Ivan Mrsic : N G A  H E I H E I  O R C H E S T R A

At Te Tuhi Center for the Arts – Auckland New Zealand, on Saturday, August 13, 2016

and human chickens click their feet in the dust, apparently with no clue

(Nga Heihei is a Maori word for a cacophony of sounds or the commotion of kicking up dust. Chickens are called Nga Heihei because of the noise they make stirring up the dust. And the word Nga is a suffix used to change a verb into a noun, especially to denote a tribe of people. As a noun, moreover, it means ‘breath.’)

Ivan Mrsic during the concert

by Rosanna Albertini

“The real is a closely woven fabric. It does not await our judgement before incorporating the most surprising phenomena, or before rejecting the most plausible figments of our imagination. … Truth does not ‘inhabit’ only the ‘inner man,’ or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty*

NGA HEIHEI is a music from the inner core of an artist, and a splinter of War and Peace in our time, that hits the brain like a storm. Facts and images of facts around us shriek in our consciousness, piercing our dreams. One child on the beach, dead like a shell out of water, we only see the nape of his neck, grateful his face isn’t visible, sucked into the sand. Another boy on the ground was abandoned, a lifeless doll embracing flatness, crucified without a cross. They stayed in me like symbols of sacrifice for a long time, those two boys, and yet, as much as I would like to avert the very idea, I know the massacre will not stop. I’m waiting for the next. Hordes of refugees escape wars and poverty, they are treated like new barbarians. None of us owns an ideal truth. We have music instead, if nothing else, as an act of devotion.

And through Ivan’s sounds, history takes the form of a huge storm including Napoleon’s cavalry, canons and machine guns from World Wars I and II, and recents battlefields like big mouths vomiting voices and falling mountains, tsunamis, angry gods of the oceans, and an endless lack of meaning, what is it for?  Instruments, especially the digital alteration of natural sounds produced, at times, with a simple kitchen metal bowl, translate languages and stories into one long impersonal lamentation, the mediterranean expression of grief.

In such a bewildering human landscape, half gardened half destroyed, the artist, Ivan Mrsic, and the four performers next to him** become an island of resistance. Torn between his native Croatia and the new homeland he found in New Zealand, Ivan’s feelings float in both places. Transpierced like everyone else by things perceived, he/it/she shows the strength of resilience, and spreads around not intelligence -almost impossible- nothing more than the fastest beats of a heart.


The imaginary war in his head could not be expressed through words, or images, it’s a long river of steps on the ground, screams, trees shaken by winds, bombs, fountains of blood, and singing birds, despite the horror. Because our sense of dismay isn’t disjoined from an equal awareness of joyful attachment to this absurd world. Arts of our time merge into the living. No more illusions about the brain, our friend enemy personal engine, emotions come first. Physicality, sounds sometimes. We are not right, not wrong, not saints, not monsters.

Non-involvement, so far, has replenished the holes of the old wars.
As Hone Tuwhare*** wrote in his Haikuku

To reach the dizzy heights
of non-involvement
one must be unattached

In order to reach the peak
of non-attachment (ah yes)
one must be dissolved.

Ivan Mrsic dissolved himself, for a limited time, in a piece of music.


All the stills from a piece of video documentation commissioned by Te Tuhi, Auckland.  



* MAURICE MERLEAU PONTI, Phenomenology of Perception, translated from French by Colin Smith, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1962

**The performance of Nga Heihei Orchestra premiered on Saturday, August 13 2016, at the opening of the Te Tuhi exhibition Share/Cheat/Unite, Auckland, 5.30 pm. With Ivan Mrsic, the performers were: Hermione Johnson, Pat Kraus, Jonny Marks, and Andrew McMillan. John Kim as a sound engineer and a performer.

***HONE TUWHARE, Deep River TalkCollected Poems, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1994, p.77

This text was published in SHARE/CHEAT/UNITE VOL. 3, online catalogue edited by Anna Hodge and Rebecca Lal. Curated by Bruce E. Phillips. Te Tuhi, March 2018, Auckland, New Zealand.





by Rosanna Albertini

Ewerdt Hilgemann: “I’m full of stories, they sit everywhere in my whole body.”

