The exhibition of Marco Mendeni’s work – an artist born in 1979, whose work uses new media and video games – at the Label 201 gallery – «My time machine is burning. (Is there a life after capitalism?)», curated by Elena Giulia Abbiatici – was astonishing.
Astonishing since he creates a feeling of surprise and wonder. To better explain this: no videos, computers or any other electronic devices are visible when entering the gallery. Nothing of the sort. However, the presence of new technologies is tangible. This is the first element of surprise: Mendeni manages to speak of the «technological machine» by using traditional means: oil paintings and marble slabs.
His paintings are engrossing, I get closer in order to figure out what they are made of. I want to my eyes to really grasp them and the works draw me, allowing me to get closer and let me ‘touch’ them. The moment my gaze meets the surface of the painting, however, I realise there is a temporal short circuit: the drawing is perfect, too perfect to have been painted by an artist. It has a printed quality to it despite the use of oil, a Renaissance medium, reminding me of the body, a burnt body marked by the encounter with a machine. The burn is still alive on the canvass, but it occurred previously. I am witness to a process that has already taken place, but it comes into existence before my gaze: from man to machine.
Who does the world revealed in Mendeni’s work belong to? The machine or the marked body?
With these questions still in mind, I realise the artist is offering me a lifeline: an epigraph. Marble consists of matter that passes through time and incisions are the first signs left by man as proof of his existence in the world. Here comes the second surprise: it is only a link! This is not a sign that is immediately intelligible: not a name, a date or a sign of man’s passage on earth. Mendeni has once again deceived me. What use is this slab to me, if I cannot not decipher it? Or, in a much more subtle way, I recognise this is a link, but without a machine this means nothing to me since I am unable to read it. I wonder if these letters and these signs, listed in succession, still belong to human language. They are instantly recognisable, but they are also enclosed in a linguistic process that has done away with the material body, man himself and instant communication: there is no exchange of knowledge or comprehension, there is no story. It is useless…
Still thoughtful, I feel exiled from the world, from the worlds that machines are producing and not only do these worlds not belong to me, but I am also incapable of deciphering their meaning. Nevertheless – and this is one of the many other surprises – I feel liberated: I recall Günther Anders and his work, «Man Without World»:
<< The expression ‘man without world’ means that (because we firmly recognise the natural realisation of freedom in capitalism, without any other alternative) we are free to decide which worlds, with varying degrees of offers and orders, we should favour >>.
As I leave the exhibition, I feel I have been challenged. And, ultimately, this is something art should always aim for.
This critical reflection by Angelo di Bello refers to the exhibition: «Marco Mendeni. My Time Machine is Burning (Is there a Life after Capitalism?)», Label 201, Rome, 06 – 26.05.2017. The work by Marco Mendeni was also recently depicted in Milan with the show «Hype», curated by Matteo Bittanti, Amy D Arte Spazio, Milan
Images (al) «Marco Mendeni. My Time Machine is Burning (Is there a Life after Capitalism?)», Label 201, Roma, installation view, photo: Luisa Galdo