Project Description


from 12 September 2019 to 19 January 2020 – Space: SHED

The work of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané (Barcelona, 1977; lives and works in Rio de Janeiro) ponders on the relationship between culture and nature. The artist’s interest in biology has led him to analyze complex ecological systems and introduce the natural world into his works. In Steegmann Mangrané’s practice numerous are the references to the rain forest in Brazil—such as branches, leaves, and insects—which interwoven with geometric forms and abstract motifs engender a reflection on the complex dynamics between the elements that surround us.
His first exhibition in Italy presents more than twenty works made from 1998 to the present time, ranging from films, virtual reality devices, 2D holograms, sculptures, and installations. The artist places the physical and sensory dimension of the viewer at the heart of the exhibition project, offering new visions of the entire corpus of his works as they dialogue with one another.
The exhibition is characterized by a shift between material and immaterial experiences, expanded further through the site-specific intervention that are made of white transparent fabric partitions that redefine the industrial quality of Pirelli HangarBicocca, whilst both concealing and revealing the exhibited works. Like fluctuating membranes, these screens give shape to the different areas of the show while allowing, by means of their transparency, an immediate overview of the entire exhibition.

Location: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Artist: Daniel Steegmann Mangrané
Exhibition: “A Leaf-Shaped Animal Draws The Hand”
Allestiment: curated by Lucia Aspesi and Fiammetta Griccioli
Engineering: MOSAE srl
Team: Michele Maddalo, Alice Brugnerotto, Maria Miranda
Foto: Agostino Osio
Courtesy: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Pictures in slideshow: from the exhibition

Lichtzwang, 1998- in corso

The German word Lichtzwang, complex to translate literally, could be explained as “light constraint.” Steegmann Mangrané takes the title from a volume of poetry by Paul Celan (1920–1970)—published in English as Lightduress—and highlights two underlying aspects of the work: the imposition of a rule and the modulation of light through the decomposition of color.

The concepts of margins and limits are fundamental to the development of this series of watercolors begun in 1998 and still ongoing. The common starting point is a sheet of paper taken from an arithmetic exercise book (i.e. patterned with small squares) measuring 21 x 15 centimeters. In each drawing, the artist structures shapes, forms and colors to experiment with the infinite possibilities offered by the printed grid and test its constructional limits. The subgroups of the watercolors query specific problems like the variation of color or the modulation of a structure, characterizing the entire sequence before disappearing into the next one, in which the execution of a transformation or emergence of a compositional rhythm might be discerned. This approach has allowed Steegmann Mangrané to experiment with variations, loops, and permutations, as well as with time and duration. For the artist, this work has been a sort of generative matrix: ideas and forms that originated from Lichtzwang have been further developed in other projects with different media.

In this show, the entire series is featured in a dynamic relation with the exhibition display: watercolors are hung along a curved fabric partition so that visitors can not only move along the sequence but are also able to catch a glimpse in the background of other works that originate from Lichtzwang.

Orange Oranges, 2001

Orange Oranges is part of a larger body of works in which the artist investigates the limits of perception. It is an environment of varying dimensions, whose ceiling and transparent walls are formed by an orange photographic filter. By passing through a curtain, visitors enter the structure and find seats and a table on which glasses, knives, a fruit-squeezer and some fresh oranges lie. They can make a glass of orange juice and drink it in a setting bathed in orange. When leaving the environment, visitors experience the surrounding space differently on account of chromatic compensation, an effect whose strength increases with the time spent inside the colored structure. The reduction of the chromatic spectrum am plifies the perception: inured by the pervasiveness of orange, visitors perceive the space as though it were colored blue.

Orange Oranges emphasizes and subverts duality and categories of thought, such as interior-exterior and subject-object, that exemplify our way of perceiving reality. The photographic filter is thus comparable to a membrane through which information and sensations are projected from the interior to the exterior and vice versa.

16mm, 2007-2011

The feeling of the almost overwhelming density of the rainforest is the focus of 16mm, which, more than any other work in the exhibition, reveals the artist’s inclination for structural film. Spread in the United States during the 1960s, this cinematographic movement aimed at eliminating all illusory and appealing functions of the narrative in favor of productions focused on the technicalities of filmmaking, its mechanisms of shooting, projection and their phenomenological aspects. In Steegmann Mangrané’s film, a camera modified with the help of an engineer penetrates a forest along a suspended cable whose length corresponds to the standard length of a 16mm film. The speed of movement of the camera along the cable is equal to that of the celluloid inside the reel during the shooting. As the artist explains: «Each meter of film shot corresponds exactly to a meter of forest traveled through.» This way, the two movements and distances overlap, linked together inside a form of mechanical motion that creates a long panoramic view which, in parallel with the imagery of thick, wild vegetation, generates the intense sounds of the leaves and insects. Watching the film is both a physical and mental experience in which the thickness of the forest is cut by a completely straight line.

Elegancia y Renuncia, 2011

In Elegancia y Renuncia the image of the forest is made explicit by the presence of a single leaf, which, like a sort of module, represents the complexity of the entire ecosystem. Dried and flattened, it is held up by a slender vertical support specially designed by the artist as if it were a specimen from a botanical collection. The work has its origin in cutting as a creative gesture: from close up, the surface of the leaf is incised with circular designs that are illuminated by a nearby projector. The silhouette of the leaf is outlined negatively onto the body of the visitor who approaches the work, and its edges gradually dissolve.

