Reaction to space in time by means of art is the formula of 1+1+1, the exhibition format invented by Elena Quarestani, who invites three authors to cross paths with each other and with the history and identity of a factory transformed into a cultural laboratory.
But beyond the initial idea of asking an architect, a designer and an artist to make three original installations, the creative process has taken some inner, autonomous paths, in which I can be a witness and narrator, and only in some cases a prompter. Each author has applied his or her research to the space, but has also had to respect its structural constraints, its formal ambushes, through procedural but above all dialectic intentions triggered in the interaction between history and identity, on one side, and poetics and research on the other. The protagonists of this iteration are the American architect Johanna Grawunder, the Swiss designer Christoph Hefti, and the English painter of Polish origin Antoni Malinowski.
ASSAB ONE is not a neutral place, not a reticent space. It is a memory that can be activated, a theatre that can be turned on. This has promptly been understood by the three authors, who have intervened with their works without shying away from the tradition and the imaginary ASSAB ONE brings with it. Grawunder comes to terms with its scale, creating full and empty zones of a pathway through light; the inner perimeter has captured Malinowski, guiding the perception of his painting amidst fields and projections; Hefti, on the other hand, invades the place with a surreal bivouac full of materic stimuli. Natural actions that happen without calling on metaphor, simply entering into the history of a site that continues to experiment with the languages of visual culture.
Johanna Grawunder constructs a void to reflect on the excess of flows and signs in our time. As an architect, she cannot help but attempt to design a solution to this personal and common urgency. Nevertheless, the act of subtraction is in any case an addition, a tangible experience, an immersion in the darkness that is interrupted by two large luminous installations: two spaces to cross, two zones in which to come to grips with the work of art, two epicentres to pass through, where the starting point and the destination are not clear. Even more so, because in the middle there is a great gap, the void that is a strongly desired necessity. The pause between the moments of this itinerary is in fact a reminder of the spaces of existence, the recovery of time, the distance from things, the recouping of a healthy solitude in the scale of values to be reset in order to combat the extreme social milieu to which we are subjected and inured.
Alone Together is the title chosen by Grawunder for this constellation of elements. Inside, Let’s Get Lost, la suspended space in magenta-coloured wood and black lights, and Mandala, the plastic and luminous representation of the universe in Hindu and Buddhist culture, both sculpt the space. Grawunder follows the notes of the syncopated jazz of Chet Baker, a style based on improvisation and counterpoint, not on the unison of musical phrases.
Antoni Malinowski orchestrates an intervention on architectural spaces, a new chapter of his research on the physical and metaphysical dimension of light. The sensitivity and reaction to light typical of his paintings are prompted by a mixture of pigments and nanotechnologies that alter the wavelengths of the visual spectrum of the human eye. The interaction of space, light – both natural and projected – and colour forms the core of the research the artist has conducted over time to investigate the dynamic relationship between pictorial space and designed space. This practice takes the form of wall paintings and works of large size. Malinowski observes the light of a place, distilling its genius loci and creating an interdependency of the immaterial nature of colour, movement and matter. The artist multiplies and changes the visual stimuli of the work, boosting the visual appeal, and above all encouraging prolonged viewing where time creates unity.
In the series of paintings Malinowski presents at ASSAB ONE there is a diptych based on a work from 1476 by Francesco Botticini. The Assumption of the Virgin can be seen at the National Gallery in London, and depicts the architecture of heaven as an order suspended over the Tuscan landscape. Malinowski creates a diptych that is not only a deconstructed inversion in space of that specific subject, but is also made with a painterly gesture totally bent on the creation of chromatic effects triggered by the refrections of the context. The concept of Almost seen – chosen by Malinowski as the title of the show – returns in the titles of the paintings, even slightly altered in Penumbra-Reflected, Almost described – caput mortuum, Also almost seen and is expressed in the dissolved, implied subject. The suspension, porousness, the passage from state to state, the suggestion of the skies of Tiepolo and Venetian atmospheres profoundly linked to the cinema experience of Death in Venice by Luchino Visconti, surface in the painter’s memory, marking his imaginary world and coming to life in his works.
Christoph Hefti uses material culture and craftsmanship to create a visual landscape made of objects. His background as a designer of fabrics active in the world of fashion emerges in a multisensory theatrical installation. At ASSAB ONE he sets up a surreal scene where rugs, ceramics and signs become opportunities for striking encounters between the author’s fantasy and the visitor’s reaction. The space is a visual, tactile and aural archipelago full of impressions, where the narration of human and animal figures is suggested because the experience is completed in the navigation of the space. Hefti brings his production catalogue into the show, almost entirely focused on the contemporary reinterpretation of traditional methods, from the hand-knotting of carpets in Nepal to the culture of Flemish pottery. A field of experiences with clear spiritual and oneiric overtones.
The installation That horse, slamming doors relies on different media because he is accustomed to using them in his professional work as a designer. Here, however, he removes them from their context and the relationship that connects them is based on the desire to create an immersive, surprising work. Hefti’s mise en scène is a trap for dreamers, a welcoming space that encourages you to linger, to rest, to reawaken an imagination all too often dormant or even atrophied. Hefti is a commuter of creativity, between Zurich and Brussels, by way of Paris and Stockholm. Travel and the traditions of these places, where he experiments with materials and practices crafts, represent an explosive expressive background for him. An action that reminds us of the Cabaret Voltaire in its forms, and of Surrealism in its references. An activity that reflects the inner energy of its maker, and his habit of transforming it into performance.
The architect, painter and designer are the authors of a trilogy that starts from their research to create new works and to take part in the choral history of ASSAB ONE, writing a story in which the arts conquer space.