The Art of Despair

There are currently two exhibitions in Pietrasanta - the little town where Neil works in the marble studios.   By a strange coincidence, both exhibitions reflect - quite brutally - what we're doing to the world around us.  I'm currently in Oslo, Norway, but visited both these exhibitions on Friday before I left.

Gustavo Aceves is a Mexican sculptor currently living and working here and he has a huge and powerful exhibition in the church of Sant Agostino (now an art gallery) and apparently still to come in the piazza.  The sculptures are the broken bodies of more than life-size bronze horses in skeletal boats.  It's called 'Mare Morto' - Dead Sea.   Inside the church is an polystyrene model of a gigantic dead horse, tattooed with concentration camp numbers.  Nearby, a horse's head hangs on a hook from a guillotine.

In one of the smaller galleries in the piazza, there's an exhibition of mutant cows grazing in a field of salt.  Some look quite normal, but they become increasingly grotesque as you examine them closer. It's by a young Roman sculptor called  Enrico Franchi and is called "Transumanza".

Franchi believes that 'Man loves to … mess with his environment, and sometimes the result is a horrible catastrophe… and sometimes monstrous.'  The exhibition 'chronicles the artist's distaste for the social and anthropological mutations that come out of man’s irresponsibility'.

There is an increasing artistic response here to the man-made horror of the world we live in - Romano Cagnoni's war photographs, the installation of dead whales in fibreglass, the Berlin wall fragments.  None of the artwork is optimistic or upbeat - it's all very grim and despairing.  I came away from both exhibitions feeling depressed.

An increased awareness of environmental issues is changing things here in Pietrasanta too at the moment.  The town has always thrived on marble - for sculpture, but also for floor tiles, bathrooms and kitchens and the interior decor of public buildings and rich folk's houses.  The demand has increased for marble in the last few years, while the sculpture side of the trade has declined as the art market has contracted.   It now goes into toothpaste (pulverised) and is also apparently used to 'cut' cocaine.  The wonderful mountains around us have become noticeably smaller, and more degraded, as more and more marble is being removed.

Now, the environmental lobby is fighting to get quarrying stopped.  Personally I would be sorry to see the sculpture side of it abandoned - there's more than two thousand years of tradition here - the artigiani in the studios can trace their family lines back to gt-gt-gt etc grandfathers who worked with Michaelangelo.  But I'm not happy that such a beautiful material and such spectacular mountains should end up on my toothbrush. Something has to be done about the wholesale destruction of the Alpi Apuane.  There's a good article on it here.


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