Milan MI 20122
Tom Burr at Fondazione Converso
Fondazione Converso proudly presents “Conversions”, a solo exhibition by American artist Tom Burr (b. 1963, New Haven, Connecticut) from March 13th to April 11th, 2020. The exhibition creates a physical reorganization of the space within the Church of San Paolo Converso, leading viewers through a series of partial barriers and screens from the front to the back of the church, producing a tangible and material set of site-specific passages through all original work.
The elements in the installation combine direct references to past works by the artist with numerous free associations on the theme of “conversion”: the biblical myth of the Pauline conversion; Pier Paolo Pasolini’s screenplay for the unrealized film project “Saint Paul”; the neurologic disorder also known as Conversion Disorder (in which patients present neurological symptoms that cannot be explained by medical evaluation); and so-called Conversion Therapy, defined as the practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation through physical and psychological methods. Employing both visible and invisible scenographic tactics (set-building, props, theatrical lighting), the artist produces a structured narrative arc unfolding as a set of encounters in passageways, corners, and rooms, some suggesting lived and inhabited spaces such as clinics, bedrooms, dormitories, and bars. Traces of the artist’s own body are scattered throughout the exhibition in the form of photographs or pieces of clothing, suggesting a former presence, the remnants of a user or occupant.
*From the front entrance, the view looking into the darkened church is blocked by a large, rectangular monolith conceived of black plywood, its inner support system creating a grid of eight open compartments. One long, angled metal brace connects the top edge of the cabinet to the floor as a stabilizing tool, a crutch or prosthetic that suggests one object leaning against another: the sculpture propping itself up with one arm, or finding its way through the dark.
Behind the cabinet, a long steel railing bisects the room, with clothing items attached to it with clips. Engraved on the railing are short phrases from Pasolini’s text Saint Paul, a Screenplay, the manuscript of an unrealized film deemed too risky for investors at the time of writing, and only recently made available to the public. Beyond the railing are two folding screens (one anthracite, one gold), a recurring object typology in the artist’s work. Featuring six and three panels respectively, these screens are combined with other elements such as photographs and furniture to create what resembles a small stage, film, or photographic set. A smaller engraved railing appears in the back room, repeating the earlier encounter as a kind of narrative loop.
In the center of the back room sits a large wooden sculpture made of four identical cubes, each suggesting a partially closed room. The structure directly references the artist’s work from the early 2000s, which worked to interrogate the formal legacy of minimalist sculptor Robert Morris. A connecting passageway forms a crossway between the cubes, with their open sides facing outwards to the room. The low corridor walls are mirrored, interrupted by the vertical studs that support the walls, allowing viewers entering between the cubes to look inside while their lower bodies reflect in the mirrored surface.
In each room, a twin bed placed alongside the wall suggests a clinic, dormitory, convent, prison, or barrack: spaces of control and surveillance, of discipline and security combined where bodies are repetitively positioned and isolated next to others—spatially individuated. Scattered on the floor of the cubes are books chosen for their subject matter based on the artist’s concern with issues surrounding psychology and control, gender, sexuality and designations, conversion therapy, and conversion disorder.*
By directly inserting elements of subjectivity, desire, and poetic story-telling into the tight formal language of minimalism and conceptual art, Burr produces complex aesthetic metaphors for abstract political themes such as (in)visibility, privacy, control, and resilience. The body of the viewer is here not rendered invisible or redundant, but rather directly implicated, forced to produce and formulate their own narrative choreography as they navigate the space.
20122 - Milano
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