One of the most famous and entertaining scenes of the animated film The sword in the stone (1) is undoubtedly the magic duel between Merlin and Madam Mim. The challenge is characterized by numerous transformations into different animals, until the moment Madam Mim, cheating on the rules they had set, turns into a giant purple dragon, captures Merlin – then a small mouse – and thinks she has won that way. But as she opens her hands she sees he has vanished. Will he be dead? No, he has just gotten small, so tiny that he is invisible, microscopic, and precisely this minimally reduced size changes the fate of the battle: “I am a germ…I am called malignalitaloptereosis, and you’ve caught me, Mim!”.
In a time of a pandemic, Merlin’s brilliant idea lets us reflect in a different, perhaps less easy-going way, and so it strikes even more that Alberto Tadiello chose this title -Malaclipticoptirosi- (malignalitaloptereosis) for his first personal exhibition after the lock-down, in which he brings together a corpus of works he has created throughout this peculiar 2020. The artist chose a very precise m.o.: he only worked with what he had at disposal in his atelier (2), with elements, notes, materials at hand, without being able/wanting to add anything else. Very strict ethics, as he defines it himself, making reference to a mountaineering metaphor: “in the mountains, on a rock wall, when there is little to nothing at hand, you need to look for the easier path, which is obviously not easy at all! But this principle forces you to move according to a logic that lets you save your energies, that is sharp and tends towards the dream of succeeding, with a flawless technique, under a privative sign, while you remain fully aware of your own vulnerability”.
The result of this methodology is a seemingly leaner aesthetic, reflecting on the forms and forces underlying artistic practice, in which all the works share a common feature: they revolve around an empty centre. At the centre of the spaces, of the mouths, of the domes, of the parabolas, there seems to be nothing. And yet this emptiness, this absence, has a very strong plastic, almost sculptural value, which in the space of the exhibition is occupied by the physical presence of the cables, which bring the works closer together and almost pull and connect them to each other.
On the walls is the triptych Ossicodone (2020), made on panels of pressed chipboard on which concentric faces have been carved, engraved, eroded and insisted upon, in a sort of “synaesthetic circle” – as the artist himself defines it – mixing eyes, mouths, and nostrils (3). In this tumultuous vortex, physiognomic features are no longer distinguishable, the faces become masks of astonishment, animal heads, almost swallowing the viewer. The works are made with coloured pencils, oil pastels, lipsticks, waxes, charcoals, graphite, ash, impregnating agent, in short everything within the artist’s reach in his studio and useful for this powerful, performative and at times violent physical action of repeated superimposition of the same drawing. I see these works as a continuation or natural evolution of the Inoculati cycle, which was first presented at MAMbo in Bologna in 2018 (4), in which the large panels were occupied by a single face, each with the same mechanical repetitiveness, obstinacy of signs, perpetuation of a hollow and profound obsession. In 2018 Alberto Tadiello described them as follows: “they are large, dismayed faces, hollowed-out mouths like funnels full of sound, hissing and roaring. They are feverish, terroristic expressions, in a play of clockwise and anticlockwise, centrifugal and centripetal forces. There is also a great physical investment in the creation of these panels; you can read it with your eyes when you see the pressure of the lines, the erosion of the colours. They are efforts born under the sign of an imperious necessity, all performed in one month after almost three years of research.”. Some of the visual and mnemonic references underlying these works are “Ulisse Aldovrand’s monsters” (5), Johann Jacob Scheuchzer’s alpine creatures (6), the fixed gaze of nocturnal birds of prey, I superimposed wagons of metropolitan faces, studied hallucinations and migraines. They are portraits that mimic the whirling trajectories of atomic particles in nuclear fusion and fission, recall the spinning manoeuvres of drones, and echo the daily profusion of emoticons on mobile phone displays. There is something cannibalistic, erotic, dirty about them. Like gargoyles, they have a great power of spatial prominence, of spirited intrusiveness. I like to think that the centre of the image is actually a great void, a great fear…”.
I have always thought of this production as of a development of the studies on sound Alberto Tadiello has been devoting himself for a long time, in particular I am thinking of his experiments on the obsessive superimposition of the same sound file over and over again, where each time the departure is delayed just by few tenths of seconds. The general sense of the track does not get lost, but a state of trembling, vibration, out of focus creeps in. The effect is that of an accelerated, grainy, vaguely hypnotic ageing process (7). An intact physiognomy of the piece remains, but a singular rumble is established, like a fugue, a resonance. In the wall sculptures Blind #1 and Blind #2 (2020) these characteristics are evident: they are heads, elementary nervous systems, apparatuses that reverberate sound and light. The sound is a syncopated croaking of several voices, sampled from the calls of tree frogs, which come out of the gaping mouths of completely blind heads. To quote one of the artist’s visual suggestions: “I can’t help thinking of Bruegel’s The Parable of the Blind I saw at the Capodimonte Museum. You know how the character on the right nails you, the one who stubbornly seems to be staring at the viewer? It’s a nightmare that’s hard to forget”.
The first work by Alberto Tadiello I encountered dates back many years, it was USB (2007) (8), a sound installation which, through electronic equipment, allowed for the transfer into sound of the continuous electrical impulse coming from the sap flowing through the trees. The work made audible the sound of the sap inside the birch trees in the park in front of the museum; I like to think that this tension, this continuous auscultation, was never interrupted, and through works such as Inoculati and Ossicodone it has continued its productive flow and keeps on amazing and frigthening like a small insignificant germ that is able to tame a great purple dragon.
(1) The Sword in the Stone is an animated film from 1963, directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, produced by Walt Disney, and distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
(2) Since 2015 the artist has based his atelier in the province of Belluno, in a former bakery at the foot of the Dolomites
(3) Two pieces from this tryptych were previously presented at Museo Burel in Belluno for exhibition Diversi, curated by Daniela Zangrando, 12 June – 1 August 2020
(4) The cycle belonged to the exhibition That’s IT! Sull’ultima generazione di artisti in Italia e a un metro e ottanta dal confine, curated by Lorenzo Balbi, MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna in Bologna, 22 June 2018 – 6 January 2019. One of the tables Inoculati cycle, now belonging in the permanent collection of MAMbo thanks to the support of Philip Morris Italy to the Biennale doutdo is currently exhibited in the section Officina d’Arte Italiana.
(5) The Bologna naturalist and a botanist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), wrote one of the most famous illustrated texts about monsters: the Monstrorum Historia, published posthumously in 1642
(6) Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (Zurich, 1672 – 1733) was a Swiss naturalist and physician, well-known for his interpretations of fossils, which he considered a legagy of the Universal Deluge
(7) In particular, with reference to this research, see the series EPROM (2008), presented in 2010 at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo within T2 – Torino Triennale. 50 lune di Saturno, curated by Daniel Birnbaum, 17 October – 5 November 2010
(8) The piece, currently at the Verona Collezione AGI, was created and presented for the exhibition Silenzio. Una mostra da ascoltare, curated by Francesco Bonami, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, 1 June – 23 September 2007
Lorenzo Balbi, Malaclipticoptirosi, Wien 2021. (catalogue of the exhibition)