Geometric Nature/Biology, 2011

A threshold to the exhibition space, this work acts as a sort of leitmotif, reminding us of the relationship between the animate and inanimate that recurs throughout “A Leaf-Shaped Animal Draws The Hand” by means of twigs and stick insects, elements that seem to be the counterpart of one another. The notion of interrelation is visually exemplified in the sculpture in which the two sections of a small branch cut longitudinally are suspended horizontally inside cables that run from the ceiling to the floor, suggesting an encounter between natural and man-made forms. Suspended and in precarious stasis, they fluctuate by their circumstances, thereby reacquiring their lost movement.

Spiral Forest (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name), 2013-2015
Spiral Forest (Gimbal), 2014

The film Spiral Forest (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) was shot using a 16mm camera fitted with a modified gimbal, a mechanism traditionally used in the construction of ships’ compasses and clocks that allows an object to remain fixed in spite of the continued movement of its surrounding environment. This support also allowed the camera to turn through 360 degrees during filming. As with 16mm (2007–2011), the panning movements of the camera are powered by the same motor that drives the film inside, thus ensuring that the movements caused by the shooting and turning are synchronized. Spiral Forest (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) is a disorienting portrait of the Mata Atlântica, in which leaves, branches and shrubs are seen from unusual angles thus presenting an alienating landscape. The silence of the images contrasts with the mechanical noise of the projector and the dynamism of the tropical vegetation, prompting the viewer to engage on the continuous motion of the film. A strong impression given by the film is the idea of the spiral, something that folds in on itself and introduces changes of perspective, bringing to mind works of Land Art like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and Michael Snow’s shots of La Région Centrale (1971).

The exhibition includes the work Spiral Forest (Gimbal) (2014), a gimbal specially created for the shooting of the film.

Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name), 2015

This work places the viewer inside a three-dimensional scan of the Mata Atlântica. Wearing a virtual reality headset, spectators find themselves in a black-and-white environment that reproduces an area of the forest detailed enough to record its biodiversity. The spectral image takes viewers into the tropical environment while also eliminating one’s physical presence. For example, as one looks down towards one’s feet, the view given is of plants and vegetation only. The central element of the installation is the dissolution of the viewer’s body and the subversion of the spatial perception. This shift allows visitors the chance to watch the movements of who is wearing the Oculus, unaware of what is happening around. As stated by curator Lauren Cornell «We feel surrounded, dissolved within a sentient structure.» Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) is not designed to give a faithful replica of reality but attempts to make the viewer aware of a dislocation. The image seems to transform the vegetation into scientific data, creating a sort of «digital preservation» of one of the most biodiverse zones in Brazil which is today in serious danger.

Morfogenesis-Cripsis, 2019

This work is a wall drawing devised as a conceptual grid that at a closer look unveils a thick weave of colored lines that follow the outline of few branches, also seen within the tangle. The title has its origin in the term “morphogenesis” (from the Greek morphé = form and genesis = creation), which relates to the process that leads to a particular form or structure. In biology, this evolution is that of an organism. The word cripsis (in English “crypsis”), which completes the title, refers to the capacity of animals to become invisible to predators, for example through mimesis. With the question «Might not form, movement and language be our way to dissolve ourselves in the world?» the French writer and anthropologist Roger Caillois (1913–1978), one of the artist’s reference figures, alludes to the process of dissolution and transformation that underlies this work, and which is apparent throughout this exhibition.

Hologramas, 2013

Holography is another technology used by the artist to trigger the viewer’s eye and explore the potentialities of projection. Various holograms, each of a different subject, are installed independently in the exhibition space and feature a changing image. This technique records a light field projected in a two-dimensional medium to reveal a three-dimensional image. In some of the holograms, a stick insect is visible among geometric forms, while in others the branch itself is shown against triangular white forms.

A Transparent Leaf Instead of the Mouth, 2016-2017

The work arises from Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s interest in the relationship between dissolution and belonging. As with Phasmides (2012), he uses the figure of the phasmid as a metaphor to push the boundaries between a subject and its environment, pointing to the interdependency that characterizes this relationship.

A Transparent Leaf Instead of the Mouth is an undulating glass pavilion similar to the terrariums used in natural history museums. The installation hosts plants and animals that can be observed by visitors. Inside the structure, the artist has recreated an ecosystem of shrubs and local plants together with exotic creatures that include stick insects, leaf insects and praying mantises, all of which have a mimetic capability to blend in with their environment. As a means of vision, A Transparent Leaf… activates simultaneous actions: on one hand, the insects become immobile to conceal themselves, and on the other, visitors move around the terrarium so as to be able to distinguish the insects from the vegetation. As occurs in a real forest, the installation generates a feeling of marvel and astonishment when the insects are discovered. The work is in fact a real ecosystem in which each element is closely dependent on the others; moreover, during the exhibition, it alters in accordance with its own rules, in a continual transformation that precludes it from being open to unambiguous interpretation. This constant metamorphosis is emphasized by the artist, who describes A Transparent Leaf Instead of a Mouth as «a linguistic landscape writing itself» and «a biological and semiotic experiment.» The inclusion of living creatures inside a work prompts a broader reflection on the status of an art object conceived to be in constant evolution, whose significance alters in harmony with the temporality of the space in which it is presented, as well as on the role of natural entities in an artistic context that can generate new idioms and an assortment of interpretations of our surrounding reality.

Upsylon, 2013

Based on the repetitive movements of the workers on the same oil platform of Quebreira, the painted steel sculpture is composed of three connected modules that can be combined to create many different forms. The work stands in a liminal space, opening a discussion on the notions of configuration, repetition and transformation presented throughout the exhibition. The title alludes to the Greek word ypsilon, the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet (Y), that stood over the entrance to Pythagorean school to indicate the two choices available to the youngsters—vice or virtue. Upsylon engages with a sort of linguistic process in which the letter is transmogrified into a sculptural module that creates a visual language.