Fieldtrip #9: Milan

José Carlos Diaz reports back from the historic northern Italian centre of art, fashion and culture: Milan

An artist friend recently invited me to attend her solo exhibition at the up-and-coming Brand New Gallery in Milan. Observing that flights were available and relatively inexpensive from Manchester international airport, I decided to embark on the adventure. Boarding the airplane, I even bumped into the owners of fashion boutique Cricket, Liverpool’s ultimate WAG pit stop; they too would be heading to a city offering plenty to a Liverpolitan day-tripper like myself.

Brand New Gallery is currently hosting new work by American artist Cristina Lei Rodriguez (main image). In addition, the gallery directors Fabrizio Affronti and Chiara Badinella have ambitiously curated a group show titled Changing states of matter, featuring nineteen international artists. Since opening in 2010, Affronti and Badinella have skillfully cherry-picked emerging contemporary artists to introduce them to the Italian art community. “This is my first solo show with Brand New Gallery. They are interested in art and ideas that I am also interested in, which creates a good context for my work,” Cristina Lei told me.

Cristina Lei Rodriguez is best known for her series of synthetically coated sculptural formations that verge on a seductively minimal, yet organic aesthetic. For solo exhibition, Recover, the sculptures are constructed assemblages of paper, plastic, and plaster crushed into abstract shapes and embedded onto minimal platforms and shelves. The titles of the works – including Find Again, Refuge, Primary, Shelter, and Balance - are expressively prompting of their materials, form and colour. The artworks shimmer with lacquered debris, gems, gold leather and chains, the colours in hues of red, blue, silver, black, and gold.

“Ok, really, how long is this really going to take? Help!”

Away from the installation process, we decided to ride a street tram to the
 PAC Contemporary Art Pavilion which was presenting The Abramović Method, a project by famous performance artist Marina Abramović. She has described this work as being part of her legacy, as a ‘method’, a synthesis of all her knowledge. With this project, she shares her wisdom with us. With the exception of a projection room featuring the footage from a recent work the exhibition space was sparse. Minimal looking beds and chairs were scattered about. We then realised that the installation was actually a performance space that had recently been in use. Abramović has stated that her audience is a part of her work (featured image), however because the voyeur is usually on the outside of her performance, she has now reversed the situation. A brochure alerted us that the space would be activated within the hour so we signed up!

To participate one must sign a contract and commit to the two-hour experience. Our process started by putting our belongings away in lockers, donning white lab coats and resting in lounge chairs while watching an introductory video featuring Abramović welcoming the participants and setting the stage. We would be exploring our senses by performing three human actions: standing, sitting, and lying. The video guided us on exercises to stretch and open up the body. Finally some ear blockers were provided to limit noise during this mysterious process. From this point on three attendants silently guided us to each station.

The “interactive installations”, as they so called, were composed of furniture made from natural elements: wooden chairs and beds implanted with quartzes and copper caged frames. The metaphysical appearance suggest the materials had therapeutic qualities. During the process the public enters and observes us by passing each station or using telescopes placed on the first floor.

My group started in the gallery of unusual chairs. Mine was tall, thin, with a huge white crystal above my head. With little instruction I simply sat there and let my mind wander, “What is supposed to happen? How long will this take? Why am I sweating? Who is that person staring at me? Ok, really, how long is this really going to take? Help!”

Time passed and the groups were rotated. Next I had to stand under a copper frame with magnets above my head. Standing still proved to test my body and patience while being watched by strangers. After some unknown amount of time I was escorted under a copper bunk bed with three huge semiprecious stones hanging above me. I rested there and decided to finally close my eyes. The confinement continued. After the two silent hours it was finally over and we received an official certificate of completion signed by Abramović herself.  Success!

Cristina Lei described it as an intense experience. “I signed up because I was seduced by the beautiful objects,” she said. We now only had one hour to navigate Milan and get to the artist reception on time! Our bodies had become so tranquil that it caused us to get lost through the public transportation. We were late, of course. At the reception of Recover that is exactly what I did. Over a glass of sparkling prosecco.

José Carlos Diaz

The exhibition Cristina Lei Rodriguez: Recover at Brand New Gallery continues until 28 July 2012

Posted on 09/07/2012 by thedoublenegative