"The eyes have it"

Valerio Magrelli

When I was a child, when I used to sketch figurines in my notebooks, a solemn moment always came. It was the moment when I drew in eyes for my figurines. And what eyes! I felt as if I were giving them life; I was aware of the life I was giving them. I shared the feeling of He who breathed onto the clay.
P. Valéry

This brief excerpt from Paul Valéry draws us into the heart of the secret contained within every figurative act. Juxtaposing acts childish and divine, Valéry´s words identify the inclusion of eyes as the moment when an image (a figurine, or a bonshomme as Valéry writes) bubbles up to the surface and is imbued with life. I spontaneously turned to this quote when I thought of how alive Marco Barina´s sculptures are with the power vehicled through the gaze. The powerful anthropomorphism that lies at the heart of his work is expressed in its most effective manner through the eyes.

And yet the lure of this anthropomorphism is, above all, to be found along the path of the journey itself. Indeed, there is a vast distance that separates the figure in itself and the material selected to fashion that figure. Building upon Cubist art nègre, Barina draws on primary elements like iron and wood. For the most part, objects that initially possessed their own existence (spades, ploughs, rakes, bedwarmers or spoons) are shorn of their original functions to "become" human limbs; they come into being. When organic components appear, for example bone, it is always a matter of mineralization, a process of removing them from their animal origin to become "things". Barina´s preference is for cast off materials, votive offerings or fragments from figurines. It is impossible not to think of the family of "Obsolete Objects" surveyed by French scholar Francesco Orlando in his book subtitled "Ruins, Relics, Rarities and Rubbish".

Life has been breathed into unexpected statues fashioned from agricultural bric-à-brac, junk, assembly and collage, and birthed through surprising and unexpected "judicious couplings". Naturally, this all takes place in Picasso territory, as a result of his paradigmatic gesture that brought to life the perfect silhouette of a bull by juxtaposing racing bike handlebars and a saddle. And yet the strange population of primitive beings that Barina evokes engenders an altogether different impression. Look at the shape of his creatures. Their very titles guide us into a tribal world of priests and warriors. That said, there can be no doubt that the representative power of these apparitions resides in their powerful frontality.

I cannot help but think of a visit I once made to the Dappert Museum in Paris, dedicated to African and Caribbean art and culture. Much like the museum´s handmade articles, these sculptures seem to loom up out of the dark, out of a past transfigured by a visual act perpetrated by the artist/creator, who baptizes them through recomposition and composes them through re-baptism. A great deal of care goes into Barina´s selection of starting elements: we can imagine them being hunted down in flea markets or junk stores - care propaedeutic to their assembly. It is impossible to say what comes first: the image or its factors. As in a slow process of attraction, the object and project must seek one another out if the statue is to take form.

In the 1940s, French poet Jean Follain sang the praises of the humble, radiant beauty of certain ironmongers´ shops in the French provinces. He described the light blue quality of the air inside; their landscapes of screws, nuts, and locks imbued with the odour of men and women. He told of the virginal nature of unused things, and concluded: "And thus the ironmongers´ rows towards the eternal / selling a surfeit / of big, bright nails".
Barina´s invented populace inhabits the antipodes to that shiny, brand new metal. His creatures, on the contrary, are pervaded with the dust deposits of use; they parade the chipped blades and blunted points of time. Precisely because they are consumed and decomposed, these things lend themselves to generating other figures, as if the very completion of their previous existence has allowed for their rebirth and reconfiguration. We might define them as merchandise recycled into rectified ready-mades. Or, more simply, as an afterlife.