From 06 May 2008 to 27 July 2008
Curated by Marcella Beccaria
Slight physical alterations, complete transformations, temporary disappearances, and voyages into the immediate future or the most distant past are some of the elements that characterize the everyday world of Roberto Cuoghi (Modena, 1973). Experimenting to the point of obsession, the artist continuously reinvents himself and his method. At the age of twenty-five, he began a process of physical transformation that led him to resemble his father. He wore his father’s clothing, bleached his beard and hair and went from a weight of barely 160 pounds to more than 210 pounds in just a few years. Intentionally bypassing his own youth, Cuoghi thus assumed the manners and gestures of more-than-sixty year old person, living this way for nearly seven years. Although he clarifies that his motivations were personal, his gesture created a shadowy territory between the boundaries of the private realm and those of his work as an artist, unexpectedly provoking the curiosity of some in the contemporary art world. In retrospect, it is clear today that the idea of metamorphosis is fundamental to his artistic path. Changing a physical process into an exquisitely mental operation, it becomes the connecting thread that ties together an investigation related to themes of time, memory and the continuous confusion between appearance and reality. Cuoghi’s multiform production – which includes drawing, video, photography, painting, sculpture and sound works – is characterized by a propensity for experimentation and technical and stylistic invention. For Cuoghi, the invitation to develop a solo exhibition at Castello di Rivoli is an opportunity to make a vertiginous leap backward, landing in Mesopotamia, at the time of the Assyrians. From the sequence of facts that punctuate Assyrian history, the artist focuses on the most dramatic moment, when the empire fell into ruin between 612 and 609 B.C., after Ninevah, the official last capital, and then Harran, fell victim to attacks by the Medians and the Babylonians. As a result of these clashes, the defeat of the two cities coincided with the end of the Assyrian civilization. The artist became absorbed by one of the most fascinating chapters in archaeology, for it is precisely because of Ninevah that a forgotten world began to be rediscovered and the history of the origins of Western culture began to be rewritten. Almost as if he were moving about the streets of Ninevah, Cuoghi breathes in its heat and dust. He observes the men, women, and children and absorbs their language, rituals, and superstitions and when, the fatal assault is unleashed, it is as if he were participating personally in the flight of the survivors. Šuillakku, the sound work conceived by Cuoghi for the exhibition at Rivoli, is the result of this latest metamorphosis on the part of the artist. Changing his thoughts and multiplying them into those of some hundreds of ancient Assyrians, Cuoghi shares their anxieties and beliefs, resolving them in a lamentation addressed to the gods. Pronounced “shoe-ee-lah-coo,” the title refers to a prayer position in which one hand is raised, practiced by the ancient Assyrians and accompanied by a choral union of noises, music, and chants, which Cuoghi hypothesizes might be the response of the survivors to the gravity of the moment. If his imagination is captured by the dramatic moment of flight, Cuoghi is reasoning allows him to create and interpret every sound or voice in . Šuillakku in complete solitude and to reconstruct an entire orchestra of instruments, among which a large lyre, the shofars made from the horns of animals and additional instruments, using contemporary industrial materials. He also reproduced the sound of a lilissu, the large sacred drum and he created sistrums. He balances philological reconstruction with imaginative invention, following a method that is highly serious but also ironic and playful. With a child-size player-piano he constructed a melody based on the repetitive alternation of two notes, inspired by Assyrian microtonal music. Transferred to fabricated instruments, the melody corresponds to the recitation of “uiua- ui,” a stylized lament that he thinks may represent the feelings of the fleeing Assyrians. Taking Hebraic lamentations as a model, Šuillakku is structured in phases of isolation, irritation, negotiation, and depression. It would be a euphemism to define the feelings experienced by hearing Šuillakku as “uncomfortable.” It is a cacophony that assaults without respite, made up of music, chants, animal verses, animal sounds, noises, and the sound of spitting, which the ancient Assyrians considered useful for warding off misfortune. At first glance empty, the exhibition space thus ends up being saturated, and the distribution of sounds modifies it as people pass through it. In the process of identifying with the ancient Assyrians and their beliefs, Cuoghi frequently came across the demon Pazuzu. In the Assyrian pantheon, he is one of the most feared malign spirits, associated with the winds, above all the cold winds from the northeast that, blowing down from the mountains, bring fevers and threaten to destroy livestock and harvests. The dissemination of small statues or heads with his effigy, attests to the fact that the demon was used to hunt down other demons. Amulets with his features were positioned to protect dwellings and cradles, or worn as charms. Archaeological finds include a small bronze statue, now at the Louvre in Paris, which attests to the demon hybrid nature part man, part animal and its dissimilarity to the style associated with other artifacts from this period. However, it has a surprising iconographic affinity with depictions of evil in the West, beginning in medieval times. Created by Cuoghi on the occasion of his solo exhibition at the Castello, Pazuzu, 2008, relates to the Louvre statuette and it was created using laser-scanning technology by which the original, approximately 6 in. high, has been transformed into a monumental sculpture, about 19 ft. high. The artist considers the precision ensured by the prototyping process to be part of the meaning of his work. Appropriating Assyrian superstitions, Cuoghi reiterates the idea that the demon inhabits any of its effigies. Maintaining its original apotropaic function, Cuoghi’s Pazuzu is an amulet on the scale of the Castello and functions as a shield that can defend the site from malicious attacks, or rather reflect the wave of irrationality that seems to permeate the contemporary world.