Loredana Di Lillo, Tyrant, 2013, six framed C-prints on aluminum, each 35 1/4 x 28".

Loredana Di Lillo, Tyrant, 2013, six framed C-prints on aluminum, each 35 1/4 x 28".

Loredana Di Lillo

Loredana Di Lillo, Tyrant, 2013, six framed C-prints on aluminum, each 35 1/4 x 28".

A black shape, beached like a stranded whale, was the starting point of this exhibition. Two long, defenseless Mickey Mouse arms emerged from the large, boxy form that constituted the body’s central element. According to a text by Loredana Di Lillo, this piece is meant to recall the famous pose of Jean-Paul Marat in Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat, 1793. Half-geometric and half-anthropomorphic, the black shape seems to emerge like a nightmare from childhood dreams—a puppet, a horrible creature, a character from a grotesque video game. It is inflatable and thus a mass that can expand or deflate, like the imagination or anxiety. It is a presence that is not decidedly a human figure, but one that reveals a certain fragility in its limbs, hanging loose on the floor, hands wide open. Perhaps it is a victim, not a monster. Its title, MPDM (Mommy Puffy Daddy Monster) (all works 2013), has the sound of a sweet, rhyming lullaby, but the affectionate reference to parental figures takes a dark turn. To lose, a piece that spells out its title in neon and stickers, reverberates with echoes of a childhood betrayed, of disappointed hopes or loss.

Each of the six photographs that make up Tyrant visualizes one of the letters that compose its title word. For example, the letter Y is a glove whose fingers form the victory sign; the sinuosity of a pearl necklace that follows the embrace from behind of one topless woman by another conveys the R. These works are collages—made from magazine cutouts, original photos taken by the artist, and other materials—that were then photographed and mounted on aluminum. Di Lillo seems to be reviving the tradition of Dada collage with Surrealist echoes and an ironical feminist slant à la Hannah Höch. Ambiguity pervades her myriad references to the body and sexuality, to unconfessed desires and inferred violence: The last letter T in her Tyrantis more explicit: It is a raised arm with a hand holding a knife.

Di Lillo evokes male (and female) fantasies and the visual pleasure they produce through enigmatic and oneiric collages. There are shifting boundaries between the dominating and the dominated. In Italian, the word for “tyrant” can be male, tiranno, or female, tiranna, and the artist seems to be asking which gendered ending to give to the word here and what forms of pleasure can be obtained from the exercise of power between the sexes. Mommy Puffy Daddy Monster is not just the subtitle of one particular work, but also the title of the entire show, which mixed the presumed innocence of childhood and its death with adult fantasies. Spazi ricavati (Extracted Spaces) is a reflective pause: Two abstract canvases painted in oil are mirror monochrome images of each other. The rhythm slows down and the mental space of silence, completely within the exercise of painting, acts as a counterpoint to the iconographic richness of the other works.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.