(From a conversation with Klaus Altevogt for metalligent, May 2017)

He had a solo exhibition at Royale Projects, Los Angeles CA, in 2017

It would be exciting to know how exactly each cell, each molecule, each organ reacts to stories and physical realities every time they grab our attention. They become a part of us whether we invite them or not. Here we have an artist born in Germany in 1938 who grew up among bombs and marching boots in the Ruhr area, and had the fortune of having grandparents in countryside, where for a while he enjoyed nature and the experiments on different materials in a cement factory where his grandfather was director of a laboratory. Strange objects fell from the sky. They ruined the hands of his best friend. Half of the house was destroyed. Ewerdt experienced a hostility conveyed by objects, but originated by humans. It takes a long time to find a personal answer to these kinds of absurdities.

I don’t know how he made up his mind. It’s a fact that, in 1982, Hilgemann made what Camus would declare the perfect absurd piece: The Rolling Cube. From Camus’ standpoint, it’s a compliment. Ten tons of Carrara white marble, a cube whose faces were polished by the artist for weeks, soft like a skin he caresses, gently, at the end of the work, is carried on a truck to the top of the mountain. And thrown down the ravine, to become again a broken splinter of the mountain. After the fall though, it is different from the other fragments of rocks throw down by the quarry workers: it had been sculpted. The whole action was filmed.

The caress: “The caress is the waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content. She is made with growing hunger, and more and more enticing promises, something that brings new perspectives on the things we cannot grasp.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre)

I was struck looking at the solitude of the artist and the rock during the physical transformation of the piece of marble. “I had to do it,” says the artist, and not for fame or money. He paid for the cube. In exchange, I would say, he became an anonymous field of existence. The cube had to be perfect, and meaningless. There is past in the men, as well as in the object’s material nature, but the object will not have the time to remember, it will be dead in a few minutes, leaving to the artist a beautiful ruin. Ugliness and pain of an inhuman history, its thickness, the smell of war, along with impenetrable political decisions, still heavy like a storm of memories, were persuaded for a very short time to get in touch with beauty. Like Marie Antoinette climbing the scaffold. It won’t last.

Maybe the present starts there for the artist, his own journey free from the weight of the past. Returning to himself, the artist is chained to Ewerdt as never before. He is finally in the present. “C’est un présent d’être et non de rêve.” It’s a living present, not of a dream. “The present has shredded the texture of the infinite existing; history is ignored; the present starts from right now.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre)

In the art that came after killing the cube, a sense of damage remains that Michelangelo, Bernini, even Camille Claudel, couldn’t conceive. After so many proofs of destructive power among humans, how could artworks remain untouched? Hilgemann sculptures succeed in being beautiful despite the distance and the separation the artist has organized between his hands and the shape that appears. He prepares a regular volume, connects a pump to the inside of the piece, and waits for the implosion of the form, while little by little the extraction, almost an abduction of the air, produces shrinking, moaning, strong noise at times, for the art body has to be born by himself.

In Europe the beginnings of conceptual experiences in the arts were quite different from American conceptualism. The finitude of the object must pay a price to a very diffused state of mind still disturbed by real ruins and graveyards facing the permanent, immutable natural splendor. There was need “to make violence to the present, forcing art (for instance) to reach levels that are beyond the concept of art. Vincenzo Agnetti. “ Intuition is conscious reality bumped in the dark.” 1970

And Hilgemann’s sculptures of today, with their unsteady balance, deformed as if they had been pinched by invisible inner demons, show their imperfect body with pride, they are so human one can only sympathize with them. Does your heap hurt? Are you strangely bent? Look at me, they say, my odd angles will never change. And I did it by myself. Like you, isn’t it? Yet, they also express care, and a secret determination of the artist to give at least a direction to their taking form. ‘Conceptually,’ I don’t know if it is the proper word, their luminous charm emanates from the artist’s caress, as “waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content.”

An already imploded sculpture at Royale Projects:

And the process of implosion of a new piece at the gallery, during the opening:  (details)

















Photos: Peter Kirby

“Only art can go someway toward making accessible, towards waking into some measure of communicability, the sheer inhuman otherness of the matter – the retractions out of reach of rock and wood, of metal and fiber. … Without the arts, form would remain unmet and strangeness without speech in the silence of the stone.”  George Steiner


George Steiner, Real Presences, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1989;  Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Gallimard, Paris 1942; Concettuale in Italia 1965-1972, Galleria Milano, 1987; Ewerdt Hilgemann, Art Affairs, Amsterdam, 2015; Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre, PUF, Paris 1983.

