“Scampoli,” an exhibition of works by the remarkable painter Giorgia Madiai now underway in Barga Vecchia, is a mesmerizing inquiry into the most volatile realm of human interaction: speech itself. To walk into Madiai’s studio in Via Pretorio, the mostra’s setting, is to be carried along on a silent yet deafening tsunami of shouts and whimpers, songs and sighs, moving eloquence and disturbing cacophony. It is silent only in the literal and least interesting sense, because the shouters and sighers are graphic images that cover every square meter of the studio walls — and the sound we hear is a testament to the suggestive power of art.
Why Scampoli? The word is a tailor’s expression, applied to inexpensive “fabric remainders” that only acquire value when put to imaginative use. Explicitly, it refers to the exhibition’s employment of leftover fragments of canvas, large and small. The implicit painterly result is an extraordinary collage, assembled from bits and pieces of culture, history and psychoanalytic insight.
“The subject is dialogo,” Madiai says. “It is about ‘Dialogue,’ as Galileo Galilei understood it,” she continues, citing the book of that title that put the brilliant Pisan astronomer, physicist, philosopher and mathematician in the sights of the Inquisition in 1615. The Italian Renaissance, the vast creative explosion of humanism that gave birth to the modern world, was for Galileo an extended conversation between scientific reason and religion, between pleasures of the flesh and superstitious fears. It was animated by the rediscovery of the classical universe of Greece and Rome and their frankly sensual yet profoundly intellectual challenge to blind faith.
Madai was born and raised in Livorno, just 25 miles from the scene of Galileo’s epochal assault on the Medieval cosmos. Her work is steeped in the legacy of the Renaissance and the aesthetic ferment it provoked. The exhibition is a cornucopia of allusions, in which the conversational idiom is often powerfully erotic. Some are unmistakably intentional: In one series of her scampoli, the Greek maiden Leda, lost in ecstasy, mates with an erect swan. Others seem to invoke the rapturous tropical landscapes of the 19th century French painter Henri Rousseau, or the gilded orgasms of the Viennese Gustav Klimt.
These are familiar motifs for Madiai, who has been exploring the varieties of erotic fantasy, especially in the dream lives of women, since her first exhibition at London’s Covent Garden in 1994. What is newer in the current mostra is her extension of that quest into the nature of dialogue on multiple levels.
Most of the works on display feature conversations on individual canvases, sometimes between men and women, sometimes only between women. Yet by implication, all of her scampoli converse with each other — at times calmly, more often passionately. They are also in de facto conversation with every visitor who enters the room, a dialogo with no limits that loops endlessly around the studio like the emblematic snake devouring its own tail.
Article by Frank Viviano – all articles by Frank can be seen here
Frank Viviano is the author or co-author of seven books, including the critically-acclaimed Blood Washes Blood, Dispatches From the Pacific Century and In the Balkans (with Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos).