Elisabetta di Maggio

The work of Elisabetta di Maggio is materially slight, not only because her chosen material is tissue paper, but also because she treats space and time as impalpable categories. Here, even a barrier closing off the passage between the two gallery spaces—Senza titolo (Untitled), 2005—was nothing more than a double wall of tissue paper, two thin sheets with a small gap between them. These had been perforated with a scalpel, pricked with patterns like those of old embroidery. Light and projected shadows filtered through, and, depending on the point from which one viewed it, the curtain acquired greater or lesser depth and luminosity. The “drawings” on the two sheets were perfectly superimposed in some places, while in others the patterns were displaced and layered. The result was a sort of insubstantial and diaphanous architecture of light and shadow, a wall from which materiality had been effaced and the idea of load-bearing voided. The rest of the gallery space was completely bare, with light violently filling one of the two rooms; the other remained in shadow. The pierced curtain, which prevented movement from one space to the other, was transformed into a third, immaterial space.

Di Maggio has previously shown works made by cutting into plaster walls, eliciting, scratch by scratch, the lace pattern of embroidery or the image of a flower. But whatever the support or material she employs, di Maggio always composes an ornamental sequence of fragments, as if her embroideries were torn and then recomposed without logic or apparent order, following the impulse of the moment. Thus the double wall at Viafarini was also a floating mosaic, a puzzle of piercings where each, with its refined design, recalled the enervating finesse of Middle Eastern or medieval arabesques. This is the “marvelous fairy-tale garden” that the eminent art historian Julius von Schlosser once evoked—in Die Kunst des Mittelalters (1923)—with regard to the aesthetic presuppositions of the Middle Ages, where “all limitations of space and time are without meaning, so that the very world of phenomena turns into a fantastic fable.”

Schlosser’s statements about medieval art and the power of ornamentation can offer parallels, suggestions, and interpretive keys that may be quite useful in thinking about di Maggio’s work, for all the differences. He likewise wrote about hieroglyphics that “bewitch and bewilder the viewer in their labyrinthine evolution.” Di Maggio’s pierced embroideries have this fairy quality, in which the images become a labyrinth and a dream, as the glance gets lost amid their interweavings. Time is negated and, like a mantra, repeats in circular fashion, ornament after ornament. Di Maggio is an artist who works with her hands, and her carvings require time and precision. Her slow and repetitive gestures become a way to tell us about herself, to visalize an inner life. And the tissue paper, so delicate even before she transforms it, embodies an entirely contemporary sense of precariousness and fragility.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.