This is a black and white exhibition, monochrome like the white cube where it is being shown, apart from a small number of golden points recalling the divine or, if you like, simply representing the magical dimension of the works on display. This chromatic fil rouge (would it be better to say, perhaps, fil noir, or fil doré?) mirrors – in what seems a contradiction – the themes expressed, the techniques used and the very perceptions aroused by the very diverse works on display, which span more than forty years. From the feminist conceptualism of the 1980s veering towards visual poetry to the latest digital works of 2022 printed on plexiglass, only two things seem to remain unchanged at first glance: the use of colour and a certain revolutionary charge that is so hard to find nowadays, so refined and resolute, insightful and understated, philosophical and yet concrete.
We later realise, however, that the space-show retains its monolithic quality, its ability to be a collection of words from the same discourse, without any manifest effort, in the end without any contradiction, not even in the most classic case which sees digital space entering into friction with analogue space. This semblance of different elements interlocking with each other is what precisely suggests that the medium, even though different, is charged with the same essence, that infused by Bettineschi – “positioned at the borders, activating a hallucinated gaze, a primitive focus on things”, as both the artist herself writing in 1999 and the exhibition text remind us. So the embroidery that often appears in the works, so full of social, cultural and aesthetic nuances, seems to appear to the viewer again, hidden in the process in the digital paintings on plexiglass, seen in the dash that embroiders the selection of the digital image, placed exactly in the middle of the eyes of the women depicted in order to split them into the elegant metaphor of an ‘other look’ on the world.
The same idea applies to the supports: handmade cushions alternate with plexiglass and mirrors with more industrial features but the same alienating charge. The alienation of the cushion is to be found in itself, in its material, that of the mirror plate relates to its reflected image. The digital image, with its special features (a simulacrum of the original image, easily post-produced and ‘insubstantial’), becomes concrete, just for an instant, and then immediately becomes insubstantial again – an insubstantiality, this time, totally unrelated to the bit and the exasperated and exasperating order of the database, becoming a sensation.
The Morbido series (Soft, 1980), with their powerful golden script, reflect the soul, just as the Biblioteca Malatestiana, Cesena (2016) reflects small fragments of our bodies, small impressions of ourselves that are not entirely clear. And then there are persuasive, yet obscure, photographs, Dada-style collage, embroideries of the intriguing Nuovi racconti (New Stories) series and, finally, digital paintings of women painted in past centuries by the greatest masters in the history of art. By their very nature these paintings represent different yet similar archetypes, with their eyes doubled and their image sliced horizontally in white, taken from their time but dispossessed of their background and brought into ours. These works were used as the setting for Dior‘s Prȇt-á-Porter Autumn Winter 2022-2023 show, thanks to Maria Grazia Chiuri, as a result of the way they are able to manifest an expressive and profound, yet essential, charge through their presence – in the rarefied white cube as well as in the crowded and distracted spaces of a fashion show.
The artistic path expressed in the exhibition, therefore, is difficult to catalogue, between experimentation and mixing but, at the same time, linear and clear – a clarity, however, lost in oxymoron. A labyrinthine art achieving entropy through balance found on the threshold. On the other hand, “Art for Bettineschi is loss and disorientation, knowledge of the world and of the self, knowledge of the unspoken through the constant overcoming of conventional barriers of space and time” as Angelica Gatto writes in the critical text which accompanies visitors during the exhibition visit.
Mariella Bettineschi, L’era successiva e altri racconti, Z2o Sara Zanin Gallery, Rome, 26.01 – 16.03.2023
images: (cover 1 – 3) Mariella Bettineschi, Z2o Sara Zanin Gallery, installation view, ph. Giorgio Benni (4) Mariella Bettineschi, «Morbido», 1980, organza, bamboo, gold