14.03.09 – 09.05.09
Imagine the possibilities,
Solo show, Gallery Alessandro Bagnai. Florence, Italy.
Curated by James Putnam.
‘Imagine The Possibilities’ – Anila Rubiku at Bagnai Gallery, Florence Central to Anila Rubiku’s current body of work is her recent residency at ASU Art Museum, Arizona. Here she conceived and produced the two vast wall works shown here composed of 80 individually sewn drawings on pieces of leather. These are actually swatches or samples of the type of most luxurious leather used for upholstering designer furniture. In common with many of her other projects she involved members of the local community in the production. After sketching her designs directly onto the leather, she then sewed alongside her team of helpers that included students from the Arizona State University. The work was completed when she returned to Milan and the individual panels were assembled and mounted together in her studio. The leather pieces that make up each of the two works are grouped according to their range of colours, which she relates to the Arizona climate. The warmer reddish tones are expressive of intense heat of the day while paler tones suggest the coolness of the desert at night. She was also able obtain a range of
brightly coloured threads there as they have a long and rich folklore tradition of vibrant figurative embroidery.
These stitched works represent a form of narrative with subject matter inspired by the desert landscape, urban growth, fertility and sexual reproduction. This idea is also expressed more explicitly in her new series of black and white erotic cactus etchings intentionally framed in kitsch elaborate gold frames with floral mounts. The cactus that grows so prolifically in Arizona has phallic conations through its bizarre expansion and contraction with the climate. Also the local Mexicans consider the cactus to be a potent aphrodisiac and carry cactus symbols as fertility charms. Rubiku equates the fertility of the cactus to the rapidly expanding urban development and population in Arizona. Despite its inhospitable climate, modern technology has harnessed solar power to enable people to live indoors with air conditioning. Due to the discomfort of the extreme heat, they need to stay inside during the daytime and this has led her to muse on the potential sexual activity going on behind closed doors and its effect on the local birth rate. The cactus therefore becomes a humorous symbol for both copulation and the rapid expansion of human habitation in the desert. The cactus is also a well-known dream symbol believed by some to have a psychological meaning like fear of a hurtful situation or relationship.
Rubiku has referred to her drawings as ‘sewn dreams’ and they are a spontaneous, self-reflective process of exploring and questioning her present and future existence. Whilst abroad on residencies, sewing becomes a method of reconnecting with her cultural roots and family tradition. The imagery she portrays is potent and direct while the technique itself is calm and delicate. The virtue of embroidery is that it is a humble and ‘honest’ medium, which relates to feminine sensibility and perceptive power. The piercing of the material is important to her symbolically, a very definite and spontaneous action with no turning back. Also the surface takes on a more three-dimensional relief form once embroidered. It’s very carefully conceived, labour intensive work that renders it precious and intimate. As she puts it: – “This sewing is my entire world: my time, my poetry, my culture, my past and many
other dreams for the future”.
The mechanisms of travel like the car and the airplane often feature in Rubiku’s work. Her current Bagnai Gallery exhibition includes an installation with a large model of a Cessna aircraft. Mounted on the plane are six small plasma screens with six animations of the sewn leather drawings accompanied by a special sound track. This notion
of travel is also conveyed in her large installation entitled ‘Milan- Tokyo: A Round Trip’. This is a completely new presentation of a project originally realized for the Echigo Tsumari Triennial, Japan in 2006. Working with local housewives in Tokamachi (Niigata prefecture) she embroidered 50 individual scenes on linen documenting her journey to Japan. This was also an apt method of connecting her own embroidery to the traditional Japanese textile
culture of the region. For the Triennial she displayed them in a garage arranging them to resemble the passenger seats in an aircraft cabin. The individual linen embroideries are mounted on their original hoops or frames that also allude to the windows of a plane while their circular format is like a symbol of the world.
Her work is frequently autobiographic and relates to the more philosophical aspects of travel or mind-journeys. A desire to be elsewhere, expectations and hopes and the perception of far away places and people. This is perhaps connected and to Rubiku’s relatively nomadic life-style and her need to create a sense of place or fulfil a homing instinct. Recurrent imagery is the iconography of the everyday, depictions of cozy domestic interiors with stylish
designer furniture combined with scenes of a sexual nature and the interaction between them, There is an ongoing dialogue between inside and outside with an investigation of the relationship between the body, architecture and the home. Her work also reflects on industrialization, modernization and design for living, while addressing issues of gender, sexuality and their underlying issues in connection to urban domestic life. Rubiku’s work also explores the wider notion embodied in travel of the dialectic between anticipation and reality and how it relates to time. Our the experience of the trip is dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to and our awareness of why we are on the move. Her delicately sewn figurative drawings and poetic texts reveal her natural curiosity in recording specific details and experiences like her Arizona residency. Rubiku’s acute observation and expression of the unlikely phenomenon of human life ever expanding into the arid desert not only illustrates the power of art to open our eyes and change the way we perceive places but also allows us to ‘imagine the possibilities’.
James Putnam, London, February 2009