Iron base, cotton and fly
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
The presence of the tall pedestal immediately grants the work the status of sculpture, at the same time revealing a reflection on the form and significance of the monument, associated since antiquity with the celebration of great figures and their accomplishments, whose value and memory were immortalized. This specific function is fulfilled in the work by the metal base, which, however, now is used to sanctify the defenseless body of an insignificant fly, dried and stretched out on a cotton pillow, like a relic. The work expresses a deliberate fragility, which is moreover heightened by the disproportionate dialogue between the element of incommensurable height, the organic nature of the insect, and the geometric parallelepiped with its smooth, burnished surfaces. Indeed Kounellis explains: “With the fly on the cotton padding, placed on an iron pedestal, there is something extremely large and something extremely small, without distinctions, rhetoric, or monumental pretensions; instead I always had in mind the way the world reasons. And the world’s reasoning moves between extremely small and insignificant things and extremely large things. It was an exercise for avoiding rhetoric and monumentalism, in order to keep in mind the logic of life.” (Jannis Kounellis, in G. Celant, 1992, p. 23). This is the inspiration behind both this work and another piece from the prior year, also shown at L’Attico in Rome, where a naked pregnant woman was exhibited, her head covered by a black cloth and with files on her belly (reproduced. in G. Moure, 1996, p. 23). In these works the fly is associated with both birth and death, as an image of man’s existential condition, divided between the material limitations of the body and the aspiration to subvert his mortal condition. This reflection upon the logic of human life is further probed by Kounellis in a show installed in 2003 in the Mekhitarist monastery on the Isola di S. Lazzaro degli Armeni in Venice, where the work is transformed into a multiplicity of elements, twenty in all, arranged to form a labyrinth of insects (a detail of the installation is reproduced in A. Zevi, 2005, no page number). In this case the insects are no longer flies, but beetles, represented in ancient Egypt above a flat base, engraved with chapter XXX of the so-called Book of the Dead and thereafter associated with a commemorative function.
In Kounellis’s earliest works one can already glimpse this tension between a search for historic and poetic identity and a desire to break with the status quo by opening ...
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Galleria L’Attico, Roma, 1971; Stedelijk Museum voor Aktuele Kunst, Gent, 2002; Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, 2004; Burri. Gli artisti e la materia 1945-2004, Scuderie del Quirinale, Roma, 2005