METAMORPHOSIS OF A FOLK TALE

THE GOLDEN GOOSE    by   SEAN SHIM-BOYLE

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016 Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016
Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016 Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016
Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

“Humans, like all living beings, have a special power, a power of transformation that is also suitable for things around us, as far as we make up our image of them. …

We are, first of all, a transformative organism more or less complex (according to the animal species) because life is necessarily given and taken, and modified, also between the persons and their environment.”
Paul Valéry, La liberté de l’esprit, 1939

The truth of this kind of statement is questionable; it’s Valéry’s positivistic intelligence of life as one bee house in which humans don’t have primacy that strikes me.

But, first of all, this is a New Year story: January 1, 2017

By Rosanna Albertini       A wall of a Los Angeles art gallery,* a few months ago, asked an artist to liberate his body from the white flatness between floor and ceiling. Nobody knew he had a body! An animal, hidden body. The more the artist opened up and moved out part of the geometrical forest of flat pieces of timber that keeps the wall steadily vertical, the more flexible the structure became, almost opening wings. The wooden surfaces became pieces of skin and bones pierced by nails, crying drops of glue, yellow tears but not like the gold the artist began to search for.

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As Ovid, and so many artists from the dawn of time, Sean Shim-Boyle made his fingers the magic tool able to unveil and amplify a structure already far from the natural trees she had been, covered with leaves, pushing roots into the ground.
“Scarcely had I swallowed the strange juices that I suddenly felt my heart trembling within me, and my whole being yearned with desire for another element. Unable long to stand against it, I cried aloud: ‘Farewell, O Earth, to which I shall never return!’” This was Glaucous, speeding from the surface of Ovid’s book, Metamorphosis, chapter XIII.

The golden goose as well could scream: ‘Farewell O Wall, let me fly to my artist.’

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And the artist changes an inanimate stiffness into a movable variety of organs. Although silent, the wooden limbs develop a language directed to the eyes, pages of a story made with textures, colors and cuts. They push feathers of course, always made of wood, to open our mind to the popular versions of metamorphosis like the ones told by an old aunt near the stove, or by the bed, to children ready to grab the thread of her words and sew it into their dreams. Close your eyes with them, dear reader. Your sense of reality could expand. You might wake up holding a goose with golden feathers like the Brothers Grimm story about Dummling, a simpleton who picked up the precious bird from the roots of a tree and collected the funniest group of thieves around the goose. Trying to steal the golden feathers, the thieves remained glued to the goose in an absurd carousel. Looking at them, the king’s daughter finally laughed and married the Dummling. Same laughter in Italy, where the tale didn’t bring golden feathers, only a fine goose. But magic! As soon as somebody tried to grab her, the beast screamed: ‘Quack Quack, stick to my back!’ Another carousel of stuck people made the sad princess laugh.

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No doubt Sean Shim Boyle felt in his own body a ‘power of transformation.’ Although The Golden Goose was supposed to be covered by something recalling a skin, the artist fell in love with the anatomical story. He gives us the pleasure to look at the inside of this sculpted body, and stop on his arbitrary ligaments. Back to physicality, veins in the panels, windows of connective tissues, spots of aging in flattened surfaces of bark. Changing colors. The signs of natural and artificial making are history and fairy tale at once. The gold is in the mind. His, mine, yours? Frankly, I couldn’t tell. Maybe it’s in the earth.
“A realm without perspective, a realm of sensuality and desire that gathers all into the lips’ uncertain space – uncertain because it straddles interior and exterior, self and other.
A space of fusion, of total osmosis.
A surface that envelops, that caresses the brain and the images that our thoughts produce.”
Giuseppe Penone, Branches of Thought, 2014

It’s a clear day, cold and without wind. Golden leaves are still on the trees in front of my window. I wish we could all laugh and mutate into our favorite imaginary body. Had this been possible we would have already started the journey. Instead, we start the day reading the New York Times.

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All the detail photos are by R.A.
*Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles
Italian Folktales, selected and retold by Italo Calvino, Translated by George Martin, Pantheon Books, New York, 1980
The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Pantheon Books, New York, 1944

WIDE EYES OPEN

WIDE EYES OPEN

— About and around a drawing and a panting by Steve Galloway —

By ROSANNA ALBERTINI

STEVE GALLOWAY, Big Plume, 2010  11" x 14" Charcoal on paper Courtesy of the artist

STEVE GALLOWAY, Big Plume, 2010,  11″ x 14″ Charcoal on paper
Courtesy of the artist

Think if the earth could open her eyes and look at us. Or breath out a plume of smoke that fills the air with a gigantic human shape. Which one is the language of god? Words or figures? The figments of imagination or the texture of grammatical meanings? I’m playing, not joking. There is mystery in both, in both we question what does it mean to be human, today.

