Friday, November 11, 2011

Pests & Empires - Jan Fabre at MAGAZZINO Gallery in Rome

He is known from the Venice Biennale, renowned for his cerebral sculpture, his outspoken political views, his writing and his theatre production: all-round talent and infamous Beetle Boy Jan Fabre strikes again at MAGAZZINO Gallery in Rome’s Via dei Prefetti, with a one-man show presenting seven newest works. Titled “Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo” the politically engaged Fabre tackles the historical subject of Belgium’s involvement in the Congo during its colonial era, while simultaneously tying it to classical sadist iconography applied by Bosch in the late 15th Century. 

Particularly the Prado’s treasured “Garden of Early Delights” proved inspirational to Fabre, who borrows much of his imagery from the Dutchman. Bosch’s central “Garden” panel depicts a man carrying a large black mussel shell, inside which a couple succumbs to earthly pleasures while small loose pearls roll around inside the shell, touching one of the figure’s back and buttocks. Jan Fabre chooses to have the shell devoid of sexual reference and any aphrodisiac quality; instead, the dark shell acts as a prison cell for a black Congo slave. The shell violently spits large pearls into space, as the man’s hands, firmly tied with a thick rope, are fruitlessly attempting to rip apart its entrapping walls. Similarly, following what can be best described as Bosch’s anal fixation, Fabre presents an image of a black slave defecating diamonds. This not only, and more obviously, refers to the Belgian abuse of the Congo for the purpose of obtaining the valuable raw materials, but interestingly has a very literal significance as well. Often a slave who stole a diamond would be punished by being made to eat the raw gem; this gruesome sentence was followed by the slave’s internal bleeding and death.

Jan Fabre’s technical mastery is, of course, beyond doubt and the process by which these large works are created is fascinating. As these are made exclusively from dried wings of the jewel beetle, the artist mass-purchases these from local restaurants in Thailand; the beetles are a part of the Thai cuisine however their rough, hard, fingernail-shaped wings are not eaten and discarded by the Chefs before serving. Fabre employs a complicated, pain-staking technique that leaves his finished monumental pieces to look like intricate patterns on wicker furniture: hand-woven, thick, tactile, and seemingly in motion. The colors glint and shimmer with shades of forest green, turquoise, gold, and burnt sienna. The work is tremendously beautiful and, much like with Hirst’s “Cathedral Prints”, it is easy to forget the origin of the medium at hand.

‘Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo’ by Jan Fabre
November 10 – January 8, 2011
MAGAZZINO Gallery   Via dei Prefetti 17 – Rome, Italy

November 10th, 2011

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