Piercing is the title of the young Italian artist Margherita Raso’s new installation at Fanta Spazio – her debut at the gallery. It refers to hanging jewels and body decorations, but it also conjures the idea of an opening, being penetrating and ‘getting under someone’s skin’, both in physical and emotional terms. And yet, the elegant layout the artist conceived for the unusual architecture of the gallery doesn’t pierce any of its surfaces.
Fanta is an independent space run by three young curators: Alessio Baldissera, Gloria De Risi and Alberto Zenere. It occupies a railway arch; whenever a train passes over, the gallery fills with vibrations, which are amplified and reverberated by the corrugated iron cladding of the curved walls. As if to reveal the gallery’s skeleton, Raso removed a wooden mezzanine that previously split the space in two. She then lined it with a new, soft epidermis made of seven fabric strips, loosely sewn together, draped in folds and kept in place by hundreds of tiny magnets. The creases are thicker at the top and baggier at the base so that the edges seem to spill across the otherwise empty floor. The result is monumental and theatrical, akin to an upside-down stage curtain; it’s also weirdly girlie and haptic: like an elastic membrane, the fabric muffles any sounds. The result is a space that – surprisingly – encourages quiet contemplation. The architecture appears both concealed and emphasized by this second skin.
Raso employed a silky, silvery, synthetic textile that is fabricated by Jacquard-weaving – the same technique that is used to make brocade and damask, with tapestry effects. In the final stages of its production, the fabric is exposed to steam and the thermosensitive acrylic string interspersed in the warp and weft contracts, which results in a microscopic relief. Seen from up close, it looks like scar tissue.
Raso has employed and ‘morphed’ the same Jacquard technique before, for the group show ‘Where the Wild Flowers Grow’ at the Milanese artist-run space Armada (which she co-founded in 2014). For that exhibition, she created Senza Titolo (Untitled, 2016), a single strip of cloth hanging from the ceiling; its lattice of painterly garnet-coloured wrinkles and pleats contrasted with the wavy, dark blue background.
At Fanta, at first the tangled black patterns inscribed on the grey surface appear abstract but, in fact, they’re fragments of layered self-portraits. Initially, the artist ‘recorded the passage and movements’ (her words) of her body on a large sheet of paper by tracing the contours of her legs, arms and torso with oil pastels, over and over again. Then she photographed her ‘choreographies’ [sic], overlapped and multiplied them, and transformed them into bitmap files as sequences of black and white pixels so that the Jacquard loom could ‘read’ them. The result is that her patchy, headless limbs appear slightly larger than life.
Raso’s twisted outlines reflect the impossibility of simultaneously perceiving the physical body and the self it contains as a unified entity; rather we tend to see it as a series of shifting fragments and images, distorted by our ways of looking, our feelings and our social interactions. It’s apt, then, that for the artist’s first solo show, Raso’s self-portrait is manifold and multidimensional. Piercing is all over the place: both in plain sight and almost invisible, it clings to the walls like a wallflower and camouflages itself like a tapestry.
Main image: Margherita Raso, Piercing, 2017, installation view, Fanta Spazio, Milan, Italy. Courtesy: the artist and Fanta Spazio, Milan; photograph: Roberto Marossi