A Los Angeles artist, a son of the desert (see Importance of Being Perplexed, in this blog), has expressed the letter as well as the mystery of our juxtaposed states of mind; he made them beauty. In these days, beauty has often become intolerable. Is it maybe for the connection she makes to life itself? The tangible thing soft like the green buds on a branch hatching under pressure, leaves and flowers that want to grow out of the brown skin, to bloom and change and push toward their seasonal death.

Steve Galloway is welcome! He can see the eclipse of a human arrogance disconnected from natural and artificial cathedrals, or climbing towers of books from which texts have vanished. Survivors are absent minded, sweet people of dreams. Some irony in his smile, the artist loves them. He knows they don’t give up searching and jumping into the hole of memory. Nor do they stop looking into the eyes of the earth as if their body could translate unheard signs better than the brain.

STEVE GALLOWAY,  Stack, 2012, 50" x 40"  Oil on canvas Courtesy of the artist

STEVE GALLOWAY, Stack, 2012, 50″ x 40″ Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist

Condensing a thought by George Steiner, I see numb humans deafened by the common nonsense of the news and the theories, confused by “political barbarism and technocratic servitude,” evicted by the core of humanity if they don’t try to experience, again and again, the living voice coming from texts, music, visual arts. A few of us believe that poems, music, paintings, sculptures, speak an essential idiom: the beauty of survival. What we have become, doesn’t matter.

Pressing the face on the ground we might better decipher — the idea of sculptor, Giuseppe Penone — earthly magic and art stories.

 

fino a quando la terra è piu fredda della faccia premuta

nel suolo si capisce in dettaglio la forma del volto,

della pelle, dei peli, … ma man mano che si scalda

la terra, nel pensiero diventa piu chiaro che il cervello è

la terra.” (GIUSEPPE PENONE)

when the ground is still cooler than the face pressed

into the soil one can grab in detail the shape of the face,

of the skin, of the hair, … but as soon as the ground warms up,

more and more the thinking is clear that the brain is

earth.” (GIUSEPPE PENONE)

GIUSEPPE PENONE: branches of thought and their quest for light

IN WORDS AND SCULPTURES

… leaves absorbing light / leaves of mirror / mirror of leaves /twisting pathways / obscure gravity / winding branches looking for light … (G.P.)

“A work that is a thought produced by action”

“A work whose content is the significance of its materials” (G.P.)

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle di foglie-sguardo, 2013  Bronze, gold, 98 x 70 x 30 inches  © Giuseppe Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.  Photo: Benjamin Lee Ritchee Handler

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle di foglie-sguardo, 2013 Bronze, gold, 98 x 70 x 30 inches
© Giuseppe Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.
Photo: Benjamin Lee Ritchee Handler

 

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle di foglie - 5 foglie a terra, 2011 Bronze, 113 x 75 x 39 inches @ Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Josh White

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle di foglie – 5 foglie a terra, 2011 Bronze, 113 x 75 x 39 inches
© Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Josh White

 

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle di foglie - sguardo, 2013 Bronze, gold, 97 x 87 x 43 inches @ Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Josh White

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle di foglie – sguardo, 2013 Bronze, gold, 97 x 87 x 43 inches
© Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Josh White

 

“….walking over human actions accumulated in the ground, I feel them

according to the steps I’m allowed to do.

I repeat the walk.

The earthly eyelid becomes evident, imprinted, precise;

there is the eye underneath vibrating, quivering.

I pick up the gestures I made on the ground and bring them, stretched,

on a wall not higher than my eye.” (G.P.)

 

Put your face on the ground:  “as the ground warms up, your thoughts are more and more aware that the ground (la terra) is the brain.” (G.P.)

 

SEDIMENTS FROM MY MEMORY    by     ROSANNA ALBERTINI

 1992, twelve years ago in Paris. Soft snakes of time were resting on a branch, one over the other, shaped by Penone’s fingers. Human and inhuman. I only had to close my eyes to see my own life contained in those simple forms of clay and wood. My thoughts fell on a piece of paper, and yet I never sent it to the Italian newspaper I was writing for.

Later in Turin. I met the man of the woods and gave him that sheet of paper, my crumpled leaf. We spent the afternoon walking from his studio to other artists’ houses, sitting at the kitchen table, talking, drinking coffee or wine. Sort of countryside life in the city.

Penone had been invited to San Diego to produce a ‘site specific’ work for Insite. “They don’t understand I am a sculptor, I can’t go,” – he tells me. “The first time I refused because my dogs need me.” “Bring the dogs,” they insisted.  “I can’t come because I have chickens.” It was the end of it. Today his sculptures are in Los Angeles, a one person exhibition at Gagosian Gallery.

