nari ward’s ‘gilded darkness’ reflects today’s socio-political issues

Fondazione Nicola Trussardi presents ward’s ‘Gilded Darkness’

From September 12 to October 16, 2022, Fondazione Nicola Trussardi presents the latest work by American artist Fire Warddubbed ‘Gilded Darkness’. designboom visited the outdoor and indoor spaces of the Centro Balneare Romano in Milan — where the exhibition unfolds — and spoke with the artist and Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni about the stimulating installations that arouse the curiosity and imagination of all the visitors.

The show opens with one of Ward’s renowned works, the ‘Amazing Grace’ — hundreds of abandoned strollers woven together in the shape of a ship’s hull which dates back to 1992, while throughout the exhibition, one encounters both old and new interventions. Through his oeuvres, Ward envisions contemporary art and culture as ‘global, polyphonic experiences’, while he often employs recycled materials for their completion. The Jamaican-born artist gives new life to waste materials by creating intricate installations and machines, and through his work, he seeks to reflect the socio-political issues of today, from racism to social inequality, poverty to overconsumption, and migration to social marginalization and identity issues. At the heart of the exhibition is the ’emergence pool’, composed of countless thermal blankets that float on the surface of the pool and capture the visitor’s attention with their shimmering glow.

‘We rediscover forgotten or hidden places in the neighborhoods of Milan and invite artists to intervene in these very charged and unusual spaces. The center is a complex of buildings dating back to the 1920s; a very beautiful mixture of metaphysical architecture and rationalist and modernist architecture. Nari Ward emerged in the 1990s, and I think is one of the most interesting artists who have imagined and transformed contemporary art. He conceives contemporary art as a truly multicultural and multi-linguistic complex of words and languages, and materials. Nari is an exceptional weaver of stories and materials. [ ] He conceives the sculpture, not as a single object around which the visitor circles but rather as an Omni-comprehensive and multimedia spectacle that surrounds the viewer,’ says Massimiliano Gioni to designboom.

all images by Marco De Scalzi, unless stated otherwise

video © designboom

bringing to the fore the socio-political issues of the present

In the outdoor and indoor spaces of the Centro Balneare Romano, ‘Gilded Darkness’ exhibition brings together some of Fire Ward‘s renowned old installations and a series of new works. ‘Emergence Pool’ is a site-specific intervention that takes shape as a fragile raft made up of thousands of rescue blankets. These golden sheets float on the surface of the pool — which spans 100 by 40 meters — and bathe the center in a hypnotic glimmer as they gently move in the breeze. Wandering the exhibition, one will encounter a huge white flag hoisted on a crane. This installation is accompanied by sounds and musical compositions that elicit notions of nationalism, violence, and defeat. At the same time, sounds and musical compositions made in collaboration with various groups and local individuals are broadcast from the loudspeakers of Battleground Beacon. These soundscapes represent the city as a ‘A polyphonic mix of voices and sounds from a multiplicity of cultures and languages’.

The increase of abandoned objects in Ward’s neighborhood gave him the need to flee to new meanings. Thus, he collected mundane objects, such as children’s strollers, shopping carts, umbrellas, and shoelaces, as well as other found items and urban waste, turning them into massive installations. Through his projects, he aims to transform the language of contemporary sculpture into a new type of theatrical experience. For ‘Amazing Grace’, the large-scale installation that welcomes the visitors once entering the exhibition, the artist weaved together more than three hundred abandoned strollers and arranged them in the shape of a ship’s hull. The installation enlivens with the voice of gospel singer and African American civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson, who sings ‘Amazing Grace’ a song with a rich, complex history. The empty strollers evoke not only the lives of the children who once used them but also the ones who appropriated them to transport their belongings. According to Fondazione Nicola Trussardi (see more here), the final shape of the installation is reminiscent of the ships carrying enslaved people across the Atlantic to the US and evokes other stories of migration and exile that are still resonate with current events, both in Italy and abroad.

‘In the 1990s, the work was frequently read as a tribute to the victims of the AIDS pandemic, and today, its precarious appearance recalls the countless street memorials that mourn the victims of murders of African Americans by police. Installed in the rarely accessible spaces of the old locker rooms at the Romano Pool, the work is endowed with further meanings. It is not only an anti-monument, referencing recent images of strollers left at stations on the Ukrainian border in the wake of refugees fleeing the conflict, but also embraces and envelops viewers in a melancholy, poignant atmosphere.’nari ward's 'gilded darkness' by fondazione nicola trussardi reflects today's societal issues

a huge white flag hoisted on a crane touches on images of nationalism, violence, and defeat

Designed by architect Luigi Secchi and inaugurated in 1929, the center maintains its imposing original architecture, which unfolds around a rectangular pool that spans four thousand square meters. ‘The history of the Centro Balneare Romano — built during the Fascist period and dedicated to the memory of the young Olympic champion Guido Romano, who died at the front during World War I —tells of ideals of victory and greatness, war, and athleticism, as well as nationalism and imperialism.’ Ward replies to these concepts with precarious monuments and objects that symbolize everyday heroism, episodes of collective joy, as well as images of the defeat and downfall of the triumphant myths shaping the twentieth century.

nari ward's 'gilded darkness' by fondazione nicola trussardi reflects today's societal issues

the glimmering thermal blanket raft catches the visitor’s attention

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