From 9 November 2006 the Merz Foundation presents Tanatosi [Thanatosis], a project by the artist Marzia Migliora, curated by Beatrice Merz.
Six works, of installation and video, conceived specifically by the artist for the space in the Foundation, create a path that unwinds among the works by Mario Merz.
Perception is the guiding thread, and the use of all our senses becomes the unit of measure and the instrument for relating with the external world.
The artist develops this theme into a wider discourse, reflecting in particular on the state of blindness. This becomes a metaphor for fears which cannot be seen or touched but which are such ‘solid’ presences that the perception of reality is altered.
This cycle of works attempts to stimulate the seeing spectator to look not only by means of his eyes but also, for example, by creating a tactile relationship with objects or by listening to the sound that is refracted in space.
The artist gets the sighted person to put himself in the shoes of the person who cannot see, and gives the unsighted person various useful instruments for enjoying an exhibition of contemporary art.
Touching, looking, listening, counting… like an exercise that results from experience.
The video cartoon Anomma (no eyes) was inspired by reading Blindness by Josè Saramago, in which the Portuguese author imagines an epidemic of blindness progressively hitting a city.
Saramago describes a blind person walking in an unfamiliar place, his arms stretched before him and his fingers moving like insect antennae; sight is replaced by touch.
So in the video hands move haphazardly in an attempt to get their bearing, ready to react to every obstacle; slowly they change into the antennae of an ant of the Anomma Nigricans species, whose females are blind.
From a technical point of view the video evolves in a constant metamorphosis of drawings, which recalls certain mimetic behavioural patterns of animals and insects. In situations of danger they change state, becoming completely immobile (thanatosis) in front of their aggressor. This is an act of protective adaptation and an instinctive phenomenon of self-preservation.
Mi appoggio a te? [May I Lean on You?] is an installation made up of a series of white sticks for the blind, symbols that identify a sensory limitation as well as being a guiding instrument.
Te work is a metaphor of the relationship with the other, in which the artist highlights how much lack and loss make us more needy of help and more fragile.
In the basement, nine light boxes entitled Test optometrico [Optometric Tests] show quotes about visual perception. The size of the letters follows the criteria of optometric tests for measuring sight; the progressive reduction in letter size makes the spectator confront his own visual limits. In the darkness of the room a voice comes to the visitor’s aid – not only that of the blind – guiding his spatial orientation.
On the walls of the stairs leading to the first floor is a work entitled Il vuoto ad ogni gradino [A Void at Every Step], a piece of writing realised in steel tombstone lettering taken from a poem by Eugenio Montale, Ho sceso, dandoti il braccio, almeno un milione di scale…, which the writer had dedicated to his recently deceased blind wife.
Tanatosi [Thanatosis] follows, an installation made up of 600 photographed plaques. Getting closer to the work, seventy-two can be distinguished which bear the silk-screened names, both in Braille and in Latin characters, transparent and in relief, of thirty-six phobias. These phobias have been chosen in relation to the organs in which the principal receptors are sited. They are therefore divided into five categories: sight, sound, hearing, smell and taste.
Brought to the same state, both the sighted and the non-sighted read the words purely through touch.
The project is an opportunity for beginning to talk about how blind people can enjoy museum spaces and for initiating research on this important subject.
Among the projects conceived by the artist, there are also three tactile maps that correspond to the exhibition spaces of the floors of the building; the Fondazione Merz has decided to adopt them on a permanent basis.
This work is entitled Misurazione anti-ottica dello spazio [Anti-Optical Measuring of Space] and aims to highlight how the non-sighted person elaborates information about the space around him, creating a direct physical relationship with objects that the sighted person often does not develop.
Te use of one’s body as a measuring instrument is the most common strategy used by the blind to find their way with the objective of building up a mental map of tactile images. The artist thus chooses to calculate the space of the Foundation through her own body; in the map, the unit of metric measurement is replaced by that of her steps.
An artist’s book, published by Hopefulmonster, accompanies the project, recounting the stages of the exhibition through relief drawings and texts in Braille: a further instrument for making the works accessible to the non-sighted.
Teh book also includes the photographic documentation of the exhibition, together with a text by Jerome Sans, artistic director of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Great Britain.