Emmanuel Levinas, 1906-1995. French philosopher born in Lithuania to Jewish parents. At home they spoke Yiddish as well as Russian. In 1928-29 he studied under Edmond Husserl and Martin Heidegger. He was the first to introduce their ideas into France. Levinas was a prisoner of war in a German camp, while his wife and daughter hid in a French convent. One of his early books, Le temps et l’autre, taught me nuances and defaults of our understanding, and the lack of reality of idealistic abstractions: time, being, existence merge into the fullness of life, and only the face-to-face with other humans allows them to exist. Levinas took his notes for this book when he was a prisoner. RA

Charlie Morrow & Jerome Rothenberg


San Francisco, November 13, 2017

Songs of Flowers and Stones

New wilderness friends, to preserve the nuances of musical language and the chant of poetry

by Rosanna Albertini

Charlie Morrow, 1971:
My work has taken me into two large areas in the past
year: numbers and the language of nonhumans. Both interests
derive from chanting music, which has been my central concern.
My first chanting pieces were about ecstasy and anger,
the strongest emotions, in their longest and most intense form.
As the ecstatic chanting became more familiar, I found myself
curious about the roots of chanting music in the natural world;
that is, the natural world as perceived by humans.
In my search for a rhetoric of chanting music, I was
reliving the ancient process of anthropomorphism, looking for
the animal world in me and for myself in the natural universe.

As part of this search, the technology that gathers sound
from the bottom of the water, the outer reaches of spaces,
the low levels of quiet places and so on, is a kind of sacred

And the sound processes in these innumerable locations
are exciting both in themselves and as wonderful models. They
are models for composing and performing, models for communi-
cating, models of processes within humans. Using models, I
am not just myself.”

“Counting is a move toward the basic biological functions, toward pulses.
Like breathing exercises.


Hanging numbers like signposts on locations, as in the performance of
my counts with complex sound systems or several counters, is a meditative
geometry: the space as many shapes, the numbers are
fireflies of my mind.”


And Jerome Rothenberg? He is a poet who did for the American avant garde poetry and for the new indigenous poetries of the Americas, joined by indigenous poetry from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania a monumental editorial work. I don’t hesitate to compare his books to Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. The anthological form makes his collections more fragmented and easier to consult than the eighteen century compilation.

Jerome Rothenberg 1974:
“It was 1948 & by year’s end I was seventeen. I had been coming into poetry for two years. My head was filled with Stein and Cummings, later with Williams, Pound, the French Surrealists, the Dada poets […] The thing was to get off on it, to hear one’s mind, learn one’s voice. But the message clear & simple was to move. To change. To create one’s self & thus one’s poetry. A process.”

and 2017:
“For myself —early along— I turned to “reinterpreting the poetic past from the point of view of the present.” […] With this as my impulse I began to scour areas that had been closed to us as poetry — hidden, outside & subterranean — to discover what was clearly poetry but also forms of languaging that had ever been within poetry’s domain.  […]
I was also able to drop the notion of the “primitive” as a kind of simplistic or underdeveloped state of mind & word, & to begin the pre-face to the book with a three-word opening I can still adhere to: “Primitive means complex.”

The San Francisco performance opened for me the way to merge into a variety of unknown poetry from different continents printed in Technicians of the Sacred at the third edition. (First edition 1968) This book is a secret cave of poems mostly conceived for oral transmission, a concert with dancing tongues and feet. Also shamanic songs. It’s a treasure trove, a place where poems unfold meanders of life free from time and rules, they run like a stream.

Poetry, poetry, is a gesture, a landscape,
your eyes and my eyes, girls; ears, heart,
the same music. And I say no more, because
no one will find the key that no one has lost
And poetry is the chant of my ancestors
a winter day that burns and withers
this melancholy so personal.
Elicura Chihuailaf, a Mapuche poet (Chile)

Technicians of the Sacred has 643 pages. I asked my hands to magically open the book: with big surprise I found first, with no hesitation, the poem Rothenberg had moved back to sounds in his performance: a poem from the Yaqui Deer Dance. Immediately after, at the following opening of the book, my eyes stopped on two poems by Marcela Delpastre, from Occitania (France). I couldn’t quit. Was my European blood orienting my fingers? I had found The Scream of the Stones, words that triggered my memory like a shotgun.


