Wooden tables, sewing machines, white paint and burlap sacks with coal
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
Like the toy steam train, the old sewing machine is an object of use tied to the dawn of western industrial civilization and is revived by Kounellis as a symbol of the epos of a culture: “The sewing machine,” the artist explains, “is epic, it is evidence of tremendous beauties, but also tremendous sacrifices” (Jannis Kounellis, in G. Celant, 1992, p. 29). And so they are objects laden with personal memories and collective history.
The image appears in Kounellis’s work beginning in 1973, in the Manifesto for a utopian theater, consisting of a sewing machine with a white sheet of paper beneath the needle, next to a yellow painting and a drawing with photographs of emigrants (the work was exhibited in Chicago in 1986). It reappears in Untitled, 1987, made from a large iron panel with propane gas flames at the center, along the perimeter of which Kounellis places some old sewing machines, to form a sort of frame (reproduced in G. Moure, 1996, p. 221), and in the photograph with a foot that rests against an old model sewing machine, used as an invitation for his solo show at the Galerie Ameliobraquot Pièce Unique in Paris (Untitled, 1986). In the exhibition installed in 1991 in Halifax, in a former industrial building, now the headquarters for the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust Studio, Kounellis uses an iron rod to suspend two sewing machines from a column; two years later, at the Kunsthalle in Recklinghausen, he exhibits a multitude of sewing machines, covered with burlap sacks, on top of old tables, pushed together to form a large platform, or perhaps more accurately a stage, on which the very presence of these objects – at this point obsolete and outdated – tells of the work, the sacrifices, the history of hosts of women. This particular installation, used in subsequent years to present various objects and materials (pieces of rolls of lead at Castelluccio in Pienza in 1996; sacks in Buenos Aires and in Montevideo in 2000 and 2001; a circle of coal in Athens in 2004; or a significant selection of works by the artist in Oxford in 2004), is repeated by Kounellis in 2003 at the Galleria Christian Stein in Milan, where he exhibits the work shown here, characterized by the presence, beneath the sewing machine, of a stain of white oil of the type used for painting, as if to recreate the fabrics that used to pass beneath those needles, emphasizing, at the same time, the creative value of the work.
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 Christian Stein, Milano, 2003; Kunstraum Innsbruck, Innsbruck, 2003