In Céline Condorelli’s exhibition of sculptures and installations at HangarBicocca, a sequence of floating-curtain pieces – The Bottom Line (to Kathrin Böhm) (2014), Structure for Communicating with Wind (2012) and White Gold of Egypt (2012) – bisects the space into areas of ‘Day’ and ‘Night’. On one side, half of the works are illuminated by natural light, thanks to the large window cut into the black-box space by the artist and, at regular intervals, works on the nocturnal side are flooded with artificial light or plunged into semi-darkness. Also, the neon piece which lends the show its title (baubau, 2014), installed outside like a bar sign, blinks constantly: first reading ‘bau’ – a reference to Bauhaus and the German word Bau (construction) – then ‘bau bau’, like the Italian transliteration of a barking dog, as if an ironic twin had stepped on stage – possibly, a self-portrait of Condorelli as an architect and polyglot artist (born in Paris in 1974 to an Italian father and a French mother, she now lives in London and teaches in Milan at the New Academy of Fine Arts).
The exhibition expresses many of Condorelli’s different interests. In 2009, with a group of co-founders that included Gavin Wade, Condorelli set up the Birmingham exhibition space Eastside Projects. And last year, as part of the programme How to work together – jointly developed in London by Chisenhale Gallery, Studio Voltaire and The Showroom – she wrote a book on friendship, The Company She Keeps, and also created, for her solo show at Chisenhale, a new series of semi-functional works, ‘Intentional Objects In Accidentally Specific Appearances’ (2014 ), whose titles always include the name of a friend. Along with the book, these ‘objects’ are on view in Milan. À Bras Le Corps – with Philodendron (to Amalia Pica), for example, is a hexagonal steel structure on which visitors can sit and share space with philodendron plants or, like them, climb the steps of this hanging garden to come closer to the neon halo suspended above it.
The metaphor delivered by Condorelli’s display is clear. In this space, lights lend an intermittent visibility to what usually goes unnoticed: the ‘support structures’ – from functional props to social habits – that enable the best performances, in exhibitions as in real life. Support Structures is also the name of a dense, 438-page ‘manual for what bears, sustain, props and holds up’ that Condorelli produced at the end of an eponymous collaborative project with Wade, which ran from 2003 to 2009. In it, she analyses several types of structures, both concrete and abstract, ranging from scaffolding to social, political and psychological instruments of containment. ‘Structures are not the shape of things, but the underlying principles behind how things appear, as if they resided behind a curtain,’ she writes. The ‘Intentional Objects’ test some of her conclusions. At the show’s opening evening, I started to chat with a friend while sitting on a comfortable, dimly-lit bench, seemingly ideal for tête-à-têtes (The Weird Charismatic Power That Capitalism Has For Teenagers [to Johan Hartle], 2014). Suddenly, we found ourselves under a spotlight, only shielded from the discomfort of public exposure by our closeness to each other.
Another universal structure of support is, of course, employment. At the far end of the room, in the vitrines of a large metal construction, (Support Structure (Red) (2012–14), Condorelli brings together documentary materials found during her research into the production of Egyptian cotton with those related to the rubber industry and the manufacture of tyres that she retrieved from the archives of Pirelli – the company which founded, and continues to sponsor, HangarBicocca. Sponsorship is another obvious ‘support structure’ for art-making, and how much visibility it should be granted remains a major elephant in the room. Condorelli extended her collaboration with Pirelli by working in the company’s factory in Settimo Torinese to produce Nerofumo (Carbon Black) (2014), a series of tyres whose tread patterns have been modified by the decorative ‘intrusion’ – during the process of vulcanization – of flowers, leaves, cloth filaments and other objects. The names of all the workers involved in the making of the piece are listed on an adjoining wall, but as soon as the light goes off, they disappear, together with the evidence of how their labour is, in fact, the core support structure of the Hangar and everything in it.