I don’t know if they bleed, the stones. Or if they scream, if they howl
under the wheel & the mace, or if the knife’s blade wounds them, deep in
their flesh, slicing through them.

I know that the loam that sometimes runs from them, no matter how
red, is not blood.

And I’ll say nothing of their tenderness, from stone to stone, from water
to air.

But what I know is that our blood comes from the stone. And our flesh
comes from nowhere else, come from stone we are stone, we are dust and
wind’s smoke.

That our blood is blood of the stone, and our heat is of the sun, and our
wail the howl of the stone, through which our soul passes full-bodied,
that we are the soul of the stone — but tell me, the stone, who is the
stone — where does she come from?

Marcela Delpastre, Occitania (France)

My stones were painted pink by my grandfather’s stories. Were his words more effective than the real mountains I saw? The mountains were called “monti pallidi,” or Dolomites. He was a plein air painter, he loved them so much he spent the entire good season, every year, walking on their skin and making paintings of them. I went with him the last five years of his life. I was seven when he turned into a golden breath that never left, still around my body. We never talked when walking on the pale ladies, words only arose in the evening, bringing up invisible elves and fairies. “Who is the stone” was my hidden question at the time not even expressed in words, it was a vague, inner uncertainty. We used to drive on the top when the road made it possible. Curves made me throw up every time. But once out of the car, humans disappeared. I was left alone, or swallowed by the landscape, I can’t say. The pale mountains had finally shrunk to my size, I could touch them, run from one to another and discover with amazement the bluest flowers, the eyes of that place. Now I wonder if I felt I was on the moon. Maybe the soul of the stones passed through my body, she did not go away.

ORESTE ALBERTINI, Dolomiti, year unknown


Revolution of the word; a new gathering American avant garde poetry, 1914-1945.  Editor Jerome Rothenberg, A Continuum Book The Seabury Press, New York, 1974

Technicians of the Sacred, a range of poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Edited with commentaries by Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, Oakland, California,  2017. Third edition, revised and expanded, 50th anniversary.

Charlie Morrow, NUMBERS & SPELLS, an unpublished anthology sent to me by the author in digital version. RA.


GIULIANA CUNEAZ : Remaking the Natural Magic

I speak within the time and out of time.
I speak for yesterday and today;
for yesterday which is a lesson of life,
for today which is a lesson of death.

Edmond Jabès

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Le cabinet de la neige, 2014  Video installation  3D animation, wood, clay and acrylic paint with crystal dust, monitor.  76 x 65 x 50 cm.   Courtesy of the artist and Gagliardi e Domke Gallery, Torino

A myriad of interior sceneries from mother earth,
always struck with amazement

by Rosanna Albertini

Common sense says that we only see what we know. Giuliana Cuneaz invites us to the opposite journey and brings us, at least in our imagination, to a living universe out of the reach of our perception, a realm of infinite transformations and a variety of forms. She is attracted by the invisible presence of the same kind of patterns shaping the forms of neurons, roots, or mineral structures. She wonders about the natural ‘thinking’ that seems to have been designed for the shell, bark or minerals’ inner architecture. ‘Designed?’ By whom? When? Hard to find the proper words for the secret growth of a living world that doesn’t need humans to exist.

Her art is one more physical process, something in between visible things as they appear in the daylight and invisible configurations revealed by electron microscopes and digital simulations.

As an artist, she can only be absurd:

The absurd work illustrates how thinking gives up with prestige and accepts to be nothing more than intelligence activating appearances and covering with images what doesn’t have a reason to exist. If the world were easy to see, art wouldn’t be.  Albert Camus

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Le cabinet de la neige, (details), 2014   Uncooked clay, acrylic paint with crystal dust.  

Through valleys and woods, Giuliana put her green eyes at work to discover the fairies’ sites – each of them has a name in her mountains. At the mouth of cracks, or caves, she placed a music stand holding a piece of music written for one instrument. She gave to the silent fairies a musical voice that the public could listen to in a building, where humans and invisible presences were wrapped in the same vibrations. Fairies are not always good, they can be scary or threatening.

