The exhibition of Gianluca Malgeri and Arina Endo

The recent exhibition of Gianluca Malgeri and Arina Endo, hosted at The Loop Gallery in Tokyo, marked another powerful collaboration between the Italian and Japanese artists.

Gianluca, born in the southern part of Italy, had his works first published in 1998. He collaborated with renowned international artists such as Marina Abramovic and Olafur Eliasson. Arina, Japanese from Hyogo, graduated in architecture in Kyoto and then specialized in printmaking in Florence.

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Malgeri and Endo have their individuality but seem to have found common ground in this exhibition. This retrospective shows little narrative but a fragmentary collection of their artistic path. It is a preface for the last cycle chapter, including four exhibitions related to the game, playground, and city.

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In 2015, the duo embarked on a collaborative venture, The Playground project, encompassing a collection of collages and a series of intricate copper sculptures. Their partnership started in 2015 in Venice, with the exhibitions "Edge of Chaos" followed by "Homo Ludens" in Rome (2016) and "Mery-Go-Round" in 2019 in Tokyo.

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"Let me count the ways" comes from a sonnet written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It refers to how many ways you can love a person. Likewise, how many readings can you give to the things happening in your life?

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Visiting this stimulating exhibition made me reflect on the differences between art and architecture. The distinction resides in its functionality: while both architecture and art embody the personal creative expression of their creators, architecture, unlike art, must additionally fulfill functional requirements. With my architectural background, I am used to perceiving artworks through the lens of an architect. When we met at the exhibition, Malgeri and Endo guided me through their works and made me understand that I must look at art without filters.

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Observing the world without any filters is a natural inclination we often possess during childhood. In addition to children, artists and creatives have this capability as well. They are adults, but they never forget how to "play." This is particularly noticeable in the work of the duo, whose primary subject in the last decade, not surprisingly, has been that of the "playground."

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Gianluca had his first fulguration for this topic in 2006, visiting a playground in Copenhagen. Afterward, with Arina, he visited various gardens in New Delhi and Tokyo, creating a comprehensive photographic archive. This collection has become the first germ of a fruitful series of works realized by the two artists.

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The theme of wandering, with all its hidden connotations, is one of the main topics of Malgeri's work. He quotes Cesare Pavese to describe the sense of this event that marks his (temporary?) return to his home country Italy. "A country is necessary, if only for the pleasure of leaving. A country means not being alone, knowing that there is something of yours in the people, plants, and land, which remains there waiting for you even when you're not there."

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Today the return is delocalized and fragmented. It is not a return to the native land but a mythical or generating land. Paese Paesaggio is the work that best represents the idea of the return journey. Composed of 19 miniature sculptures, it shows two doors at the beginning and the end. The big one to get in, and the small one to get out, symbolizes the ease of leaving and the strive to return. Besides the artist's description, this work made me think of the Japanese rock garden. Here the stones cannot be viewed altogether, a metaphor of existence that can never be fully understood. Likewise, the 19 small playgrounds that compose the installation represent as many moments in the life of a person (or of the artist?) whose meaning can never be fully understood as a whole.

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The predominant use of copper in Malgeri's work stems from a work experience with Einar Thorsteinn, an Icelandic artist and architect. He had learned the technique from Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto, with whom he had worked. I also felt a stylistic vicinity to Riccardo Dalisi, especially his relationship with the "arte povera" movement and the themes related to play and childhood. Dalisi created the definition of design, "ultra-poverissimo" (ultra-poor design), where he denied any richness in materials and manufacturing techniques.

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The exhibition has many indirect references, including Calder, Magritte, and De Chirico. For example, Mobile sculptures, Suspension 1 and Suspension 2, are influenced by the research of Alexander Calder on the concepts of suspension and balance. But also, more simply, by children's hanging mobiles. Adopting recycled objects in the artworks reminds the Duchamp’s readymade. As in Marcel Duchamp, Malgeri's readymade is also loaded with a vital symbolic component. In Rocket Mobile 1-9, the artist shows his fascination with the typical child seats on the bicycles of Japanese mothers, darting like missiles through the city.

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Arina Endo shares with Gianluca Malgeri a similar "rational madness and lucid dreaming." In Municipio sul Miraggio, the dice symbolize the attempt to play with destiny. But looking at the city shaped with dice, you will notice only some specific numbers. Therefore it is a city of deception. Endo ranges from painting to sculpture - referring to female symbology and playful architectures - from vivid colors and metaphysical spaces to the Escherian geometries of an invisible city. Ending with the ethereal lightness of a butterfly's wings carved into a fig leaf, taken on her trip to India.

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From beginning to end, their exhibition reflects the idea of looking back, like the angel of Paul Klee. Pushed by a relentless wind, the angel positions his back to the future and his face to the past.