“Ideas are not eternal like marble but immortal like a forest or a river.”
Over the past forty years, Marie Orensanz has explored notions of incompleteness and fragmentation through a unique artistic practice that mixes linguistic and visual modes of representation.
Orensanz studied painting in Buenos Aires before moving to Milan where the proximity to the Carrara marble quarries had a long-lasting influence on her work. Since 1975, found fragments of marble have been a primary material in her artistic practice. These blocks of marble are “fragments of time, past and future.” She keeps the traces of separation of the fragments from the quarry visible, and on them, she writes, draws, and paints, projecting the material towards multiple interpretations. As she stated in her Manifesto of Fragmentism (1978)1, “fragmentism seeks the integration of a part within a totality, transformed by multiple readings of an object which is both incomplete and unbounded.”
Orensanz’s starting point is the history of the fragments she collects; not the history of marble, nor the history of its human exploitation and industrialization, but that of the accidental pieces with which she works. That is to say, she works from an ontological history that records not only the past, when the fragment was lost in a larger whole, and not only how it came to be when it was mined and separated from the rock, but also the future of the fragment after it is recontextualized. The tension between past and future and the idea of separation open up a multitude of new connections, which operate as a metaphor for the relations between the agents of a social body.
Reflecting on the materiality of marble, she challenges the constellation of static meanings attached to it to create, as Umberto Eco would describe it, an “open work” that suggests a circulation of energies and a constant renewal of forms. Her focus on this material deconstructs the classic notion of sculpture: Carrara marble has been used for architectural and sculpting purposes since ancient times, predominantly by male artists, to transmit a long-lasting representation of religious, economic, and political power. Orensanz does not carve big pieces of marble; she contests the gesture of force and power that consists of breaking matter to reveal a figure. Instead, she transforms marble by the inscription of language and thought.
For Orensanz, ideas can also be fragmented: her visual compositions inscribed on marble present isolated words combined with pictograms and symbols from different disciplines. These inscriptions should be understood as a material gesture, analogous to that of molding in classical sculpture. Her drawings are sometimes accompanied by large touches of color in tones of green and ocher that merge with the veins of marble or by external elements, like old rusted working tools, which create a visual and semantic contrast with the smooth surface of the sculptures. She seeks a “painting without ornaments,”2 populated by elements that are reminiscent of descriptive geometry and electrodynamic diagrams but whose ultimate meaning remains semantically incomplete, calling for the viewer’s own thoughts and experience to interpret them.
At a time in which political actors are ever more forceful in their intent to control thought, it is refreshing to read the final words of Orensanz's manifesto: “the interpretation of my work will only be found by turning towards it, not by what I am able to say about it.”
Martina Sabbadini, Independent Curator
1. Written in Spanish, French and English, with the “Manifest of Fragmentism,” Marie Orensanz theorizes the basis of her artistic practice.
2. In an interview from 1975 with Lea Vergine and Gillo Dorfles she said: “I use the symbols of physics, numbers, words, to make a kind of painting without any ornament, to leave to the public a chance to choose.”