One of these invisible fairies, hidden in the image of her place, followed me through a photograph — given to me by Giuliana — in all the moves I went through since my visit to the mountains: the site looks quite dark, with rocks and pine trees ravaged by the wind. The Fairy of Grand Brissogne is now here in front of me, between the keyboard and the computer screen. In my attachment to that picture I probably did see my own life as the life of an absurd woman accepting sadness and fear as a present. Obstacles needing to be defeated.

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Matter Waves Unseen, 2013  Video installation. 3D animation, wood, monitor, plexiglass, led, sand, clay, acrylic paint. 165 x 113,5 x 40 cm.  Courtesy of the artist and Private collection.

Giuliana Cuneaz engaged her life in a similar struggle, at the same time asking her hands to remake the natural magic, covering with handmade figures of curiosities and rarities the shelves of contemporary Wunderkammers, the chambers of marvels. Only one of her many artworks. It’s so wonderful to see a snow that doesn’t melt on the wood and shines forever, crystal by crystal, and to realize how the artist’s hands transformed uncooked clay into stars, corals, and seeds and flowers: natural forms whose story is only “invincible progress of the form, a sort of visible music”. (Paul Valéry)
For once, the fairies have been benevolent.

To break the crust of solid material bodies, trying to turn inside out the natural birth of crystals, rocks, or shells, this is the challenge that Giuliana Cuneaz seems to have embraced for a long time, offering to us her imaginary visit into the heart of matter. Her handmade objects are humble replicas. That’s for their marvelous configuration. Where they came from, at first, is a process lost in the dark of undetected beginnings, as if an artist had made them.

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Matter Waves Unseen, 213, details

Happiness and absurdity are two children of the same ground. …
When sadness raises up in a human heart, the rock is winning, sadness is the rock itself. …
The absurd woman contemplating her suffering shuts all the idols down. In the universe suddenly brought back to silence, appear thousands of small, stupefied voices of the earth. …
Sisyphus teaches the superior loyalty that denies gods and lifts rocks. She also believes that everything is good. This universe deprived of gods doesn’t seem sterile to her, nor trivial. Every grain of the stone, every mineral sparkle of this mountain filled with weight is a world by itself. Struggling toward the top can fill up a woman’s heart. Imagine lady Sisyphus is a happy one. … The absurd woman says yes and her effort will never cease.
Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, 1942 (with my alteration into a feminine mode).

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Matter Waves Unseen, 2013, details

3D computer graphics helped her to add a mental magic to the physical appearance of objects. Sculpting forms is not enough. They die in their frozen stillness. Giuliana Cuneaz’s chambers of marvels include a screen showing the 3D computer graphic version of the same objects she had made. The fantastic sceneries she displays have two different lives: one is a lesson of death cherished, honored by the artist’s fingers accepting the drama of making a physical form, the other on the screen is a lesson of life in search of visible modulations, bursts of changes, phases of passage, movements.


Giuliana Cuneaz, Matter Waves Unseen, 2013  3D computer animation  Courtesy of the artist and Private collection

Giuliana’s waves are earthly as if the clay, the shy and silent skin of the earth, had suddenly made her surface strong and dynamic like the ocean waves — each bringing new presents to the seashore. Although supported by numbers and programs, artificial life doesn’t cease to be human. It’s our brain trying to approach, to understand the admirable quality of natural artifacts. Inner landscapes suggested by microscopic photographs and nanotechnologies gave to my artist, maybe, the same surprise as the anatomic drawings gave to the 15th century’s artists. We see her imagination at work, and we can be transported with her inside her earthly waves, like we were invisible particles of dust.

Un saggio: L’anima verso cui andiamo è un paese di neve. …
Un saggio: … Un paese tagliato nell’acqua indurita dal gelo. L’acqua ci custodisce. Cosi i ghiacciai, gli occhi dilatati degli scomparsi.

Edmond Jabès

A wise man: The soul we go after is a country of snow. …
A wise man: … A country cut into the water hardened by cold. Water preserves us. So the glaciers, and the dilated eyes of the dead.

Yes, crystals are black in the valley of snow. They can’t forget they need to pause on the rocky surface of mountains, or the smoother layers of clay. Black is memory of their love joining them to the pebbles, of melting on the skin of an obstinate, stringent partner. Water and dirt are inseparable like day and night. Chemistry tells us that life springs from that wedding. We should unite our body to them, and remember in our cells what we are not able to know.


