on themes of identity, duality, and otherness.

The installation was divided into two parts. The first consisted of the voices of two pairs of twins. Following a common psychological exercise, the artist gave each pair a list of “stimulus” words—for example, “love,” “power,” “fear”—to comment on separately and to use as a basis for reconstructing the history of their own relationship. Fragments of these tales were transmitted by loudspeakers located on either side of the entrance, like a verbal sparring match where contrasting feelings and impulses clash. The second part was made up of a double video installation and a sound track, in a room that led off the entrance. Migliora has said that she imagined this room as the “place of conflict.” The video installation repeated and amplified the theme of complex dynamics unleashed by two people in extreme situations.

In the first part of Odds or Evens, narrative form prevailed. In the second part, however, there was a level of abstraction, achieved through decontextualized images and sounds. The artist had placed pairs of spiders, butterflies, crickets, and fighting fish in a tiny white cage and filmed them with a fixed video camera. The images, projected directly onto the wall, convey an oneiric, milky white world, where the insects and fish, forced to coexist, are fragile, black, enormous silhouettes that almost seem to be performing dance moves of reciprocal approach, defense, attack, and exploration. The insect symbolizes instinctive, unpredictable behavior without any clear logic.

The double, identical image drew the viewer into an atmosphere that was dreamlike but at the same time charged with violence and tension. The sound track mixed phrases selected from the twins’ voices at the entrance, music by the Turinese experimental band Larsen, and what the artist calls the “presence of a disturbance”—a sharp, irritating, ringing sound, like tinnitus. This shrill ring interrupted the other sounds like an alarm and accompanied a sudden blocking of the image of the insects, emphasizing the culmination of a moment of crisis. Enveloping the audience, these sounds heightened the feeling of tension.

In all her work—videos, drawings, installations, photographs—Migliora has dealt with questions of identity and fragility, and she has probed the realms of repression and the unspoken. Here again, she succeeded in exposing the frailty of the body, impulses, feelings, and the instinctive shadow of existence.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.