Nicola Martini, Sippe, 2013, interior space coated in photosensitive asphalt/bitumen. Installation view.

Nicola Martini, Sippe, 2013, interior space coated in photosensitive asphalt/bitumen. Installation view.

Nicola Martini

Kaufmann Repetto

Nicola Martini, Sippe, 2013, interior space coated in photosensitive asphalt/bitumen. Installation view.

Nicola Martini’s exhibition “Sippe,” whose title is a German word meaning “tribe,” “clan,” or “kin,” brought to mind the facades of houses in centuries-old Italian villages, their outer walls plastered with water-based paints that become bleached by the sun or washed away by rainstorms. The evanescent colors of these surfaces look as if they could fade away before your eyes. But in this show, the colors were on inner rather than outer walls. And the hues were dark, even somber, the walls in question having been treated with bitumen of Judea, a photosensitive asphalt that grows lighter over time, not evenly but in splotches, giving the plaster the appearance of an organic, porous, and layered material, destined to disintegrate. A large window in the gallery allowed sunlight to enter, dissipating the darkness of the bitumen and breaking through the leaden atmosphere with which the artist had invested the room. The architecture seemed to de-materialize while the fading process progressed.

The exhibition was punctuated by other material presences, such as Senza titolo, 2012, a sort of stele made partly from cast resin and partly from microcrystalline wax, materials that seem to have contrary values and fully express a dialectical tension. Then there were two pieces, both Senza titolo, 2013, made from cast glass full of quartziferous sand that cannot stay suspended and in theory will slowly settle, over a long period of time, forming a layer at the bottom. These pieces were positioned in front of the window so that the daylight could filter through them before making contact with the bitumen-covered walls.

By juxtaposing materials, Martini brings out their innate energy. Through his intervention, architecture ends up revealing the signs of time, as if it were an organic body. Thus, the action of the bitumen brought to the surface otherwise invisible traces, including those left by artists who had previously exhibited in the space: grooves, holes filled in with stucco, abrasions, sandpaper marks. Past events remain ever-present and can always be rediscovered. The artist seems to be telling us that only via the traces such actions leave behind does anything or any place remain and that only from those traces will there be any possibility of reconstructing the nature of relationships between people and things. Martini’s works seem like physical manifestations of the energy of situations or events, and therefore they are capable of eliciting a material’s hidden and unimagined properties. The extent of the artist’s own interventions resounds in the material, which responds with its own signs. Martini is seeking neither anti-form nor a moment of aggregation or disaggregation of form; rather, he goes beyond form. The material is not destroyed but becomes a perfect signifier, revealing ancestral meanings that the artist exposes and deciphers. The power unleashed by Martini’s various substances ensures that the work cannot (and is not intended to) aspire to immobility; it continues to function and act on the basis of the gesture that the artist has committed to the materials.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.