Giuliana Cuneaz, Chrystal Growth 2012, 3D animation Courtesy of the artist and Gagliardi e Domke Gallery, Torino

Giuliana Cuneaz at work


Edmond Jabès, Le livre des questions, Paris, Gallimard, 1963. Il libro delle interrogazioni, trad. it. di Chiara Rebellato, Casale Monferrato, Marietti, 1985

Paul Valéry, L’homme et la coquille, Paris, Gallimard, 1937

Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Paris, Gallimard, 1942

William Bryant Logan, DIRT, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, New York, The Berkley Publishing Group, 1995


SIMONE FORTI : how to position yourself in the world, with grace

Free Consultation — Chicago, January 30, 2016

“I’m trying to find the relationship to my dance and the world.” Simone Forti 1989

Stills from Video: Jason Underhill



From Simone Forti’s notes written in Vermont, in the spring 1989:

David Bradshaw came to visit me a few evenings ago. We were talking about the phenomenon of development and damage to environment. He said, “people are in such a hurry to get symbols of satisfaction.” I don’t remember the exact context, but it made sense. It reminds me of my sense about posturing that goes into having certain political attitudes or ‘positions.’ Making choices out of concern for how you are perceived, being hot stuff, liberal, or patriotic, or what have you.

One thing that strikes me in the winter is the sweetness of warm-blooded beings. I sit surrounded by ice and snow, warm in my clothes like a juicy hot plum, a rare thing, knowing that here and there there is a bird, a rabbit in its hole under the snow, warm, juicy, marvelous.

It keeps coming back to me that certain things I am aware of, the national, global things that strike me, frighten me, break my heart, come to me defined by the news. Not homelessness. I see that. But the rest, it’s like a body of information that comes to me and makes me shout “Don’t you see?” And I do believe that media gives a kind of reflection of the world. The world. Gives me images that seem solid.

Issues are named. In a way they are names. They are constructed of experiences. They come to me as the digestion of many stories. They identify the tide of a problem. But it’s hard to say what you mean with grace. By grace, I mean the way thoughts and perceptions really go. A maze of juxtapositions of sense and nonsense, pulling towards meaning.

What I am learning, I am learning slowly. My previous living gives me no way to name it. Of the things I expect to name, I see only traces. That which I see, I have no names for.


When she performs, Simone moves sending out into the air, sometimes, stories and names, or songs, that are told by her entire body. Powerful as well as invisible, the world goes through her mind like the birds’ voice in the morning, or the river flush of the freeway through the city.
I first thought that her own words from 1989 were more than eloquent company for the images of Free Consultation, her performance by the lake in Chicago. But then, because my previous living gave me the pleasure of reading, through words and grammar, the imaginary visions of brilliant, dead people,  I’m challenged even more by living friends. And Simone is not less alive than the the yellow butterfly I see every day dancing among the yellow flowers of a bush in my garden. Her immersion in the world tunes her feelings without turning out the lights of her thinking body.

A few years ago I went with Simone for a walk in Will Rogers Park. I think it was in June. The delicate undulating of the new grass grabbed our attention, but at a certain moment we stopped seeing it. “That which I see, I have no names for.” We were in a corral, no horses around. Yet we were seeing horses running, and listening to their high-pitched neighs. We were just standing still in the middle of a vibrating place, absorbing smells and hints, those dispersed by the wind. That was also what we call world. It’s constant transformation, natural power and beauty often mistaken for entertainment. How she is perceived, nature doesn’t care.

As for Simone, she likes to speak with her dead. Once more, she follows invisible threads of a natural history. Her dead father, now under the surface of the Westwood ground. She tells him, “You were in a military prison, right? Watching how the flies cleaned their front paws and then their back paws.” She says these conversations help her clean her mind. I also talk to my dead people, my Neapolitan blood. Maybe they increase my confusion, the sense of how much I don’t know about them, but they also make me aware that my life is much easier than the one they had. I even have time for writing and publishing, the least productive of all activities. “As long as you are free, says my grandmother Rosa, and she offers to me a handful of pastina.”

