Venice

Georges Adéagbo

Fondazione Querini Stampalia

A translation can reveal latent significance in the original text, as it is recontextualized for the specific cultural conditions of the secondary language; translation is a form of rewriting. The site-specific installation La rencontre . . . ! Venise—Florence . . . ! (The Encounter . . . ! Venice—Florence . . . !), 2007, which Georges Adéagbo created for the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, was developed as a rewriting of the historical objects preserved in this sixteenth-century house museum: a collection of furniture, furnishings, and musical instruments, predominantly from the eighteenth century, and paintings on canvas that date from the fourteenth century to the nineteenth. In keeping with his specific practice, based on the readymade and on assemblage, the Benin-based artist intervened in the museum’s rooms, altering the presentation of the collection by interleaving it with books, photographs, and various objects such as videocassettes, African masks, fabrics, and carved images.

A wooden mask appeared at the center of the room of seventeenth-century portraits; a small percussion instrument complemented an old piano, which in turn supported a child’s colored plastic player piano. In the room containing eighteenth-century views by Gabriel Bella, documenting Venetian life of the day, strings of colored beads hung down from the ceiling, echoing the verticality of certain elements in the paintings, while on the floor, piles of newspapers of various nationalities presented fragments of contemporary news events. Along with interspersing these found objects with the collection, Adéagbo asked two fellow Benin artists—Eli Adanhoumè, a painter, and Hugues Hountoudji, a sculptor—to reinterpret some of the museum’s paintings of sacred subjects. For example, Adanhoumè reproposed Giovanni Bellini’s Presentation in the Temple, 1469, in miniature format; positioned on the floor, it leaned against an ancient table, while the original hung in another room.

The organization of Adéagbo’s installations is not a swarming and chaotic crowding of materials but a rhythmic and harmonious mix. The installations emerge from correspondences between forms, materials, and significances rather than from a rigid grid of meaning; however, this new order seems to reflect on the hidden organizing will in every collection, which is culturally structured. Adéagbo thus reveals the ideological impact of an archive, manifest in what it includes and what it omits. The distinction between a collection of porcelains—including a precious Sèvres table service purchased by Alvise Querini at the end of the eighteenth century—and some commonplace folk objects found at a market is not so much between one group of objects and another as between divergent criteria of value.

Adéagbo’s rewrite of the Querini Stampalia collection doesn’t just offer a new look at a coherent and historically validated set of materials; in hybridizing the Western view of history, he reexamines the very practice of cataloguing and the tools proposed for the knowledge, conservation, translation, and communication of cultures—tools that, in fact, recur constantly in the exhibition: books, globes, records, videocassettes, newspapers, paintings, postcards, brochures, magazines, and so on. In the end, however, these tools seem unable to provide more than partial truths. La rencontre . . . ! Venise—Florence . . . !, like Adéagbo’s other installations, interwove multiple possible narrations, asking viewers not only to look but to interpret, making the work intrinsically performative.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.