Milan

Massimo Bartolini, La strada di sotto (The Street Below) (detail), 2011, mixed media video installation, 20 minutes 30 seconds.

Massimo Bartolini, La strada di sotto (The Street Below) (detail), 2011, mixed media video installation, 20 minutes 30 seconds.

Massimo Bartolini

Massimo De Carlo | Milan/Lombardia

Massimo Bartolini, La strada di sotto (The Street Below) (detail), 2011, mixed media video installation, 20 minutes 30 seconds.

What seemed to be a parcel of earth, a sixteen-foot-tall fragment of a plowed field occupying a surface of roughly forty-three square feet titled Basement (all works 2011), proved on closer inspection to be made of bronze. Upstairs was an installation spread out on the floor, covering an area of about thirty-five by twenty-one feet, composed of three layers of lighting decorations of a type frequently used in southern Italy during religious festivals. The hundreds of colored lights that blink on and off in this piece, La strada di sotto (The Street Below), were attached to a white-painted wooden framework in a vaguely Art Nouveau style. The windows of this second room were covered in a transparent film of an indefinite color halfway between light blue and gray, applied directly to the glass, which altered the light that filtered in and rendered the atmosphere similar to that which heralds a storm on a hot summer afternoon. The face of an old man in the video projected on the wall on the third floor (in another part of La strada di sotto) was no less mysterious. Listening to the man’s words as he is interviewed by an off-screen voice, one discovered that for more than fifty years he has worked on the lighting decorations in the town of Ficarra, in the Sicilian province of Messina—the same ones Bartolini used in this installation. The old man’s attitudes are marked by the rural traditions of this sun-drenched Mediterranean region; the flow of his words is punctuated by sudden changes of vocal timbre that express hilarity, bitterness, and sometimes resignation, and which correspond to flashes of light that seem to come from his own feet, illuminating his face. Since the man is seen in his workshop, we can imagine that the flashing lights must have been ones he was just working on. The lights, moreover, imbue the video image with the magical allure sometimes found in overexposed photographs.

Watching the video unfold, one rather quickly realized that the words and flashes of light in the video were coordinated with not only one another but also the lights on the lower floor. Speaking with the artist, I discovered that he had come upon some very interesting solutions as he was working: After the shooting was finished, the film was projected on a wall, and Bartolini then positioned the lights in front of the projection; an audio mixer coordinated the words of Don Valentino, the man filmed for the interview, and at that point another film was shot, in which the subject was the projected video, with the lights at the man’s feet. This explains why the lights in both the video and the installation follow the same rhythm, which is also that of the spoken words. In Bartolini’s latest works, we find an oscillatory movement between synchronic fixity and diachronic narration. They signify an abstraction that shows itself always capable of evoking the narrative, iconic, symbolic experience that precedes its translation into pure rhythm.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.