Anthony Marcellini’s exhibition Even a Perfect Crime Leaves a Trace draws on Göteborgs Konsthall’s exhibition history and confronts the viewer with art wherein the borders between fiction and reality can be blurred.
Art – the often grievous and dramatic epicentre of the artist’s world – slowly disappears beneath layers of fog in museums and galleries, places where it never truly belonged. As I walk around Göteborgs Konsthall, among all the junk – remains of earlier exhibitions offering resistance, demanding and encouraging my imagination – I shift between two images in my mind’s eye. In one, I am standing in the remains of a great feast to which I was invited but could not attend, and now, strangely enough, have been given the responsibility to clean up after. I am aware of all the voices, laughter, beauty, happiness, love, maybe anger and despair that live in these remains. In the other, I’m carefully feeling my way along in a graveyard, almost spiritually respectful in the midst of oblivion and death. I’ve read another review of this exhibition, which pointed to memory as the major theme. But I don’t think it’s based on memory. I’m more inclined to think that it is built on oblivion – we notice it, and search for it, but memory fails us, and we finally realise that we have forgotten.
What is an art museum without its art? An empty building with some leftover, hidden treasures? A modern-day Atlantis – distant, hard to classify, and highly unlikely even to exist? With an ancient and complex language and content. There is a culture that stands like a wall between in- and outside, between the museum and us. One of this exhibition’s most inspired elements is the transformation of this metaphorical wall into an actual, physical wall, which separates us from the art. Through two bricked-up doorways, we are forced to view the invited artists work through a couple of peepholes. Thus, we are only able to see parts of their work; a corner here, a line there – like indistinct fragments of memory; we intensely seek coherence, a whole.
The connection to Christian Boltanski (b. 1944) is clear in my mind. Possibly affected, maybe obvious. But Boltanski’s lifelong artistic achievements are chiefly concerned with the exploration of remains and relics. His pieces are – in ambition and often also in size – large monuments marked by history. On closer examination, however, his work is simple, maybe even banal, filled with empathy and, to some extent, sentimental. Just like Boltanski deals with collective pictures of identity, so does Marcellini. They use themes with simple messages, but because of the anonymous and collective nature of the shapes involved, relational frameworks are created, which serve as reminders of our common history; as individuals in a collective, we are able to move upwards – not just onwards – if we put things into relief and into relation.
An exhibition within the exhibition
What kind of heritage does this ninety year old building carry? What is left in its walls? What significance do the exhibited vestiges hold? In what way has Göteborgs Konsthall enriched art and influenced its visitors? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but it is exactly what Marcellini is trying to reveal and enhance for us. Unfortunately, the exhibition has an unnecessarily melodramatic title, implying that the exhibition is a crime scene of sorts; I can’t help but think that this is simply an attempt to attract more visitors by assigning them the role of the detective. Regardless, the title is of minor import when you understand the metaphysical superstructures that this intellectual experiment produces. In this exhibition – or should I say, display of philosophical, psychological, and maybe even political ruminations – the artist surpasses fiction and fantasy with reality. Partly, this is due to the ‘mystery’ element, which can form the basis of subjective experiences that fire the imagination, but mainly it is because he is unmasking the life and stories surrounding and behind these remains.
Marcellini is not expecting us to understand all the objects exhibited. On the contrary, I am inclined to think that this is one of the basic ideas underlying his art – we are not capable of deciphering the network of life on all its historical, psychological, and political levels. We are part of a collective, but simultaneously, unceasingly alone in our search for something or someone to cling on to. By using the remains of earlier exhibitions, Marcellini declares that it is not possible to revive these artefacts, but that they are with us – a constant murmur in the background. To my disappointment, he attempts to fit all the pieces together. He tries to lay a puzzle by arranging and shaping the objects, so that they resemble an ordinary exhibition. Instead, he should have thrown the myriad pieces of the exhibition on the floor, stood to one side, observed it and nodded: ‘There lies the scattered, collected work of those gone before!’ It is the gaps and leaps in time between the pieces that create continuity. But, like the title, this criticism is negligible, as there seems to be a need in him – and in me as well – for art wherein the borders between fiction and reality can be blurred, an alchemy where those borders are erased.
Life traces strange turns in these old and, until now, forgotten objects. You’ll find similarities and opposites here; you’ll find the living and the dead, healthy and ill, vegetarians and alcoholics, discreet and eccentric, subtle and grand artists. I am confronted with complex, hermetical works, as well as open, more accessible ones. These apparently different artists are nevertheless all children of the same community, and they talk about the same things, regardless of the different external conditions that prevailed at various times. Their art is a confrontation with themselves and their intimates, their troubled and unfair, yet fantastic and encouraging realities. These artists have represented their city and their nation, and they have come together – regardless of aesthetic values – in a shared perspective on reality. For they have all represented a minority, been exiled from the surrounding community from some point of view. But minorities have often had a clearer view of the reality of life than those in power, with their strategic mission of rationalism and economic values. These artists have all wanted to contribute and assign meaning to this mad world. And that has taken some considerable effort. Only to be forgotten.
Marcellini calls for introspection. He doesn’t draw attention to his person; it is the richness of the forgotten objects and our souls that spellbinds us. He asks himself – and us – what hidden treasures are housed in these rooms and our own minds. The spotlight points in several directions, even to us, as we stand in front of these pieces. It is a very attractive attitude to infinity. We are here until the very end. And then? We die and are forgotten. The living forget artists and their work. Until the day someone opens a door, pulls out a drawer, lifts a lid, or turns a frame to face the room. At least in the best of worlds. In Marcellini’s world. In my world. And so, he lends us hope, in a world where inner motives are forgotten, as the pressures of the outside world occupy so much of our minds.
But what about the actual exhibition then? Well, it’s a hodgepodge of installations, paintings, sound art, texts, photography, and the like. Go and see them and listen to the voice that speaks to you. I can, unfortunately, say no more. I have forgotten. But the forgotten lives within me – now in new, indistinct shapes.
Anthony Marcellini: Even a Perfect Crime Leaves a Trace
23rd January 2013 – 17th February 2013
Göteborgs Konsthall, Sweden