The exhibition ‘Antipoem’, currently on display at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin until October 2023, presents a majestic series of works by Ambera Wellmann, driving viewers across an extraordinary atmosphere imbued with mythological allusions, nocturnal landscapes, enigmatic figures and ambiguous environmental settings.
The narrative behind the show refers back to the deepest recesses of history, linking to the archaic poems of Sappho, which have reached us only in fragments. Anne Carson, translator of those, describes indeed the silences living between the Greek poetess’ verses as sort of ‘Antipoems’, spaces where the absence of language becomes essential element of the overarching poetry, allowing for visual imagination and thereby expanding comprehension and interpretation of the work itself.
so we may see[
of gold arms [
(extract from If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, A. Carson, published 2002)
Ambera Wellmann’s large scale paintings depict imageries that are so rich in elements and consequently so enigmatic. This aesthetic quality results in a fragmented narrative, inviting the audience to explore a multitude of paths and interpretations. Therefore, just as Sappho’s fragments, viewers are encouraged to engage their imagination and unravel the enigmatic images that Wellmann brings to life on the canvases. Often dominating the painted depictions are uncertain space-time coordination and darkness. Within these mysterious environments, the artist portrays creatures of various nature, manipulating the myriad possibilities that the body form can assume. Notably, the figure of the Minotaur covers an emblematic role within the overall exhibition. Across her works, Wellmann indeed investigates themes of fear, vulnerability, power and formlessness, all of which converge within the well-known mythological creature, a figure so rich in contrasts for being at the same time animal and human; powerful and vulnerable; fierce and victim. In the huge diptych ‘Two Things are True’ (2022), an imposing minotaur dominates the scene, strongly standing out from the dark background. However, the creature’s aggression and power are somehow offset by the surrounding obscurity, which make the monster look detached from the space, vulnerable and disoriented. Through this dramatic juxtaposition, the artist clearly conveys the Minotaur’s dual nature, forging a connection between myth and reality, and probing the current and insecure human condition.
Likewise, in ‘To a Girl in a Garden’ (2023), an encounter with an idyllic atmosphere becomes increasingly enigmatic and shadowed. Through a deeper observation, the composition starts filling with unclear details and undefined creatures difficult to identify, while an obscure background incorporates the entire scene. Like an illusion, viewers face the slow fading of a locus amoenus into obscurity, as a metaphor that represents vulnerability and ambiguity in visual perception - mirroring the emotions stirred within the viewer. Hence, the artworks within 'Antipoem' eschew directness in favor of cryptic complexity, inviting viewers to untangle hidden meanings ingeniously evoked by Wellmann. In this matter, the artist places the audience into a vulnerable state, where distinctions between good and bad, reality and dreams, nightmares and desires are blurred and enigmatic.
The theme of the body constitutes another focal point in Wellmann’s artistic expression, occurring in every painting displayed. The representations consistently contrast and challenge constrictive ideals of the body figure by celebrating its fluid, hybrid and transformative states instead. By doing so, the artist blurs the outer limits of gender ambiguity in her paintings, depicting abstracted bodily forms in moments of passion and aggression able to revel the fleshiness and formlessness of the body, in all its vulnerability and sensuality. As in ‘Counterclockwise’ (2022), where a non defined creature, shown in the skeletal state, servers as a conduit for contemplating its own metamorphosis. Consequently, the feeling of death and horror gets lost and leave space for the potential of bodily transformation and reinvention.
The ambiguity of the body form is very much conveyed also through the many sex scenes occurring in Wellmann’s works, where a number of nude bodies merge together while blurring the conventional demarcations between genders. Allover the artworks, body fluidity and transmutation become symbol of liberation and rediscovery, defying dogmatic norms.
This emphasis on transformation and metamorphosis extends to the collective sphere, particularly when considering that the aura of obscurity and monstrosity present in the works does not limit to feelings of fear and horror, but serves as a deceptive façade that ultimately leads the audience to aspire for alternative meanings. Thus, this impulse to reevaluate, reshape, and transmute the seemingly catastrophic imagery becomes the catalyst for envisioning a brighter reality. This thematic thread is exemplified in 'Impossession' (2022), where a sweeping procession of figures and animals unfolds within a catastrophic aura against an obscure background. The composition might be alluding to the iconic imagery of Michelangelo's Last Judgment, where a multitude of souls—ranging from angels to the damned—symbolizes the collective essence of humanity, destined for eventual judgment at the culmination of time. Wellmann's artwork draws certain parallels with this imagery, however, while an atmosphere of impending catastrophe emanates from the dark theme, viewers are challenged to discern the conceptual underpinning of the depiction, which potentially signifies the conclusion of something in favor of a more promising future.
To conclude, the exhibition ‘Antipoem’ orchestrates a journey into enigmatic and mythic realms, touching on the collective sphere of human condition and social existence. Ambera Wellmann’s paintings reveal endless possibilities, merging together past and present, human and animal, hope and drama, and therefore building worlds within worlds enhanced by the power of imagination. Moreover, by embracing the elements of chance, errors, and reinterpretation, the artworks showcased lay bare the evolution of their own metamorphosis. Within this atmosphere, viewers are encouraged to engage in profound introspection, sparking their imagination while questioning established paradigms. The artist's masterful play with light, darkness, and ambiguous forms, alongside the reinterpretation of myth and the celebration of fluid bodies, creates an experience that challenges preconceived notions and prompts a reconsideration of human vulnerability as well as a desire for an alternative future.
In "Antipoem," this interplay of opposing forces coalesces within a broader collective anticipation of impending catastrophe. Consequently, this convergence of opposing notions eventually merges with the longing for an alternative future that transcends the initial bleakness. Within this narrative, the fragility of the individual and the ephemeral nature of our dreamlike universe are not only shared with the audience but also assimilated into the observer's experience. This connection underscores that these artworks, in some intrinsic manner, belong to all of us, capturing the essence of our vulnerability as authentic beings.