Magazine article Artforum International

Massimo Bartolini

Magazine article Artforum International

Massimo Bartolini

Article excerpt

Visitors to the 1995 group show "Domestic Violence" were in for a surprise when they first set foot on what looked like the solid floor of the exhibition space. For the show, installed in the Milan home of gallerist Gio Marconi, Massimo Bartolini had covered the entire walking space of the living room with mattresses, over which he laid a second surface of tiles. On top of this false floor, he then replaced the room's furniture, which wobbled and swayed as viewers stepped across the new, cushy ground.

Bartolini's installations tend to more or less subtly alter our experience of the environments in which they are encountered. Frequently, the work's "foundation," which appears as solid and certain as the ground beneath one's feet, is ingeniously destabilized. The space the artist offers to our experience is riddled with deceptions, a minefield for the senses.

Consider the italian artist's 1996 show at the Galleria Gio Marconi. In the gallery's office, a chair, table, lamp, and bookcase were embedded so as to appear as though they had sunk several feet into the floor, while the window appeared to have slid down the wall. The environment was all the more surreal as the rest of the gallery was left unaltered.

More recently, Bartolini's signature interventions in the physical environment have been augmented not only with effects of light and more complex technological interventions but with subtle cultural allusions. At Artra in Milan in 1996, the small gray stone sculpture he exhibited, a mountain in miniature, brought to mind the hilly landscapes of Fra Angelico and other Tuscan painters of the early Renaissance. For the opening of the show, the artist had attached a device controlling the gallery's lighting system to the heel of a shoe worn by a visitor. When the person was stationary, the room went dark. (During the show's run, the mechanism was linked to the movements of the gallery owner, ironically impeding her from working in a normal fashion.) The allusive nature of the small sculpture, its connection to cultural memory and oblivion, was underlined through the alternating light and darkness in the exhibition space.

Bartolini has used lighting in recent shows to give rise to abstract, ascetic environments that seem to propose an embodiment of pure, immaterial energy. In the series of installations he refers to as Testa (Head), the corners of rooms have been rounded off in such a manner that light is uniformly diffused throughout, without any resulting shadows. In one case, the installation that he displayed in 1997 at the Massimo de Carlo Gallery in Milan, the artist complicated things through yet another level of intervention, a blinding projection of luminous arrows. Flashed on the walls, the arrows moved in sync to a rapid drumbeat loudly transmitted at regular intervals.

In his newest work Bartolini seems to focus increasingly on the contrast between new technologies and more traditional modes of knowledge and its transmission. At the British Academy in Rome, in a joint exhibition with the English artist Martin Creed, he focused on the very emblem of classical knowledge, the library. After passing down a corridor that had been raised to the level of lamps placed along the walls, visitors came upon the library, where they were greeted by a sound identical to that of a computer booting up. …

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