Ugo Rondinone‘s oeuvre takes up a unique position in the contemporary art scene and his contribution in revisiting the codes and the histories of the visual arts has been exceptional.
Regarding the exhibition title, the curator Larys Frogier elaborates: “Rondinone’s large rainbow sign “Breathe Walk Die” embodies perfectly how simple and enigmatic, how imperative and simultaneously poetic the affirmation and allure of “Breathe Walk Die” could be. This new neon sign, following others like “We are Poems, Hell Yes!”, or “Our Magical Hour” seems to point out both raw reality and hidden aspects of our history. The sign encapsulates and makes palpable an unnamed collective desire, and, in turn, inspires a new one: to understand why this hour, for example, is so magical.”
The exhibition “Breathe Walk Die” conspicuously displays the “color in excess”. This abuse of color is particularly enhanced by the presence of forty live clowns wearing multicolored costumes. Every day from the beginning to the end of the exhibition, the performers will occupy different spots inside the museum, engaging in very strange and unexpected time-space relations with visitors. Childish, fantastic, candy-like, surreal—these could be the first impressions stemming from such an environment. But beyond this emotional and visual surface there is a deeply alienating experience which develops between the clowns and the visitors.
Indeed, in the exhibition space, the clowns are not requested to actively entertain the viewers but, on the contrary, they sit and lie on the ground, sleeping and meditating, excluding themselves from the existing space and distancing themselves from the viewers. In point of fact, the clowns do not see the colorful space; they don masks that are actually casts of their own faces, with eyes fully closed, denying the architecture, environment, and visitors in order to build other extended horizons beyond symbols and narration.
Their faces are strangely white with long, black eyelashes, as if they were marked as utterly sensitive aliens embarked on a floating journey.The “non-action” of the clowns’ performance infiltrates the space, reversing the colors in excess with a critical question about how to exceed norms and limits: what is the feeling of being refused? How to refuse to do what people tell you to do? How do we distribute the assumed roles and actions into our societies? It is worth noticing that each of the clowns will receive from the artist a name like a verb of action, echoing the imperative neon sign “Breathe Walk Die”. This “name-dropping” process is also another substantial element of the show: with titles and names, Rondinone powerfully acts out language beyond the limits of language.
- Breathe walk die, Courtesy of Rockbund Art Museum
- If there were anywhere but desert; Courtesy of Rockbund Art Museum