Shibboleth, delusion, and contemporary art in Bramante’s XVI century cloister.
Until 25th August 2019, contemporary dreams reside in an XVI century cloister. The Chiostro del Bramante, designed by High-Renaissance master Donato Bramante, plays host to Dream. Art meets dreams, an exhibition described as “A theme that becomes a journey, discovery, knowledge, emotion: the dream.”
Yet it’s more than just a dream. Dream is the final part of a trilogy dedicated to “the relationship between art and emotional states“, as pointed out by Riccardo Bianchini. The previously featured exhibitions were “focused on love (LOVE, Contemporary art meets amour, 2016), and enjoyment (ENJOY. Art meets amusement, 2017).” The choice of dreams as the third theme promised an attractive opportunity to highlight the issues of postmodernity, spirituality, and technology.
The dream is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the fetters of matter.
Dreams remain one of the last elements of life contained in the sphere of what’s enigmatic and magical. Adding some of the Freudian theory to the overall experience of the exhibition would definitely enhance the visitors’ experience.
But it’s tricky to find Freud in Dream (except for the bookshop).
It seems that Dream is not really about the dreams.
Dream is the representation of the idea of the dream, another dimension that transcends the physical nature of perception to enter the territory of emotion, of enchantment, of poetry.
Let’s give dreams a chance.
We start in the cloister. The audioguide is an essential part of the exhibition, as I am told while being handed in the ticket. But here comes the first surprise.
Instead of information on artists, spaces, or artworks, I’m listening to what seems to be a pretty amateur medium or a teenage fantasy/thriller novel. The audioguide is a set of unrelated stories, where female and male voices recall unrealistic adventures while being surprisingly into it.
Cool, but I would expect something more professional. The audioguide could be easily separated from the exhibition and neither would lose much of its contextualization.
We are inside the museum now. Darkness.
There’s a woman. Or, rather, a slow-motion video of a woman underwater. Bill Viola‘s Sharon (2013) is one of a series of underwater portraits of men and women. This audio-visual work (the movements of fabric and bubbles are accompanied by water-related sounds) illuminates the darkness.
The space adds a layer of anxiety to this well-curated piece. Darkness enhances the ambiance of intimacy. The pureness of the animation makes one question whether the screen is not a glass wall.
You cannot touch it. Without the physical touch, how can you know she’s an actual person being underwater on the other side of the window?
The elegance and peacefulness of a closed-eyed woman surrounded by water echo John Everett Millais’ Ophelia. The only difference is that now it’s a screen, not canvas.
This change of medium reflects the technological advancement, but also it breaks down the existence of a paradox of distance. Can you identify yourself with the woman on the screen?
She can be anyone, just like any Instagram user you could follow. She, just like digital users, are at the reach of your hand, but you cannot touch them. She is drowning in the digital layer, highlighting the absurdity of the screen distance.
None of these issues are mentioned in the audioguide or in the short description opposite to the artwork. Pity.
Thankfully, Sharon can speak for herself.
After swinging among many site-specific and decent works, there’s a major attraction. The only piece that was so engaging and not that original. The golden rain, or rather, the Instagram time.
Tsuyoshi Tane‘s LIGHT is TIME (2018), another site-specific work, is a set of very many gold coin-shaped discs hanging off transparent threads. The mirrors around the small corridor enhance the effect. The work is divided into two parts. You need to walk between them to get to the next part of the exhibition. After circa six to ten steps, the golden rain is left behind.
The shining star of the show was a room of glistening coin-like objects (…). No longer a new idea as much as it is a sure-fire hit.
Tane is a prized architect with a lot of compelling projects on the website with a manifesto of Archaeology of the Future. Why not pull down some of those strings instead of making the whole exhibition about inspiring selfies in the golden rain?
Not so long ago I wrote about how Instagram changes museums. Tane’s LIGHT is TIME is a perfect example. It is neither impressive with size nor with the originality. While I was alone in the entire rest of the museum, this part was almost constantly busy with other visitors and selfie-takers. A dream? Not really. It is just a cool picture opportunity for visitors #dream #chiostrodelbramante.
But here comes the hidden jewel of my Dream.
Ryoji Ikeda‘s data.tron [WUXGA version] (2011).
Another dark room (the pattern repeats; darkness in one of the major advantages of that exhibition). The wide wall opposite to the entrance is covered in the bright projection of images. The screen changes, first slowly, then it speeds up. Various data-related texts and numbers appear. There are several wide pillows on the floor which invite you to sit on them. Take a seat, the journey begins.
Ryoji Ikeda is a Japanese visual artist and leading electronic composer.
Ikeda came up with the concept and composition of data.tron [WUXGA version], while Shohei Matsukawa and Tomonaga Tokuyama took part in computer graphics and programming. Through collaboration, this immersive artwork was made.
Digitalization, automation, technology and its relation with humans. What’s the future of them? Is it utopia or dystopia? Are we there yet?
Experiencing the projection requires patience. Nonetheless, the fusion of repetition, speed, sound, text, darkness, and blinding blinking of the screen (a warning about that hung outside the room) are fascinating.
Ikeda’s work is hard to look away from, though I had to close my eyes at the end when the harsher bit started.
The lack of any self-explanation of Ikeda’s piece provokes to ask questions with no easy answers. Visually striking, simple yet effective.
I came in with some expectations, which turned out to be a mistake. Dream didn’t blow me away.
On the official website, Dream has been promoted as “an exhibition about desires, expectations, fantasies and exorcized fears.” Nice try, but I wasn’t inspired or traumatized before and after attending it.
Experiencing this exhibition with the recent digital innovations in mind makes the experience at least disappointing. A few interesting pieces are, in the end, lost in the dream. A few site-specific artworks do the trick (of making you pull your smartphone out and take that artsy photo). In the end, Dream should be more about art and life, and less about magic and horoscope.
What do you think? Share and comment!
featured image: Bill Viola. ‘Sharon’ (2013).