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Michelangelo Jr

Testo di Alan Jones


It is more than understandable that the unsuspecting visitor entering the workplace of Michelangelo Jr. may initially be thrown into a disoriented state of mind. Is this indeed the atelier of an artist or a neglected storage room? Absent are any of the expected traditional supplies and symbolic paraphernalia of the craft: tubes of paint, canvas and stretcher bars, brushes, palette and easel, hammers, chisels, clay and blocks of stone are nowhere in sight, no fragrance of turpentine greets the nostrils, no haze of marble dust lingers in the air. Surely, this can't be the right place.


Look closer. In the stillness of these precincts, austere yet disorderly at the same time, closer inspection of the sparse chaos containing humble objects and materials reveals little by little the ingredients of a subtle art in the making. The right place after all.


Perhaps it is Michelangelo Jr.'s formation in the realm of musical composition rather than within the academy of beaux arts, which explains the absence of conventional atelier accouterments in his life and the lack of aestheticism in his products. From music, he retains affinities with guiding lights such as John Cage and Giuseppe Chiari. One thinks of those migrations of artists fostered in one oasis and setting out on unknown paths across uncharted terrain to another, from poetry (Carl Andre) to sculpture and (Vito Acconci) to body art.


"I look up to the way Glenn Gould interpreted compositions by giving them a totally new life. I feel this way about what I do. There is an assonance to my work."


Everywhere in Michelangelo's endeavors, there is evidence of the procedure of composition and performance, the values of spontaneity together with rigorousness, the projection of aggressive outreach from within, and stage awareness to confer sense au dehors. As an approach, musical discipline provides the stamina to direct and synthesize knots of energy into material forms.


Consistent emphasis is placed on the rapport between gesture and artifact, action and substance, corporality and spirit. These are questions, in the musical sense, of time.


Over the past eight years, the gesture of cancellation has acquired a central role, among other procedures, in the repertoire of Michelangelo Jr.'s actions.


The word leads us astray. Cancellation connotes negation. In English, tickets, flight reservations are canceled. A stamp is canceled at the post office; obligations end in annulment, null and void: canceled from memory. Cancellation as overlay, submersion, repression. Amnesia. In the original Latin sense, cancelli are a lattice grate, as in chancel, chancellor, chancellery. (In drawing or writing, a lattice of crosshatching is employed to obliterate). A cancello opens or closes to allow or block circulation.


Michelangelo Jr. reverses this obliterative, repressive function, rendering the act of eradication a gesture of discovery, not closure. The cancellations of Michelangelo Jr. are openings.


"I find light," declares the artist.


In the same sense, the theatricality of the slash of Lucio Fontana is not a scar or defacement but a bringing forth, an act of liberation. (This Milanese master's connection to theater remains for the most part unexplored). Fontana, along with Manzoni, are touchstones for Michelangelo Jr.


The vertical page of a paper pad is torn out and subjected to a violent rectangle of densely applied graphite. Erasing redeems certain limited areas to their original candor, to whiteness, to light out of darkness: line becomes ground, and background becomes the line, as in Man Ray's negatives or the Reversal series of Andy Warhol.


The instruments - paper, pencil, eraser - are those of the school child, the lowest of low tech; they are the tools of which the art student feels embarrassed as he carries them around under one arm, yearning meanwhile for the day to come when he can exchange them for the prestigious instruments of conceptual video and cibachrome.


"In drawing class, art students are told never to erase. I'm using this very act as the drawing itself." The sign, the touch, is expressed by rechanneling the usually negative conception of eradication into a positive action. The tables are turned, as if the white lines on a street emerged from some albino asphalt below. "I do not cancel a pre-existing image," the artist observes. "The method I use is sculptural." A block of graphite for a block of granite: the image emerges by the process of elimination. "Erasure brings out the image by means of taking away, as in sculpture, by removal, not addition. In the process, a new material form comes into relief. The memory lies in the gesture itself."


In this way, the work inevitably resides in tension between the end result and the signs of the procedure by which it came into being. Fabricando fit faber. The blind groping in darkness leads to light, the process which began in obscurity ends in a heretofore nonexistent clarity. Perdre, mais perdre vraiment, pour laisser place à la trouvaille. (Apollinaire).


