During her career, which she has conducted since the 1950s without diverting from her path, Marion Baruch built her home – for herself and her family – in Gallarate, Italy, for nearly fifteen years. She wanted this home to be porous between interior and exterior. Its bay windows are legion, partitions limited, and the flooring continues in the same manner beyond the walls of the house, both inside and out. The ideas that she engaged there regarding her way of inhabiting are also found in the exhibition at the BF15 entitled Natura abitata. Opening onto the street with a large window and zenithal glass roofs at the back, BF15 seems a propitious venue for extending this existential concern that emerges as a major theme in her work.
The artworks that are presented there were all created from textile scraps from garments that the artist has collected since the 2000s and preserves in their original state; her action thus consists, with the help of her assistants, in selecting and arranging them while using fine pins to reveal the holes, movements, and designs that they create. Only two photographs from the Abito-contenitore series dating from 1970 punctuate the contemporary ensemble. Presenting bodies rolled up in fabric constructing a geometric envelope, they explicitly refer to textile as the primary habitat and reveal the importance of this material and the metaphorical meaning that it adopts in the artist’s work.
At BF15, each wall that is not made of glass is occupied by a cut-out rectangle of fabric. Appearing very formal, the artworks (which we are unsure if we should call paintings, sculptures, or name after their textures: cottons, flannels, velvets) thus look like so many windows that open the walls up to an elsewhere. Already, the first one interpellates us. Entitled Un lieu clos où sous mes yeux s’exprime une autre nature [A closed space where under my eyes a different nature is expressed], this cascade of green velvet floating at its base and pierced with two almond-shaped forms that, like a pair of eyes, watch us, strangely resembles a mask. Like a second skin, it invites visitors to seek out this elsewhere as though it were at the heart of the exhibition, to move about and continually shift our perspectives. This is the condition required to be able to surpass the formal and sensitive appearance of her artworks and discover a more political – environmental and social – dimension to them.
The first room, with its airs of a tropical greenhouse, confirms this. A yellow cotton panel shot through with thin blue wavelets flecked with white assumes a “counter” position: against elites, against exoticism, against colonialism. Its title, Contre les élites végétales [Against Plant Elites], was borrowed from the Anthropophagical Manifesto of Brazilian Oswald de Andrade. The work is all the more striking in that others surround it in light and pastel colours that are more fluid, happier, and gentler.
In the back room, the fabrics are heavy, the colours dark. The frames are more noticeable and the lines are denser. The “animated” organic, plant works have given way to maps, plans, and networks. The zenithal opening diverts our gaze a quarter-turn and distances it: we see further, we see from above. We pass from domesticated nature to the urban world. But irrespective of the point of view adopted, Marion Baruch confronts us with lacework-style edifices, whose holes are no more than the negatives of what we wear (pockets, sleeves, etc.). Ruins? No, ghosts!
An artwork that has no name – and no existence on the map of the room – hides, as though to evaluate the quality of our attention. With no trace of its presence, it affirms its ghostly nature more than the others. It is also the only work in the exhibition to be hung on a slant. It implies yet another displacement of the body and requires that we position ourselves. Inside? Outside? In front? Behind? Above? Below? “Never mind”, whisper the two scraps of identical format and colour, hung opposite, one in portrait format, the other in landscape, entitled Due modi di dire la stessa cosa. Because, in fact, it is not so much a matter of knowing where you inhabit space (the search for a fixed position for the spectator in front of a painting is now well overcome), but how – wherever you happen to be – you co-inhabit it; with nature, the living and the non-living, the visible and the invisible.
Once we know that Marion Baruch has worked a great deal with some of the least visible individuals in our societies (women, migrants), we ponder the idea that her invitations to walk through walls and break down borders are also calls to listen to their voices. All voices. The earth is inhabited.