1111Irripetibili by Omar Hassan at the Chiesetta della Misericordia
Omar Hassan was initially drawn to street art, finding himself part of the Milanese underground art scene from an early age. In time his interests broadened leading him to experiment with a wider range of art forms and to create a highly personal innovative artistic language. Hassan’s youth experimentations on the walls of his native city are reflected in his use, in a number of his works, of spray-painting materials and immediacy techniques.
Aside from his street art roots Hassan also received a more formal artistic training, joining the Brera Academy of Fine Arts from which he graduated in 2010.
In the diptych Irripetibili (literally translated from Italian as that which cannot be repeated) Hassan fuses together classical cast sculpture and his own urban culture inspired painting methods the result of which is a thought-provoking creation. Irripetiblili forces us to question the very nature of an artwork, and maybe more importantly what role the artist plays in engendering such a work. Hassan formally references his academic instruction and a wider Renaissance heritage in his use of two identical Venus de Milo casts, conjuring up the eternal Classical representation of graceful feminine beauty. Intended to be a work exploring the idea of mimesis and the outcome of repetitive gesture, with Irripetibili Hassan tackles the long-standing issue of reproduction in art.
Placed in exactly the same spot on the cast, starting from the same angle Hassan duplicated the same initial action of painting the same coloured layer of spray-canned ‘dots’, however despite his symmetric gestures the Venus pair turned out to be imperfect repetitions of one another. Indeed, the spray paints dripping effect, which Hassan left to run unhindered from the original point of contact, make each of the matching sculptures distinctively unique. In the lineage of what Robert Rauschenberg endeavours to demonstrate with his duo Factum I and Factum II (1957), Hassan’s attempt to create two identical painted sculptures tests the boundaries of creation and calls into question the value of uniqueness in art.
When engaging with Irripetibilli one might certainly wonder what originality really entails. What it would mean for an artist to be original, to create, to reproduce? Irripetibilli is a substantially powerful work, in that it aims to encapsulate the elusive essence of creative gesture. Hassan seeks to return to a germinal stage of creation, to deconstruct the artist’s process and gain access to a purified minimalism. One may even read the piece as a provocative allusion, or a pre-empting response, to critiques of the modern and contemporary art world. For instance, Lucio Fontana’s avant-garde canvas slashing gesture and monochrome hues was often judged to rely on a ready-made method and a serial execution, but one must keep in mind serial reproduction is a sign of experimentation rather than one of meagre replication.
In fact in an effort to purposefully recreate two identical painted Venus sculptures Hassan not only found himself confronted to the limits of the law of cause and effect, but also proved the venture impossible to begin with. Indeed, the same causes may not systematically generate the same effects, or in this case the same artistic gesture may not produce the same artistic outcome. His minimalist spray-painting ‘dot’ gesture must thus be apprehended in light of Fontana’s slashing of a new canvas dimension space, the original action it commands may be repeated but the outcome, as Irripetibilli attests, is beyond the realm of the artists’ control. Hassan’s deliberate desire to merely reproduce is in fact decidedly original and renders obsolete any critiques aimed towards discrediting contemporary artistic ventures relegating them to the status of routinely manufactured by-products.
In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) Walter Benjamin aims a harsh critique at contemporary cultural creation and the place it holds in a capitalist society. Benjamin sought to demonstrate that in an age of rapidly advancing technology the work of art was becoming increasingly reproducible and thus loosing its original aura. While, it is true the advent of modernity and the mechanical reproduction of life it permitted brought to the surface numerous challenges for contemporary artists, one must question whether true replica really exists in art. Furthermore, in the case of Hassan’s work, a hand-made craftsmanship is employed; one that cannot guarantee mechanical repetitive precision and that necessarily leaves room for the expression of human spontaneity.
Hassan is intimately familiar with art history. His pieces often allow him to conduct inner dialogues with his predecessors or to attempt to transcend past fine arts norms by injecting references to contemporary urban culture and its immediate nature. According to Italian art critic and curator Ivan Quaroni, Hassan’s use of the classical Venus di Milo casts for instance must not be interpreted as tardy “gestures of irreverence toward antique art”. Rather they are for him, “gestures of appropriation”, that give at the same time “life to classical language”. For this reason, he believes “without a doubt, sooner or later even urban art will rise to the importance of classical art.” If art historians have often chosen to consign street culture to a ‘lower’ art form, and even in extreme cases to consider it to be vandalism Hassan’s purposeful work etches street art closer to earning its rightful place within a formal artistic tradition. His ability to internalise Western artistic canons and speak back to them in his own creative idiom makes his pieces truly interesting fusions of two worlds, all too often perceived as irreconcilable.
Irripetibili is on view until the 8th September 2017 as part of the exhibition “Do Ut Des”, Chiesetta della Misericordia, Campo de l’Abazia, Venice, Italy.