Three years ago, Ludovica Carbotta began working on Monowe, a sprawling ongoing project exploring an imaginary city for a single inhabitant. It’s been an all-consuming endeavour for the artist, who has painstakingly conjured up the buildings, institutions and objects that shape the everyday life of the city’s elusive lone dweller – whose presence is only alluded to, never witnessed – through installations, sound works and performative actions.
Monowe’s latest instalment, ‘Objects of Defence’, unpacks the well-trodden analogy of cities-as-bodies by looking at the mechanisms both organisms develop in their efforts to survive. The show comprises seven large sculptures, each markedly different but sharing a familiar resemblance, not least because they have all been constructed atop the same style of basic storage unit. In the central space, Monowe (The Powder Room) Severe DD 01 (all works 2019) buckles, somewhat incongruously, under the weight of a stack of foam sheets in various bright hues. Some thick and squishy, others substantially thinner, the colourful layers give the sculpture a waggish, rainbow effect. At the base, a wedged stone disrupts the garish strata by pushing the bottom layers up, like an illustration for Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Princess and the Pea (1835).
Nearby, a massive lump of concrete has been affixed with nylon straps to the same type of base (Monowe (The Powder Room) Moderate AD 01). The material is cold and inanimate, yet it appears to have been arrested mid-movement, as if it had been throbbing and dripping like grey magma just moments earlier. Closer inspection reveals chunks of matter – a shower-head and its knotted-up hose, scattered bits of plastic – like the congealed debris of an avalanche.
In the second gallery, Monowe (The Powder Room) Severe UD 01 also seems to have been freeze-framed while in the process of becoming. A shiny amorphous blue shape, made of recycled plastic, hangs between two metal poles, scrunching slightly as if mid-breath. Close by on the floor, a leg-shaped chunk and a tiny blob of the same blue plastic seem to have fallen off, hinting at the entity’s precarious mutability. Across the room, Monowe (The Powder Room) Moderate SD 01 seems more grounded and static, while still beckoning movement. Its main element, a large foam rectangle with smoothly rounded corners, calls to mind a gymnastics pommel horse. The colouring is off, though: a smudged red-to-pink gradient that has been too sloppily executed for such a sleek apparatus and that suggests, instead, a litmus test performed on some spongiform substance.
Undeniably beguiling, both individually and en masse, Carbotta’s sculptures create a frisson between the generosity of their sensuous qualities and the inscrutability of their meanings. Commissioned as a special project for the 58th Venice Biennale, this body of work was originally displayed in the gunpowder store of Forte Marghera, a 19th-century former military fortress. With its rugged floors and thick brick walls, the fortress facilitated an experience of these sculptures as protective growths, as artificial skins developed to fend off intruders and shield vulnerabilities. In the white-cube space of Galería Marta Cervera, the works undoubtedly lost some of their spikiness and aggression but revealed themselves instead as characters, as objects born out of material accumulations that are imbued with, if not life, then prodigious personality.
‘Objects Of Defense’ runs at Galería Marta Cervera, Madrid, until 1 February.
Main Image: Ludovica Carbotta, ‘Objects Of Defense’, 2019, installation view, Galería Marta Cervera, Madrid; photograph: Roberto Ruíz Photography. Production supported by La Biennale di Venezia, presented at the 58th International Art Exhibition