Francesco Arena – Autumn lines. Sprovieri Gallery, London

francesco arena autumn lines exhibition 11 feb - 02 apr preview 10 feb 6 - 8 pm 23 heddon street london w1b 4bq +44 (0) 20 7734 2066


Sprovieri is delighted to present ‘Autumn Lines’ the inaugural exhibition with the gallery by Italian artist Francesco Arena.

Numbers that take on form. If one were to compress a large part of Francesco Arena's work into a simple, direct formula, this could certainly be it. From a linguistic point of view his work can be read as a development, a personal “derivation” of sculptural processes that arise from the geometric shapes of Minimal art and from the more archetypal ones of Arte Povera, from a thematic point of view his pieces are often the translation of formulae and numbers linked to those facts or histories from which they originate. The artist's research often moves along two tracks – that of collective history, chiefly national, and that of personal history – forming two lines that touch, overlap, cross. In his performances, installations and sculptures, the narrative “in-forms” the objects, be they everyday objects or composed of traditional sculptural materials.

Autumn Lines presents a series of works conceived at the end of autumn 2015. A few months ago, in fact, the world began to witness a collective tragedy which is still taking place and is destined to change the fate of present and future history: the mass migration towards Europe by hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria and the Middle East. The four pieces making up the project, albeit autonomous, are clearly connected not only by the human events informing them and representing the starting point, but also by their formalisation, the transformation of a numeric figure into a line, to which the title of the entire project alludes.

The journey that the refugees undertake, in fact, has certain fundamental stops in places such as Bodrum in Turkey, Budapest, the Austrian border, Munich, the Italian border, the French border and the Swedish border, which also become the intersections in this project by Arena. The line of air separating the Budapest train station and the Austrian border is 170 km and it is the distance that the refugees have had to walk after the train they were travelling on was halted. In Passo (Step) Arena translates this distance into a mirror-polished bronze bar measuring 68x10x10 cm. The unit of measurement, as often happens in Arena's work, is constituted by a physical fact which is personal to the artist: in this case the length of his step (68 cm). On one hand of the bar is the engraving: x 250,000. Multiplying this figure by the dimensions of the bar gives the distance separating the station in Budapest and the Austrian border.

In Passo doppio (Double Step) the same unit of measurement and the same material formalise other distances and other “lines”. 1449 km and 826 km are respectively the distance between Bodrum in Turkey and the Austrian border, and that between Bodrum and the Syrian border. The total of these two distances is that which the Syrian refugees travel in order to make it into Europe. Bodrum is a sort of bend in their road. Arena formalises this “route” with two mirror-polished bronze bars, these too 68x10x10 cm, joined to form a right angle. At the joint of the two bars are the engravings: x 2,130,691 and x 1,215,720. Here too, multiplying these figures by the dimensions of the bar gives the distance between Bodrum and the Austrian border, and again the distance between Bodrum and the Syrian border.

In Passo Triplo (Triple Step) Arena takes into consideration the distance between Munich and the Italian border (328 km), the French border (310 km) and Swedish border (783 km). Munich is in fact where the flow of migrants from Eastern Europe splits and they decide whether to go west, south or north and thus it becomes a crossroads of their journey. Passo triplo (Triple Step) consists of three mirror-polished bronze bars of the same dimensions as the other works, but this time joined to form a T. At the joint of the three bars are the engravings: x 482,588, x 456,514 and x 1,151,103. Multiplying these figures by the dimensions of the bar gives the distances between Munich and the borders of Italy, France and Sweden.

These three sculptures are surrounded by a work entitled Europa 11 novembre 2015 (Europe 11 November 2015), a symbolic date marking the moment in which an operation was launched to close the border between Slovenia and Croatia with metal fences and barbed wire, with the aim of creating a 2,100 metre barrier capable of controlling the flow of migrants. Starting from this fact, the piece by Arena is formalised as a ribbon of the same length, made by tying together thousands of fragments of ropes, shoelaces, electrical cables, ribbons, all of which collected from acquaintances and friends. This ribbon crosses the spaces of the gallery 160 cm from the ground, the artist's eye level.

Autumn Lines is an iconic project in Arena's way of working. A work is always seen as a necessary stage of a wider process that concerns us. As if it were a script written unknowingly by all of us and then acted out by the artist who transforms it into an “image” through the shapes and materials of art and through the most personal and immediate instrument: his own body.

(text by Vincenzo De Bellis, 2016)