Naples

Marisa Albanese, Partiture per mani sole (Score for Hands Only), 2005, still from a three-channel black-and-white video installation, 3 minutes 20 seconds.

Marisa Albanese, Partiture per mani sole (Score for Hands Only), 2005, still from a three-channel black-and-white video installation, 3 minutes 20 seconds.

Marisa Albanese

Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

Marisa Albanese, Partiture per mani sole (Score for Hands Only), 2005, still from a three-channel black-and-white video installation, 3 minutes 20 seconds.

Naples stands in the shadow of a time bomb, Mount Vesuvius, and the chaotic, colorful city itself is a memento mori. Marisa Albanese’s double exhibition, “Spyholes” and “Grand Tour 2.0,” was a meditation on the passing of time at different scales through the strange wormhole of personal experience under the volcano, a potent symbol of mortality.

“Spyholes” was introduced by Partiture per mani sole (Score for Hands Only), 2005, three small videos, each framed in a hardback book, that chart blurry spatial paths as pairs of hands move in time to unheard musical compositions. A metronome clicking independently on the floor below might represent geologic time advancing ceaselessly while the fragile human hand creates its own oblivious melody. In the next room “V.104,” 2003–2004, a series of photographs piled into sculptural stacks, tracks the periodic disappearance and reappearance of Vesuvius according to climatic conditions. Taking the shots from her window every week for two years, Albanese recorded the subtly changing visual nuances of the volcano, a presence so overwhelming that its looming absence behind a misty curtain registers as the amnesia of survival. On the wall above, Trittico (Triptych), 2008, included three time lines of seismic activity traced in bright red, a black-and-white photo of the crater, and a steel panel with an electrically charged, glowing wire.

Next door, the video Skin Magma, 2005, suffused an entire room with its red glow, which leaked out of the door like virtual lava. The giant image of the artist’s moving hands seemed infused with geologic significance. Albanese acknowledges the existential dichotomy between consciousness of death and survival: “Even though I grew up in Naples with Vesuvius right before my eyes day after day, only in recent years have I felt attracted by this mountain,” she says. “I’ve wondered why people continue to build their houses on Mount Vesuvius even though they know it’s one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.” The artist investigated personally, peering into the active crater and videotaping interviews with the residents of homes built illegally at the base of the volcano.

In the final room of the exhibition was Disegno Y (Drawing Y), 2010, a ghostly reproduction of Albanese’s studio with mementos of her production, as well as halves of two chairs emerging from the wall, one strewn with crumpled paper. All of this was in white, invoking the ashy casts of the late inhabitants of Pompeii, except for the studio’s intercom, which was plated in gold. Two lasers projected beams from this unit onto the floor like beady eyes, the red filaments reflecting the evocations of seismic activity in the other space. A screen at the far end of the room projected an animated red-on-white line drawing of the breastlike profile of the volcano, shaking and swelling as if about to erupt, leaving the multiple tracks of its mutating profile.

The other show, “Grand Tour 2.0,” held in the museum’s prints and drawings archive, included “Diariogramma” (Diarygram), 2009–10, a series of drawings in which movement is plotted by the vibrating hand of the artist while on a train journey. Traveling in search of meaning, or just staying on the move, is another way to stave off the inevitable. Moreover, these are dynamic portraits of pure energy, some abstract and others populated with people and animals frolicking together. The entryway was lined with a series of sculptures and drawings, “Us & Them,” 2008–2009, which portray a man with a foxlike creature clinging to his head or shoulders, either the specter of death or the metamorphosis of personal identity, the anima, equally comforting and heavy. Underlying the exhibition was an essential paradox of human behavior: the inability to believe in our own mortality in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Albanese dissects the senseless phenomenon of hope in human existence in a way that is as seamlessly intimate and abstract as its subject is ephemeral and omnipresent.

Cathryn Drake