Art

Waiting in the Antechamber

17 December 2018Katrina Kufer
Waiting in the Antechamber
Waiting in the Antechamber
Waiting in the Antechamber

Ana Mazzei quotes Shakespeare’s famous adage, “All the world’s a stage” to explain her visually dense solo exhibition, Antechamber. Referencing how people are constantly playing, adapting and shifting their roles all the time, this is manifested in the cacophonous clustering of irregularly cut canvases in muddy reds and dark blues; the darkened tribal-esque figures atop metal poles; miniature Modernist-inspired wooden sculptures; and the human-scale forms which constitute a series of ‘stages’ that Mazzei has set up throughout the gallery.

Viewers must negotiate—physically and conceptually—the non-linear maze of fractured narratives that Mazzei hints at in each of the groupings. While this visual effect keeps the eye roving, the real quandary is where the mind journeys.  

Antechamber serves as an intermediary space between the ‘real world’ and ‘imaginary world’, and the abstracted shapes purposefully reference and deviate from recognisable forms, ideas and narratives located in viewers’ schemata. The slim geometric wooden sculptures, which stand to attention with fragile, unsettling, balance, read Modernist, Bauhaus, or even Concretist.

The over-sized ‘masks’ on stilts to the left upon entering the gallery could indicate (political) demonology, and the delicately carved figurines in the centre strongly reference African art. “Much of what I do is connected to the things I studied, the things I teach, and the people around me,” says Mazzei in a recording explaining the exhibition.

Ana Mazzei, Antechamber, 2018, Installation view at Green Art Gallery, Dubai (Photo by Alex Wolfe)

But it is also of note that she is particularly inspired by the educational concepts of the tomes The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and The Theatre of the Oppressed, penned by Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal. “What’s important to me is history and art history, not just history that is taught in books, but the history about our heritage and memories and how we relate to each other and how experiences of being alive are helping us with the understanding of the world,” she adds.

The ‘primitive’, dream-like (or nightmare-ish) and art historical iconography Mazzei adopts is archaic, but it is also timeless given the symbolic readings are non-specific—rather more poetic in their appropriation—and therefore feeds into the understanding that these clouded plots are suspended in time: “It’s a place where you are waiting for something to happen.”

The collection of new works – which are built upon the last six to eight years of her practice and reinforce her penchant to constantly work with new scales, materials and concepts – is intended to be disorienting, more a conceptual launch platform than a guide. “You can see it, but it can take you to another space, and this can happen in your own imagination,” her explanation continues.

The scale of the works is key to her aesthetic language; not only do each of the compositions of the multi-element installations respond uniquely to the architectural conditions in which they are displayed, but they constantly shift the viewer’s sense of self.

Ana Mazzei, Antechamber, 2018, Installation view at Green Art Gallery, Dubai (Photo by Alex Wolfe)

As each of the works – which create tension through their inclusion in both pictorial and sculptural understandings – grow and shrink, the spectator follows suit as they weave through the space and artworks. The individual encounters differ depending on the position from which they are witnessed – from behind, in front, through another clustered work, even from a bird’s eye view or on the ground amongst them. There is an Alice in Wonderland or Gulliver’s Travels effect—complete with a sense of unease as to whether there will be a favourable or ominous outcome—that reinforces the importance of viewing the works together as a cohesive whole in order to appreciate the nuances and weight of the role that viewers play in understanding and activating the works. 

But while Mazzei’s myriad references are discernible, her practice is rooted in theatricality. Though she may present a physical stage, the real show takes place in the viewer’s mind, with each shift in thought and movement affecting the outcome.

A founding member of the Teatro Facada movement, Mazzei embodies the idea of spectatorship as dialogue and interaction between the audience and performer, which in this case are the installations. Her conceptual framework engages experimentation that tackles physical being and symbolism in unconventional – and inconsistent – settings, using the power of assumption to create or complete narratives.

The act is as ritualistic as it is fantastical – and ultimately, human. “Recognising that humans have a unique ability to take action in the world while simultaneously observing themselves in action, we believe that the human was a self-contained theatre, actor, and spectator in one,” reads Mazzei’s explanation of Teatro Facada. Noting that viewers-as-participants can amend, adjust, and alter actions to vary impact and change on the circumstances, Mazzei proves that all the world’s a stage, indeed.

 

Antechamber runs at Green Art Gallery until 5 January 2019.

 

As each of the works – which create tension through their inclusion in both pictorial and sculptural understandings – grow and shrink, the spectator follows suit as they weave through the space and artworks."