It seems like a long time ago, now: a world where taking a trip to Italy was an indulgence, rather than an impossibility. I used some of my two days in Turin, back in late 2017, to visit the Fondazione Merz, a converted Lancia factory in a pretty suburb. Sitting on its concrete floor as the September sun slanted through its high windows, the space rebounded with metallic clanks, whizzes and hisses. That’s where I first encountered the work of Massimo Bartolini.
This artist's noisy work - across video, sculpture and mechanical musical instruments - shares some of the anarchic spirit of Mario Merz, the Turinese arte povera great who gave that foundation its name. I was glad to meet Bartolini again in the rather weaker March London sun. The dim confines of Frith Street Gallery on Golden Square ring to some of the same sounds I heard in Turin. That’s because there’s a work in common between the two shows, an octagonal black metal well like structure, In a Landscape, whose internal barrel organ-like mechanism plays a haunting tune at random-seeming intervals.
But the main sounds in the London gallery are of hands clapping. They’re for the pair of works that give the exhibition its name. On one wall, a video of tree trunks, with eyes blinking in time to the claps. On the other, an endlessly-spooling sequence of credits with deliberately silly names of a vaguely classical bent. Or that’s what I thought at first: in fact, it’s a list of the Latin names of different extinct animals.
Bartolini says that the show is “a way to think about Landscape with different media”. Fair enough. But the endlessly-spooling list of the dead has other implications at times like this. Now, with the news cycle darkening by the day, not least from Bartolini’s native country, I wonder at how bleak this show seems in retrospect. And that sunny, carefree afternoon in Turin seems even further away.
Massimo Bartolini: Credits is at Frith Street Gallery (London). February 07 - April 09 2020