The Prisoner / La Prigioniera, L’amore malato / Toxic Love
Antonio Monda, Claire Messud – La Prigioniera/The Prisoner, 2018
I am extremely pleased and honored to present the exhibition titled The Prisoner by Marina Sagona as an event of Festa Cinema nella Città. Since my first year as Artistic Director, I have paid the greatest attention to contemporary art and to the inspiration that could be offered by a dialogue with the language of images: this magnificent exhibition follows a course in which pain merges with yearning, desire with transience, sincerity with anguish. The result is admirably accomplished. It is achieved through an extremely sophisticated form of expression, which reveals a constant search for dialogue, even in its experimentation with language. In revealing an honesty that is naked to the extreme, The Prisoner displays an approach that carries the stature of truth and the purity of humility: both the sculptures and the paintings as well as the sound piece may be seen as stills from a film that has caused pain and poignantly seeks a catharsis. The exhibition has yet another particularly significant element: I was personally able to observe how the work of this artist has become a reference for the Gotha of New York's intellectual world, esteemed by writers such as Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, as well as Claire Messud who wrote the beautiful essay that introduces this exhibition. This is one of the many reasons for which I enthusiastically celebrate the work of this artist in the city in which she was born.
Codependent love entails a passionate devotion to the unrequited, a desire for self-abnegation. Its ironies are rife: how readily we give of ourselves, believing that eventually our sacrifices will be recognized; how thoroughly we put the needs and desires of the troubled before our own; how proud we are of our ability to stand in the heart of the flames, and burn. Marina Sagona’s new work, in its nuanced expression of these ironies, illuminates both the danger and the allure—the beauty, even—of this state. The intense black glossiness of her sculptureof a woman’s pelvis at once evokes intense sensuality—we want to touch it, to glide our fingers over its smooth surfaces—and brutish objectification: its meaty heft, disembodied, could be mistaken for a prime cut; or for a hunk of painted metal only incidentally reminiscent of the human form. The sculpture’s vaginal opening proves a slickslit leading nowhere, the antithesis of Courbet’s famous painting The Origin of the World: Sagona’s sculpture is a play of surfaces that simultaneously promises and denies pleasure. There’s no mystery, no projection here: this cuntis what it is, the opposite of interiority, a denial of the soul. Sagona, an artist who brilliantly deploys beauty— the uncomfortable sway of the beautiful—in service of complexity (as in her memorable 2017 show, Eden; or her 2016 portraits The Comedy of Women), here calls into question our entire pornographic age, the dehumanizing spectacle that not simply sexuality but human relationships more broadly risk becoming. The companion pieceto the pelvis, as richly, shinily black, proposes, according to the artist, “a fossil-like tract of the intestines, that could also be perceived as a magnification of an umbilical chord.”
This fossilization is essential: whereas the pelvis ismatter, unbrokenly exterior, the missing intestines create a hollow, ribbed and ridged, an echo of the viscera, now—presumably—eviscerated. The cost of codependent love is, Sagona suggests, our guts themselves. Allusion to the umbilical chord only reinforces this implication: women, in particular, give our very bodies to those we love, we create them, and feed them, from our insides.
This self-sacrifice isn’t simply a choice; it’s a biological fact. The fossil’s form suggests other possibilities, too: a truncheon, object of violence; or a dildo, object of sexual pleasure.
All these overlapping possibilities are inscribed in a single sculpture. Sagona’s artworks acknowledge the intractability, the limitation, the destructiveness of such love; and yet, as truthful art must, they grapple also with its seductiveness. Western culture is suffused with narratives of heroic self-sacrifice, Jesus Christ’s paramount among them. Our understanding of the demands of parenthood—a crucial form of love—conforms, too, to the definition of codependency.
A love that asks nothing of us may seem a love not worth having, or giving. Where to draw the line between the admirable and the fool hardy? When is sacrifice a worthy gift, and when is it misdirected self-aggrandisement?
As Sagona knows, life’s rich tangle is at stakehere: what can we see? how do we love? and howforgiving must we be—of others but also, even chiefly, of ourselves, the uneasy servants of our own urgent, imperfect hearts?