In the dim location of Manifattura Tabacchi, a diverse variety of imaginary beings are looking at pale images projected onto wide screens as the public silently walks by. These alien beholders repeat the practice mentioned by John Berger in his The Ways of Seeing: the creatures watch themselves being looked at.
At the opening of the latest exhibition by Michele Gabriele,The Vernal Age of Miry Mirrors, hosted by NAM and curated by Treti Galaxie, the editorial staff of I’M Firenze Digest had the opportunity to interview the Italian artist about his latest creations, his appreciation of the cinematic medium, and how we behave in front of an artwork.
By Giulia Piceni. Cover Image: Michele Gabriele, I’m sitting here on the ground so I’ll remember it as a nice atmosphere or The difficulties of a form to move away from the stereotypes it evokes, 2021-2022. Courtesy of the artist and NAM – Not A Museum. Photo: Flavio Pescatori
I’MF: At the exhibition entrance, a panel charmed the viewer’s attention with the question: “What is the relationship between finished work and the flow of “pre-work” images?” Did this project help you answer this question, or did it generate more doubts?
MG: I have always believed that an artwork should ask questions rather than give answers. Yet, when I understand the meaning of these questions, even when I do not try to answer them, I always find myself with fewer doubts than before. Probably because by dismantling certainties and shifting from my comfort zone, I feel closer and closer to understanding the vastness and complexity of existence.
I’MF: In the exhibition, the presence of contrasting elements was tangible: the concrete (sculpture) and the abstract (videos and sounds). The videos featured a mix of cinematic and oneiric allure. Could you tell us about their role in the show?
MG: The role of the videos in the exhibition is multiple: on the one hand, they provide a common background for us as viewers and for the sculptures; they emphasise a possible empathic relationship between us and the sculptures as that is what we have in common with them.They become the exhibition environment, both container and content, suggesting a direction and a rhythm.
In addition, the videos want to show an idea of an uncertain landscape, a place, a liminal space halfway between what we want and what we miss and what disappears from our memory slowly and inevitably.
I was interested in the landscape in terms of how it is used as a narrative and informative element in movies (especially science fiction movies). That is also why I wanted to refer to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and mix it with my tribute to the Italian painters of vedute, which is very relatable to me.
I’MF: The sculptures had a strong cinematic feel to them as well. With their alien bodies and earthly colours, they look as if they came out of an early 1980s sci-fi movie like E.T. Can you tell us more about your influences?
MG: As they are a hypothesis of what might happen to any form when it is observed, they contain all the negligible and inconsiderable details that we might find ourselves noticing as we scan a subject in our quest to express an opinion (rather than understanding it) as quickly as possible.
I have mixed some of the imagery I referred to in my past works and what I think might be the stereotype I am compared to.
In particular, I have tried to refer to all the aesthetic spheres of literary and cinematic genres that might come to mind, ranging from adventure to fantasy to historical to science fiction and horror, and always guided by what seemed to be the silent desire of the sculpture itself.
I’MF: Using your alien characters as spectators of the videos, this exhibition seems to investigate how we behave as observers in front of an artwork. Which were the uncommon or unexpected ways you’ve seen people approach your art?
MG: I call them forms or sculptures: these are born out of a kind of nostalgia for the “human landscape” I have become accustomed to over the years, with the uncertainties and social anxiety and discomfort. People who can remind me of who I was and who I still am.
Sometimes, I imagine viewers who are surprised at a certain point to discover that they are similar to one of the sculptures on display.
But this is a utopian desire of mine, almost the subject of a hypothetical movie, or an excuse to talk and try to better understand the distance between the work and the spatulas, the space in which each work lives.
Actually, I have no idea how the spectators positioned themselves in relation to the works. I haven’t even seen them, because I only entered the exhibition once to accompany my parents on the opening day.
It is important for me to provide this opportunity, but I am not one of those artists who looks at the world from above or from outside. I look at the world from the inside while looking at myself from the outside.
Michele Gabriele is an Italian artist. He lives and works in Milan.
Giulia Piceni is an undergraduate student in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.