Mario Merz. Time is Mute
extended to 30 August 2020
Palacio de Velazquez, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
a cura di Manuel Borja-Villel and Teresa Velázquez
Mario Merz’s retrospective will deepen into the drifts and threads of an oeuvre that stood up against the current by stressing prehistoric time as understood outside history’s teleological discourse in the modern episteme. This anachronistic perspective, evident in the choice of materials and iconography, echoed also the Italian political and intellectual context during the 60s and 70s, bringing into light Merz’s political commitment, as well as his antagonism to the penetration of American lifestyle and capitalism around the globe.
A constellation of works related to the critic of capitalism and postindustrial society identify Merz’s questioning of the established models of discourse through a pre-modern and diachronic imaginary of forms derived from the mythical and the geological: the igloo, the table, the spiral, the river, the ancestral animals (rhinoceros, crocodile, etc.) together with the use of organic materials (clay, branches, wax, charcoal, etc.) and particular associations such as fire-ray-arrow-neon and the idea of the nomadic are implicit in models of life, subsistence and adaptation that have evolved with certain independence, embodying recognizable forms of resistance. In this sense, the search of the mythical differs in Merz from other routes taken by his contemporaries in his articulation of a critic of modernity in that his archaism has nothing to do with the melancholic longing of the past. On the contrary, Merz’s appealing to a language of morphologies and modes of representation that are both literal and evidently exposed prove to have an specific extra-artistic potential to undermine the illusion of representation.
Merz’s use of precarious materials (letters, food wrappings, etc) originated during his imprison in 1945 when he militated in the antifascist resistance group Giustizia e Libertá. His political concerns unfolded early in aesthetic terms giving shape to some of his crucial works. Igloo di Giap; Che fare? and Solitario solidale, ensued from the events of 68, as well as the political and philosophical ideas that, particularly in Italy, modified the classical conception of Marxism regarding the role of the intellectual as a revolutionary subject.
In Sciopero Generale azione politica relativa proclamata relativamente all’arte (1970) Merz seems to call attention to the way the individual contributes to the social body and also to the idea of action network that sprung forth Operaism and Autonomism. Later on, the sequential flux as an expression of a spontaneous energy in both biological and social life will be recurrent in Merz’s investigations through his Fibonacci series. Precisely, the forms of the subjectivity and social body were a point of connection between the political stance of Operaism and Merz’s aesthetic explorations. Even though Antonio Negri has been skeptic about the relations of Povera artists with the workers movement and the reality of the factories, it is clear that some of Merz’s Fibonacci installations in photography and neon are eloquent metaphors that poeticize the multiplicity principle, as well as the emergence of a contagious element mobilizing the spread of a revolt. An example of this being Fibonacci Napoli (Fabbrica a San Giovanni a Teduccio (1972) in which successive shots taken in the cafeteria of a factory in Naples show the progressive growth of the multitude from an individual to the collectivity.
The ideological and hegemonic exclusion in the colonial system that shaped modern world is also an issue to which Merz devoted some works. The statement Pittore in Africa is referred to in some pieces from the 80s in which a text in neon replaces any exotic image of otherness. The bison, tiger, crocodile or zebra do not emerge from the tradition of the colonial traveling album. His is a practice where the critique towards Occident has the waste stone of modernism and the European vanguards of the beginning of 20th Century. In Merz’s work there is no search for new fictions to nourish the ethnographic desire. His conception of the social space and the function of the artist as a political subject entail the idea of a unique experience of the present in historical time related to the world around and within the intimate scale of the local context, where daily life may bring about a community of affections that ultimately refers to an anthropological space.