The autonomous art work – a work that stands by and for itself – is not something to be found in Michele Di Menna’s shows. Her persistently process-based approach is self-referential; she stages her works in conversation with what she has already done: earlier exhibitions and the performances she often uses to open her shows. Ooze Generator – her second solo show at her Berlin gallery – was no exception. Echoing her performance a few deep moments in the green room (2011) at last year’s controversial Based in Berlin show, Di Menna re-employed mud while underscoring its relationship to the human body. Once again, the introductory performance, featuring Di Menna herself and a fellow artist, formed the basis for the exhibition.
Dressed in white suits and scarves made of dried mud, the artists walked through the gallery space to ethereal music and under a subdued light that alternated between blue and orange. Various pot-like vessels – also made of dried mud – punctuated the space; cardboard steles bore photographs of drying mud; a cylindrical tower projected a video from its upper opening, showing someone applying a face mask. The artists grappled with their props; they stacked and restacked them, moved them back and forth, hung them on the wall and took them down again, arranged and rearranged them into various constellations, all with no apparent plan, until they reached a pleasing aesthetic result. After about 15 minutes, the performance came to an end.
The performance turned out to be a public installation of the exhibition. The final arrangement of objects remained in place for the duration of the show but was expanded with collages like Ooze Morph (2012) or Flow on, Flow on in never-ceasing course (2012), which depict moments from a spa treatment in a deliberately naive-surrealist style. The ethereal music, the dim light, the mud and the collaged spa images made it clear: for the artist, Ooze Generator is about the relationship between the solid human body and liquid mud which only gradually hardens into its own distinct form. This transformation from solid to liquid states also reflects the dualism in her work between time-based performance and static exhibition.
Of course, this all may recall esoterics and the cult of the body, feministic performance as much as an Arte Povera brand of art kitsch. Yet Di Menna’s deliberate and carefully dosed deployment of this crude mixture gave the show its charm. Then again, the borders between ‘serious’ art, trendy esotericism and amateurish performance were playfully blurred and even proved here to be surprisingly almost non-existent.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 6