Ottonella Mocellin and Nicola Pellegrini

Lia Rumma | Milan

Through a reinterpretation of the legend of Salome and Saint John the Baptist, Ottonella Mocellin and Nicola Pellegrini staged the complex exhibition “Together Forever,” a story of conflicts. They reinterpret the tale as a love story experienced from two irreconcilable, and therefore anguished, perspectives. Thus the installation was divided into two parts. The first, at the center of a room with red walls, featured a music box, Never Far Away (all works 2005), with a ballerina spinning to the notes of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World” while holding a head on a plate. The theme continues in Ogni passo è in equilibrio tra passato e futuro (Each Step Balances Between Past and Future), a photograph of Mocellin dressed as a ballerina, a dreamlike apparition with a knife in her hand. In another photo, Questa leggerezza è dunque una piccola vitto- ria sulla forza di gravità? (Is this lightness a small victory over gravity?), Pellegrini looks at the world upside down, suspended in the air against the backdrop of a nocturnal metropolitan landscape. The subject of a third photograph, Il tempo è solo acqua che ci cade sulla testa (Time Is Only Water Falling on Our Heads), a typeset text taken from the sound track of the video that constitutes the second part of “Together Forever,” isn’t upside down, but backwards—the mirrored lettering of a printer’s plate.

This theater of joy and cruelty, of truth overturned, recurs in the video installation Together Forever, shown in a separate room. A triple projection gives it a disjunctive narrative form, showing Pellegrini and Mocellin wandering, respectively, amid the desolation of a dirty urban market after closing time and among the nearly deserted rides at an amusement park. The two sequences are positioned so that both protagonists seem to be facing each other. The distance between them is not just physical but psychological, as suggested by the off-screen voices of a man and woman who speak without listening to each other and express fatally divergent fears and desires—his moralistic, even apocalyptic criticism of the world contrasting with her faith in the intimate realm of private feelings. Every now and then a third image interrupts these two sequences. It is a portrait where, once again, Mocellin impersonates Salome, holding up Pellegrini’s head on a plate according to the traditional iconography of the beheading of the Baptist. The simulation of a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century painting short-circuits the preceding dreamlike urban scene. The two protagonists again exchange words, both certain of the truth of what they are saying, but their irreconcilability is now imbued with tenderness.

Mocellin and Pellegrini often rework motifs belonging to the collective memory. Putting themselves in others’ shoes, wearing disguises and reciting life stories: The two artists offer themselves to the viewer, narrating in the first person through their own voices and bodies. In “Together Forever” they draw on legend for the first time, but with a strong affective dimension that, typical of their practice, uses the voice as a fundamental means, an allusive murmur that bolsters the emotional impact of the images. Within this structure, viewers are involved in the first person: It is to them that the glances and words are addressed, and they are called on to identify with the actors.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.