Review by Mallory Nanny, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.
The Serpentine Gallery currently boasts an all-encompassing installation by Michelangelo Pistoletto, an artist renowned for his contribution to conceptual art, as well his founding role in the Arte Povera movement. The exhibition, entitled The Mirror of Judgement, incorporates various aspects from earlier works, such as Minus Objects (1966) and Third Paradise (2003-4), into a coherent and spiritual experience based on mathematical precision. The work focuses on our own perceptions of religion and culture, and thus depends on our participation as viewers.
A labyrinth, constructed from large pieces of loosely-folded, intertwining cardboard, runs throughout the course of the exhibition, effectively unifying the space while simultaneously changing how we perceive the architecture. The view above the undulating twists and folds in the collected mass of cardboard heightens the principle of motion, of which is already enforced by our own movement. The labyrinth is not intended to exist as a direct path, but a complicated one – one that slows our pace, and provides us time to conceptualize the exhibition as a personal experience. It serves as a spiritual journey towards knowledge, guiding us through four private chambers, each containing a sculpture or item associated with the prayer of a different religion. Pocketed in the side galleries of the Serpentine, these alcoves pertaining to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam are exhibited with distance, yet banded together by the winding labyrinth. This is evident of the artist’s desire to unite people of divergent lifestyles through art. The objects tied to each religious practice are coupled with large mirrors, an instrumental feature in Pistoletto’s practice. Here, it functions as a self-reflective tool, for we must stand in front of it to judge ourselves. This is also the case for religion, each of which, the artist remarks are “placed in front of their own responsibility.” A strong metaphor exists in the correlation between the labyrinth and the mirrors; as the labyrinth offers different paths of direction, we must choose which path is best. If this path brings us to the mirror, per say, we must face ourselves before finding our way back.
In addition to their symbolic value, the mirrors also serve to contrast the space consumed by the cardboard labyrinth through creating more visual space within the alcoves. They also subvert the conventional ideas regarding figurative art through reflecting our own physical presences in the pieces, thus bridging a gap between art and life. The interactions we have with the mirrors are not only essential to understanding the exhibition, but necessary for the works to exist.
The performance aspect of this exhibition is heightened by his trumpet sculptures, the Trumpets of Judgement (1968), which is housed in the two connector galleries. The enlarged instruments are said to provide the opportunity to produce sound that would supposedly resonate through the other galleries; Pistoletto compares this to “Switzerland, where people communicate from one mountain to another.” The positions of the trumpets discourage this possibility; however, as two remain inverted while the other lies on the gallery floor. The contribution of sound now seems implausible in the trumpets’ lifeless state, which consequently exempts them from their role of enforcing judgement.
The artist draws on his previous Third Paradise series (2003-4) in the central gallery, through incorporating its signature, the New Infinity Sign (2005), a symbol of three circles intersecting twice that crowns the head of an obelisk, its body adorned with mirrored facades. The central circle of the sign represents the Third Paradise, a combination of the first and second paradises, alternatively known as the Earthly and the Artificial. These are represented by the smaller circles attached lengthwise to the larger circle between them. The mirrored facades of the vertical structure create an illusion of transparency by bringing forth the image of the black sculptural line, which would otherwise remain concealed behind the structure. As the mirrored section becomes mathematically aligned with the rest of the circle, its shape becomes a visual symbol of a womb, which, penetrated by the phallic obelisk, creates a double meaning for the new Third Paradise. In addition to its embodiment of nature and industry, the New Infinity Sign also represents the creation of a new humanity, one that inhabits an increasingly globalize society. Thus, while the Third Paradise symbolizes the position we choose in the future, it also reminds us of our moral obligation to protect the deterioration of the first paradise by its successor.
Michelangelo Pistoletto The Mirror of Judgement runs until 17 September.
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Image courtesy of Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella
Photograph: Enrico Amici