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A River without Memory:
Fabrizio Plessi's "Dream World" in Berlin's Martin Gropius Bau

Already in 1970, the Italian video artist Fabrizio Plessi could be seen in the Experimental Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. His works are also part of the Deutsche Bank Collection. Currently, he's being honored with a large retrospective in Berlin.

Fabrizio Plessi

Over and over again: water. Flowing over mosaic tiles on the screens Fabrizio Plessi installed beneath metal bars for his video work Pompeii (1996); a short time later, bubbling across the monitors he arranged in a circle for his work Rome (1988); as a flow of images rushing through a hollowed-out tree trunk in the video sculpture Timaru (1999); or forming a digital Maelstrom in Manaus from the same year. For the video artist, who was born in 1940 in the Italian region of Reggio Emilia, water is "timeless, without memory."

Altogether, 16 room-sized installations can be seen through May 31 in Plessi's lavish Traumwelt (Dream World) exhibition in Berlin's Martin-Gropius-Bau. Each of the works describes a location the artist has visited in recent years, his video camera constantly at hand. Thus, a diary of moving images came about which Plessi has transformed into sculptural environments: sometimes the video monitors are surrounded by bundles of brushwood, as in Beysehir (1998/99); sometimes, as in his work Sevilla (1996), flames of damnation lick across monitors installed in steel chambers hanging by chains. In his travels, whatever Plessi encounters in terms of antique beauty and civilization, but also contemporary social misery, finds its way into his installations, which bear the mark of Arte Povera.

Despite this, the Italian artist is not concerned with documenting the present, but creating magical panoramas and imaginary districts. A dream world, which Plessi says portrays the visions, fears, and hopes people are subjected to in the big city. To this purpose, he uses elements of an austere nature and the apparently lifeless forms of highly industrialized settings, illuminating them with his precisely calibrated videos. Bleached wood, marble ruins, and again and again naked steel are combined with the virtual pictorial language of film, such that the ruins of civilization ultimately become united with modern technology as though by magic. For this reason, Plessi sees himself as a kind of alchemist, seeking to allow different materials to "live together as communicating pipes." Even where social tension dominates, as in the work Bronx from 1985, the artist is concerned with "anticipating a secret need for beauty and peace."

Fabrizio Plessi, La Flotta di Berlino, 2003

As the core piece of the exhibition, La Flotta di Berlino (2003) presents a monumental spectacle of ten Venetian freight cranes and countless monitors in the sky-lit atrium of Martin Gropius Bau, accompanied by a captivating minimalist soundtrack composed for the piece by Philip Glass. No other work attests to timelessness quite to this degree; more than any other place, it confronts us with the nearly sacral power of the sign of decay and the burning ember of new beginning residing within. Situated between fire and water, Plessi is right in his element. HF

The exhibition "Traumwelt" by Fabrizio Plessi can be seen through May 31 in Martin Gropius Bau (Niederkirchnerstr. 7, 10963 Berlin). Open Mon. - Fri. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sat./Sun. 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.; the catalogue was published by Chorus Verlag in Mainz and costs 25 Euros in the exhibition (38 Euros trade price).

Translation: Andrea Scrima