Please reader, try to think Italian when you look at Penone’s art: tree in Italian is albero (male) and pianta (female). Branch is ramo, or la rama, always male and female. Earth, ground, is la terra. Our words are never neutral, neither is our thinking that is often dressed with natural images looking like metaphors but they are not. Skin, la pelle, is the wrapping form of any living entity, stones included. La pelle d’uovo, l’uovo di Colombo, and dried up humans stuck like sugar candies in their wishes for  branches of intellectual superiority.

Penone shows the lightness and power of our natural siblings with no fear: they can be freed by the layers of time as human cannot, the trees’ physical childhood can be exposed.

A sort of magical thinking is simply natural to those who grew up in the woods, animistic  or anthropomorphic. Words are a stop in time. The artist’s actions instead, excavating time out of the marble skin vein by vein, gives a voice to the reworked surface of the mountain, and many new faces. La pelle del monte. A piece of marble disseminated with eyes underneath the surface, and layers of organisms.

 

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle del monte, 2012 Carrara marble, 61 x 63 x 2 1/4 inches @ Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo

GIUSEPPE PENONE, Pelle del monte, 2012 Carrara marble, 61 x 63 x 2 1/4 inches
© Penone. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Douglas Parker Studio

 

When his face touches the ground, he can feel the space left for us by all those who passed and disappeared, and be one of the passers by, only in a different time. Time is his Titan, already kicked down by ancients gods and by the modern god: “Time is for his creatures, not for Him.”

Penone gives his living time to sculpted forms to whom he adds love, listening and veneration. He reveals them, does not change them. Such collaboration with natural forms, artificially replaced by more durable materials, bronze and gold for instance, or questioned  by the painstaking labor of carving, refills them with a sense of awe. We receive it; some gold leaves start shining in the hollow of our trunk. We might be trees, piante, arbusti, alberi…rame di corbezzolo. Why not?

Signs that change buildings

Rosanna Albertini about Fiona Connor

They look exactly like the ones stuck near the sidewalk. Yet they are something else. An artist made them anew and brought them into her small apartment: one has long legs, must lean on the wall. Others sit on contentment. Never, they had never seen a house from inside. Words painted on them get quiet, what for? The LIVING MODERN of Brighten Villas lies down on the floor replacing the bed. What? They are supposed to compete! And scream their message, and help make money. “See what happened in a New Zealand artist’s brain?” the naked pole mumbles. “She brought me here with all of you, all dressed up with colors, and I have none. Who am I?”

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Maybe the oceanic distance of the New Zealand islands from all inhabited lands molds people’s thoughts as it does with birds and trees. They also think on their own. Fiona Connor is from Aotearoa New Zealand, and is of British descent.

“And the bird arrived from the other side of the world

 its flight so tiring the sun was scared it would be eaten,

  the bird fell to my feet and I carried it to the sea 

and cut open its stomach full of stones. 

The stones are now my eyes, 

white like my mother’s hair.”

From Tagata Kapakiloi, Restless People, by John Puhiatau Pule

In Los Angeles, Fiona’s eyes, ears still carry the native stones. History’s clock slows down. She records and prints conversations from which the stones erased the talkers’ names. “I replicate already existing objects,” she says, “materials and forms from a not very far past, usually neglected, mostly not worth looking at: benches, steps, real estates signs.”

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FC     To best understand a building, in addition to approaching it from the outside you have to be inside and look out. It is dependent on the environment it sits within.

RA    Same with objects? You try to be inside them?

FC    So interesting to discover the varnish quality, history of materials, the time they were produced, by whom, as well as cultural history, the taste of a different time.

ANDRE GIDE    Infinite receptivity of matter – porosity. The immaterial world – with infinite complications – fights against the matter’s brute memory, inertia postponed, apparent docility, until the matter becomes completely impregnated with it, changed. Passivity stops when the matter is traversed by an idea. (My loyal, true alteration of a real text by Gide)

RA    Trees peeled off  by Giuseppe Penone to touch their marrow have the white charme of new born creatures. Your replicas are not a modified original, they only show the original look, usually quite ruined, they are illusions! Physical ghosts and objective demostrations at once. Aren’t you afraid of being completely absorbed by the objects you are observing?

Walking on the seashore, Fiona stops by a small pile of clothes admirably folded: shorts on the shoes on the shirt in an impermanent, vertical sculpture. She clicks her phone. She is not afraid. What her art brings up is a reversed magnet redirecting her and our attention. If you are patient enough, you can discover how in Claude Lévy-Strauss words:

CLAUDE LEVY-STRAUSS    The same mind which has abandoned itself to the experience becomes the theater of mental operations which, without suppressing the experience, nevertheless transform it into a model to release further mental operations. In the last analysis, the logical coherence of these mental operations is based on the sincerity and honesty of the person who can say, like the explorer bird of the fable, ‘I was there; such and such happened to me; you will believe you were there yourself,’ and who in fact succeeds in communicating that conviction.

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 Photos: Peter Kirby