Alfredo Barsuglia | Brihdy

A mise-en-scène in three acts

Alfredo Barsuglia’s artistic practice is not reduced to a single “genre”, it is characterised by a conscious mixing of media: one could aptly describe it as hybrid. There are no limits to the artist’s ingenuity and his role seems to be more in keeping with that of a theatre director. For the exhibition Brihdy Barsuglia has created a space that in film and theatre would be described as a mis-en-scène – a precise pictorial composition that entails arranging the protagonists and props in space, coordinating the colour scheme and lighting design, creating the scenery and costumes as it does the directing of the actors, the vocals and the dramaturgy. The whole gallery serves as a stage for an idiosyncratic illusion of reality in which every detail possesses a symbolic meaning that awaits to be decoded and deciphered.

Barsuglia’s “stage(d)-picture” spans two levels, connected to one another by a kind of performative loop and “played upon” at the exhibition opening by four protagonists – the artist, two young students of a vocal academy (Deniz Haimayer, Simon Stabauer) and an opera singer (Stefan Zenkl). The division into two parts is ultimately, as in most of the artist’s installations, due to the specifics of the gallery space.

The bunk-like, self-contained working area on the gallery’s ground floor recalls a studiolo and contains in the tightest of spaces everything an artist needs to work with. During the exhibition opening Barsuglia sits in this tiny shelter and “produces” silhouettes without initiating any contact to the visitors. He does this solely through his art, placing the completed drawings in balloon-like containers filled with helium and letting them float up to the upper storey of the exhibition space, where the children take delivery of them.

On the upper level Barsuglia has installed a kind of obstacle course out of objects he found in nature and subsequently handled in different ways. They are art objects and playthings at once, visually captivating thanks to the ornately crafted workmanship. Two long sticks, which the children use like fishing poles to “catch” the drawings, have had the details of their surfaces delicately enhanced and the whitened tips polished smooth like glazed ceramics. A large tree limb, converted into a harp, and wooden sticks dyed in cattle blood, also serve as playthings for the children. Next to them stands a hybrid sculpture out of concrete and a mass of bricks, formed by nature itself, the current of the Danube. The artist has planted parsley in the cracks. And indeed, throughout the whole scenery one comes across young plants in glass containers, which like all the other “props” were found in nature, handled by the artist and so “domesticated”. Nothing is left in its original state, everything has been worked on by the artist.

Even the seemingly casual play of the children serves the purpose of the artistic production: from a swing made out of a jute sack they continue painting a picture the artist had begun. Here, too, nature plays a role, for the reddish colours stem from berries, leaves and grasses. A tongue-in-cheek, playful allusion to art history: the gestural style of Action Painting. Whenever one of the silhouettes completed by Alfredo Barsuglia reaches the children, they interrupt their play and strike up a song, the lyrics of which are more like an “anti-protest song”.

The third part in this performance is played by a classically-trained singer, to whom the children hand over the drawings. As if it were quite normal, he also functions as a living pedestal for a video work by Barsuglia, which can be viewed on the tablet he holds in his hands: “dance piece for finger and wood”. As soon as he receives the drawings he also strikes up a song and is lowered – aided by a hanging construct counterweighted by a sack of earth – to the lower level of the gallery. He plays the part of the artist’s communicative alter ego and with his song praises art: “Brihdy! – Oh, how wonderful! – A work is there! – I’m thrilled – It gives me meaning! – Finally an end to the quiet – The meaningless fuss.” He closes the “art loop” by finally handing over the silhouettes to whom they were made for: the visitors of the exhibition. And then it all begins again and the singer is hauled back up to the upper level.

This multipart mis-en-scéne contributes to broadening the concept of art insofar as the artist makes no distinction between the everyday objects he has found and worked over and art objects; each piece is equally relevant, much like the props for the setting of a film or a play. At the same time, the elaborate staging runs counter to the gallery’s function as a place where commercial interests take precedence, thus also reorganising the logic of its mechanisms of gainful utilisation. The gallery undergoes, for an evening at least, a transformation, becoming a place of production, and the “product” created, the silhouette drawings, are given away. Even the paintings and drawings of the artist are themselves presented – one could perhaps even say enacted – in passing, for as props in the setting they are swapped continuously during the performance. The title of the exhibition – an anagram of ‘hybrid’ – reflects this mechanism of constantly questioning and inverting.

Georgia Holz