Unexpected meaning in Edinburgh.
Maybe I’m supposed to feel a bit sick. Reading the heavily dense text of the Fruitmarket Gallery information leaflet, while standing in the ground floor room of the current exhibition is not advisable. In this solo show of work by Massimo Bartolini, the first work I encounter is La Stada di Sotto (The Street Below), which fills the room, physically covering the whole floor while illuminating the space with its multi-coloured lights that fade in and out, causing unease, and in my case a slight nausea.
This is one of those immersive installations, which is supposed to upset my perceptions. And it does. As the title suggests, looking down on this piece is like flying over a city at night, its motorways blinking with traffic and its offices still open. It speaks of a metropolis far away from quiet Edinburgh. The flashing lights are controlled by a voice coming from the video next door, as an old man recounts the story of the piece. It was made for festivities in Sicily, originally displayed outside on a wall (installed by the old man, Don Valentino), but here brought indoors and laid horizontally, ready to illuminate a much smaller space.
The work upstairs almost seems as if it is made by a different artist. Far from the flashing ‘look-at-me’ lights downstairs, this space is full of modest half-objects and framed nothings that do not immediately offer anything to the viewer. Yet there is intrigue here, something more to be worked out. Objects are confidently juxtaposed: a single chopstick stands beside a roughed-edged stone (Meeting); three blocks of wood are balanced on a dice (Sala F Souvenir); a handful of pearls are caught in an iron clamp (The Sheep Smile). I am reminded of André Breton’s Surrealist poem-objects, in which meanings are caught between the meetings of things. With Bartolini’s works we are left to contemplate chance, balance, texture and illusion, amongst these curiosities.
The objects are what Bartolini calls his ‘studioworks’, and displayed on a large surface, we get the feeling of a studio workbench, especially with the clamp of The Sheep Smile attached to the table’s edge. Some objects speak of the playful search for ideas that takes place in the studio, evidently with a certain lightness of touch in the case of Bartolini. In Cameo a crack in a piece of clay suggests the beginning of a woman’s profile, finished by the artist in a single line of paint, evoking Max Ernst’s use of woodgrain or decalcomania to suggest imagery in his paintings.
Some of the works bring a wry smile – photographs in Double Spread and My Fourth Homage Revisited show people standing up to their knees in soil with blank expressions on their faces, recalling Keith Arnatt’s Self Burial. In the latter of these two works the photograph is partially obscured by a miniature roller-coaster or marble-run in which several marbles are stuck mid-flow.
I glimpse a playful mind even if the exact meaning of this odd dichotomy is not immediately apparent. Sometimes the joke is clearer, as with an alabaster ‘paper’ aeroplane (Airplane), obviously too heavy to fly, or Chair, a simple modernist chair, also made of alabaster, on which sits a teasel, recalling the ‘don’t sit here’ mechanism of National Trust houses.
The studioworks somehow appeal more to me than the flashing cityscape that begins this exhibition, quieter and requiring more time to ‘undo’. But perhaps these two seemingly disparate halves are contrasted just as the stone and the chopstick are, to create unexpected meanings from unexpected meetings.
Massimo Bartolini, La strada di sotto (The Street Below), 2011, Courtesy the artist and Massimo de Carlo Gallery, Milan/London. Photograph: Mariangela Insana
Massimo Bartolini Meeting, 2011, Courtesy the artist and Massimo de Carlo Gallery, Milan/London. Photograph: Mariangela Insana
Massimo Bartolini The Sheep Smile, 2012, Courtesy the artist and Massimo de Carlo Gallery, Milan/London. Photograph: Mariangela Insana
Massimo Bartolini, Cameo 2008–12, Courtesy the artist and Massimo de Carlo Gallery, Milan/London. Photograph: Mariangela Insana
Massimo Bartolini Chair, 1997, Courtesy the artist and Massimo de Carlo Gallery, Milan/London. Photograph: Mariangela Insana