Marisa Albanese, Le storie del vento (Stories of the Wind), 2016, aluminum, video projections. Installation view.

Marisa Albanese, Le storie del vento (Stories of the Wind), 2016, aluminum, video projections. Installation view.

Marisa Albanese

Marisa Albanese, Le storie del vento (Stories of the Wind), 2016, aluminum, video projections. Installation view.

Marisa Albanese’s second exhibition at Studio Trisorio was a bitter reflection on the theme of the voyage, from the mythical underpinnings of Mediterranean history and culture to the modern world with all its wounds and contradictions. Visitors were welcomed into the dimly lit gallery by an aluminum tree suspended horizontally in the main space. The sculpture, titled Doppio cielo (Double Sky), 2016, was disturbing in its ambivalence—at once monumental and slender, imposing yet light. Words from Homer’s Odyssey were projected onto the gleaming tree’s surface, recounting the sufferings endured on that epic voyage and the challenges of trying to make landfall. The luminous text acted as a sort of semantic lymph, bringing the tree to life by immersing it in a sea of words.

A closer examination of this work revealed a deeper symbolism embedded in its details. The tree has foliage on either end, arching upward, toward the “double sky” to which the title refers; its roots also become its branches. Thus it is dysfunctionalized, alluding to rhizomatic uprooting and transplantation of peoples and cultures. This process of diaspora has occurred throughout history and continues in a current moment in which migratory flows are assuming alarming proportions, and we, defenseless, are witnessing the rekindling of a particular fear of everything deemed “different.” The artist’s recourse to an arboreal metaphor also constructs a potent device: Semantic elements, short-circuiting phenomenology and anthropology, are stirred up, mixing the density of myth with the brutality of everyday life. The tree, moreover, has always been a recapitulatory and fundamental symbol that aligns human life with nature. It is no accident that allegorical figurations of man have most frequently been arboreal, from Homer to Virgil, Dante to Shakespeare, Goethe to Heidegger.

The gallery’s second room contained Orizzonti di parole (Horizons of Words), 2016, another luminous installation, in which passages from The Odyssey ran along a single line, alternating ancient Greek with Italian. Two voices, one female (belonging to actress Iaia Forte), the other male (that of philosopher Giuseppe Ferraro), took turns reciting the texts in both languages. The recordings resounded solemnly throughout the gallery, amplifying a sense of alienation and suspending the viewer between the imaginary and the symbolic. Albanese did not choose Homer at random; if there is a single literary work that summarizes the concrete and figurative meanings tied to the theme of voyage, it is The Odyssey. Like Ulysses, today’s migrants and refugees undertake dangerous journeys while holding fast to their roots. Ulysses’s voyage contains a significant polarity between faithfulness to identity, values, and homeland, and the challenge of the quest—the desire for knowledge of the Other. There is a risk of loss but also a promise of conquest, a hope of return but also the anguish of abandoning oneself to the unknown. The artist, aware of her own history, seems to suggest that we think simultaneously about identity and diversity, unity and multiplicity, as every culture is unfinished, multiple, and in continual evolution. A formal analysis of the show, however, lingers on Albanese’s attention to words and language, an interest characteristic of her modus operandi in the 1990s. But in her more recent research, which appears to have evolved from the compositional dryness of earlier works, she focuses on the evocative potential of the object, concentrating on living conditions, displacement, and nomadism.

It is significant that this project followed a period between 2015 and 2016 when Albanese worked as a volunteer welcoming refugees and organizing creative laboratories on the island of Lampedusa, an outpost and clearinghouse for migrants fleeing from Africa to Italy, and a place where an examination of migration and displacement, in all their complexity, has never been more relevant.

Eugenio Viola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.