Brescia

Sabrina Mezzaqui, I quaderni di Adriano (Hadrian’s Notebooks), 2016, twenty notebooks, wood-and-glass table; notebooks, each 8 × 9 3/4“; table, 29 1/2 × 44 3/8 × 44 5/8”.

Sabrina Mezzaqui, I quaderni di Adriano (Hadrian’s Notebooks), 2016, twenty notebooks, wood-and-glass table; notebooks, each 8 × 9 3/4“; table, 29 1/2 × 44 3/8 × 44 5/8”.

Sabrina Mezzaqui and Paolo Novelli

Sabrina Mezzaqui, I quaderni di Adriano (Hadrian’s Notebooks), 2016, twenty notebooks, wood-and-glass table; notebooks, each 8 × 9 3/4“; table, 29 1/2 × 44 3/8 × 44 5/8”.

There is no clear purpose in hand-drawing ornamental motifs, yet in her I quaderni di Adriano (Hadrian’s Notebooks), 2016, Sabrina Mezzaqui has exhaustively reproduced the decorative scheme of a mosaic floor. Turning the pages of the twenty graph-paper notebooks that comprise the work, arranged in rows of four by five, viewers encountered varying motifs from mosaics in the Roman emperor Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli, an elegant repertory of arabesque, geometric, and floral elements. Ornamentation—an organizational expression of a human predilection for beautiful form—conveys configurations that can be infinitely reiterated. Although seemingly gratuitous, the slow gesture of consciously repeating these decorative schemes in pencil is actually profoundly meaningful, as it articulates the emotional and mental tensions embodied in the ornamental patterns themselves.

But what of the man who first lived amid these decorations? The artist conjures the voice of Hadrian, for whom the villa was built in the second century CE, through the writing of Marguerite Yourcenar. In La Villa, 2016, Mezzaqui presents a fragment of Yourcenar’s well-known first-person novel Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) in the form of a subtle grid that aims to illustrate the emperor’s words, evoking both a visit to his beloved dwelling and the passage of time. We no longer know if it is Hadrian, Yourcenar, or Mezzaqui who is speaking; if the idea for the exhibition originated with the artist’s visit to the Villa, it evolved into a journey through superimposed memories. Indeed, perusing the notebooks exhibited in the gallery, visitors could come across poetic notations by both ancient Roman and contemporary writers. This wide range was expanded further in other works, as Mezzaqui pays homage to the kaleidoscopic ideas of Simone Weil in eighteen notebooks protected by soft wool covers, which contain handwritten passages from the French philosopher and mystic’s work (I quaderni di Simone Weil [Simone Weil’s Notebooks], 2010–16), and in three white cellulose panels containing words (Disciplina dell’attenzione [Discipline of Attention], Docilità [Docility], and Seconda potenza [Second Strength], all 2016).

Within these formats, Mezzaqui’s work revealed itself slowly, as if the viewer were opening a series of doors, a layered quality emphasized through its contrast with the apparent directness and simplicity of Paolo Novelli’s sixteen black-and-white photographs, on display in his contemporaneous solo show at the gallery. La notte non basta (The Night Is Not Enough), 2011–12, consists of a series of nocturnal images of the closed windows of people’s homes, some illuminated by a street lamp, all similarly framed. The individual numbered images, all titled Study, show just one or two details of a locked window. Through the idea of the window as threshold, Novelli also hints at the memories, presences, and absences that are invisible from outside yet make up the concealed life within. Just as we can imagine turning a page of one of Mezzaqui’s notebooks to reveal a startlingly different motif, much as we might experience a chance occurrence or mutating memory in daily life, we can likewise picture someone opening one of the windows shown in Novelli’s work and interrupting the silence, allowing us to traverse the threshold.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.