Due Qui / To Hear: the art of listening at the 60th Venice Art Biennale

Massimo Bartolini transforms the Italian Pavilion into a multidirectional and multisensory itinerary that invites visitors to reconnect spiritually with people and the surrounding environment.

As in 2022, with Gian Maria Tosatti’s majestic installation Storia della Notte e Destino delle Comete, the conception of the Italian pavilion on the occasion of the 60th Venice Art Biennale was assigned to one single artist: Massimo Bartolini. On paper, it should’ve been a one-man-show, but Due Qui / To Hear goes in a completely different direction. On the one hand there’s the collaborative approach that characterized the production phases in which several artists and professionals were involved, and on the other hand there’s the title of the project itself, that by playing on the homophones “two here” (“due qui” in Italian) and “to hear” becomes an invitation to listen and consider the existence of the other. The concept of “foreigner”, which guides the entire exhibition curated by Adriano Pedrosa, here takes on another symbolic and less explicit meaning: that of stranger. In order not to be a stranger to oneself, self-knowledge is a crucial step. And the Self, as theorized by philosophers and psychoanalysts such as Hegel, Sartre, and more recently by George E. Atwood, always requires an Other for its definition.

Due qui / To hear, masterfully curated by Luca Cerizza with the support of the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Culture, is in fact a deeply introspective journey, but at the same time a collective experience. The visit route is not fixed, but circular, allowing visitors to follow it in either direction through a space divided into three sectors. Entering from Tese 2, the audience comes across a small bronze statue of a Pensive Bodhisattva, a person who, having achieved enlightenment, voluntarily gives it up to show others how to get there. The Bodhisattva sits peacefully on the end of a 25 m tube within which a low sound resonates thanks to a fan moving the air at the other side of the room. Like a demarcation line, the square tube divides the bare and dark space in two: on one side a large green wall and on the other purple, that according to musicians and scientists who have assigned hues to musical keys, represent respectively A and A flat. The acoustic paradigm is in fact the pillar of the entire project that aims to address the social implications of listening.

Massimo Bartolini, Pavilion of ITALY, DUE QUI / TO HEAR, 60th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, ph. Andrea Avezù, Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

The second entrance is from Giardino delle Vergini, where another acoustic presence conveys a mystical, but more relaxed atmosphere. Gavin Bryars in collaboration with his son, Yuri Bryars, composed a choral work for three voices and percussions inspired by the poem A veces ya no puedo moverme (Sometimes I can no longer stir myself) by the Argentine poet Roberto Juarroz, which reads: “I find my roots everywhere / as if everything were born in me / or as if I were born in everything.” The trees that populate the garden with their immobility act as a counterpart to the statue of the Pensive Bodhisattva; both in fact, becoming one with the world and humanity – the trees through their deep roots and the Bodhisattva through the power of thought – suggest a multitude of relationships with the environment, people, and things in an all-encompassing communion without solution of continuity. At the center is Tesa 1, a metal maze composed of an intricate scaffolding structure, that can also be traveled in different directions. Circularity and freedom of action can be understood as further metaphors of life that rarely travels on straight tracks, but on the contrary branches out in numerous directions that are also fleeting and subject to fate and our will in equal measure.

Scaffolding structures are distinctive elements of Bartolini’s practice – as recently showed in his major exhibition Hagoromo (2022) at Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato – and this time he availed himself of the aid of organ builders and other technical experts to modify them so that they sound like organ pipes. Inside the labyrinthine installation there are also two large music boxes from which a musical composition by Caterina Barbieri and Kali Malone emanates. An experimental music that often recalls the metallic creaking of this hypothetical scaffolding that has now lost its original function by becoming a sort of spiritual support for the audience that passes through it, as explained by Bartolini: “The scaffolding, architecture before architecture, that protects and encloses the new construction, is similar to the organ, that in turn supports and protects the soul of those who want to ascend to heaven”. The epicenter of the entire installation is Conveyance (2024), a circular sculpture inside which water moves inwards and outwards with a continuous motion. This phenomenon is known in mathematics and physics as the “soliton”, a nonlinear, self-reinforcing, localized wave packet that is strongly stable and preserves its shape while propagating freely. Like a fountain that acts as a meeting place within a square, Conveyance draws visitors towards it, revealing before their eyes the mystery of its hypnotic movement, that arouses amazement and dismay.

Pavilion of ITALY, DUE QUI / TO HEAR, 60th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, ph. Andrea Avezù, Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

Nothing in Due Qui / To Hear is immediate; the title has different levels of interpretation, and Bartolini’s targeted artistic interventions, that have transformed the over 2000 m2 of the Italian Pavilion into an experiential and spiritual journey, require a bit of context to be fully understood – in this regard Luca Cerizza comes to the rescue with his thorough curatorial text. Lastly, Due Qui / To Hear requires patience and time: time to tune into the music and the other sensory inputs, time to move through its large spaces, and time to stand still and finally listen, in an osmotic relationship with space and all living beings.

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Agnese Torres
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