San Gimignano

Sabrina Mezzaqui

In a stark white space under a centuries-old archway, Sabrina Mezzaqui assembled works on paper and a video nearly as immaterial as thoughts under the title “Sottolineature” (Underlinings). Sitting just inside the entryway on a simple wooden pedestal, Inter-essere (Inter-being; all works 2005), consisted of rice paper formed into the shape of a book, a work so understated that it might be mistaken for a pile of pamphlets about the show. The top surface was printed with a treatise by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (in Italian translation) on the relatedness of things: A poet looking at this page will see immediately that there is a cloud inside it. WITHOUT THE CLOUD THERE IS NO RAIN, WITHOUT RAIN THE TREES CANNOT GROW, AND WITHOUT TREES WE CANNOT MAKE PAPER. . . . AS THIN AS THIS SHEET OF PAPER IS, IT CONTAINS EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE.

At the opposite end of the room hung La pagina bianca (The Blank Page), a diaphanous scrim of Japanese tissue paper with passages from Isak Dinesen’s eponymous story transcribed in ink and scribbled over with lightly scumbled lines so that the words blurred into the paper, rendering the calligraphy more decorative than legi- ble. Silence, as a character in the story says, ultimately tells the most profound tale. Nearby, pinned to the wall, was La scrittura del dio (The Writing of God), seven gossamer pages of the story of that name cut out of an Italian edition of Jorge Luis Borges’s collection The Aleph; the pages fluttered furiously against the wall at the merest exhalation. The hearts of the lines of type had been excised precisely with a knife so that only the top and bottom bits of the letters were left; the result resembled some kind of avant-garde musical notation. The imprisoned protagonist of the story spends years deciphering words hidden in the markings of a jaguar, which he believes to convey the secret of salvation.

Cutting and scribbling served to obscure, yet also manifest, the “meaning” of these texts about the futility of words in the face of the poetry of existence and enduring spirituality—the nothingness that says everything. By “materializing” these stories the artist actually emphasized not only their immateriality but their embodiment of the tenuousness of being—of material existence—thus using images of words and books to express their ineffectiveness. In a small shrinelike room, the six-minute video Linee (Lines) simply observed a window and encouraged contemplation with a lilting, hypnotic Middle Eastern tune and the subtle wafting of a filmy curtain, its bottom edge performing a sinuous dance backlit by dotted lines of sunlight entering through tiny slots in the blinds. I wondered what was going on in that sleepy room, which then became the one I was in.

In this work, reading between the lines means everything. And in this context Segni (Signs), drawings of tiny black birds flying in various formations across twelve sheets of paper on the wall, looked like words on the march carrying their own silent narrative, inducing a reflection on the infinitude and insignificance of living things in the universe. They became letters flying across a blank page, scattering across memory only to fade, dissipate, and abstract like words, like history, and, ultimately, like existence. Even the whiteness and simplicity of the antique space itself conveyed a timeless emptiness tied together by the narrative line represented by the not-so-blank paper.

Cathryn Drake