Die Dreaming: An Italian Artist Documents War-Torn Africa

You’re not alone if you feel vaguely disoriented when first looking at the artwork of—or when trying to understand how the various cultural aspects of his new installation, “Morir Soñando,” at West, all fit together. Breaking it down: Grimaldi is Italian, and works mostly in Milan, but the title of his new installation (translation: “Die Dreaming”) is in Spanish. His work partly documents real events in Sudan, where Grimaldi has long been involved with Emergency, a humanitarian NGO that provides emergency medical treatment to civilian victims of war-related acts. And his latest show is taking place at West, a gallery in The Hague, which will be the artist’s official debut in the Netherlands. Have all the background details straight? Then it’s time to move on to the work itself, which the gallery itself aptly describes as “ultra decorative” and “obscure.”
Indeed, “Morir Soñando” is not a straightforward installation with a clearly decipherable meaning. In 2009, the MAXXI Museum in Rome awarded Grimaldi €700,000 to create new work; he used part of the funds to help Emergency build a new hospital in Sudan, and approached the place like a photojournalist. But don’t expect pictures of smiling African children: “Morir Soñando” is melancholy and abstract.
The project takes over the various rooms of West, a gallery housed in a 17th-century townhouse, with works that bring together elements of industrial design, photography, film projection, and abstract art. The installation isn’t static, but dynamic, the images shift around the viewer and combine in different ways, both on concrete surfaces and through screens. Pairs of iPads morph digitally before your eyes, displaying views of Venice, abstract visions, and portraits, while images from the field in Sudan are shown in EMERGENCY’s Paediatric Centre in Port Sudan, Photos Shown on Two Apple iPad Air 2s (2014). Nearby, a sequence of 20 songs play on a loop from a shiny blue, larger-than-life sound system in October 2014 Playlist. Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the desperation that seeps through some of the Sudan imagery, maybe it’s the lack of daylight during winter in the Netherlands—but the effect is at once dark, unsettling, and thoroughly original, a testament to the author’s authentic experience in another culture.
—Bridget Gleeson
Morir Soñando” is on view at West, Den Haag, Dec. 13, 2014–Jan. 24, 2015.