Last year, I spent Frieze week recovering from a gruelling fifteen days working on the build; this year was, thankfully, a very different experience as I instead interned at All Visual Arts, first to cover One Marylebone’s Metamorphosis and then Bertozzi e Casoni’s largest show to date, Regeneration.
These two Italians dissect contemporary culture, exposing its materialism, vanity and moral failings through the sole medium of polychrome ceramic. Whilst AVA’s group show Metamorphosis saw nature reformed into mysterious, tantalising objects, Regeneration is more a study of nature’s persistence despite society’s disregard: orchids burst out of piles of sod, endangers species sit Zen-like atop filthy mattresses and insects weave through piles of trash.
Although at times the concept is perhaps unclear, it can be regarded as secondary to the exquisite detail and fragility of the sculpting and rich paintwork of these careful assemblages. Bertozzi e Casoni’s handling of this difficult medium is by masterful as solid ceramic somehow forms translucent butterfly wings, cutlery and cans absolutely imitate glinting steel, and a ten tonne pastel slab sags with the slack of an old stained mattress.
The realism of the exhibition is only briefly lost with Regeneration’s stag and gorilla, who are perhaps too black and too golden – but this functions to draw the eye straight to the exhibition’s epitomising and title piece.
Certain works are complex in their design; for example this monitor lizard which mounts an ox skull, or Bucranium – universally representative of death – whilst tulips blossom at its feet. Life, death and power are constant presents, at times more overtly than at others.
This melting tray is reminiscent of TV dinners: human laziness. Each of its parts speak of glutton, sloth, greed; except for the glimmering muzzle – nature controlled and constricted – and the ram’s horn – a reminder of its removed power perhaps. It is easy to miss these small symbolic hints and instead be simply enthralled in a study of every of these minute, but equally perfect, components.
The exhibition may appear to be curated in a rather distanced manner with each piece isolated, something which can often suggest that there is not a common theme – yet here, this separation actually allows for full appreciation of each intricate form. Concept is of course important – but so is celebrating the artists’ unique medium: Osobello, or Beautiful Bones, gives a basic message surrounding the strength of nature, however the contrast of the blue plinth, smooth white bones and red ladybirds is more striking – it is simultaneously cold, refined and grotesque.
Although perhaps less elegant than the rest of the show, this tacky turquoise bin was possibly my favourite: encompassing both the stunning paintwork of Regeneration‘s mattress heap and the idea of nature thriving within a mass of junk, also visible within the orchid piece’s sod – but in this grim plastic-esque cage it is confined.
In reforming society’s waste in ceramic, a medium connoting value and wealth, Bertozzi e Casoni almost satirise the way we live: discarding objects we once invested money and interest in. A gorilla, a stag, a monitor lizard – these creatures mock us, and remind us that often it is in spite of our actions that they remain, rather than thanks to them.
With stunning ceramics and often exceptional paintwork, Regeneration drives in a few home truths: scorning materialistic frivolity and instead reminding of what is truly significant, worth appreciating and to be treasured.