Elisabetta Benassi

Magazzino d’Arte Moderna

Elisabetta Benassi examines, through the use of mechanical artifacts, the proliferation of machines in our society. The Roman artist’s ability in multiple media was apparent in her solo exhibition at Magazzino d’Arte Moderna. Two large-format photographs, a kinetic sculpture, and a multichannel video comprise “3,” a cohesive journey into modern myth, with three separate spaces offering distinct perspectives on a single, machinery-based vision in which, nonetheless, nothing is explicitly certain, the result open to visitors’ personal interpretations.

Yield to Total Elation (all works 2006) is a video installation of three simultaneous projections. A vintage red sports car runs around a monumental sand quarry set in a desolate landscape in the Italian Alps. No one is visible in the driver’s seat, making it seem as if the car is being driven by superhuman forces. A white horse and rider briefly appear and accompany the car, adding a dreamy, unpredictable sense of fiction. But the promise of narrative is abrogated in favor of abstract visual strength and vivid dream symbols. In its race against time and natural forces, the car can only be stopped by itself—when the gas runs out. Its journey might be pointless, but the perpetual movement induces a hypnotic state.

Another form of never-ending motion is evident in the sculpture Untitled (La vie à crédit) (Life on the Installment Plan). On a wooden table whose legs have been replaced by four long-handled clamps, a mechanical arm continues to lower as its sharp tine relentlessly turns into the surface; this apparently unstoppable process will eventually result in the two-and-a-half-inch-thick wooden tabletop being cut right through. Like a snake that bites its own tail, the kinetic sculpture will end by destroying itself, through a slow yet ceaseless incising. But destruction will give birth to unpredictable new forms that the viewer can only imagine.

Suolo #3 (Ground #3) and Suolo #4 (Ground #4) are large-format digital photographs of the floor of an auto repair shop: Nails, washers, and other metal and plastic parts are viewed from above, like some mapping of urban detritus. The life-size photographs look almost like framed pieces of soil. The refuse forms a surprisingly harmonious whole, as if the composition had been determined by the artist. Disposal and destruction don’t evoke death but rather a continuity of life in objects. In these works, our fears about progress and modernity are exorcised as Benassi constructs an eternal moment that fuses the natural with the mechanical, a permanent circularity that leaves us, as Igor Stravinsky once put it, “no time to hurry.”

Francesco Stocchi