Layers of memory

By | Art & Design
Elisabeth Scherffig, Geist und Sinn III, 2013

German artist Elisabeth Scherffig moved to Milan in 1970 where she currently lives and works. Along her career path she has been experimenting with various materials and media and exhibited in several locations in Italy as well as in London and New York City. The solo show, which opened at Faggionato Gallery last week, will remain open until the 11th of April and presents a selection of the artist’s most recent production, which includes series of drawings, sculptures, and metal surfaces.

Although since the beginning of her career the artist experimented extensively with different materials and techniques, some main themes and interests in terms of subject matter and conceptual research have always been inspirational for her work. In particular, interests in urban transformation and building sites as well as mapping the traces of these changes in cities, have been privileged themes of study. In the New Works show at Faggionato a series of maps realised with pencil on three layers of tracing paper represents the cities of Milan, Bologna and Dusseldorf.  These maps, overlapping different stages of the urban fabric trace the history of the cities in space and time. The idea of mapping is embraced by the artist as a method of investigation in the process of making rather than just a representational technique or a final product. It is a method to investigate reality yet also to draw the invisible maps or traces of other, more personal stories and places and to fix them in space and time (in the past she often used techniques of frottage and moulding to transfer and record directly the memory of objects and surfaces). In the artist’s work the real and physical is always transcended into immaterial while the invisible and immaterial is translated into substance and representation.

View of one of the maps of Milan by Elisabeth Scherffig on display at Faggionato Gallery

View of one of the maps of Milan by Elisabeth Scherffig on display at Faggionato Gallery

The experimentation with different materials such as glass, steel and porcelain that engaged Scherffig for long time is also related to this aspect of her work. Some of the characteristics of them such as roughness, stiffness, inelasticity and severity are transformed into softness and gentleness. In the series of sculptures displayed Geist und Sinn she modifies the aesthetic qualities of porcelain and silk creating interesting transparency effects.

Actually, the words that seem more appropriate to describe the work of the German artist, are lightness and transparency. We can describe Scherffig as a follower of Italo Calvino; when in Six Memos for the Next Millennium the Italian writer dedicated an entire chapter to the category of lightness he wrote words that could easily apply to Scherffig’s work: “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”. Similarly the artist removes weight from the materials and the subjects she represented.

Elisabeth Scherffig New Works exhibition at Faggionato Gallery

Elisabeth Scherffig New Works exhibition at Faggionato Gallery

The category of transparency is also clearly close to the sensibility of the artist. In the works on paper (Milan, Dusseldorf and Bologna series) she uses both the actual qualities of some materials like tracing paper and metaphorical references such as the window-shaped grid that subdivides the maps as a polyptych, which suggest the transparency of the windows from which we observe our cities, as if we were watching the totality of the urban fabric from a domestic interior.

Even the absence of colour is functional in achieving qualities like lightness and transparency. The monochromatic features of her work transform some of the specific qualities of the material and the subjects represented, avoiding any distraction for the viewer; it is clear in works like Vineyards (2013, engraving on steel plate) and Untitled (2014, embossed gold leaf) where the dynamic effects of light dissolve the metal surfaces.

How does the artist manipulate the real to construct and record a personal and critical view of the world? 


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