Giuseppe De Mattia “Produzione Propria” at OPR gallery, Milan

Many artists produce on their own at a time when the classical concepts of ownership and authorship are invested by the logic of profile, anonymity and community. From this consciously uncomfortable position, one can express oneself freely, vulgarly.

Ladri di piastrelle

In the installation and performance work Nunca fui turista em Lisboa! Giuseppe De Mattia translates the illegal trade in azulejos, glazed ceramics of Arab origin that adorn the walls of many Iberian cities, composing figurative, abstract and geometric motifs into a gallery space. Azulejos thieves secretly remove the tiles to sell them to tourists as souvenirs, creating a black market that supports entire families by exfoliating their cities. Likewise, the 300 tiles installed on the walls of OPR Gallery are destined to be removed and then purchased individually by the exhibition audience for the modest price of a souvenir. The De Mattia’s tiles are a particular interpretation of the most popular square shape. All together they make up a decorative floral pattern. But taken one by one they reveal the stylisation of a male member. The parallelism between black market and gallery reveals how the artist showcases the mechanisms of art to refer to broader economic and social narratives such as the real estate speculation that plagues some places and the role of individuality in the management of common goods. The false testimony of a thief of azulejos, which Giuseppe De Mattia presents in audio form, is in fact centred on the self-legitimisation of the delinquent who, like any good artist, finds within himself the reasons for his actions. At the end of the operations, it is therefore important not to be fooled by the enthusiasm of the exchanges. Take a good look at what remains in each person’s hands.

Ingegno di Mola

This is not the first time that De Mattia has used practices and devices typical of street trading, also making irony out of the artist’s need to sell in order to make a living. In Ingenuity and Independence (That’s It, MAMbo, Bologna, 2018) he collects 7 performances focused on clandestine exchanges. In Esposizione di frutta e verdura (Materia, Rome, 2019. Curated by Vasco Forconi) he transforms the exhibition space into a shop by using a large display for real and fake fruits and vegetables. Ingegno di Mola series is also along these lines, which reworks the illegal practice, widespread in the South, of setting up a chair near the front door with examples of products for sale in the private home. For the black and white silver salts photographic series, Giuseppe De Mattia shoots on location, portraying real chairs/displays from the village of Noha, in Salento. A backdrop sketched with a white cloth, however, pretends a studio reproduction, abstracting the object from the urban fabric and giving the representation an idealised value. In the sculpture, on the other hand, the artists substitutes the Salento chair for one built following the instructions dictated in the 1970s by the designer Enzo Mari, who saw in self-design an escape route from the logic of capitalism. On this historicised chair, however, food has become fake and the precious yellow gold, oil, is mediated by a black and white photograph.

Piccola storia ignobile che gli tocca raccontare

De Mattia uses historical and traditional languages and devices in an unexpected way. In the formality of the classic, he drops the tale of negligible or marginal episodes, circumventing the narrative domain of maximum systems to denounce underhand economies and moralities of a different kind. A list of values and behaviour, often sweetened by the artistic narrative of the present, demands criticism and attention. Gimmicks, thievery, petty malfeasance, deceit and subterfuge describe historical connivances between man, image and landscape. The representation of art as a metaphorical, social and anthropological object is the value around which the entire Giuseppe De Mattia universe finds its raison d’être. The terracotta whistling mask Testa di Gianni, Fischia! tells of the time when De Mattia paid his artist friend Gianni D’Urso to whistle on command and documents the acceptance. The work evokes the Apulian tradition of translating costume scenes and real characters into a terracotta whistle. The sound that goes through Gianni’s head makes the memory ever present and relevant. The entire exhibition merges into a single genre scene, from Bari to Lisbon, traversed by a breath of vitality that calls the audience to participate in the feast (or slaughter) of the worldimage. Mustard all’ancienne “Those who have not known the Ancien régime can never know what the sweetness of life was”. PrinceDuke Talleyrand, one of the greatest exponents of political chameleonism, thus fed the reactionary cravings of the French, manipulating the past in the form of a memorable lost paradise. Like the mighty Talleyrand, De Mattia offers an image of the artist self that is suitable for all seasons. On the one hand, he is capable of pandering to the retro-refined tastes of the cultured (a dollar blackens the pupils at the clap of the cash register). On the other it is nimble in moving, candidly, in the poor undergrowths of the independent scenes. To be an artist, one might say, one must be able to invent at least one (of artists). And to bring it to the stage. Giuseppe De Mattia is an elegant, anti-magic and tragicomically realistic one. A guy who, with the order and method of an archivist of folklore, builds symbolic credibility in order to reveal its falsehood, sowing doubt on the genuine beliefs of white hetero cisgender Westerners and discovering their fear of taking it or, even worse, of not being able to put it on.

Gabriele Tosi

at OPR gallery, Milan
until November 15, 2022

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