The exhibition, curated by Lucia Aspesi and Fiammetta Griccioli, presents more than twenty works produced since 1998, including one of his first pieces, Lichtzwang (1998–ongoing), a series of 256 geometrical and abstract watercolors that constitute a sort of generative process of all his production. The encounter between living and chaotic elements with linear and clear-cut shapes is often present in Steegmann Mangrané’s works, as in one of his most iconic pieces: the film Phasmides (2012) characterized by an organic and geometrical setting in which he explores the interconnection between the natural and artificial worlds through the observation of a phasmid, the entomological name for the stick insect. This creature becomes a recurring motif in his oeuvre, holograms like Holograma 6 (Estructura com bicho) (2013) or A Transparent Leaf Instead Of The Mouth (2016–17): Steegmann Mangrané conceived this last work as a glass environment in which local trees and shrubs cohabit with different species of exotic stick and leaf insects. In this work, the mimetic quality of this animal is depicted, where they camouflage themselves among branches and plants.
The insects seem to dissolve but also to infuse life into the surrounding ground, which gets animated and potentially starts to crawl.
A longstanding fascination for the artist, biology is a central subject in his work, resulting in imagery that creates a strong visual framework through the inclusion of branches, leaves, and animals, and motifs of nets, weaves, meshes and grids.
The shift between material and immaterial experiences is expanded further in the exhibition at Pirelli HangarBicocca by Steegmann Mangrané’s site-specific intervention, Phantom Architecture (2019), made of white transparent fabric partitions that redefine the industrial quality of the exhibition space, whilst both concealing and revealing the exhibited works. Like fluctuating membranes, these screens give shape to the different areas of the show while allowing, by means of their transparency, an immediate overview of the entire exhibition. Their surfaces react to lighting conditions: shifting from a dense atmosphere to a more evanescent presence. Thus, the natural light enters the space through the windows on the ceiling and walls of the Shed, while during the evening artificial lighting projects a luminous choreography on the ceiling. The combination of mutating surfaces and projection devices dialogues with the seminal research on light and environments addressed by artists in the 1970s, such as Robert Irwin (1928), but also Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980) and Lygia Clark (1920–1988), who in Brazil developed a participative art that believed that sensorial engagement could be a democratic entry point to a work and have emancipatory socio-political qualities.
Greatly influenced by the Brazilian avant-garde of the ‘60s and ’70s, the work of Steegmann Mangrané shares with it the discourses of abstraction and participation in the definition of the object, which becomes an open relationship of mutual influences rather than something closed on itself. This aspect is emphasized through the manipulation of sight that occurs in participative works such as Orange Oranges (2001), a modular structure in which perception is altered by colored filtered walls. Visitors are thus invited to enter the structure and squeeze an orange, watching the space around them change color and become, for the viewers outside, part of the work itself. These effects of transforming perspectives become more evident in Phantom (Kingdom of All the Animals and All the Beasts is my Name) (2015), a spectral, virtual- reality rendering in black and white of the rainforest. In this scenario, the artist creates a paradox between the presence of the body and its dissolution in the space: “I always aim to reach the moment the spectator is not looking at the artwork but at his or her own experience.” In this way the ghostly appearance of the forest questions one’s stability, movements and perception of the space. In contrast with this work, in the film 16mm (2007–11) Steegmann Mangrané used a modified 16mm camera suspended on a cable above the rainforest. The camera travels in a perfectly straight line, portraying the chaotic depths of the forest. This film pays homage to the Structural cinema of the ’60s and ’70s, in which the technique of recording is as important as the subject recorded.
As evoked by the title of the exhibiton, “A Leaf-Shaped Animal Draws The Hand,” the artist creates a poetic paradox in which the animal and human worlds seem to merge through drawing, questioning pre-established orders and behaviors.
A Transparent Leaf Instead Of The Mouth, 2016-17. Courtesy the artist; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, New York, Brussels, and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan
Exhibition view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Pirelli
Spiral Forest (Gimbal), 2014. Courtesy the artist; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, New York, Brussels, and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Photo: Agostino Osio
Elegancia y Renuncia, 2011 (detail). Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan
Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) 2015. Courtesy the artist; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, New York, Brussels, and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan
Holograma 1 (Estrutura e galho), 2013. Courtesy the artist; Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, New York, Brussels, and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan
16mm, 2007-2011. Courtesy of the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan