Voce del verbo avere
curated by Valentina Bruschi and Beatrice Merz
Part of the Punte brillanti di lance programme
Palermo – ex Monte dei Pegni S. Rosalia, Palazzo Branciforte, Fondazione Sicilia
8 September 2018 – 4 November 2018
Inauguration Saturday 8 September 2018, 6 pm
From Saturday, 8 September 2018 to Sunday, 4 November 2018, the Fondazione Merz presents Voce del verbo avere in collaboration with the Fondazione Sicilia, a personal exhibition of the artist Marzia Migliora (Alessandria, 1972) set up in the space of the ex-Monte dei Pegni, known as “Monte di Santa Rosalia” in Palazzo Branciforte, home of the Fondazione Sicilia.
The exhibition, curated by Valentina Bruschi and Beatrice Merz, is part of Punte brillanti di lance (literally ‘brilliant lance tips’), a programme of exhibitions and events launched in 2017 by the Fondazione Merz for the City of Palermo.
The project of Marzia Migliora starts with the strong suggestions raised by the former Monte dei Pegni (pawn shop) itself, creating a link with the present starting from the historical memory of the place, to stimulate a political and social reflection on the current condition of humankind. Also called Monte dei Panni, the Monte di Pietà consists of an intricate maze of rooms with full-height wooden structures, composed of shelving where the pawned goods used to be stored. For about two centuries, people in need deposited dowries, trousseaux and personal items in exchange for a few coins, hoping eventually to come back and redeem them.
Voce del verbo avere is the ideal continuation of the Marzia Migliora’s personal exhibition entitled Velme, organised in 2017 by the Fondazione Merz at Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice. The La fabbrica illuminata installation, originally created by the artist for the Velme exhibition, will be part of the exhibition in the ex-Monte dei Pegni in Palermo, accompanied by three new works, conceived specifically for the exhibition space.
The works created by the artist for the Palermo space are based on the concept of economy, starting from the etymological decomposition of the term in oikos (home, understood as family, but also as goods and community) and nomos (rule): at the Monte di Pietà indigent people were forced to commit their family assets (oikos), to try to fulfil the rules imposed by the state and the community and to satisfy the basic needs of subsistence (nomos). The two terms represent the common conceptual element in every work on display, along with the themes of money, food and hunger. The ambiguity of money, which on the one hand frees one from being a slave, but on the other creates new slavery, constitutes a fundamental concept in the work of Marzia Migliora. Access to food also depends on money, and is a primary need for the survival of human beings: hunger is therefore the trigger to leverage and activate analogies and dissonances, relations between fullness and emptiness, wealth and poverty, indigence and security, nourishment and abstinence, inclusion and exclusion.
Another term underlying all the research is transition, the shift from one way of being to another, understood in the meaning typical of the function of the pawn shop, or that of converting personal items into cash.
The work named La fabbrica illuminata (‘The illuminated factory’) owes its title to the homonymous composition by Luigi Nono of 1964, dedicated to the workers of Italsider at Genoa-Cornigliano to denounce the inhumane working conditions of the workers.
La fabbrica illuminata consists of five goldsmiths’ counters on which rests a block of raw rock salt, about to be worked. Salt – a fundamental element in the trading history of the Mediterranean, also known as “white gold” – is chosen by the artist as an emblem of the exploitation of natural resources and of the workforce necessary for its transformation into a sellable item and therefore into profit. The term salary, the money given to a worker, derives from the word salt: once again, the shift in the state of materials (like in alchemy) recalls the relation of all the works on show to the function of the Monte di Pegni pawnshop.
Also on show are three new works: Voce del verbo avere (‘The verb ‘to have’ entry’, 2018), Pane di bocca (‘Bread in the mouth’, 2018) e L’arte della fame (‘The art of hunger’, 2018).
Voce del verbo avere is the installation that opens the exhibition and draws inspiration from Charon’s obol, the silver coin that in Greek and Roman mythology was placed in the mouth of the dead to be given to the ferryman of souls in order to have access to the world of the dead. The artist re-appropriates the ancient symbology, placing a Greek drachma from the 1930s – a coin bearing the same iconography as the ancient obol, depicting the mother earth goddess Demeter and an ear of wheat – suspended within a shark’s jaw. Voce del verbo avere revolves around the concept of hunger, in two different meanings: hunger as a need, a consequence of the economic crisis of which Greece has been a symbol, and as an insatiable desire for power, the vicious circle of the system that is hungry and consequently causes hunger, of which the obol – in its contemporary connotation of tax – becomes a symbol. The wide-open jaws of the shark become a metaphor for the market and the fierce cult of money.
The Pane di bocca work is an installation comprising an original wedding ring of 1935 that bears the engraving “Oro alla Patria. 18 dicembre 1935” (‘Gold to the fatherland. 18 December 1935’) squeezed in the grip of a toothed dental forceps. The Giornata della fede was a propaganda campaign promoted by the Fascist regime aimed at raising support among Italians for the war in Ethiopia; the population was called on to hand over their wedding rings to the Fatherland, receiving in exchange an engraved tin ring, like the one that is part of this work. The artwork alludes to the concept of faith, in the combination of giving between the authority of the state and the people who inhabit it.
The exhibition closes with L’arte della fame. The installation, which owes its title to the essay by Paul Auster, is a carousel in which some stuffed skylarks in a never-ending circuit chase a gold nugget which, by its very nature, recalls a bread crumb.
The work conceptually recalls the wooden structure of the Monte di Pietà, consisting of a series of vertical and horizontal lines that intertwine on several levels, forming a sort of large aviary/cage.
Marzia Miglior entrusts the work A Dora D., created at the ex-Monte dei Pegni itself, with establishing the guiding image of the exhibition. In the photograph, the body of the artist is in dialogue with the grid structure that characterises the wooden architecture of the storeroom, in which the vertical and horizontal lines intersect on several levels like bars of a cage.
The work is a tribute to Dora Diamant, the woman who took care of Franz Kafka in the last phase of his life when the author wrote his last story entitled “A Hunger Artist” (1922), whose protagonist publicly exhibited himself in a cage guarded by three guardians, finding himself in the paradoxical situation of earning his bread by fasting.