‘Good morning, Europe! Mobiles, High Tech and Reforms.’ That was the cover headline used by German magazine Der Spiegel to rouse the interest of readers on 29 May 2000. The cover also featured a black bull ridden by actress Laetitia Casta, the European flag in her hand. The magazine was using a contemporary version of the classical myth of the creation of Europe to portray a strong European Union: Europe as a world power. It was a time of optimism and of firm faith in the European success story, before the introduction of the euro, a time when the tensions shaking the EU were still a distant prospect.
While thinking about recent developments in Europe and scrolling through my memory, I came upon an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from earlier this year: ‘New coat of paint for ancient Greece’. It was a paean of praise to the computer game Assassin’s Creed and the historical research that went into the making of it. The game allows players to wander through a colourful Greek cityscape, their mission being to defend the Pythia in Delphi with the aid of the ‘Defensive Strategy of Pericles’. Particularly striking is its accurate depiction of the surroundings and artefacts. No wonder the computer game has a whole host of professional historians and history students among its fans. I find it interesting that a computer game–admittedly one with a huge budget–is able to bring about a more profound experience of history than today’s museums. In the game, history is lived out, and it merges with the noise and chaos of our own time. I see a parallel between the game Assassin’s Creed and Laetitia Casta in the role of the mythical Europa riding a bull, an appropriation and domestication of world conflicts and a global identity.
The many-layered nature of the significance of world history, art history and indeed social history can be seen too in the work of Jannis Marwitz, Patrizio di Massimo and Anna Bella Geiger, again through appropriation and domestication. They each in their own way seem to touch upon an accumulation of meanings that imply a political commentary, a reproach (or reference?) without ever dogmatically digging in their heels. By the same token, I notice that all three artists use their ‘home’ as their point of departure.
In the case of Jannis, Venus appears in a teacup, in a rather surreal domestic setting. Patrizio enlarges a tassel, of the kind generally used to ornament and extend a curtain tieback. Such tassels are also used as ornamentation for uniforms, or as a mark of military merit. Anna Bella likewise seems to combine world history with a personal analysis of her own cultural origins, before fitting it into a trouser pocket. Her small assemblages encompass the hierarchies of world maps, and indeed the ubiquitous manifestation of baroque angels and cylinder seals–ancient means of communication. You could fit it all into the average kitchen drawer. I believe these subtle references stress the attempt to understand what it means to live in this world. These artists have chosen a clear starting point and they are attempting, by means of a personal approach, to decipher power structures and give them a place in a new structure and order. The appropriation and examination of history seems to me an essential way of dealing with the scaling up of conflicts in our time.
The exhibition centers on the rather traditional act of painting and sculpture, as a perfect vehicle to order those topics in question. In the same way, it exposes new political layers–accumulated by thought and straight away physically laid bare by the artist hands.
Appropriating both the symbolism and material technique used in antique European painting, Marwitz’s work is a bizarre rendering of myth and allegory. Marwitz incorporates domestic imagery in his work, grounding allegory in the familial and revisiting classical iconography in order to subvert the traditional ideas surrounding them. Through depicting imagery that has remained integral to European art for centuries, the paintings move to question traditional power discourses and parables underlying our understanding of our collective history.
Anna Bella Geiger
Anna Bella Geiger’s multidisciplinary work spans a career of over 60 years. Her small, pocket-sized assemblages assess and question the nature of world maps, touching upon themes of both human and physical geography. Her seemingly fragile manifestations contrast with themes of colonialist and political discourse, facilitating a negotiation between world history and personal analysis. Maps are not only used to determine the location of oneself, but also of others; as such, maps represent underlying systems of cultural and social dominance. Using old archive drawers from map cabinets, she reconfigures the traditional image of the map, complete with antique cartography tools, to reveal a re-examination of global power structures. Anna Bella Geiger (b. 1933, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. Educated at New York University, Geiger has been integral in Brazil’s conceptual art scene. Her work has been featured in various exhibitions and collections, including at MoMA PS1 and the Centre Pompidou, and has represented Brazil in the 1980 Venice Biennale. She has also received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1982.
Patrizio Di Massimo
Patrizio Di Massimo’s practice is a play on the complex meanings found in domestic objects. The artist’s enlarged tassels are not only reminiscent of decorative household objects but also suggest military ornamentation. In their enlarged state, the tassels are transformed into personified objects, demanding attention and a revision of familiarity on the viewer’s part. Di Massimo’s interests lie in Italian history, charged with power struggles and colonialism, as well as personal biographies which lie at the heart of his paintings. Patrizio Di Massimo (b. 1983, Jesi, Italy) is based in London. Previous solo and group exhibitions include at ChertLüdde, Berlin; Ville Medici, Rome; and Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels.
This exhibition was made possible thanks to the generous support of the City of Rotterdam and Mondriaan Fund. A special thanks to Mendes Wood DM, Chert Lüdde and Lewben Art Foundation.