The Belly of the Phoenix encodes lineage, rupture, sagging and synchronicity. It was recently displayed in Zurich at Last Tango (June 11–August 12 2017), curated by Arianna Gellini and Linda Jensen.

Visual by Niels Wehrspann, text by Donatella Bernardi and edited by Isabel Löfgren.

For her new body of artworks, Bernardi pays homage to Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair (1916-2016) and her so-called “mini forms,” a series of stratified small sculptures, abstract and refined, very symbolic of this female artist often defined as a modernist pioneer in the Middle East. Originally conceived by the artist as sketches announcing greater realizations, this series of works had to remain small due to lack of means, yet filled with potential and waiting for an opportunity to materialize. In that sense, Bernardi’s custom-made shaped canvas, textiles and hand-made ceramic objects inflect both monumental and miniature scales as the forms are enlarged to the size of the Roman Bocca della Verità (1,7m in diameter) down to only a few centimeters wide. With sinuous horizontal and cascading lines and different materials, Der Bauch des Phönix (The Belly of the Phoenix) encodes lineage, rupture, sagging and synchronicity.

The title of the exhibition, “The Belly of the Phoenix” indicates a cycle of regeneration where stacking and accumulation take over any cyclical or spiral dynamic. The series of works are materialized using canvas, fabric or ceramic, and play with the notion of sedimentation, layering, aging, wrinkling as well as acquiring new curves and fluctuations, not only as an allusion to time but also to movement and displacement. Like the famous Michelin figure, whose anatomy is made of tires, physically indicative of the many journeys traveled, regeneration here is embodied as a figure in constant transformation instead of a birth coming from the ashes of a lost body, as is the case of the phoenix.

When a woman turns forty, she begins to get noticed for qualities other than her physique. Something else defines this aging feminine subject in order to be considered, looked at or even esteemed in normative Western society. “Cougar” is a term used for more mature women who are nevertheless still “in the game” and is sadly sometimes used to discriminate against older women. However, the fleshiness of her body must, like art and life remain living for at least another forty years ahead. Is the aging body some kind of rebirth? Different materials are used in the artworks to embody such a narrative that deals with machismo and discrimination against age, but not only – The Belly of the Phoenix is after all about having a good laugh.

Imagine for a moment that the phoenix hasn’t yet caught on fire, but simply put on some weight. And what about its waist size or its belly, is it a uterus, the stomach or even the long and folded chain of the intestines, where everything gets processed, sorted out, assimilated or leading towards an exit? What does it mean to be in a constant state of digestion and interaction with people and places? What entails a constant mediation between oneself and what stands outside of you, be it one’s identity as an artist, the parent-child relationship or kinship in general, institutional ties and duties, teacher-student or even power relations between superior and subaltern? What kind of negotiation, arrangement and remodeling are made between all these stratifications? Seriality, variation, declination and reutterance of a single drawing, a fragmented disc almost smiling at you with mischievousness, brings many other codes and aspects into play.

Produced in collaboration with the artist Nicola Genovese, Elegant sagging (2017) is a shaped canvas on the wall whose size is the same as the Bocca della Verità in Rome. With clear lines, it delineates the solar constellation of an archipelago made of fake black marble. Genovese is equally involved in the making of Almost Ninja Turtles, I–IV (2017), a series of four multicolored, plump, tubby and shiny bibelots. On the floor, Carpet Pond (2017), is composed and fabricated together with fashion designer Laura Locher. By quilting together different quality of fabrics, such as digitally printed cotton, snake or scale-like sequins or embroidery, a hilly horizontal landscape is created, in a reference to Monet’s late Nymphaeas which can be seen at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

The source of this playful assemblage is made out of historical references just like Choucair’s artworks, but also relies on photographs of the artist’s uncle which can be seen in Bernardi’s artist book Into Your Solar Plexus (Humboldt Books, 2016), equally available for viewing in the exhibition.

If time equals flesh, an event may shape anatomy.

In April 2016, Musumeci has printed the book Into Your Solar Plexus (Donatella Bernardi ed.) published by Humboldt Books and designed by Noémie Gygax. Recipient of the Most Beautiful Swiss Books 2016 award.

Into Your Solar Plexus is the sum of a multitude of journeys, people and stories collected and edited by Donatella Bernardi. Her uncle and father, the brothers Alfonso and Luciano Bernardi, respectively a mountaineer and a scientist born in Bologna in 1914 and 1920, were meticulous documenters of their travels around the globe. Their archives – the driving force behind the project – include photographs depicting a journey to the top of the Dhaulagiri during the 1976 Italian expedition to the Himalayas, a majestic waterfall in South America, snapshots of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra and everyday life in Aleppo, Syria, taken in the 1970s. The book opens with photographs by Alfonso and closes with those by Luciano, encapsulating visions of a world lost and gone, or at least radically changed. In the central part of the publication, Donatella Bernardi takes over an art space for a number of months – the Kunsthalle Bern – from January to June 2015, in order to address the notion of political origin, personal mythology, necessity and contingency through artworks, events and monumental wall paintings, executed before the very eyes of the museum visitors. The Bernardi family archive is combined with various other sources, such as works by the Lebanese artists Saloua Raouda Choucair and Hala Schoukair, mother and daughter dealing with their respective generational concerns, Arabic modernism and the diaspora, but also with historical artworks from the Swiss Confederation Fine Art Collection. Bernardi conceives Into Your Solar Plexus as a permeable organism, a time-based curatorial journey as well as an artist’s book, the perception and interpretation of which were influenced by the natural and political catastrophes that took place during the implementation of the project, such as the earthquake in Nepal or the assault on the Palmyra archaeological site by ISIS militants. "Pl. LXVII, Palmyre. Temple de Bêl. (Automne 1932)" in Antoine Poidebard, La Trace de Rome dans le désert de Syrie, Le Limes de Trajan à la conquête arabe, Recherches aériennes (1925-1932), Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner, Paris, 1934. Double page of Into Your Solar Plexus. Left: Alfonso Bernardi, Palmyra, 20 October 1975, Kodachrome, slide, 35 mm. Right: Donatella Bernardi, series of titles given to each exhibition room of the Kunsthalle Bern for the Morgenröte, aurora borealis and Levantin: Into Your Solar Plexus project, Kunsthalle Bern, 30 January – 7 June 2015 [opening 29 January]. Ground floor: Mother-Daughter, Sisyphus, Homesickness, Alps, Syrian Portico; lower level: Botanical Synthetic Material, To Let it Go. Anonymous, Dancing figure identified as Joséphine Baker, probably painted in 1936 while parties were taking place in the Kunsthalle Bern underground chambers (nowadays a deposit, archive, library, boardroom and administrative rooms), fragment of a wall painting, 231 x 72.5 cm. Photo: David Aebi.Double page of Into Your Solar Plexus. Left: Alfonso Bernardi, Thawing patterns, Nepal, Dhaulagiri, 3 May 1976, Kodachrome, slide, 35 mm. Right: Damascus Museum, Holy Coran, 14th Century, slide, 35 mm.Double page of Into Your Solar Plexus, first week of the Kunsthalle Bern project's diary, with contributions by Sara Baldis, Donatella and Luciano Bernardi, Noémie Gygax and Katja Schenker. Double page of Into Your Solar Plexus, "Horizontal ecstasy", all pictures by Luciano Bernardi, Kodachrome, slide, 35 mm, various times and locations.

Currently developing a show for the Galleria Valentina Bonomo in Rome.
Draft for a shaped canvas Fenice, in collaboration with Fredrik Fermelin, 2015.


Designed by Niels Wehrspann
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