Diego Marcon at ZERO…, Milan
He’s a child, one might say around seven years of age. His head bowed, between his hands he shelters the tiny flame of a matchstick as if it were a wounded robin. I shall call him Ludwig.
He is sculpted in marble: hard, cold, bright white – motionless, frozen, bloodless. The flame he’s protecting, on the other hand, represents a volatility, a languid warmth, a glimmer in the thick darkness. It’s also a moment in which the material encounters its own frangibility: this detail, like the flame is at risk of extinction, it is itself at risk of breakage. The sculpture thus crystallises a contradiction: the monumental quality of the statue is compromised by its portrayal of vulnerability – the vulnerability of the child and his flickering flame. At the same time, the solidity of marble is plied to the formalisation of just how much it is, by definition, fragile.
It is placed outside. It transforms an anonymous space into a place. What values does it convey? What community does it celebrate?
There are the truckers. They meet up in the dead of night. At dawn, each one sets out on his own path – a tangle of routes of which this place is the hub. They return at dusk, dizzy from the reverberations of the many landscapes they have crossed. For them, Ludwig and his flame represent an image that is cyclically abandoned and returned to: that of the household.
There are the kids. When they play football, Ludwig is ‘a goalpost’. He’s one of them. If ball hits him in the face, the bullies snicker at him; but the others, the nicer ones, make sure that he’s alright: they caress him in order to feel for any chips or scratches – early displays of civic awareness. For them, Ludwig symbolises the friendship that emerges even in anonymous spaces.
There are the clubbers. They come across him at daybreak when they get thrown out of the club. They surround him, study him as if he were the last hallucination of the night that is almost over. While the beads of sweat freeze on their faces, they wonder whether Ludwig is perhaps a monument to their nocturnal revelry: have they not also spent their whole night trying to protect a feeble flame, attempting to crystallise a transitory moment?
…and then there’s you, the beholders. Along you come like pilgrims, in the stark light of day. First you come to a halt a few paces away. You note the presence of the statue, the north star within the ordinariness of the context. A sentiment of hostility starts to emerge beneath the soles of your shoes and on the tip of your nose. You come closer and peer at the details of the artwork. You browse through your visual memory of all those Pathosformeln linked to childhood which would allow you to debate what stands before you: cherubs, Baby Jesuses, kids bitten by lizards. But the truth is that you are now able to give a precise name to that sensation of uneasiness that you’re feeling: it’s not the work, not its embodied contradiction; it’s simply that you’re very, very cold.
Ludwig is also a monument to the cold, or rather an invitation to embrace the cold as a value. Thomas Bernhard once said that science, this obsession of ours for the intelligibility of natural phenomena, cannot but be accompanied by an all-consuming coldness. “We feel the cold in this clarity; yet we wanted this clarity, and we developed it within ourselves… The greater the clarity, the greater the cold. This clarity and this cold shall reign supreme from now on.”
Ludwig was sculpted by a machine. It embodies a peak of intelligibility: a Pathosformel translated first into an algorithm and then into marble. It has no opacity. The vulnerability that he embodies – both iconographical and material – is itself an intelligible phenomenon. It’s a form of vulnerability that does not emerge as a torpor, an underground and underskin sentiment to be protected beneath layers of otherness when one steps out into the world. It’s penetrating and at the same time rejecting, just like the cold: a vulnerability to be faced, at last.
at ZERO, Milan
until 23 February 2019