Paola Pivi

The Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan has no fixed premises and is always changing locations for its exhibitions. For Paola Pivi’s exhibition “My Religion Is Kindness. Thank You, See You in the Future,” curator Massimiliano Gioni chose the old, unused warehouse of the Porta Genova train station, a regional hub in a working-class neighborhood. The space is structured like a long corridor, divided into three sections. In the first section, Pivi exhibited Interesting, 2006, a series of live animals, all of them white: two gigantic metal aviaries contained, respectively, a solitary white peacock and a snowy owl, while three white fish swam inside two aquariums. This section led directly into a sort of anteroom, where fifty more animals, again all white, freely inhabited the space, among them swans and geese, hens and doves, puppies, ponies, and goats, a sheep with its lamb, and a cow. At the opening, a trainer held a docile horse on a leash while a llama stood enigmatically, motionless, observing its public. Crowds and noises can frighten animals, so visitors often passed through in silence, lending the place an unreal atmosphere—even at the opening, attended by more than one thousand people. Pivi had already created something along these lines last summer at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris, where pairs of white animals inhabited the space just for the opening, thereafter being replaced by two large photographs, including one depicting Florida crocodiles completely covered in whipped cream. Here in Milan the animals were present for the duration of the exhibition.

At the far end of the same space, visitors encountered Untitled (Airplane), 1999, a large military craft that Pivi also exhibited at the 1999 Venice Biennale. The warplane was upside down, conveying the idea of lightness despite its massive structure, but also signifying a negation of its function: No to war. The next work, Guitar Guitar, 2001/2006, was an installation originally created for the Sonsbeek 9 exhibition in Holland. The artist had asked shopkeepers in that small city to lend pairs of objects, and from these she composed a sort of self-portrait of the place through its merchandise. In Milan the operation was repeated on a much larger scale, conveying a portrait of the city as vast as it was claustrophobic and anxiety-provoking. The great quantity of collected objects, here, too, in identical pairs, occupied the entire space of the remaining building, with only a narrow passage left for visitors. There were cars and tractors, lamps (which provided illumination), furniture (befitting the design capital of Italy), and a variety of household appliances—an enormous quantity of objects of every size, many with high formal value, many in the worst possible taste. The result was disorienting. In contrast to the Edenic space with white animals, the “noise” of the pile of objects was, metaphorically, deafening—their bulk suffocating and their presence rendered disquieting through duplication. Guitar Guitar introduces the idea of musical rhythm, which the double objects induce visually. Immersed in the universe of duplicate commodities echoing, if anything, the rhythm of mass production, of the Fordist assembly line, what came to mind was the demonic music of the instruments in Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell, as opposed to his harmonious Garden of Earthly Delights. Our infernal reality is as cacophonous and raucous (too many forms, too many colors, too much material) as the paradise of animals is silent, peaceful, and unattainable. Thus, by negation, Pivi succeeded in making us “hear” what the word utopia means.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.