"For me, it is very important to arrive at a work by means of cancellation, acting upon a quasi-virginal surface from which it can emerge, to do by non-doing. A way out." There is a physical aspect because the graphite is laid down with rigorous thickness to establish a table, a sort of base, a darkness from which to recuperate light. "This reductive act takes into consideration the irremediable nature of the sculptural gesture. You cannot correct. You cannot put back together the chips of marble to redeem the original pristine block."


In this way, the memory lies within the gesture itself, an economy of image but also an ecology of image. A leap into a dark pool.


The artist is quick to point out that the intention behind Robert Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning Drawing is the opposite of his own program of auto-recuperative eradication.


Decorated with striped or floral-colored patterns reproduced by industrial means or bright starched white (de Kooning found in Japan confirmation of his belief that white is a positive color, not the absence thereof), common bedsheets become the field, the background of cancellations. These sheets drape against the wall much as trappeggio in the folds of a painted garment. Here, the gesture becomes twice commemorated as the contrast between the sheet (carta) and the sheet (lenzuola) converge in a play on words (in English) which would have been readily relished by Duchamp.


Michelangelo Jr.'s inherent velocity deters him by nature from the practice of an art of accumulation.


"My product is like a dream struck to the bedsheet," he suggests. "Some dreams don't merit the bed they were dreamed on. My product remains equivocal, whether the image is applied to the bed or the bed to the image. I stretch out the sheet like at a picnic. This is the surface where I find my neutrality."


Common household yeast, a catalyst essential to both bread and wine, has been at the core of Michelangelo Jr.'s investigations since the mid-nineties. Yeast, in the immaterial perseverance of its attributes, takes action within the work, beyond the reach ofMichelangelo Jr.

It is more than understandable that the unsuspecting visitor entering the workplace of Michelangelo Jr. may initially be thrown into a disoriented state of mind. Is this indeed the atelier of an artist or a neglected storage room? Absent are any of the expected traditional supplies and symbolic paraphernalia of the craft: tubes of paint, canvas, and stretcher bars; brushes, palette, and easel; hammers, chisels, clay, and blocks of stone are nowhere in sight. No fragrance of turpentine greets the nostrils, no haze of marble dust lingers in the air. Surely, this can't be the right place.


Look closer. In the stillness of these precincts, austere yet disorderly at the same time, closer inspection of the sparse chaos containing humble objects and materials reveals little by little the ingredients of a subtle art in the making. The right place after all.


Perhaps it is Michelangelo Jr.'s formation in the realm of musical composition rather than within the academy of beaux arts that explains the absence of conventional atelier accouterments in his life and the lack of aestheticism in his products. From music, he retains affinities with guiding lights such as John Cage and Giuseppe Chiari. One thinks of those migrations of artists fostered in one oasis and setting out on unknown paths across uncharted terrain to another: from poetry (Carl Andre) to sculpture and (Vito Acconci) to body art.


"I look up to the way Glenn Gould interpreted compositions by giving them a totally new life. I feel this way about what I do. There is an assonance to my work."


Everywhere in Michelangelo's endeavors, there is evidence of the procedure of composition and performance, the values of spontaneity together with rigorousness, the projection of aggressive outreach from within, and stage awareness to confer sense au dehors. As an approach, musical discipline provides the stamina to direct and synthesize knots of energy into material forms.


Consistent emphasis is placed on the rapport between gesture and artifact, action and substance, corporality and spirit. These are questions, in the musical sense, of time.


Over the past eight years, the gesture of cancellation has acquired a central role, among other procedures, in the repertoire of Michelangelo Jr.'s actions.


The word leads us astray. Cancellation connotes negation. In English, tickets, flight reservations are canceled. A stamp is canceled at the post office; obligations end in annulment, null and void: canceled from memory. Cancellation as overlay, submersion, repression. Amnesia. In the original Latin sense, cancelli are a lattice grate, as in chancel, chancellor, chancellery. (In drawing or writing, a lattice of crosshatching is employed to obliterate). A cancello opens or closes to allow or block circulation.


Michelangelo Jr. reverses this obliterative, repressive function, rendering the act of eradication a gesture of discovery, not closure. The cancellations of Michelangelo Jr. are openings.


"I find light," declares the artist.


In the same sense, the theatricality of the slash of Lucio Fontana is not a scar or defacement but a bringing forth, an act of liberation. (This Milanese master's connection to theater remains for the most part unexplored). Fontana, along with Manzoni, are touchstones for Michelangelo Jr.


