Tropisms
solo project at Solivagant*. New York, 2016

curated by Rachel Steinberg
 

Through the street-level window, there is a stage set for a single performer. In this bright white cube we see an object using the language of visual display - a painting resting on an a sleek metal construction, maybe an easel, too delicate for practical use. The duality of this structure, approximately twenty degrees vertical, references both the place of creation as well as presentation for a painting. A copy, missing the sturdy functionality inherent in the original, it instead serves as a prop for the choreographed performance of this work. 

Tropisms, a new project by Davide Zucco for Solivagant* in New York’s Lower East Side, shows a single installation, of which the central object will shift in space throughout the course of the exhibition. Acting in slow choreography, the work moves at the speed akin to the growth of the painting’s subject. Like the fern depicted in the painting, the movement is imperceptible to the human eye, but reveals itself upon revisitation, suggesting a secret livelihood in the object. 

The installation itself appears two-fold. First, the central object is a hybrid between sculpture and painting, which Zucco approaches from both ends. The painting’s surface has gone through many treatments - carefully mapped, then burned away at the outline. The remaining image is an archetypical plant, awkwardly curled over to fit exactly and economically inside of the frame, as if it were a fossil sample in a box - the universal default of regularity and order, encased in future plastic. In changing its position through time, the movements of the propped up plant in this fluorescent cube echo the discomfort that it must feel in its containment. Perhaps this agitation is a survival instinct, searching for sunlight through its immediate, deep-black surroundings, seeking that which will keep it alive. However, the only light this plant seems to absorb is filtered through the frame itself, giving the leaves and stem a sickly sheen, like the hapless victim of a modern-day oil spill. The perimeter of the painting, bound by virulent green Plexiglas, appears to be illuminated at the edges, creating tension that vibrates with a toxic, surreal luminosity against the charred interior.

Expanding our view to encompass the entire space, we see the second element - a thin metal line, reminiscent of a circuit, making a subtle loop around the gallery. It acts as an infinite course of energy, circumnavigating the edges of the space to create an open joint. Both delineating and sewing the space together, it opens up the limits of the work, in a material echo of the central construction. 

Up close in one viewing, there is little about Davide Zucco’s work that would lead one to think of it in a theatrical way, but it nonetheless plays a role, as actant rather than actor. In Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things, philosopher Jane Bennett borrows Bruno Latour’s term actant to describe the ‘material agency or effectivity of non-human or not-quite-human things..”(ix) Both the presence and careful formulation of Zucco’s work suggest that there are larger forces engaged in its creation. Seeming to exist within a seamless material ecology of its own, it houses a deep vitality, a reminder that it will continue to exist, apart from the hands of the creator. 

Like many of his other works, this project leaves a residue of geologic time, felt through complex and mysterious materials - the charred surface, pristine and delicate angles, and heightened level of painterly dexterity. It dips deep into unknown durations, losing all reference points along this massive archaeological timeline, leaving one to wonder whether we are catching a glimpse of the past, future, or a divergent present.

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Bennett, Jane. Preface. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. USA: Duke UP, 2010. vii-xix. Print.