Massimo Bartolini: Due qui / To Hear. Italian Pavilion at Venice Art Biennale 2024

Massimo Bartolini: Due qui / To Hear. Italian Pavilion at Venice Art Biennale 2024. Venice (Italy), April 17, 2024.
Official description: Designed with two entrances, the exhibition Due qui/To Hear — presented with support from the Italian Ministry of Culture’s Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity — moves through three spaces built around various acoustic experiences and meeting points, suggesting the highly relational nature of sound. Visitors can enter an almost empty room where they are welcomed by a small sculpture of a Pensive Bodhisattva, a Buddhist figure who prefers thought to action. The drone of an organ pipe creates a sense of frozen time, a space of waiting. In the central room, a large scaffolding of pipes has been transformed into an organ playing a melody composed by Caterina Barbieri and Kali Malone. Visitors can walk through and sit down on a circular bench. At its centre is a pool where a wave constantly rises and falls, prompting a form of meditation, even a trance state. Coming out into the garden, they can listen to two stories about the cycle of birth/death (and regeneration): that of a tree (by Nicoletta Costa) and that of a human being (by Tiziano Scarpa). Further on, they will also hear a choral work (by Gavin Bryars). Hanging in the branches of a tree, these voices sing of a person who feels roots growing through him. They pin him down, but also bring him closer to others, to the Whole…

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“We listen in order to interpret our world and experience meaning” (Pauline Oliveros)

Playing on the homophones “two here” (in Italian, due qui) and “to hear,” the title of this project suggests how hearing—or better, listening—is a form of attention to others. The acoustic paradigm should be seen here as a physical experience, but also as a metaphor, an invitation to pay attention, to listen to the Other, be it a human being, a mechanical element, or a natural form. In Bartolini’s view, art is a path to knowledge, and the project suggests that “lending an ear” could become a tool for self-improvement within the community of this world.

Through sculptures, installations, sound works, and performances, with a range that is characteristic of the artist’s practice, it aims to create a context of experience. Visitors to the Pavilion can use either of two entrances—from the Tesa or from the garden—and move through three areas built around different forms of motion and stasis, acoustic experiences and meeting points. All of the works respond to the physical characteristics of each exhibition space, without adopting any form of display.

Due qui / To Hear is also the fullest expression to date of a collaborative approach that Bartolini frequently employs, involving many different figures. The skills and languages of music (Caterina Barbieri, Gavin Bryars, Kali Malone), literature (Nicoletta Costa, Tiziano Scarpa), and technical fields (engineers, organ builders, artisans) have contributed to defining the artistic and curatorial project in all of its complexity, like a polyphonic composition for many voices.

– Luca Cerizza

Pensive Bodhisattva on A Flat, 2024

Sitting on a long recumbent column is the small statue of a Pensive Bodhisattva, a traditional theme in Buddhist art. The Bodhisattva is a person who, having attained enlightenment, voluntarily gives it up in order to show others how to get there. An embodiment of inactivity, the Bodhisattva sits motionless, preferring thought to action.
What looks like a line drawn through the space, a demarcation, actually functions as an organ pipe, with its “mouth” at the other end of the column. A fan moves the air inside, creating a low, steady drone. The suspended state suggested by the Bodhisattva is under-scored by this sustained sound, which evokes a circular kind of time.
The colors of the two long walls in this Tesa allude to how, at different points in history going back at least to Isaac Newton, various scientists and musicians have assigned specific hues to musical keys. In this case, green and purple are respectively A and A flat, in keeping with the associations suggested by composer Alexander Scriabin in 1911. A refers to the key of the organ Bartolini presented at Centro Pecci in Prato (2022-23), while A flat is the key of the work heard in this room.

Due qui, 2024

This is the largest example to date of a series of installations Bartolini has designed over the last few years out of scaffolding pipes. Relying on the aid of organ builders and technical experts, he modifies them to sound like an organ. Like many other projects by Bartolini, this immense mechanical creation works by transforming materials or presenting them in completely new ways, to spark an almost a Baroque sense of wonder. For that matter, according to certain principles of Baroque aesthetics, grasping variation (thauma) is a prerogative of intelligence, and wonder springs from the juxtaposition of “distances,” according to the logic of paradox.
In this case, with a game of contrasts characteristic of this artist, a setting associated with labor and effort (the scaffolding) also becomes an engine of spirituality, perhaps of betterment, through music (the organ). The structure changes function: rather than aiding in the construction of a building, it serves to convey a sound, a musical “edifice.” Filling almost the entire Tesa, this space has various entrances and exits, and exists more as an experience than an image.
The design of this walk-through structure follows the layout of an imaginary Italian garden from the Baroque era. The role that a fountain would normally play in such a garden is filled here by a circular sculpture (Conveyance, 2024), which also serves as a bench on which several people can gather. In point of fact, this center—this meeting place—is the ideal spot for listening, in stereo, to the composition written specifically for this project by two young musicians at the leading edge of experimental and electronic music: Caterina Barbieri (b. 1990, Italy) and Kali Malone (b. 1994, United States). Their joint contribution [Mute vette (A Reflection That Shines From One Mind Upon Another)] is an antiphon in A-flat major in which two melodic lines intersect and complete each other. These two short melodies are played in loop, with mechanical components standing in for the human player of a traditional organ. The music is inscribed on two motorized rolls, like giant music boxes that play in unison. Although the acoustic space has been conceived with a true center, the sound of this musical machine can nonetheless be heard in many different ways depending on how, and at what pace, the visitor walks through it. It is our own movement, in part, that “composes” a constantly changing piece of music.

