Memories from Underground
On display at Summers Wind, curated by Mexi Lane, is the exhibition Memories from Underground (Memorie dal Sottosuolo), by Stefano Mingione.
Mingione is an Italian artist in the physical world, who has been active since the 1970s, working with different media, like paintings and sculptures.
The structure of the exhibition was created by Solkide Auer, and the set design by Mexi Lane. In the landing point, the visitor will find a post-apocalyptic style studio, showing 5 oil paintings on canvas: Darwin’s Reason, The Glass Horse Shadow, Amy (a portrait of the singer Amy Winehouse), and the impressive murals: Oinema and Punto Zero.
Leaving the studio, a corridor leads us to the main installation, revealing a huge panel formed by a combination of hundreds of pen drawings. The original installation, which is still a work in progress, is going to have the impressive dimensions of 250m x 2.80m. The sketches displayed in the installation try to reproduce the dimensions of the original work, being walkable in its whole extension.
The Underground Man
Possibly the title of this artwork was inspired by the novel “Notes from Underground”, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in 1864, and considered as one of the first existentialist novels.
In the novel, the underground man demonstrates a confusing duality. He envies the normal man, but he would not change places with him. He knows he is sick, but he refuses to see a doctor. He belongs to the underground – to the darkness of his degradation. He enjoys his suffering and pain. For him, removing suffering takes away freedom.
In the beginning there was only an empty void, and, from the chaos, a straight line falls from the infinite space, giving origin to the Universe. From non-living matter, life arises, giving birth to nature and animals, creating, at this point, predatory nature. It is the origin of the antagonism.
From antagonism, human beings were born, giving origin to awareness and love. Love, however, gave origin to aggression, and from the union between love and aggressive nature, contradiction arises.
And this is the main reflection that the exhibition brings: life instincts and its contradictions – the duality between beauty and ugliness, desire and loneliness, the good and the bad, imprisonment and freedom, union and disintegration, beginning and extermination.
According to Sigmund Freud, all the instincts fall into two classes: Life (Eros) and Death (Thanatos) instincts.
In the Greek Mythology, Eros was one of the winged love gods, while Thanatos was the personification of death. One day, Eros, wielding the archery of love, fell asleep in a cave, inebriated by Hypnos, the personification of sleep and Thanato’s brother. Eros’ arrows got mixed with the arrows of death, owned by Thanatos, and, when he woke up, he took, by mistake, some of death arrows.
While it is hard to define the meaning of life, there is a certainty – the inevitable destination of life: Death.
In the fourth section of the essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, Freud launches into a discussion about the creation and destruction of individual cells. Freud mentions the tendency to destruction, implying a natural inclination to return to an earlier state of non-existence, by suggesting that this death instinct was the first instinct developed by organic life.
“These circuitous ways to death, faithfully retained by the conservative instincts, would be neither more nor less than the phenomena of life as we know it.”
The creation of life also dwells an impulse towards perfection, or the development into a Superman. The Übermensch (German for Superman) is a concept in the 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche, in which the character Zarathustra has the Superman as a goal for humanity. This attainment of perfection, however, is impossible, according to Freud, given the inevitability of death.
A pentimento, Italian word for correction, is an alteration in a painting or drawing, making evident the traces of a previous idea, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind during the creative process. It is common for artists to add strokes of paint to correct various elements of a composition, and this can be observed as the surface layers of paint begin to fade.
Mingioni used ink and pen for his drawings, combining subtle strokes with very deliberate cross hatching. Aesthetics and techniques aren’t the focus here. The contrary, by using a simple medium like pen, he is demonstrating that what he has to say is more important, and there is no more sincere way of expression than the drawing. He, as an underground man, has nothing to worry about. Even his pentimenti are visible. He is not adding new strokes of paint to hide anything. His heart is there, completely exposed. And, despite the philosophical references, this is an exhibition to be felt.