BY Line R. Nissen in Reviews | 06 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 29

Maura Biava

BY Line R. Nissen in Reviews | 06 SEP 96

Maura Biava's show 'Medusa & Delfina' deals with the portrayal of two female characters: the vague, sleepy Medusa and the active, changeable Delfina. The story of the Neapolitan Delfina is depicted in a frieze of drawings running continuously at eye level around the walls of the main room. The unframed drawings are on white paper and almost merge with the walls. Each picture contains a simple drawing of the character and a time of day written in the corner. The clarity and sparsity of the drawings is a mix between Byzantine church fresco and contemporary Japanese comic strip. Through her clothing and accessories it's possible to follow the fictitious life of Delfina, with each drawing referring to a particular action. These little episodes traverse their individual micro-perspectives, mapping out the story of Delfina from ages 14 to 21. The pose of the figure changes with consecutive years, and each day different acts are performed.

In one drawing we see her go shopping at 10 am. But at 3.30 pm she's trying to dress up like a tree. She's 15 years old but, from her ring, we can tell that she's already engaged (they marry young in Naples). On another day, at 9 am, she's wearing an elegant suit, her lips are painted red, and she carries what might be a portable computer. In the later pictures, Delfina is around 20 years old and no longer married. At a previous point in the frieze, we have seen her on the point of swallowing her wedding ring, which she holds between her lips. Her look is straight and refractory and she is dressed like a hippie, with a band around her waist and a garland of flowers around her neck. She wants to break out, be free and get back to basics. Later, she is depicted in a karate outfit (she's learning self defence) and next she becomes politically active (she wants to write graffiti on the walls). But then her pose changes: it's another year and she wears smart, stylish clothes, trying to be correct and behave properly. And so the story continues, without really being a story. The drawings seem to be descriptive rather than narrative, and the development, if there is one, isn't logical. In fact, you get the impression that it's not a story of a single person ­ just changes of attitude, or indications of possible identities.

The story of Medusa is told in an installation in a smaller room. Medusa has chosen to sleep for a few years. She floats in water or air, has no narrative and remains passive. In this she is the opposite of Delfina, the ever changeable personality. The room contains a little bed with a transparent blue-green cover and printed photos of Medusa floating around in the sea or resting her head on a stone pillow. The actual pillow in the installation is a helium-filled balloon hovering in the room. It looks strange and undefined, but evokes perfectly the image of Medusa. Her presence is fragile, and the objects describing her seem to be out of shape: the bed is too small for a real person to sleep in, the cover doesn't cover anything and the pillow can't be kept down. Though Medusa doesn't correspond directly to the figure of Greek mythology (in the drawings she wears a night-cap so you can't see if her hair is made of snakes), she is still more abstract and timeless than Delfina, whom we know is from Naples and whose story is told through her actions.

Delfina is all over the room. She is so much 'there' that it is almost impossible to get a grip on exactly who she is. The various attitudes represented by the drawings call attention to the multiplicity of one person's character and evoke an impression of complexity and flexibility. The necessity for a chameleon-like existence is thrown into relief by the feeling that this metamorphosis may go on and on, the character continually changing costumes and accessories like a cut-out doll. As in a comic strip, everything seems simple and easy to change, but real life is not as easy as turning the page. Still, in the course of a day, we all change our behaviour to adjust to the context we're in. Character is manifold and changeable ­ always a work in progress.

In the frieze of drawings of Delfina, Biava focuses on this aspect of changeability and fickleness. She engages herself in the structuring of a personality. The attitude of 'being in doing' seems to be something that she sympathises with: there's no implicit comment and no opposition. Biava just depicts and describes, utilising her own current experiences.