By KURT MCVEY, OCT. 2016
“Will you fight or will you dance?” This is the question at the center of the Italian artist Angelica Bergamini’s mixed-media exhibition and first solo show in New York, Conscious, at Ivy Brown Gallery, located in the epicenter of Manhattan’s Meatpacking district. On October 13th, Ms. Brown, the petit yet delightfully commanding proprietor of the enchanting 1800 square foot live/work space, perched on the top floor of the neighborhood’s famed Triangle Building, will host one of several meet and greets with Bergamini, reinforcing an ongoing trope in the gallery: the undeniable spiritual link between the city, the artist, the space-an undeniable New York treasure-and Ms. Brown herself, who could easily assume the same designation.
“It’s important whom we choose to show, as it has a direct effect on how we live,” says Ivy while sitting across the table from Bergamini in a small, sun-drenched tearoom on the western wall of her apartment, which overlooks 9th Avenue. “The work seeps into our personal lives. It’s not contained. I’m very sensitive to the fact that I share the space with other human beings, besides the dogs.”
Anyone who’s been to Ivy Brown Gallery knows that you’ll most likely be greeted by Buster and Keaton, Ivy’s two spirited but incredibly well behaved dogs who are somehow in tune with standard art world etiquette. They’re also great indicators of how humans will react to the work. “Buster looks at the art. Keaton doesn’t,” says Ivy, pausing a moment for one of her trademark, head tilting laughs. “Some art really disturbs Buster. We once had a show with a big purple head and every time Buster would run by he’d get totally spooked.”
In touring Bergamini’s show, it was clear that Buster had a rather pleasant relationship to the art on display, which includes collage, video installations, paintings, photography, drawings, and many clever combinations of the aforementioned mediums. One of the more poignant works in Conscious is the mixed media animated video installation, “Will You Fight or Will You Dance?” Bergamini discovered this extremely useful mantra in Piero Ferrucci’s book, The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time, which includes a preface from the Dalai Lama. Bergamini’s poetically meditative wall mounted video installation depicts a woman walking right to left across a cloudy, abstract (internal) landscape, while an ambient, audio recording of human breath, emanates outward, at times labored, other times, at peace.
“This figure walking, it’s me, it’s you, it’s anybody,” says Bergamini in an unabashedly musical Italian accent. “Usually I don’t start with an idea, only details. Of course, I’m not starving; I don’t have to walk three hours to collect drinking water, but no matter where you are, or what your life is like, it’s up to you how you decide to react to life’s obstacles.”
Here, Ivy let’s out an agreeing “mhmm” along with a series of affirmative head nods. Though it’s normally a journalist’s role to investigate all facets of a particular subject, one is reticent to push Ivy to fully divulge some of her own life obstacles, several of them presumably health related, though based on her general disposition, glorious smile, spry locomotion and industrial generator sized warmth that she perpetually radiates, one would assume Ms. Brown, a born dancer in Ferrucci and Bergamini’s defiant metaphorical sense, is in the clear. After mentioning the ninety-year-old painter Ed Moses (the subject of my last piece), who recently survived a heart attack and the subsequent intrusion of a pacemaker and heart valve, Ivy chooses to speak on her own understanding of this particular crucial organ that far too many of us take for granted:
“It’s different when someone physically touches your heart, yo’w?” This y’ow, or simply yo, though plainly a recurring verbal tick, is most likely just a clever and convenient conjunction of you and know, perhaps subconsciously devised by a New Yorker with things to do and places to go. You know? “It’s different from any other types of surgery and I’ve had other types of surgery. Doctors know this as well. We refer to our heart in so many figurative ways throughout our lives, but rarely as a muscle pumping blood. When someone physically touches that, it can be transformative. Some people get very depressed after heart surgery. It messes with you somehow. You’ve been altered.”
Many of the works in Bergamini’s show feature painterly depictions of the human heart, subject matter that most artists tend to shun, perhaps due to its overtly sentimental implications, but for Ms. Brown and Bergamini, holding up those implications to the world and especially New Yorkers, couldn’t be more important. In this modern age, what could be more crucial than the constructive alteration of individual human consciousness, y’ow?
“I did a show several years ago with a Japanese artist who goes by SASAKI, who does heartbeat portraits,” Ivy explains. “I had open-heart surgery within a year of meeting him. He told me what he does and I told him about what I just went through, and then he sent me a proposal.” This was 2011’s Ivy, Beyond Neo-Life. “We opened up the gallery to the public and invited people up to have their heartbeat portrait done.” This show, which was built on the foundation of heartbeat portraits of Ms. Brown’s friends and family, evolved into “The Heartbeat Portrait Project,” executed in tandem with CREATIVE TIME on Valentine’s Day in 2012.
“That’s Ivy for you,” says the often self-deprecating Bergamini, who was born in the coastal city of Viareggio, Italy and spent several years studying in Florence and later Spain at the Reina Sofía. “I come out with something and she’s already done it. If I’m adding anything of value, any important thought, it’s that we collect memories in our hearts, not just our minds.”
Ivy and Angelica met at a yoga class about a year ago at The Integral Yoga Institute on 13th Street. The space, much like Ivy’s home, is a staple in the community, existing for over fifty years and boasting the first vegetarian food store in New York. Though they were casual yogi friends, they bonded in earnest when they sat next to each other at a benefit dinner for the space. Soon after, Angelica visited Ivy’s gallery to check out Elizabeth Gregory-Gruen and Todd Williamson’s Restless Edge, which coincidentally opened on October 13th of last year.
“It just happened to us. It was so easy. I just let it flow,” says Bergamini of the professional evolution of her and Ivy’s relationship. “The studio is my life, there’s no separation. It was clear Ivy felt the same way about her gallery and she immediately got my work. I didn’t have to talk about it too much.”
“I loved how she could express herself in various mediums,” says Ivy. “Nowadays artists tend to have one medium. Angelica pushes, plays, moves, and experiments. Her studio is like a curator’s candy store.
Bergamini’s current studio is in her home in Lefferts Garden, not far from Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “I’m older than when I moved to New York, and now I feel like I need nature more than ever,” says Bergamini, whose previous studio, a space she shared with five other artists, was in the recently demolished, graffiti-bombed street art Mecca, 5 Pointz in Long Island City, Queens. At first, news of the building’s demise came as a shock to her and many others, but as it turns out, it was a blessing in disguise. “Working at home has become everything for me. I was spending two hours a day on the train, commuting, expending so much energy. Now I start the day with meditation, which allows me to keep up my practice in a really active way.”
While touring Conscious with the artist, allusions are made to Einstein, Karl Jung, who artists seem to reference more and more frequently as of late, perhaps out of necessity, and back to Joseph Campbell, the Holy Grail, Francisco De Goya, The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future by Riane Eisler and its relationship to the Adam and Eve myth and so much more, though Bergamini insists the abundant references are secondary at best: “ I try to leave some freedom for interpretation. I don’t work with ideas and I don’t try to be political. I guess that makes me a radical artist. The truth is, some years were dark. The work was going out, but not in a comprehensive way. This was a way for me to see what’s going on with me. We can’t just look at the world; we have to be in it. This is my way of being in the world. WM
Kurt McVey is a writer based in New York City.
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