The process of finding Galleria Lorcan O’Neill – tucked down a tiny back street, beneath a 17th-century arch in a secluded cobblestoned courtyard – serves as a prelude to the curatorial logic of its exhibitions. The gallery’s latest presentation, ‘Change, Connect, Continue’ – a group show featuring Martin Creed, Giorgio Griffa and Tatsuo Miyajima – evinces just such a concern with the unfolding of space as a means of resensitizing our relationship to our environment. While the title itself is a direct reference to Miyajima’s guiding philosophy, which he outlines as the imperative to connect with everything, it pinpoints key notions that are central to all three artists’ work, despite their distinctive styles. In the gallery’s main space, Griffa’s spare lyrical paintings dominate the left corner, Miyajima’s digital installations – on which numbers flash up at varying speeds – impress a keen awareness of time’s passing, while Creed’s iron beam sculpture (Work No. 1638, 2013) instantly creates a sense of order and his large pink neon, on the wall opposite Griffa and Miyajima’s work, seems to read our disoriented minds, declaring: ‘Don’t Worry’ (Work No. 3169. Don’t Worry, 2018).
Time is central to Miyajima’s practice. In Life (rhizome) no. 18 (2013), a microcomputer, resembling a motherboard with its green chips and interconnecting wires, features individual LED counters, each programmed at its own speed. The colourful digits – yellow, green, blue and red – flick ceaselessly from one to nine and back to one again. We never see zero, which is represented instead by darkness – or ‘the space of death’, as the artist terms it – before the numbers restart their progression, echoing the cycle of life. Miyajima’s two other works in the show, Life (Ku Wall) no. 3 (2013) and S/T (2001), follow the same concept with minor variations. The effect is hypnotic, as we find ourselves drawn to watch the numbers progress until the moment of darkness, of death, before life begins again.
This concern with the cyclical nature of time is picked up in Griffa’s practice, but expressed through simple, almost primal, mark-making gestures. His paintings are captivating, light. With large areas left unpainted, they appear to levitate; the folds of the unstretched, raw canvas – pinned to the wall with small nails – adding a sense of slight movement. Executed in diluted acrylic, Griffa’s paintings consist of arabesques, lines, symbols and letters, at times resembling musical scores or poems – both of which are central to his practice. The colours are warm pastels of pinks, blues, ochres, mint greens, purples. The arabesques in his Tre linee con arabesco n. 33 (Three Lines with Arabesque no. 33, 1991) end abruptly on the canvas, their movement at once circular and linear. Similarly, in Orizzontale (Horizontal, 1973), a series of parallel lines crosses the canvas and suddenly stops. Much as with Miyajima’s ‘spaces of death’, this suspension marks the sense of time.
Where Griffa’s work is sparse, exuding a zen-like control, Creed’s radiates urgency: his almost obsessive love of order – evidenced in the organization of his work according to typology, colour or size – seemingly an attempt to make sense of a chaotic world. In Work No. 1566 (2013), three broad colourful stripes, which narrow incrementally, constitute an abstract Aztec temple form. The intricate square tapestry Work No. 3067 (2018) – Creed’s first piece in wool – inverts this progression, fluorescent stripes alternating with darker shades of blue and brown as they diminish in width. Though verging on quasi-manic repetition, Creed’s works invariably retain an element of playfulness or irony – perhaps an acknowledgment of the futility of an exercise seemingly propelled by an almost visceral necessity.
By paring art down to the essentials – marks, patterns, numbers – while grappling with existential considerations, the artists in ‘Change, Connect, Continue’ create a universal and accessible language, resulting in a profoundly philosophical yet engaging show. Stepping out once more into the verdant courtyard, you feel ready to embrace the world. As Griffa himself once said: very simple language ‘can encapsulate an immense complexity’.
'Change Connect Continue' runs at Lorcan O’Neill, Rome, until 30 March 2019.
Main image: Giorgio Griffa and Tatsuo Miyajima, Work No. 3169. Don’t Worry, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Galleria Lorcan O'Neill, Rome
First published in Issue 202