Thinking Songs of Things – curated by Stefano Collicelli Cagol
Artists: Lawrence Abu Hamdan / Alessandro Agudio / Irma Blank / Ludovica Carbotta / Jason Dodge / Davide La Montagna / Renato Leotta / Ghislaine Leung / Elena Narbuitaite / Olve Sande / Adam Putnam / Vadim Zakharov
Thinking Songs of Things is an exhibition in the form of a poem. Poetry and exhibition-making are both made of certain times and spaces; illuminations and visions; breaths, sounds and silences, that complicate the traditional debate on the relationship between text and image. This is despite the fact that poetry is still embedded within the realm of literature, being associated with a textual dimension, while exhibition-making relies on the images being kept in the eyes of the beholder who enters a gallery, museum or, particularly, a white cube.
This generalisation, though, can be contested with various examples. For example, poetry has a long tradition of image and text standing together in a symbiotic relationship, such as the Greek technopaegna or the Latin carmina figurata (calligrams or acrostics). Then, later, with the interwar avant-gardes, typography entered the space of exhibition-making (one can think of Bauhaus experiments or El Lissitzky’s approach at Pressa, Cologne, 1928). Therefore, to pair poetry and exhibition-making together actively contrasts the already-tested boundaries between the linguistic and the iconic – further revealing how both relate to and depend on these relationships – with other elements that contribute to the production of a work and its reception.
This flexibility generates Thinking Songs of Things. A ‘poem-exhibition’, it puts forward the expanded field of debate on the relationship between images and text in contemporary art. Organised in parts and stanzas, Thinking Songs of Things is structured according to a recursive logic with works recalling other poems, works containing poems themselves, or within their own forms performing key aspects of poetry (such as temporality, sound, light or spatiality). The selected works of art change the space of the gallery, giving a specific rhythm to the poem.
The spatial setting of the gallery, characterised by a ground floor and a basement, further contributes to shaping the poem. The structure recalls one of the key topoi of poetry: the underworld, where the logic of things on the earth’s surface is reversed, and its mysteries are partially revealed. Akin to Orpheus, Dante or Aeneas, visitors are invited to perform this journey of initiation.
The works selected refer on the one hand to a chaotic, sensual and excessive level of communication that has been reached today, where images seem to overcome text and both are often an expression of a digital code. On the other hand, they seem to respond to this excess through a process of formal reduction, adopting what could be defined as a ‘baroque minimalist’ approach.
Finally, Thinking Songs of Things pays homage to Cuban author José Lezama Lima (1910–76) – the title a quote taken from his masterpiece ‘Paradiso’, a poem in the form of a novel. It is an invitation for each visitor to uniquely blend images, text, breaths, illuminations, silences, sounds and meanings not only as they are in poetry, but also in contemporary art and the considered form of an exhibition.