MARISA MERZ : Art is a mental thing


by Rosanna Albertini

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1993, Copper wire, unfired clay, steel structure. Photo: Hannah Kirby

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1989. Unfired clay, galvanized metal, glass cup, flowers. Photo: Hannah Kirby

Los Angeles,  Hammer Museum: THE SKY IS A GREAT SPACE   June-August 2017

March – April 1968:
“I do not respect Johnson, I do not respect the masters.
I’m not available anymore because I want to start from scratch.
I could still be available to a child, but not to a man, no.
If a man asks me to do something, I do it the way I want to.
I no longer believe in catalysts* because they are the beggars of slaves.
At present the world is peopled by slaves, and catalysts are still around.
I’m not interested in power or career; only myself and the world.
I can do little, very little.
I’m battling against malice and competition.
I cannot escape the reality I see.”

Marisa Merz, Come una dichiarazione, Bit, vol.II, n.1 March-April 1968.

(*catalyst, the prime agent of any change or action.)

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1968. Nylon thread, nails.

Despite her official position in Arte Povera’s historical dress, I want to unravel this ninety year old Italian artist from any cocoon. Just her and reality around her in Turin, from what I remember, also around me in Milan, the same years when she was knitting little nylon shoes like clouds ready to fly, joining the green of the grass to the light blue of Northern sky, as if colors did make the shoes for a walk in the void. Mid sixties. I was wearing comfortable boots to run faster during the police-student confrontations. I was a philosophy student, and clouds were in my brain.

No wonder Marisa Merz dislikes catalysts, they were nailing our minds to ideological boxes, heavy like lead, separating the mind from the rest of life. Marisa was building around her an undefined space, a hole in between art and life. The same way that Robert Rauschenberg considered the adventure of painting, or of art making in every way. Doors, tables and chairs are a population of hopeless objects, condemned to only one form forever. There is not much she can do about that. But she can surround them with natural or artificial shadows to soften their rigidity, and approach them to the human touch, helping them to escape from their destiny. Sometimes the shadow materializes in knitted, transparent shadows moving squares and rectangles from the floor toward light triangles pointed to the ceiling, becoming smaller and smaller, she can do little, very little. Yet, out of her hands, stools can dream of a kite and a wooden door plays with the illusion of softness of squared empty pillows made with copper wire, as if opening a new mode of being for a door, opening and not only closing.


MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1976. Copper wire, nails, canvas. (detail)

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1977. Wood, copper wire brass. newspaper. Photo: Hannah Kirby

Any connection between the art world in the sixties and seventies and the student movement was absent. And Marisa Merz seems to me now much closer to Piero Manzoni personal mythology than to the Arte Povera heroic answers to the growing search for perfection and technocracy — rationality in modern societies turning into sickness. Although married to Mario Merz, the sculptor who built powerful forms like bubbles of thought impenetrable to the viewer’s body, Marisa kept her feminine instinct intact. Yes, her tables wrapped in veils bring a sense of isolation, although adding, at the same time, the absurdity of a dream that could be of freedom, or just of care. Her little sculpted heads look at the sky. Humans are the invisible bodies dissolved around her pieces, leaving their scent.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled, 1977. Table, copper wire, flower, metal rods.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1975. Nylon thread, iron.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1975, Iron wire, copper wire.








The more we are immersed in ourselves, the more we are open; when we approach the earliest signs of our totality, we also approach everyone else’s totality. The difficult task is to liberate ourselves from foreign and superfluous things, facts and gestures that pollute the compact units coming from the art of our days and easily becoming the emblems of artistic fashions.”

Nebulous memories from childhood, impressions, abstractions, sentimentalisms, deliberate constructions, pictorial symbolic or descriptive intentions, fake anxieties, undigested unconscious events, the perpetual hedonistic repetition of already explored subjects: these are things to be discarded. The process of revelation and elimination releases our original quality in the form of images: images that are primary, and the ones of our time gushing out from the same point, for us and our civilization. Nothing must be avoided to accelerate the emergency, the urgency of acquiring our own gestures.”
PIERO MANZONI, Prolegomeni all’attività artistica.

