Create the human being all over again

From catalogue 2002 mostra Museum und galerie Im Prediger e-Kloster der Franziskanerinnen Schwabisch Gmund und Kulturzentrum Englische Kirhe-galeri Scheffel, Bad Homburg v.d.Hohe “MariaLuisa Tadei Soglia Ubergang Threshold” 2002 ISBN 3-9807297-4-5.

Whilst Kandinsky, on his way to abstraction, discovered the “vibrations of the soul” in works of art, years earlier the scientist Ernst Haeckel, one of the founders of the modern theory of evolution, had recognised the “activities of the soul” in “Nature’s art forms” which “form the basis of real bodily shapes just as much in Nature as in the plastic arts”. Purely creative and purely scientific methods merge together here into a symbolic synthesis, the creation of the work of art as beautiful and mathematically harmonious as the creation of crystal.

These ideas are still relevant to the consideration of dominant trends in contemporary art. MariaLuisa Tadei can also be judged an adherent of this philosophy of bringing art and Nature together into a kind of dreamy lyricism. In her sculptures the technical, the organic and biological, the dreamy and the fantastic enter conspiratorially into worlds of their own.

Kinetic rhythms supersede the static mass of the sculpture in iron or wire. From the very beginning the idea is present of liberating the sculpture from its dependence on mass and volume. The way that space penetrates the work is intended to have the effect of an arabesque, like a “drawing in an empty space”. Stone and bronze were not suitable for this purpose, but iron and wire presented themselves as ideal partners. The discovery of the open construction and the impression it conveys of movement represents the starting point for MariaLuisa Tadei’s works, including the filigree lineaments in coloured wire such as “Rendezvous Between Two Religions”, “Boy with Kites”, or “Girl with Ball”. Alexander Calder is the chief influence on all these humorous figures in coloured wire with picturesque accessories. Calder designed his first grotesque wire figures in 1926 as miniature sculptures, placing them in the milieu of the circus and of play, and this enabled him to emphasise effortlessly the playful touch in sculptures which move. The artist becomes a storyteller.

MariaLuisa Tadei also resorts to the technique of requiring the figure to create its own space, but as soon as the figurative form disappears, the objects take on a symbolic character, and the majority of them come together into an installation, but the underlying principle still retains its validity: the mobile, flowing space does not become a static and immobile framework, the plinth for a sculpture. It draws its life, as in the “Big Eyelash” of 1997, from violent tensions and surges of energy at various levels, forwards and backwards. Elasticity and forms in a state of flux should always be preserved. This is a recurring theme in the forms of her work. Swinging and hanging lineaments, those “drawings in empty space” that mainly have to be executed in flexible materials, glide in oscillating, expanding shapes which almost seem to wake up the “breath” in the spatial body. The great gesture of the line also expands to include large-format, sculptural “occupation” of entire wall and floor areas. Thus the floor work “White Garden” (2000), which consists of numerous individual vegetable elements and is a variant of the “Garden of Thoughts”, is rooted in this mutable, ever-floating condition made up of rhythm and movement. There is a feeling here of a seascape, of the way the water floods in between the coral reefs, the sand in the depths, and the complex colonies of plants and mussels which live here. This interplay of the waves and the associations conjured up by their fluid motion is described, for instance, by Henry van de Velde, one of the founders of “art nouveau” and Art Deco, to whose definition of Nature and mentality of forms MariaLuisa Tadei could probably owe many of her ideas:
“I clambered down to the beach in order to draw the linear arabesques that the retreating waves left in the sand. Similar formations had fascinated me much earlier near Knokke: transient, obdurate, sophisticated ornamenta-tion that the wind drew in the sand. Even when I had given up art, the demon of line would not leave me alone and when I created the first ornamentations they arose out of the dynamic interplay of their elemental forces.”

“We believe that the way to art is through art,” Fausto Melotti wrote as long ago as 1934 when he first started worrying about “art educa-tion”. The most important element was personal intuition, and enough courage “to think with one’s own head”.

However, he also said, when one devotes oneself to academic design forms such as the laws of geometry, the attempt is always worthwhile “to move all brains in one direction. The only possible way is to aim for perfection. Greece. The idea of the hierarchy. Abstract art nowadays gives us the possibility of the academy. The outcome can be analysed, just like a fugue.”

Working from this premise, we encounter surprisingly a fundamental artistic belief that can be used to characterise MariaLuisa Tadei’s works. Whilst the classic artist Fausto Melotti, a sculptor and poet of the highest order, designed the “Magazine of Ideas” in brass and bronze in 1960 on the principle of the “Theme and Variations”, MariaLuisa Tadei in 2001 presented the “Garden of Thoughts”, numerous botanical and organic shapes enclosed in glass, and “crystals” which were made of bronze and steel and which collect like valuable relics of an unknown culture on the shelves of a display wall, a “studiolo”. In his narrative work, which shows the cross-section through a house, Melotti presents a “magazine” like a cellar in which busts are stacked and wait for their triumphant installation on a monument in the bright world upstairs. Above the roof of the building, which is open to the front, there hangs the moon as a symbol of the cosmos. MariaLuisa Tadei’s carefully conserved elements are, by comparison, little treasures taken from Nature’s bountiful store, such as Haeckel might have chosen, for instance. They collect together symbolically to form a blossoming “garden”. They are the fantastic bodies of a floral microcosm, flooded with light, the magical atmosphere of which appears to be transformed into jewellery in shape and colour.

