KOEN VANMECHELEN – BURNING FALLS
Curated by Adriano Berengo
08.04 – 15.05.2022
After their success at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence during the exhibition Seduzione, the thirty fantastical creatures made by Koen Vanmechelen from striking combinations of glass and Carrara marble are presented by Adriano Berengo in the setting of their origin: the island of Murano.
Titled Burning Falls, Vanmechelen’s new exhibition showcases the sculptures, which were handmade last year with the support of the glass masters of Berengo Studio, in the atmospheric setting of the Fondazione Berengo Art Space. The exhibition features as part of the In Città section of Homo Faber 2022, the major exhibition event dedicated to artistic crafts and international artisans. Burning Falls aligns with the spirit of Homo Faber, whose focus this year is The Living Treasures of Europe and Japan. Crafting a more Human Future, and allows us to celebrate this unique material during the United Nation’s International Year of Glass: “If Burning Falls can break down the walls that divide us today, it will create a transparency in which we will recognise ourselves in each other,” says Koen Vanmechelen.
With this exhibition, the artist’s Cosmopolitan Renaissance narrative continues, with the burning mouth of the furnace as its focal point. “Glass,” the artist observes, “is the material of the future. It is both recyclable and mouldable. And it invites connection and teamwork, merging creativity and craftsmanship. Working with glassislike working with water: the liquid becomes solid when the elements come together. Fire enables this transformation, and the state between solid and liquid is symbolised by a firebird, like a generator of action, or a flow of lava, leading to the image of Burning Falls.” For the occasion, in addition to the Medusas, the red tiger, the serpentine chickens, the horned iguanas and the other mystical animals seen in Florence, several never-before-seen pieces will make their public debut, including the captivating “Formula Segreta” chandeliers: two complex works that reflect on the origin, decay and regeneration of all living things, and are intended as a tribute by the artist to the history of Murano glass.
“The secret formula of these magnificent chandeliers is the chain of evolution.” The Belgian artist explains: “At the base of the evolutionary chain are crests, claws and eggs: primordial elements, a metaphor for an ancestral world in a perpetual struggle for survival. The snake crawls among them and recalls the decadence resulting from original sin and the final judgement, its inevitable consequence. Species evolved but were lost, in dissolution and selfdestruction, from generation to generation. A new segment intervened to redirect evolutionary destiny: the virus. But out of potential destruction, new life emerged, an egg from which a child was generated, blindfolded because it was still unaware.”
All the sculptures Vanmechelen produced for this project skilfully combine the unique tones of marble with the shine of glass, and desire to reflect on the significance of certain key figures in classical mythology. This is the case with Medusa, the gorgon whose hair was replaced by snakes whose poison could revive the dead: Vanmechelen draws an astute parallel by noting how chicken eggs are used in modern science as the basis for vaccines and medicines. His Medusa thus becomes a metaphor for humanity itself, imbued with the power to kill as well as the ability to bring new life. In a similar way, the symbolism of snakes is reinterpreted, transformed for the occasion into monstrous and deformed chickens. The intention is to evoke in the viewer the symbolic value of the humble chicken, an important metaphor for the artist because it is an example of the potential for life and the ways in which human beings have been negligent with its unlimited potential.
“The extreme heat of the glass in the furnace is the element that ignites the creative talent of the different masters in the fire arena. Like a fiery waterfall it gives life or death to the true soul of a work of art,” says Koen Vanmechelen. “I have been working with Koen Vanmechelen for over thirty years and constantly seek his guidance and advice when it comes to art. I trust his eye, which can be attested to by the number of times he has been curator of my exhibition Glasstress over the years. He is also one of the artists who immediately understood my vision for Berengo Studio in Murano and saw the potential of glass as a medium for fine art. In these new works he takes glass and pushes it further, combining it with another ancient material – marble – and through this fusion raises both materials to a new artistic level. As an artist, he is not afraid to experiment and this crucial characteristic is one of the reasons why his work continues to fascinate me” says Adriano Berengo, President of Berengo Studio.