Victoria Miro presents Hernan Bas Venetian Blind, the artist's sixth solo exhibition with the gallery.
The exhibition, which includes a decorative room screen and several large-scale works on paper, weaves characteristically expansive lines of enquiry around themes of privacy, mourning and seclusion, and the physical, emotional and symbolic conduits between the living and the dead. Its anchor point, conceptual and physical, is A Private Morning (2020), a folding screenlined on one side with a classic black moiré fabric, a pattern produced since the Middle Ages but popularised by Queen Victoria during her 'eternal mourning' period following the death of Prince Albert. Replacing 'mourning' with 'morning', Bas invites viewers to observe a contemporary private moment, perhaps a period of seclusion as mourning is sometimes known, alluded to in the painted side of the screen, which depicts a lone male figure, wearing a black T-shirt and surrounded by flowers that, in various stages of decay, allude to symbolic depictions of flowers in historical still life and memento mori paintings.
The Venetian blind of the exhibition’s title, believed to have originated in Persia and made popular by Venetian traders in the eighteenth century, figures prominently in the composition, further accentuating screen’s nature as an object of privacy. Venetian history is the focus of a number of the artist’s works on paper, some of which draw inspiration from the island of San Michele, which since 1807 has been the city’s main cemetery. Long enthralled by the island, which reminds the artist of one of his favourite paintings, Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, Bas alights on the practice, recently revived, of erecting a temporary bridge to it for All Souls’ Day–a literal bridge to the dead that echoes his career long interest in transitional spaces and moments.
Bas’ enduring fascination with the paranormal is illustrated in a further work which refers to the discovery in 2009 of a ‘Vampire of Venice’, unearthed in a mass grave on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, supporting the belief that vampires were behind the plagues that swept the city in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Known as ‘shroud eaters’, these ghouls were thought to spread pestilence from the grave by chewing on their funeral shrouds. A female skull was discovered with its jaw forced open by a brick–an exorcism technique used on suspected vampires at the time.
Coinciding with the Carnival of Venice, the exhibition echoes the history of the city brought vividly to life at this time of year, mirroring its references to past events, such as allusions to the plague in the bird-like Medico della Peste mask, which originated in the seventeenth century and was worn by plague doctors to protect them from airborne diseases and which, in a highly decorative form, is worn by carnival goers today.
Press release courtesy Victoria Miro.