MARISA MERZ, Head, Testa, 1984-95. Unfired clay, was, tin, lead, steel table. Photo: Hannah Kirby

A point in time: the soil suddenly trembling under my feet trodding on the sidewalk from Piazza Fontana to Piazza del Duomo, in Milan, on December 12, 1969. The bomb’s explosion didn’t make much noise. It was behind me, where 13 were killed and 88 injured. I was not one of them by only a few seconds. I didn’t turn, a wave of danger pushed me quickly walking away toward the Dome, my heart beating fast. It was like wearing Marisa Merz’s green shoes, and feeling the nails. In minutes, the place was filled with ambulances.

A few days after, the daily paper reported that Giuseppe Pinelli, a well known anarchist, had fallen from a window at the police station. He had been accused of placing the bomb. A dead angel to me. As many of my friends, I used to go to his house where his wife Licia typed academic papers for us. We were bad typists, I still use two fingers. Two little girls running around us. It was an odd time, of idealism killing people. As if the amazing theories we had tried to digest had turned fleshy, back to their sprouting from vital organs, and were made softer, gentler by human frailty. The empty carcass of words crashed with the anarchist body on the asphalt, after the flight through the void. What happened exactly, we never knew. Except, Pinelli was innocent.

MARISA MERZ, Small Head, Unfired clay

We did not know that artists had turned our precious thoughts into metaphors, actions, questions about human identity, as effectively as our philosophical castles. Marisa Merz, for instance, worked on our broken threads, moving the line into hand made, often knitted objects. They embody flexibility, adaptation. They bring a soft hand on reality.

PIERO MANZONI, Catalogue of the exhibition at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori Arte,1991

Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, Catalogue  of the exhibition organized by  the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Tate Modern, London. 2001-2003

Objects of a dysfunctional time: PETER SHIRE’s TEAPOTS

At MOCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles



 by Rosanna Albertini

Photos: Hannah Kirby

One can look at them naked, or encrusted with the shells of futurism, art deco, Milanese design, post modernism, California surrealism, like the door of a lobster cage. I would prefer to put all the verbal definitions into a fishnet and throw them deep into the ocean. The abandonment of the teapots to themselves “is an act of generosity,” as Mario Merz would say, “deciphering is the will to die.”

They are sirens these teapots singing the music of colors and forms: an endless, nostalgic song longing for water. Their nose too big, too long for their body, and the body shrunk like a musical instrument, or borrowing heaviness from a building, or eternalizing a fruit that tries to preserve the beauty of a flower and misses the branch moved by the wind. The teapots know there is no use for them. They are sculptures, born from an artist who likes to lie on the void, trying to forget rules and all the rational roads to understanding. Search for beauty is a source of anxiety.

“to orient
not to compel
to orient
in architecture
as in sculpture
like in a drawing of oriental vocal sensibilities
that is to say musical”
— Mario Merz

“All value depends upon somebody else’s opinion. For it is the essence of this philosophy that things have no independent existence, but live only in the eye of other people. It is a looking-glass world, this, to which we climb slowly; and its prizes are all reflexions. That may amount for our baffled feelings as we shuffle, and shuffle vainly, among those urban pages for something hard to lay our hands upon. Hardness is the last thing we shall find.”
— Virginia Woolf

That’s why there is no futurISM in these teapots, no celebration of civil and warlike mechanical machineries expected to pierce the present with energy, violent breaks, and, at least verbally, to introduce hardness. Instead, the teapots are a whispering voice, like the French and Italian words avenir, l’avvenire. From the late Latin ad-venire.

I find their softness and I don’t know what it is that touches me, unless what I like is just the uncertainty about what they are. They are displaced and useless, but searching for their face to face with us. The human side which is in them, the artist’s making, meets other humans in a present which is constantly coming to be, fleeting and incapable of standing as an accomplished future. Displacement is everywhere: between words and things, dreams and reality, thinking and making. What a dysfunctional time!

And yet, I miss stroking them, giving them a caress. I can only send them a philosophical caress, the most beautiful I found.

“The caress doesn’t know what she looks for. Such ‘not knowing’ such fundamental incongruence, is essential.” “The caress is waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content. She is made with growing hunger, and more and more enticing promises, which brings new perspectives on the things we cannot grasp.”
— Emmanuel Lévinas

Mario Merz, Lo spazio e curvo e diritto, Firenze, Hopeful Monster Editore, 1990

Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, London, The Hogarth Press, 1935

Emmanuel Lévinas, Le temps et l’autre, @Fata Morgana, 1979. First edition February 1983, PUF, Paris.