A hill-top former Royal Residence, situated a short drive outside Turin’s city centre, provides the ideal setting for solo shows by two artists who well know how to impact a space; Ed Atkins and Wael Shawky.
The renovated building—some large sections retaining intricate brickwork, others updated and modernised with corrugated roofs, external, glass-walled staircases and skylights—is a dramatic setting in itself, and is one that works particularly well with the epic nature of both Atkins and Shawky.
Having first seen Atkins’s work in Serpentine’s brick-lined Sackler Gallery in 2014, the darkened lofts of Italy’s Castello felt like a return to this workable pairing, the vast rooms, high ceilings and ever-so-slightly dungeon-like nature of the place emphasising some of Atkins’s more sinister elements. Ribbons, a massive three-screen work—not in the usual sense, the three screens sit one behind the other—features Atkins’s well-known ominous surrogate having a sleep while his cigarette slowly burns down (enjoyably never breaking off, one large ash pointing upright throughout), talking in his strange and slightly mistimed drawl to camera, and melting into the table. A smaller video in the adjoining room shows his head, cut straight off at the neck and still bleeding, bouncing endlessly down a set of pristine white stairs against a lilac background. Elsewhere, a hyper-realistic ape stares down his viewers. Puncturing these are huge Hollywoodish slogans, zooming commandingly into focus as though advertising the next blockbuster. These are dark and foreboding works, that touch on the future of the human in the digital world right down to the bone.
Shawky makes just as much use of this unusual space with Crusades Through Arab Eyes, filling one corridor-like room with large pink castle forms—so large they almost touch wall-to-wall—and rows of marionettes, hanging from strings and placed neatly on a checkerboard effect of marble and miniature garden, a small white fence holding them in. The deep blue walls offer another twist on the norm for gallery displays. There are many nods to the past, and indeed, to fantasy too, though the show carries a truly contemporary political discussion. The individual works from video series Cabaret Crusades, are housed within the playhouse-like pink castles, examining the Church’s military campaigns, including the first Crusade (1096 until 1099) in The Horror Show File. The story is played out by puppets inspired by, and in some case using, pieces held by Turin’s Museo della Marionetta. The materiality of the puppets changes through the films, with original wood marionettes used for the first film, ceramic for the second and glass for the third. The evolution of materials marks the evolution of this history itself, the ripples of which are still felt today between Shia and Sunni communities.
‘Ed Atkins’ runs until 29 January 2017 and ‘Wael Shawky: Crusades Through Arab Eyes’ runs until 5 February 2017 at Castello Di Rivoli Museo Di Arte Contemporanea. castellodirivoli.org. All images courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London.