The vertical page of a paper pad is torn out and subjected to a violent rectangle of densely applied graphite. Erasing redeems certain limited areas to their original candor, to whiteness, to light out of darkness: line becomes ground, and background becomes the line, as in Man Ray's negatives or the Reversal series of Andy Warhol.


The instruments—paper, pencil, eraser—are those of the school child, the lowest of low tech; they are the tools of which the art student feels embarrassed as he carries them around under one arm, yearning meanwhile for the day to come when he can exchange them for the prestigious instruments of conceptual video and cibachrome.


"In drawing class, art students are told never to erase. I'm using this very act as the drawing itself." The sign, the touch, is expressed by rechanneling the usually negative conception of eradication into a positive action. The tables are turned, as if the white lines on a street emerged from some albino asphalt below. "I do not cancel a pre-existing image," the artist observes. "The method I use is sculptural." A block of graphite for a block of granite: the image emerges by the process of elimination. "Erasure brings out the image by means of taking away, as in sculpture, by removal, not addition. In the process, a new material form comes into relief. The memory lies in the gesture itself."


In this way, the work inevitably resides in tension between the end result and the signs of the procedure by which it came into being. Fabricando fit faber. The blind groping in darkness leads to light, the process which began in obscurity ends in a heretofore nonexistent clarity. Perdre, mais perdre vraiment, pour laisser place à la trouvaille. (Apollinaire).


"For me, it is very important to arrive at a work by means of cancellation, acting upon a quasi-virginal surface from which it can emerge, to do by non-doing. A way out." There is a physical aspect because the graphite is laid down with rigorous thickness to establish a table, a sort of base, a darkness from which to recuperate light. "This reductive act takes into consideration the irremediable nature of the sculptural gesture. You cannot correct. You cannot put back together the chips of marble to redeem the original pristine block."


In this way, the memory lies within the gesture itself, an economy of image but also an ecology of image. A leap into a dark pool.


The artist is quick to point out that the intention behind Robert Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning Drawing is the opposite of his own program of auto-recuperative eradication.


Decorated with striped or floral-colored patterns reproduced by industrial means or bright starched white (de Kooning found in Japan confirmation of his belief that white is a positive color, not the absence thereof), common bedsheets become the field, the background of cancellations. These sheets drape against the wall much as trappeggio in the folds of a painted garment. Here, the gesture becomes twice commemorated as the contrast between the sheet (carta) and the sheet (lenzuola) converge in a play on words (in English) which would have been readily relished by Duchamp.


Michelangelo Jr.'s inherent velocity deters him by nature from the practice of an art of accumulation.


"My product is like a dream struck to the bedsheet," he suggests. "Some dreams don't merit the bed they were dreamed on. My product remains equivocal, whether the image is applied to the bed or the bed to the image. I stretch out the sheet like at a picnic. This is the surface where I find my neutrality."


Common household yeast, a catalyst essential to both bread and wine, has been at the core of Michelangelo Jr.'s investigations since the mid-nineties. Yeast, in the immaterial perseverance of its attributes, takes action within the work, beyond the reachof the artist's control. Energy is released, an inexhaustible generative force.


"I guess that there are parallels between the cancellations and the works involving yeast. Yeast is a living organism in constant metamorphosis. Yeast has tempo and duration. It modifies its original aspect. Working with yeast is like a drawing I do not actually do myself. It changes itself without my help. Above all, the fact that it's out of my control is what's important to me. I like it when the work slips out of my grasp as the creator."


Alchemy?


"No. It's the yeast that's conducting an alchemical process on me. Yeast imposes its natural process, and I'm constrained to comply with it. The work modifies the maker."


Si j'ai du gout, ce n'est guère / Que pour la terre et les pierres. / Je déjeune toujours d'air, / du roc, de charbons, de fer. (Rimbaud).


The dietary prescriptions shown in the work of Michelangelo Jr. place him as a next-door neighbor to the non-sites of Robert Smithson. Both artists are photographers whose interest lies exclusively in the chemicals, not the images, involved in the snapshot process. The heavy mineral content of this work spawns organic life by means of contagious alacrity. Percussionists, such artists confront the confinement of the social obstacle course of the ersatz "communication" nature of social structures. One senses a deep well of brooding dissent, which arrives at the surface crystal clear but highly lethal, Refusenik in an age of refuse; direct descendant of Courbet nourished on carbon, restless, rapid and unpredictable, Michelangelo Jr. is a dangerous artist.


Alan Jones

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