The Obsession of Existence:
the Films Art of Maurizio Pellegrin between Comedy and Conceptual Seriousness
in “La Nuova Venezia"
Venice, November 2nd, 2005
This September I was one of the thousands of people who visited the Palazzo Ducale in Venice every day. Immersed in the great serpentine that winds itself through path of rooms, I stopped myself, with a thick group of curious, bored or perplexed visitors, to observe an anomalous situation for the context in which it was in. In the Sala dei Cuoi, with an armoire serving as a projection screen positioned at the end of the room, an image of a Chinese man alternated winking, rousing a prudent laugh, with gazing straight at the spectator, which transmitted slight embarrassment and disappointment.
It isn’t easy to understand who this gaze is referring to, even if it’s looks straight at us, and the alternation of his ghost-like glance with his more grotesque than ridiculous gestures, restrains those first laughs from my occasional companions.
It is one of the works that Maurizio Pellegrin, artist who lives and works between New York and Venice, has disseminated in the spaces of the Venetian Museums, connected to the exhibition Isole, on display until November 6th.
This film, It was an Impossible Love, is linked to the installation in the adjacent room that speaks of the woman who this Chinese man loves. They are both dead, bound to the same space that they shared in different times. The man, Pellegrin explains to us in different materials in the exhibition, is waiting to be reincarnated, while she is still in a state of impermanence. This and another two films present in Isole,
as well as the series Chi vuole morire per l’arte? (on exhibit until November 5th at the Galleria Trieste Contemporanea), speak to us of the obsession of existence.
They are all autobiographical films, because it is Pellegrin himself, acting in differing roles, who is put in front of the state of existence, the perception of existence, the action of existence. The poor Chinese man, forced into the role of lover, is not able to do anything else but react, through his tics, to the frustration of a missing existence. The corpulent man in I’m here still young who is won by his physique until rolling on the ground, continues to proclaim his wish – though impossible – through a program of decisive future changes for himself and for the entire world, among the laughter of the public – which is always us, ready to mock those who are trying to do something different, something that they believe in.
In On and Off the artist presents himself with a long paper nose and by moving his head, he measures these new confines, the limits of his body as his task.
The images are projected inside the Venetian Arsenal, on the boiler of a boat – a place of work – accompanied by twenty meters of black cloth with hung lights that turn on and turn off, much like what happens in the film. The obsession of existence through our work, through the intermittence of our actions.
Pellegrin is a witty man and yet tremendously severe in his artistic work: the titles of the works do not accept any form of irony. But in his films, the identity so strong and so recognizable of his work takes another road, also recomposing itself through paradoxes that make us laugh. The artist sustains that it’s always the same journey, given that film is a medium, among many others, used to express his obsessions. The numbers, for example, which attribute a value to the energy that is deposited in some of the objects in his works, which the artist then recomposes according to new relationships, in his films are summed-up in the same person. The artist/actor has the task of sustaining the energy that is developed in the action in the film.
He can occupy the entire scene – the Chinese man, the corpulent man – or rather, substitute himself, using his face, to a protagonist of an already famous film. In one case, in Chi vuole morire per l’arte? he is the driver in Spielberg’s Duel, adding the memory of what you have already seen with the surprise of a new meaning.
In the film cycle Holidays in Venice he appears again, substituting only some parts – the eyes – to the protagonists, changing facial expressions, modifying its message, creating comedy in a surreal situation.
The film scenes that are chosen, or the new shots, belong to an imagery of lived things, as in the rest of his work. Languages through which they have already past – there isn’t any technological amazement, special effects or surprise rhythm of the montage – in order to support our recognition, the mare magnum that we are hardly capable of discerning and that constitutes the framework of our personal culture.