REVIEW: AGAINandAGAINandAGAINand at MAMbo, Bologna

At present – not sure if you know – I am attending a curatorial course in Venice and I am constantly entering in contact with the process of organizing exhibitions that make sense. It may seem banal and obvious, but finding the right concept for an exhibition – a concept that works, that is not too straightforward but not even too inexplicable, that has (almost) never been explored before – is SO complicated. 

Especially then when you have to find artists that answer and reinterpret that same concept…….

At MAMbo, however, the exhibition AGAINandAGAINandAGAINand has not fallen into this problem: the concept and artists are in perfect harmony, and they make this whole process look easy when it definitely is not. 

Ragnar Kjartansson, Bonjour, 2015, performed as part of Seul celui qui connaît le désir at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. 21 November 2015 to 10 January 2016, daily for 12 hour, photo Justine Emard, courtesy the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik

Even the theme of the exhibition is not as straightforward as one would expect: the concept of time is not approached from a standard viewpoint –  probably because it has been explored in more than a million exhibitions, first of all in Marclay’s The Clock, the 24h-long, looping video, shown at Tate two years ago. The choice to, instead, focus on the theme of the loop, of repetition and cyclicity in contemporary times and to explore these themes considering differentiated perspectives such as sociology, philosophy, religion and ecology, grants the exhibition a whole new intensity.

Apostolos Georgiou, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 230 x 230 cm, courtesy the artist and Rodeo, London/Piraeus

Another factor to appreciate is surely the choice to include works that involve literally every artistic medium you can think of: the first room, before entering the Ciminiere, displays a group of paintings produced by the Greek artist Apostolos Georgiou (1952), who depicts men and women in domestic and work environments. Through his squared and pronounced brush strokes, he underlines the exasperation of the middle-class, forced to continuously repeat the same, alienating working tasks.

As soon as you step out of that room, you get immediately absorbed by the huge installation that is probably the most iconic of the whole exhibition: Ragnar Kjartansson’s (1976) looping performance, Bonjour (2015), is a five minutes scene where a man and a woman briefly meet outside their doorsteps. The installation, that includes two perfectly reproduced Parisian houses from the 50s where the protagonists live, fills the entire space and frames the area where the whole scene takes place. This continuous repetition of the same movements, the same pronounced words, create expectation even in those viewers who have already seen the scene. 

Bonjour, 2015, installation view at MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, 2020, Photo Gabriele Lepri, courtesy the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York e / and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Cally Spooner, DRAG DRAG SOLO, 2016, single-channel projection on suspended transparent room dividing screen, without sound, Installation view at MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, 2020, photo Enrico Parrinello, courtesy the artist, gb agency, Paris and ZERO…, Milan

Two videos occupy the rest of the space in the Ciminiere: the first is a looping video by Cally Spooner (1983) titled DRAG DRAG SOLO (2016). The short video displays a choreography the artist conceived for a performance based on the free reinterpretation of movements taken from sport, romantic movies and team building exercises. The video is proposed in the exhibition as a way of exploring the upheaval of time in the contemporary era: it exists not only as documentation, but also as the display of a performance that, in its continuous repetition, destabilizes the predefined order of time. The second video, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (1970), is titled A Letter to Uncle Boonme (2009). In opposition with the other works, the artist chose to explore the concept of reincarnation through the story of Boonme, an imaginary man from the north-west of Thailand who has the capacity of remembering and telling stories about his previous lives. 

Fish, 2020, dried rudd, cadmium, installation view at MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, 2020, Photo Enrico Parrinello
Courtesy the artist and Galleria Umberto di Marino, Naples

The path of the exhibition continues with the two last installations: Luca Francesconi (1979) interprets the theme of time through the lens of agriculture and rural life. His practice highlights how, because of agriculture, man has had for the first time the chance and necessity to take time into consideration. A group of sculptures made of iron, including fruit and vegetables, are exhibited, together with a group of fishes which are all presenting different and specific moments of its biological transformation. 

The last work – my personal favourite, of course always save the best for last – is a three-channel video by that amazing video artist called Ed Atkins (1982). I had been struck by his works exhibited at the past Venice Biennale and you cannot imagine my level of happiness when I found out he was going to have a work shown in Bologna. The video, Safe Conduct (2016), meets every typical characteristic of Atkins’ videos: the avatar of the artist finds itself in a deserted airport check in area, where his organs, together with other random objects connected to death and violence, are inspected on the conveyor belt. The increasingly loud music accentuates the drama of the moment, culminating in a strong sense of anguish and distress. 

Ed Atkins, Safe Conduct, 2016 (video still), 3 channel video with sound, courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London, collection Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

Personally, the works exhibited are perfectly coherent with the theme explored – maybe even too perfectly, to the point that everything is possibly too immediate. Despite the fact that Kjartansson’s work surely gains more attention from the visitors because of the sense of surprise it provokes, the whole exhibition is not to be missed………. also because it is one of the few occasions to see a video by Ed Atkins!

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