Maria Lai “To Sew Up the World” at MAN, Nuoro
The section of “Ricucire il mondo” (To Sew Up the World), curated at MAN by Barbara Casavecchia and Lorenzo Giusti, focuses on the maturity of Maria Lai, from the early 1980s to her death in 2013, by analyzing the dense web of relations developed by the artist with the world beyond her studio.
In this phase of her career, Lai kept on working on new series of “Looms”, “Sheets”, and “Sewn Books”, to which she added the cosmic visions of her “Geographies” —all displayed here—while she concurrently tried to engage the viewers in a collective reflection on art’s potential for freeing thought and action via public site-?specific works, actions, performances and plays.
The exhibition opens on the museum’s third floor with the action Legarsi alla montagna (To Be Tied to the Mountain, 1981), an ideal point of intersection between the venues of Cagliari, Nuoro and Ulassai. It is represented by a piece of the original ribbon used to tie the village houses together, as well as by the eponymous sculptural installation created by Lai on the occasion of her preceding solo show at MAN (“Come per gioco”, 2002) and by a series of black and white documentary photographs of the performance originally shot by Berengo Gardin, which later Lai retouched by hand-colouring all the ribbons in sky blue.
By displaying some of the original artworks created by the artist in the different locations together with rare photos and videos, the exhibition documents all the environmental projects and interventions developed by Lai, from Reperto (Artifact, Villasimius, 1982), La disfatta dei varani (The Defeat of the Lizards, Camerino, 1983) and L’alveare del poeta (The Poet’s Beehive, Orotelli, 1983) to Essere è Tessere (To Be is To Weave, Aggius, 2008). The latter project’s sheets, woven with words and draped in the space, greet visitors right at the entrance. We see Lai as she oversees the creation of masks, head-dresses and poems, or as she invites children to roll old toys in the sand to turn them into sculptures.
The “thread” that Lai extends to the public always carries a story with it. One of the artist’s favorite sources—here introduced by a special thematic section—was the ancient tale of Maria Pietra (the protagonist of Cuoremio, a story by Sardinian writer Salvatore Cambosu, who had been Lai’s schoolteacher), that stands for the archetype of art’s magic healing powers. Literature and especially poetry, the alternating rhythms of words and silences, full and empty spaces, spoken and written words, form the well from which Lai drew her inspiration. In order to “call the others to see part of themselves, ” the artist used also other means of communication, such as theatre and mise-en-scène. MAN recounts these explorations by exhibiting, among others, the original scores sung by soprano Ille Strazza, set designs for the Compagnia Fueddu e Gestu, the head-dresses worn by the public during a performance held at the Galleria Tommaseo in Trieste (1986).
Lai’s bond with the realm of childhood (taken as a “place of the soul”) and pedagogy is one of the richest and most vital elements of her late period. She created sewn fairy-tales and children’s books (Tenendo per mano il sole, 1984; Tenendo per mano l’ombra, 1987; Il dio distratto, 1994; Curiosape, 2002), games (Il volo del Gioco dell’Oca, 2002), playing cards (I luoghi dell’arte a portata di mano), calligrams, workshops (Segni e sogni, 1991, brought her from Cagliari to Paris, at the Centre Pompidou’s Atelier des Enfants). Lai’s experimental theatre—school programs in Alessandria, Prato, Mira (Venice), and Cagliari always fruitfully tied into the artwork she was developing at the time.
At MAN, Come Piccole Api Operaie I (Nuoro) [Like Little Worker Bees I (Nuoro) ], an installation jointly created by Claudia Losi and Antonio Marras, pays an affectionate homage to Maria Lai. A weaving of metal wires departs from outside the museum, to zig-zag across walls and windows, to finally “tie up” a myriad of intimate objects (greeting cards, jewels, fabrics, embroidery) made by Lai during her lifetime and donated to friends and relatives. In this way, it reveals and highlights the artist’s active role within her community, where she generously shared and shed her gifts in both the private and the public realm.
until 12 October 2014
Maria Lai, “To Sew Up the World” installation views at MAN, Nuoro, 2014