According to playground tradition, an orange peel, eased-off in one long curl and thrown over the shoulder, will spell out the first letter of your true love’s name. Such is the simple appeal of the game – to find pattern and meaning in the random and circumstantial – that, whilst I’ve long since lost my faith in their powers of divination, the occasional urge still takes me to see what the peel portends. Santo Tolone’s enigmatic screenprints, ‘Mandarini’ (all works 2012), in which vividly orange mandarin peels float like raggedy blossoms on a flat expanse of blue, promise a similar seduction. One of six set pieces repeated across the three identically sized rooms in a newly partitioned Limoncello (the gallery’s last show in its Hoxton space), the peel is a fitting emblem for an artistic practice concerned with paring away – the beauty of underlying form and the fruitlessness of searching for sense there.
‘Three Times Once’, the young Italian artist’s first solo show in the UK (he previously exhibited as part of the collaborations Mr Rossi and Santomatteo), was playfully provocative. Variants of the same works were reconfigured in a subtly modulating composition through the three spaces. Along with the peels, these included: a set of wall shelves, a sharp-angled amalgam of studied Minimalism and child’s bedroom (Billy Shadows); a large brass etching of a dodecahedron (Rondo); a television monitor showing a bulging fabric landscape (suggestively titled Video to be Watched With One Hand); and a black marble plinth, crowned with a slab of shiny brass and skewered peppercorns. A trio of gallery attendants, one seated reading in each tiny room, completed the curious collection. In spite of their silent, studied indifference, the attendants’ presence made the shoebox spaces feel crowded, even slightly claustrophobic. Revealing nothing of the whys and wherefores of this tripling, they leave the viewer to look for the pattern in the pick-and-mix of media, scale and form.
Squat and solid, the plinths are oddly truncated – like demi-shrines. It is only the works’ title, Salame, and the verbose press materials that give the game away: the brass corresponds to an absent slice of salami that once lay on a plinth-height kitchen table; each peppercorn – carefully kept aside – has been re-skewered in its original position. The solemn black marble takes on a lighter complexion. The exhibition turned upon such calculated misrecognitions, produced by divorcing an object from its usual context. The dodecahedrons, for instance, are etchings of public sculptures in the middle of provincial roundabouts. But there is nothing in the work itself to tell you so. Without a verbal anchor, the forms float free in a matt sky of brass, tethered to nothing, signifying nothing but their own perfect geometry.
Tolone sees the world in shapes. The show’s visually disparate elements were united by a striking clarity of form, an attention to composition that was exaggerated by the obsessive-compulsive effect of their repetition. The irregular contours of the mandarin peels are sharpened by their high contrast with the blue background; the plinth and wall shelves are exercises in straight lines and precise angles; the pentagonal faces of the etchings uniformly symmetrical. Even the old television sets seem to have been chosen for their emphatically boxy appearance.
Tolone’s is a particular and peculiar minimalism. The shelves, a doff of the cap to Donald Judd, are in actuality the MDF materialization of shadows cast by IKEA’s best-selling flat-pack version. His objects are not specific; they are lost – context is all.
Without any linguistic crutch, each variant in ‘Three Times Once’ refers only back to its predecessor in an endless loop in which meaning is constantly deferred. However, Tolone’s irreverent choice of cultural artefact prevents this deconstructionist methodology from becoming abstruse. After all, who was looking for meaning in a peppered sausage? His is the winking cleverness of the magician, flipping his hat to reveal that the rabbit has disappeared. It may be an old trick but, like throwing an unbroken orange peel over your shoulder to see how it falls, it’s an infinitely pleasing gesture.
First published in Issue 148