Marisa Merz represents a mysterious universe, I would also like to say "hidden", due to the difficulty in finding her works, for the not immediate reading of her masterpieces, unless you understand that "harmony" must stem not only from the heart, but from something much deeper that dwells in each of us. This "fountain with violin" as we call it, is the first work by Marisa that we succeeded in acquiring. Every so often, I say that had we not acquired it, I would have stolen it. I'm not joking: when I saw it in an exhibition at the Christian Stein Gallery, I thought that it had to be mine, straight away. But it wasn't so easy: the artist doesn't like to separate herself from what she calls "her things". I understand her: I would have found it difficult to let it go too. Anyway, after waiting for several months, it arrived in our house: the immense joy linked to the presence of this mysterious work, with a "wounded" violin that is floating on water, in a container of squared lead, with the spurt of water - in the middle of the violin - that turns into a sort of glass bowl (the "heart of water" as Marisa calls it).
Standing up, as soon as I saw the work situated on the floor of the gallery, I was so enchanted that I didn't realise it was a jet of water so perfect as to look like a glass bubble. Nor did I realise that the outline of the wax violin had been purposely modelled to make it seem slightly bent. From the violin emerge some pieces of gauze that float on the water, that's why I say "wounded violin". But the final magic touch is provided by a copper wire which, at the centre of the heart of water, connects the mysterious "creature" to the infinite (the wire starts at the ceiling, held by a simple nail, and it stretches to the mouth of the spurt of water). It is impossible to resist the magic, or even the poetry, least of all the mystery of a work that seems to embody a creature.
In the silence of our home, the gurgling of the water tells us if the work is in operation; sometimes you have to move close to "her" to hear her faint murmuring, given that we have placed her on the highest floor of the building: that is to say as close as possible to the sky. I have always thought of this work as a concentration of poetry and mystery: in these terms, I have wanted to experience it at length. Then, with time, with the deepening of perception, I discovered something new. Which seduced me definitively. The gurgling of the water, which originates from the belly of the creature/violin, is in reality a prayer traversed by a faint lament, far away, of someone who knows how to suffer softly, because pain does not always transform into a cry. More often it is a muffled sob, or a continuous deep sighing, that leads to a reserved lament.
The running water is also a way to mark the time of this seemingly irremediable pain that the creature carries inside. Was Marisa thinking of our life, that can be snapped with the thin thread of destiny? Was she thinking of our existence, precarious yet wonderful, but sooner or later traversed by suffering?
So many questions that remain unanswered (just as it should be) by this work that to us is incomparable in its essence. A work that will stay clearly in your mind forever, because sometimes it happened that its delicate prayer was also "yours".
Marisa Merz is a pioneer of the Arte Povera movement and it’s only female representative. Along with the other seminal artists associated with the core group, including her late husband Mario Merz, she is known for a conceptual, process-driven methodology and the manipulation of ‘impoverished’, organic, and found materials. The many and varied forms of Merz’s sculptures, paintings and multi-media installations present a distinct and singular vision. They are lyrical, subtle and private with an aesthetic indelibly linked to the gendered notion of the feminine touch. Merz has taken an approach quite different from most artists, spending a much of her career retreating from the public sphere and creating work in intimate settings, such as her home. However she has been brought into the limelight with a retrospective exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery and a Golden Lion award for her lifetime’s achievement at the Venice Biennale last year.
The enigmatic aura of this small-scale sculpture from 1997 perfectly encapsulates Merz’s enduring poetic sensibility. A violin made of wax lies horizontally in a lead basin filled with water. An electric motor pushes the water up through a tube through the instrument. Rather than jetting upwards, the water curves downwards into a thin membrane, creating a transparent volume that hovers above the heart of the violin. Like a fountain, the gushing and rippling water creates a natural ambient music that is amplified by the lead container. These components are connected to the space above and around by a copper wire that hangs down from the ceiling towards the centre of the waterspout. In addition to the visually enticing sculptural form, the movement of water, the sound and the smell of wax bring the work to life with intangible qualities that produce a simple yet profound multi-sensory experience. Merz’s raw materials tend not to convey any particular symbolic meaning in themselves, in the way that those employed by Joseph Beuys, for example, always do. Instead meaning and associations are produced during the act of making, thorough the relation of constituent parts and the surrounding environment. They may materialize within individual sculptures or complex installations that the artist reworks time and again. Untitled (Fountain) is related to many strands of Merz’ oeuvre. Copper and wax appeared in her earliest works and the violin is a recurrent form, as is the concept of the fountain.
At dOCUMENTA 9 in 1992 she chose to display a small fountain made of beeswax (Fontana (Fountain), 1992, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) that provided a moment of calm, tranquillity and modesty amidst a sea of bravura posturing. Another work (Untitled, 1997, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin) is very similar to the present sculpture, though the violin is crafted from paraffin and the gauzy fabric support seen here is not included.
As with all Merz’s work, this fountain group stems from an intense faith in her own intuition and subjectivity. They are intimations of the artist’s inner world. The choice of materials and forms in Untitled (Fountain) - the base matter of lead, copper, water and wax activated by a machine - seems to selfreflexively speak of the artist’s creative power in moulding the elemental into an expressive new form. In keeping with the Arte Povera ethos it is humble and antiheroic, providing a consciously humanist antidote to the preoccupations of our
complicated, industrialized world.