Roberto Mastroianni, “Industria”, 2011

Jill Mathis exhibition Found(ry) Art in the Period of Modern Patronage (hosted by the Fondazione regionale ligure per la cultura e lo spettacolo in the prestigious rooms of the Doge’s Palace of Genoa) stages the relationship between work, industry and modern patronage. It transforms the production process, the business and the “working man” into elements of an artistic narrative able to restore dignity and pride to work and business while at the same time highlighting the anthropological substratum, which connects these phaenomena.

The term “Found(ry) Art” could well synthetize the artistic process of this photographer of the “New York old school”, able to see in the “Foundry” a mine of found objects/object trouvé, setting them in a narrative sequence which makes of this exhibition one of photographic “Found Art”, where the images/objects “found again” in the factory and in the production line become autonomous artistic objects able to refer to different dimensions of meaning, in a game of signifiers re-articulated in an aesthetic discourse.

The images of machinery, the colours of chromium plating, the presses, the alienate hands of workers become carriers of artistic meaning, subjects for interpretation, signs of a visual discourse which sees in the factory a possible museum/gallery of images of industrial archaeology and anthropology.

This exhibition has the characteristics of becoming a unique event, able to open a photographic evolution of “Found art” in the direction of a “Foundry art”, transforming these images of industrial archaeology in expressionist paintings. The series stages the relationship between machine, man and capital in the context of the dimension of “factory/foundry” previously seldom explored, where it becomes at the same time object and subject of artistic research and production.

The photography of foundries, factories and productive processes is usually restricted to reportage, publicity or industrial archaeology. In this case memory, humanity at work and the patronage of an important industrialist are transformed in an operation of great aesthetic impact.

The sequence of about fifty photos fully restores the value to these “images/found objects”, which are transformed into paintings able to narrate the passion and the toil of industrial work, where man and machine interact within a productive system/process/environment which has shaped culture and industrial society.

From this point of view, genoa is a perfect location for this exhibition, as Genoa is, together with Turin and Milan, one of the corners of that industrial triangle which in the post-Fordism era has plunged into a deep crisis. Post-Fordism has seen in the factory and in work something to forget, to hide, too often celebrating the triumph of work’s immateriality and of the cognitive production, in order to remove our industrial past, in the illusion that such a removal would have lead to surpassing the dimension of the factory in the direction of the emancipation of work and production. We know today that these were illusions, unless rhetoric, and that a society cannot thrive and prosper without a strong productive drive.

Against those who hailed the end of work and of industry, to which they wanted to substitute the immateriality of society and finance, this exhibition proclaims the anthropological constant of man’s industrious productivity, and the need/possibility to make such industry a source of rediscovered pride and dignity. This exhibition is an operation of recovery, of retrieval of an industrial memory, of the dignity of work and of industry, and of the memory that connect us all as citizen of a country of great industrial tradition.

Almost as a nemesis, in a time of denial of a shared industrial past, of the toil which it implies, of the human redemption (material and spiritual) operated by work, only a industrialist/patron who has dedicated his life to his business was able to accept the challenge to recover the past/present of man’s venture, and ask for a restoration in aesthetic terms.

This exhibition thus becomes a challenge to the “mannered retrieval” of the history of work and industry put forward by a certain kind of sociological, political and journalistic rhetoric. And such a challenge was made possible by the encounter of a patron of great sensibility with an artist able to transform the images of a production process in paintings of humanity characterized by a strong artistic and socio-anthropological expressionism.

This would not have benne possible without Jill Mathis uncanny ability to capture the dimension of the factory, made of machines and men at work. Jill Mathis has the unique ability, proper of great photographers, to transform a photographic shot into pistol’s shot, with which she hits, stops and immortalizes reality, making it “image/painting” (Bild, in German), retrieving the précises moment in which time (the socio-historical moment) congeals and becomes history. In this way, the narrative sequence becomes a gallery of “images/paintings” (divided in there sections engaged in a dialogue) able to return:

  1. The elements of the factory process/system (as found objects) transformed in artistic objects
  2. The colours and smells, the noises and the silences of the production process, returning in their cognitive and emotional impact
  3. The workers hands, and the objects they produce, restored to the dignity of human industriousness which too often disappears in the alienation of the assembly line

All these elements, integrated and engaged in a dialogue, open a window on a world that seemed condemned to extinction at least in our opulent societies, which were under the illusion of having left behind industry, through the elimination of the relationship between capital-technology-work. Relationship, which is always present to remind us that there is “no prosperity without industry, and that industry without beauty and dignity is only brutality”.

For this reason in this gallery of “paintings of humanity”, in this “narrative sequence of images”, Jill Mathis has operated a double retrieval, in the context of a Found Art which becomes Foundry Art: on one side, the “images/found-objects”, on the other the re-found objects of industry and the foundry (foundry object). In the end, the predominant sensation is that in this “double retrieval” we are asked to find a single element, underlining the factory, work and capital: the human dignity which is proper of the different forms of human action, and that at different levels is expressed both in waged work and in business. This is a result that could have benne pursued only through art, and only reached by a great artist.

Roberto Mastroianni
Turin-Genoa, July 2011