Melbourne

Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Monument for Sea, 2011, still from a color HD video, 3 minutes 55 seconds.

Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Monument for Sea, 2011, still from a color HD video, 3 minutes 55 seconds.

Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano

Anna Schwartz Gallery

Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Monument for Sea, 2011, still from a color HD video, 3 minutes 55 seconds.

Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano are identical twins. This is not at all incidental to the hypnotic charisma of their videos, which have in the past often been documentations of joint actions. Among these is if . . . so . . . then, 2006, in which the artists, seated face-to-face, reach past each other and draw in unison. Their sheer physical similarity, calligraphic gestures, and muteness—plus the simple documentary cinematography—produce the overwhelming sense of a single artist doubled. Many of these videos were filmed in austere black and white. Indoors or outdoors, against the flat background of a studio wall or silhouetted against a rocky landscape, the Mangano sisters in these works look concerned, like characters from an angst-saturated Italian art-house movie of the 1960s. In short, the two exude carefully paced depth, grace, and gravitas.

Largely eschewing their tropes of doubleness and pathos in the four separate videos that comprised “Shapes for Open Spaces,” the Mangano sisters staged their recent exhibition so that the four works, projected on canvas screens one in front of the other, overlapped as the viewer navigated the darkened gallery. Even if, as it seemed, these are spontaneous, unrehearsed, minimally edited responses to their encounters with the Sicilian landscape, the result is far from random, and the spontaneity is as careful as was the jump-cutting and putative lack of clear narrative in 1960s New Wave film (the artists seem intensely aware of the cinematic precedents for their superficially simple videos). Monument for Air (all works 2011) shows a black, twisting shape against blindingly bright light, a black cloth thrown skyward by one of the artists—impossible to tell which one. The work is an index of wind as well as an alternative-film exercise in bleached-out abstraction. In Monument for Monument, the same black cloth becomes the cloak under which a figure crouches in front of a ruined hilltop castle. Her stop-start motion is accentuated by choppy editing that appears less frequently but just as tellingly in the other videos.

Monument for Sea is immediately and spectacularly compelling, as well as the work most clearly linked to the twins’ previous efforts, though here there is one silhouetted figure rather than two. This woman is almost motionless; she stands on a rock in the sea, surrounded by water as dusk slides into darkness. As in the first two videos, gestures are cursory; whether the woman is simply pointing toward the horizon or enacting a set of choreographed phrases that link sea to land is unclear. In the fourth video, Songs for the Past, there is simply no figure, no Mangano sister at all—nothing more than ripples of water in a shallow pool. In sum, the four videos oscillate between indexical and iconic representations of the human figure. Two of the four are representations of the aftereffects or traces of a figure in motion, whether trailing wind-borne fabric or the creator and observer of ripples in water; for these, in the Melbourne installation, there was a soundscape of electronically altered humming voices—those of the artists. Monument for Sea has the only obvious, monumental figure among the four videos and is closest to the iconic charisma of the Mangano sisters’ earlier videos—the gorgeous, epic exception to their newfound desire to absent themselves from their works.

Charles Green