Conveyance, 2024

Though it echoes the rigorous geometry of a minimalist sculpture, the work is actually “animated” by a natural element: a conical wave that constantly rises and falls. This wave, for which the scientific term is “soliton,” is similar to the kind that generates a tsunami, but here it is constantly repeated as if in a laboratory experiment. Its continual pulsation is a phenomenon that can be observed in solitude or with others; transformed into a hypnotic movement, it can also become a tool that aids meditation. Conveyance is truly a beating heart, a point of equilibrium, perhaps even pacification, within this large, labyrinthine space. Though continually moving, the wave is utterly silent, yet around it all is sound.

A veces ya no puedo moverme, 2024

Ringing out through the Giardino delle Vergini is a choral work for three voices, bell plates, and vibraphone, composed by English musician Gavin Bryars (b. 1943, United Kingdom) in collaboration with his son Yuri Bryars (b. 1999, Canada). One of the most important figures to emerge from the minimalist avant-garde of the late 1960s, Gavin Bryars has worked with Bartolini in the past for the artist’s major retrospective at Centro Pecci in Prato (Hagoromo, 2022-23). Here, Bryars has composed a new piece that draws inspiration from a poem by Roberto Juarroz (1925-95, Argentina). In A veces ya no puedo moverme (Sometimes I can no longer stir myself), a human being has the sense of being a tree, or some other form of plant life connected to the world by its roots, in a form of osmosis: “as if everything were born in me / or as if I were born in everything.” An immobility that is also an interaction. Three pairs of portable speakers have been hung from the branches of three trees, like shoes dangling from a wire to mark a meeting place; they play their sounds in different parts of the garden, suggesting possible relationships between humanity and the environment, or humanity as environment.

About Massimo Bartolini

The creative languages and materials that Massimo Bartolini employs in his practice are vastly diverse: his works range from performances involving temporary actors, the audience, or the architectural space, to drawings made over an intentionally long span of time; from large-scale public installations that often rely on the collaboration of other kinds of experts, to small, rough pieces assembled in the studio; from complex sound sculptures, to photographs and videos.

Bartolini’s work is thus characterized by a radical embrace of all kinds of media, which he adopts and reinvents in unorthodox ways. His path has been guided by a constant urge to probe and explore the languages of art, as if seeking the material best suited in each case to expressing a particular impulse and narrative possibility. Bartolini considers making and experiencing art to be a path to knowledge: about ourselves, about our relationship with the world, about how to interact with others. This path is often blazed by using, contrasting, and transforming different materials in surprising ways, to spark moments of revelation, pauses of wonder, and unexpected little epiphanies.

Bartolini is one of the best-known Italian artists on the international scene. He was born in 1962 in Cecina, where he lives and works; after studying architectural drafting in Livorno, he graduated from the Accademia in Florence in 1989. He teaches Visual Arts at NABA, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna. Since 1993, he has been showing his work in many public and private spaces in Italy and abroad.

His solo exhibitions include: Hagoromo, Centro Pecci per l’Arte Contemporanea (Prato, 2022); On Identikit, CSAC – Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione dell’Università di Parma (2020); Manifesta 12 (parallel event) Caudu e Fridu, Palazzo Oneto (Palermo, 2018); Four Organs, Fondazione Merz (Turin, 2017); Studio Matters+1, Fruitmarket Gallery (Edinburgh, 2013) and S.M.A.K. (Ghent, 2013); Serce na Dloni, Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu (Toruń, 2013); HUM, AuditoriumArte (Rome, 2012) and MARCO – Museo de arte contemporáneo (Vigo, 2012); Museu Serralves – Museu de Arte Contemporânea (Porto, 2007); Ikon Gallery (Birmingham, 2007); GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna (Turin, 2005); Museum Abteiberg (Mönchengladbach, 2002); PS1 (New York, 2001); Henry Moore Foundation (Leeds, 1996); Paesaggi, Galleria Massimo De Carlo (Milan, 2016); Afterheart, Frith Street Gallery (London, 2012); Three Quarter-Tone Pieces, Magazzino (Rome, 2010).

Among his group shows, one should note: Biennale di Venezia (1999, 2001 parallel event, 2009, 2013); Biennal de València (2001); Stanze e Segreti, Rotonda della Besana (Milan, 2000); Manifesta 4 (Frankfurt, 2002); Bienal de São Paulo (2004); Bienal de Pontevedra (2004); Ecstasy: In and About Altered States, MOCA Los Angeles (2005); Shanghai Biennale (2006 and 2012); Yokohama Triennale (2011); dOCUMENTA (13) (Kassel, 2012); Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale (Tokamachi, 2012); TRACK (Ghent, 2012); One on One, Kunstwerke (Berlin, 2012); The City, My Studio / The City, My Life, Kathmandu Triennale (2017); Habit Co-Habit, Pune Biennale (2017); Starting from the Desert: Ecologies on the Edge, Yinchuan Biennale (2018); Escape Routes, Bangkok Art Biennale (2020); Setouchi Triennale (2022).

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