Visitors of Sant’Andrea de Scaphis – the ancient church turned into exhibition space – are welcomed by a large sign in gothic-typed letters. I Piccoli Pupazzi Sporchi di Pruppà (name taken from a small village in South-East Italy) is the title chosen by Belgian artist duo Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys for their last solo show at Gavin Brown Enterprises location in Rome. Installed along the walls as in a strangely disorganised church choir are more than a hundred small puppets wearing distressed though colourful clothes.
Puppets have been recurrent in the artists’ work. On the occasion of several solo shows in 2014 (Brussels, Antwerp and Basel) the duo exhibited a total of 54 life-size puppets made out of jute and filled with straw. In this respect the installation conceived for the space on Via dei Vascellari shows a new commitment to this sculptural element. While their dimensions have been reduced to 35 cm, the puppets have grown to be 164, result of 3,000 hours of work by a team of six people in Brussels.
The jute figures confirm the artists’ interest in exploring the human condition, declined through forms of discomfort which they have powerfully evoked in a very diverse body of work emerged from their videos. In fact, as in De Gruyter and Thys’s filmic work started in the late 1980s, this new large series of puppets brings our attention to silence. Mute human actors have been progressively replaced by the mute jute figurines that inhabit the run-down but incredibly evocative space of Sant’Andrea de Scaphis. If the life-size puppets of Die Schmutzingen Puppen von Pommern (2014) resulted unsettling in their hanging from pristine white gallery walls, this new puppets ensemble creates a beautiful yet disturbing sense of choreographed anxiety.
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys
I Piccoli Pupazzi Sporchi di Pruppà
Sant’Andrea de Scaphis, Rome
November 21 to December 19 2015
Photo: Roberto Apa