Metamorfuoco and the allegory of mankind’s powerlessness

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Simon Starling’s installation places the cycle of paintings by Tintoretto alongside woodcuts and contemporary works, to stimulate reflection about the effects of climate change. The special floor made by Marazzi to the artist’s design is an integral part of the work.

Following on from the Luigi Ghirri exhibition, Marazzi is again involved in a major cultural project. Starting from the Galleria Estense’s cycle of paintings by Tintoretto and woodcuts held by the Biblioteca Estense library, Simon Starling’s installation leads the visitor into an immersive, prophetic experience: the current drought and the effects of climate change in general become an allegory for the contemporary world and for technology that is destabilising the ecosystem.

A leading figure on the British and international arts scene, Simon Starling (1967) has relocated the cycle of paintings of the Fall of Phaeton by Tintoretto (1518-1594), inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to the ceiling, forcing visitors to view them from an unusual angle at which the child of the Sun seems to be plummeting down from the sky. The fire in the paintings becomes an ambivalent symbol of the ability to transform and the risk of destruction. “The myth of Phaeton,” the artist explains [Olga Gambari in La Repubblica newspaper, Modena news, 15 October 2022], “has a profound, almost prophetic contemporary meaning: he thinks he can do anything, even drive the chariot of his father the sun god Apollo to show off his divine birth to others.”

Beneath the paintings is a large ceramic floor specially produced by Marazzi (using porcelain stoneware slabs from the Mystone Limestone collection, Ivory colour), which combines with the sky to evoke elements of an archaic, all-powerful physics. The artist has used the ceramic surfaces like a blank canvas on which he has drawn natural elements that dialogue with the figures in the Tintoretto cycle. There are about 60 decorations, each one of them different, on square tiles which build up an exquisite artistic mosaic.

The installation also dialogues with illustrations chosen from the pages of the valuable books held by the Biblioteca Estense library and other works by the same artist. The effect is to invite the visitor to progress through the striking scene. “The floor is a maze with a mixture of enormously enlarged fragments of 18thC and 19thC woodcuts, a metamorphic collage of trees, fires and clouds of smoke. Heaven and earth change places in a huge conflagration which seems to burn and blaze before our eyes, with images that have become all too familiar, evoking our planetary emergency and climate change. The project sets out to put the current situation into a historical context. […] It is a journey through time, tracing the responsibility of the human race.”

9 September – 31 January
Gallerie Estensi, Largo Porta S.Agostino 337
Modena