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Urs Luthi
Trash & Roses

Tony Cragg
Early Forms

Christine Streuli

Originary Forms
by Alice Savorelli

"Forme Originarie: Tony Cragg, Urs Luthi, Giuseppe Penone, Christine Streuli," Dec. 14, 2004-Feb. 12, 2005, at Galleria Galica, Milan.

Deliberately inspired by Karl Blossfeldt's 1928 book of plant photographs, Unformen Der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature), the show "Originary Forms" at Galleria Galica in Milan captivates viewers with works by Tony Cragg, Urs Luthi, Giuseppe Penone and Christine Streuli.

All of these artists have a certain interest in what is certainly an outré subject today -- the shapes and structures that govern nature. Blossfeldt's photographic enlargements of flowers, seeds, leaves and stems were designed as an esthetic investigation of organic splendour. The works exhibited at Galleria Galica, with their roots (so to speak) in a postmodernist sensibility, give us insight into the new relationship between the natural and the man-made.

All the works on display deal with nature's changes and mechanisms in the face of human culture, a sense of growth, life and metamorphosis in an era that has heralded "the death of nature."

Tony Cragg is emblematic in this respect, using a "form language" of biomorphic shapes in sculpture that is clearly synthetic rather than natural. Early Forms (1998), for instance, has all the hallmarks of an organic creature. Its shapes are soft and smooth, and may recall a plant embryo or an animal fetus. At the same time, the sculpture is clearly fabricated, with hard edges that speak of human manufacture.

The Swiss-born artist Christine Streuli presents two delicate abstract paintings that suggest a sensual interplay between the natural and the artificial. Her forms -- abstract calligraphic shapes filled with bright colors and bits of what could be landscape -- seem to be floating biomorphic fragments, created by gravity and forces of fluid interplay as if derived from the sublime designs of nature, dealing with notions of transformation and evolution. Still, Streuli's paintings also hint at an elemental language, the very beginnings of nature's transformation.

Urs Luthi's Trash & Roses (2002), a pair of photographs that are part of his long-running research project titled "Art Is the Better Life," presents two similar but dramatically opposing images. One picture presents a bouquet of graceful, light pink roses, the other one shows a dense load of metallic rubbish. By pairing these two images the artist looks into the relationship between the esthetic realm of organic forms and the esthetic realm of artificial materials, that is, once again, between the natural and the man-made.

Due Guanti (1972) is a pair of photographs by Giuseppe Penone, one showing the artist's hand and the second a plaster cast of his hand. A classic example of Arte Povera, the work illustrates the notion of the natural world as image and object. This disarmingly banal work incorporates binary meanings associated with the nature and the notion of living sculpture, highlighting the energy and natural processes characterising all organisms.

ALICE SAVORELLI writes on art from Italy.