This exhibition took place at our previous Hong Kong location.
Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to announce OMNIUM MEMORIA II, an exhibition of sculpture by Belgian artist Renato Nicolodi, the first solo exhibition of his work in the gallery.
Born in 1980 in Brussels, Nicolodi is the son of an Italian father and Belgian mother, origins that ignited his inquisitive mind for as long as he can remember and became the core of his artistic endeavours. Sculpture has played a main role in his body of work up till now, while he also makes renderings, acrylic drawings and paintings. Architecture takes centre stage in nearly all these works, more often as a theme than as a subject. Indeed, as the title of this exhibition suggests, one of the predominant subjects of his works is memory. Our own living memory, our memory of archetypical architecture, Nicolodi’s biography and memory, as well as the memory and history of the age-old gallery space, for which he custom made four new works.
In Herinnering (Remembrance), the master thesis he wrote in 2003, he shared a number of events and remembrances that marked his childhood. For example, as a child he was drawn to a concrete structure in the back garden of his parental home that served as a drainage system for rainwater. “When you look in the hollow, there is nothing else to see but darkness. It is always as dark and yet today, that darkness tells me something different from what it did before. (…) It was inaccessible as it were, and at the same time forbidden.”
Ancestral anecdotes and stories he recorded during his youth also play an important role in Nicolodi’s arsenal of images. His urge to delve into his origins made him stumble upon the contrasting wartime stories of his paternal grandfather and his maternal grandmother. His grandfather, for example, was on duty as a young soldier in the army of Mussolini and worked as an interpreter for the Italians and the Germans. He later became a prisoner of war of the Germans, and then was moved from camp to camp until he managed to escape from a Belgian camp and finally ended up in the resistance. His grandmother, on the other hand, was falsely accused and taken prisoner by the resistance.
These histories, with different and shifting ideologies, stuck in Nicolodi’s mind. As a result, his biography and that of his family became a personal point of departure for a more universal language of images framing the collective memory. “It is that (…) trying to understand two different stories that leads me to my story now. (…) I use an archetypical architecture (…) an architecture that attracts, but also repels through the connotations thereof. I am actually reconstructing all those inconveniences in those family stories in my own work.”
Indeed, although his sculptures in limestone, concrete, brass and wood are based on what he likes to callarchetypical forms of architecture, they never refer to (once) existing monuments or buildings. This language of forms can rapidly evoke remembrances of totalitarian architecture, but devoid of any functionality, his work rather recalls the visionary projects of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and Etienne-Louis Boullée in the Age of Enlightenment.
Nicolodi mentions that his family stories are full of holes, full of unspoken riddles, silences, omissions and hesitations and it is precisely this that finds its architectural expression in the central voids of his art works. It almost seems as if the void is the real driving force for the artist to let a sculpture rise around it, to encapsulate it. His massive works might seem as hermetic and deterring models and monuments, but they are in fact shells, even shrines for the void. As the spectator is rarely able to physically enter the dark space, he is invited to dwell in it mentally.
“I see that as a rather creative space. (…) For me, it is actually a space where these reflections on those family stories come back to the fore. It is a space that raises questions on a personal level.” Notable in this respect is Nicolodi’s great fascination for Kasimir Malevitch’s Black Square (1915), a fascination that can be traced to his student days. “I must admit that it has been an important source of inspiration. I look at that also as somewhat of a gate.”
An imposing, inaccessible gate is what you can call the central work of the exhibition. In the spirit of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s panelled Gates of Paradise and Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell, based on Dante’s Divina Commedia, Purgatorium II is a four meter high oak-wood sculpture that is more monument than gate, more a shrine than a dwelling. Nicolodi designed and developed it with the gallery dimensions and specifics in mind. Just as Dante imagined purgatory as a gate with seven levels or phases one has to go through to reach heaven, to see the light, Nicolodi’s monumental sculpture is divided into seven modules. Only a few tiny side openings enable a glimpse of the seemingly endless stairs within (to heaven, to the light, to ourselves), which enables us to unlock the space as a modern purgatory, a modern place of cleansing for the imagination.
 From a discussion between Marie-Pascale Gildemyn and Renato Nicolodi, Borchtlombeek, 19 March 2014. From a discussion between Marie-Pascale Gildemyn and Renato Nicolodi, Brussels, 28 March 2014. Ibid.
Press release courtesy Axel Vervoordt Gallery.