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April 20, 2000 04:37pm
Milan show puts new twist on home away from home
Source: Reuters/Variety
by: Claudia Parsons

(MILAN, Italy) -- Salvatore Giaconia's latest job is to bathe naked in public dozens of times a day as part of a new exhibition in Milan called ``Rooms and Secrets.''

``The only trouble was on the first day. The water was cold, but now they've fixed it,'' said Giaconia on one of his breaks.

He is part of British film director Peter Greenaway's room, an eerily lit hall with 10 large enamel baths overflowing with water like a fountain and 92 suitcases filled with objects ranging from dead locusts to bloody dental implements.

Asked what it all meant, Giaconia said the installation spoke about death, exemplified by some of the objects contained in the suitcases: guns, the corpse of a dog, bones, tools for burial and volumes of Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina.

``With all these body parts and corpses around, it's not really very attractive, there's a lot of pain,'' he said. ``But then there's the human presence, which is me. I don't know if Greenaway wants to give another message with that.''

The director of the exhibition, Luigi Settembrini, agreed that death was important.

``It's a representation of the director's intentions showing a moment of a journey -- any type of journey, for example Rome-Milan -- but signifying the journey toward death. It's a symbol of travel and purification.''

The exhibition, which is scheduled to run until May 7 but may be extended, features 16 contributions by artists from as far afield as Japan, the United States and Bosnia.

It was designed to coincide with Milan's International Furniture Fair in April to give a different slant on the home.

``We asked 16 great contemporary artists belonging to different languages to represent the metaphor of the home or the room or the domestic space,'' Settembrini said.

``We asked them for an interpretation of what they see as inhabiting somewhere, the place itself, what they see as a refuge, and we wanted to bring together different artists with different languages,'' he said.

Dust And Onions From Sarajevo Cellar

One of the most striking exhibits is a Sarajevo cellar, transported in its entirety from the Bosnian capital by Emir Kusturica, whose ``Black Cat, White Cat'' won the Silver Lion award for best director at the 1998 Venice Film Festival.

Kusturica has recreated a damp and gloomy wartime cellar in one wing of the old hospital which houses the exhibition.

Everything down to the dust on the floor and the onions filling an old bathtub was brought from his native Sarajevo. He has even managed to recreate the dank smell of wet clothes and cabbage, and hidden speakers filter street sounds into the cramped half darkness, lit only by feeble bare bulbs.

Another famous name who has contributed her take on the idea of Rooms and Secrets is Yoko Ono, widow of Beatle John Lennon.

Titled ``Play it by trust,'' it comprises a table and two chairs with a chess board, all in white.

There are three versions of the same scene with the pieces in different phases of a game.

``There are billions of opportunities in that tiny life-space where we are all involved,'' critic Manuela Gandini writes in the catalog to the exhibition.

``Life is only one half of a game,'' writes Yoko Ono.

Greenaway is not the only artist whose work involves a living person. American Robert Wilson has transformed another lofty hall into a spooky black forest haunted by the tragic figure of a woman in black.

Curiously, a tiny white bed is suspended in mid-air near one of the black trees, illuminated by a harsh spot-light.

Perhaps even more unnerving is ``Jalousie'' by Austrian-French husband-and-wife team Ben Jakober and Yannick Vu -- three large screens surrounding a box of bones. On each screen is projected the life-size image of two skeletons making love. The soundtrack leaves little to the imagination.

Settembrini said the exhibition was the first of what would be a series of initiatives backed by the International Furniture Fair, and he promised something new next year.

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