Gregor Schneider

Fondazione Morra Greco

The title of Gregor Schneider’s recent show, “26.11.2006”—the date of its first day—was not chosen by chance. This was Totensonntag (Sunday of the Dead), the last Sunday before Advent, and therefore the last of the church year, when German Protestants remember those who have recently passed away. The exhibition took place at the Palazzo dei Principi Caracciolo d’Avellino, the headquarters of the Fondazione Morra Greco, on the extremely narrow Via Anticaglia. Visitors entered through a small opening in the rear facade of the palazzo and walked down a cramped staircase to arrive at Schneider’s installation 26.11.2006 (all works 2006). So far, no problem: Lighting made the descent down a dozen or so steps easy, but visitors then turned and found themselves in a totally dark tunnel. Here, in the building’s basement, the artist had constructed an imitation of the centuries-old underground passageways that traverse the area, the old city center.

Only two people at a time could enter, and they were not allowed to use flashlights or cell phones as guides. The only way to proceed, then, was by touching the sides of the extremely narrow tunnel—barely shoulder width and low enough that a raised hand could touch the ceiling. This was just the beginning of a long, winding path. To avoid bumping into a wall, you had to hold an arm out in front of your body, as at times a wall would block the way forward, forcing you to turn left. The street noises, loud at first, soon became distant and then disappeared entirely. You felt as if you were in the bowels of the earth, far from the world of the living. Just as you became accustomed to the setting, you hit a dead end—there was no way out except to retrace your steps. The way back was no easier than the way in, as one still had no clear point of reference. Reaching the exit and returning to the light was like experiencing a rebirth.

A short distance away was another work by Schneider, Cryo-Tank, Phoenix 2, located in the church of San Gennaro all’Olmo, site of the Fondazione Giambattista Vico. Housed in the apse, the sculpture—a chrome-plated steel cylinder on wheels, with four metal handles—appeared somewhat menacing. The reflective surface suggested that the cylinder was insulated, like a freezer, while the wheels were strangely motionless. This imitation cryonic tank evoked an unseen organic presence, a body frozen within, suspended between life and death.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.