Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Deep Crustal Research

Not many posts recently as I have been away for the past two weeks on holiday in Italy. I visited Lake Garda on it's northern shore at a town called Riva where the lake is hemmed in by the dramatic craggy slopes of the Dolomites. While I was there, I visited the Mart Museum in the nearby town of Rovereto. This new museum of contemporary art is certainly worth a visit. It is beautifully designed and has one of Italy's most important collections of modern art. I went there particularly to see the Maurice Denis exhibition, but also had time to walk around the 20th Century galleries where paintings by Alberto Burri particularly caught my eye.

I say 'paintings' but in fact these wall hangings are more like sculptural reliefs. The materials used to create the reliefs: large black rectangular tableaux covered in what looks like dried and cracked bitumen is "acrovinilico on cellotex". There's a nice example of this type of work here (4th image down). Notice the change in the pattern of the cracks passing down the relief. At the top of the relief the cracking pattern is broadly spaced while at the base it is finer. The reliefs housed at Rovereto show similar effects and when you examine them you see that the fine cracks develop where the 'acrovinilico' is thinner. Where it is spread thickly, the cracks develop further apart.

This work was carried out by Burri in the mid-1970s. Clearly he is working with modern art materials rather than natural clays (although reliefs housed at UCLA are said to be of 'fired ceramic'), however, the inspiration seems to be rooted in the reproduction of patterns seen in nature such as mud cracks on the dried out margins of lakes.

On returning to Paris, I tried to find out more about Burri and his art. He was born in 1915 and died in 1995. He was a succesful artist who won a number of awards and whose work was typified by the use of uncoventional materials in an abstract expressionist style. His most extraordinary work is a memorial to the town of Gibellina, Western Sicily, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1968. The town was entirely relocated and Burri proposed that the ruins be preserved beneath a sheet of thick concrete, only the roads of the town preserved. The result can be see in the short article at greg.org both at ground level and in an aerial view. The aerial view shows that there are striking similarities between the cracked "acrovinylico" reliefs and the patterns of roads running through the town.

Through his use of unusual materials, Burri had skillfully made a link between the drying paterns of mud and the development of a town. Because human settlement is like drying mud. From the first pitched tents and flocks of sheep which are fluid as wet mud, sliding across the hills, to the first ramshackle huts, congealing out of nothing, to the first rude track between a line of shelters, plots for building, and hardened outlines, cracking, pulling what's mine to what's mine, erecting hard defensive walls on either side of cracks, which are streets, no man's lands, labyrinthine, turning this way and that, but ultimately (if the builders could only see it) controlled by rules that are as natural as the drying of mud.

And finally, ironically, other cracks, underneath men's cracks, deep cracks in the earth's crust, shake it all down. No wonder Burri was interested in the depth of his "acrovinilico" and it's relation to the size of the cracks he created. He was doing deep crustal research.

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