However, the forms also resemble with almost extreme clarity the “brains” in which thoughts and ideas collect. In this meaning, the transparent glass cubes with their valuable contents are reminiscent of those shrines whose magical and sacred aura encloses meditative ideas and a belief in eternity. Louise Nevelson, who was the first to introduce such “shrines” made up of layers of found material into modern sculpture, used to talk about the “royal highness” of “pure” objects, where the desires and secrets of the past were enclosed. Only at a sacral and spiritual level can her display cabinets function correctly, and it is at this level of pure poetry and enlightenment that MariaLuisa Tadei’s works have to be interpreted.

This belief in clear design, crystalline material, and lyrical expression obviously dominates every one of MariaLuisa Tadei’s works, regardless of whether they are geometric shapes such as lines, crosses, and circles or an energetic spatial sculpture made up of many parts. The diversity of form that she has at her disposal in pictorial terms as the “unending story of Nature” (Paul Klee) and as is applied in the “Garden of Thoughts” indicate complex functions that are nevertheless based on the guiding notion of weightlessness and “purity”. Right from the start, since the first figure-like wire sculptures, the form of her work is based on deliberate tension between the mechanism, the drive, and the discharge, in order to conquer space through the principle of elastic movement. The driving forces are contained within; the limits are on the outside. MariaLuisa Tadei constructs every sculpture on the basis of this law. Each consists of a core and an interior, a shell and an exterior. It is the hanging sub-elements, or those that overflow the space with their many parts, that demonstrate incisively the essentially modern principle they incorporate of understanding every shape “as genesis, as becoming, as being” (Paul Klee). This is the only way in which she can succeed in overcoming the gravitational pull of the Earth and its unambiguous binding effect.

MariaLuisa Tadei feels a particular obligation to Arte Povera, and this brings the anthropological and naturalistic environment into the forefront of the design. The “poor” raw materials, in their natural state or naturally conserved, are deliberately presented to announce genetic connections between objects and to collect and radiate the inner energy of the material. The form in its mythical and divine dimension (in the “Oculi dei” series) has to be regarded in the same way, having shaken off all the dust and dirt of the Earth. With the aid of “Ascent”, “Intuition”, and “Balance”, as some of the works are entitled, the artist is attempting to overcome static forces and the one-dimensional central perspective. The elastic space-structures (in steel) particularly display the character of dynamic spatial curves, which demonstratively detach themselves from the sluggish flow of the shape and, as previously noted, take on new arabesque-like life. The sensation of tension between the constituent elements arouses the feelings of the on-looker. The static framework that is normally an inherent part of a sculpture in iron and wire is always looking for a way to break free. The moving forces are comparable to the impulses and drives that have their effect in the growth of a tree, in the framework of an ornament, or in the springy construction of scaffolding. The shape of the sculpture is no longer an illustration but a gesture. It turns into a gesticulating figure that is not afraid to incorporate decorative effects. These often involve transparent, jar-like bodies, containers, shrines, and bunkers in works such as “Balance”, “Garden of Thoughts”, or “Intuition”, which call a dreamy lyricism to life with their graceful intimacy. As in the “crystals” for “Garden of Thoughts”, they touch, along the border of art which decorates, magical, ceremonial, and archaic fundamental thoughts.

The series “Eyes of God” (“Oculi dei”) or “Between One and Seven”, with their various different titles, deserve special mention. Their intensity is increased all the more when they are combined in the form of a cross with the floor sculpture executed in brightly lit glass (an installation first shown at the church of Santa Maria delle Croci in Ravenna).

The three symbols made up of the circle, the cross, and the eye come together in this work to form the picture of a symbol of the Passion, the cross. Seen with a bird’s-eye view, this vision of a cosmic phenomenon finds a highly suitable setting in the interior of a church, “as if the Earth were being touched very gently by the sea at sunset” (MariaLuisa Tadei). Placing it in various different positions in the interior or out of doors, standing or floating, demonstrates that this “vault-cross” offers itself as a symbol of the all-conquering cosmos, the eye-discs of an unearthly power, depictions of a planetary and transparent concept of the world.

The naturalistic sign-language of the eyes, the arteries, and light, the poetic aspect of everyday life, and mythical thinking are combined with the idea of appealing to a society that has petrified itself emotionally in consumption and “blindness” and leading it back into the circuit of cosmic energies. Civilisation is confronted with its atomisation and intellectual poverty if it loses sight of its identity and its history.

The dreamy lyricism that is the distinguishing feature of all MariaLuisa Tadei’s work is sustained by this search for “purity”, grace, and the cornucopia of planetary light. This means that the elements of her works, if they can be spread out in room-sized installations, present themselves like the picture of a “paysage intime”. The great master of this art form was Camille Corot, whose creative approach was character-ised by his fellow artist Gustave Colin thus: “What he was trying to paint was not so much Nature as his love of Nature.”

The author, Dr. Gottlieb Leinz, is deputy director of the Stiftung Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg.