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Changing Perspective: Daniel Steegmann Mangrané at Pirelli HangarBicocca

A Leaf-Shaped Animal Draws The Hand is the intriguing title of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s new solo show, currently on view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, in Milan. The exhibition presents a comprehensive overview of the artist’s practice, spanning from the 1990s to the present and including works on paper, sculpture and film, while also integrating holograms, virtual reality, large-scale installations and actual living ecosystems. In his diverse body of work, the artist explores the paradoxes and interdependences of natural, manmade and abstract systems – all intertwined, as the titled suggests, by mutual gestures of drawing.

Originally from Barcelona, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané (b. 1977) moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2004, motivated by an interest in tropical fauna and flora and captivated by the historic legacy of the Neo-Concrete movement. The poetic, multisensorial and democratic approach to art that these Brazilian artists defended in the 1950-60s, has profoundly shaped his contemporary practice. A fruitful example is the work Orange Oranges (2001), featured in the show – an orange-filtered environment in which we can enter, sit and prepare an orange juice (oranges, knives, glasses and a fruit-squeezer are provided), to ultimately savor it with all the senses. The piece evokes Hélio Oiticica’s immersive installations, like Penetrável Filtro (1972), as well as Lygia Pape’s experiences with color and taste. The longer we stay inside Orange Oranges, the greater is the impact as we exit: everything outside seems tinted by an electric blue hue, contrasting with the warm orange interior.

This prolonged sensation echoes the artist’s understanding of what an exhibition ought to be: “a space where you can renegotiate your relationship with reality.” Steegmann Mangrané has crafted a delicate experiential exhibition but he is mainly concern with what happens once we leave Bicocca and face the reality outside. His 16mm films convey remarkably this dialectic relationship between art and reality, being heavily influenced by structural film, which eschews storytelling to focus on the idiosyncratic vocabulary of filmmaking as a temporal medium. In 16mm (2007-2011) the camera penetrates the depths of the rainforest at a mesmerizing pace, suspended on a cable which has the same length as the film itself: “each meter of film shot corresponds exactly to a meter of forest travelled through.” Although the artist has been delving into the tropical forest for over a decade, the recent ravaging wildfires in Amazonia loom over the exhibition, giving it an increased sense of urgency and actuality.

Several other works expand on the interdependence between animate and inanimate elements, often focusing on intriguing insects that resemble their surroundings, such as phasmids, or stick insects. In the film Phasmids (2012), a group of these peculiar creatures slowly moves against a gradually changing background, transitioning from a natural environment to a complete abstract setting. In turn, A Transparent Leaf Instead of the Mouth (2016-2017) constitutes a glass terrarium housing a living ecosystem with local plants, where several stick and leaf insects hide in plain sight, making us look attentively, in the hope of spotting the slightest movement, variation in color or form that could expose their presence.

Steegmann Mangrané’s poetic approach to nature and the body prompts us to reconsider our relationship with the natural realm – or better, our position within it. Since the early 2000s the artist has become increasingly engrossed in the implications derived from Amerindian Perspectivism – an anthropological theory coined by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, which counters western dichotomies between nature vs human, object vs subject, positing that the subject is created by the point of view, and not the opposite. This ontological configuration completely reframed his outlook on art, as the artist himself explains: “If there are no longer fixed objects and subjects, there are no longer artworks and viewers, but dynamic relations of mutual transformation.”

In this spirit, the show is organized in and around a site-specific work entitled Phantom Architecture (2019), composed by sinuous screens made of a translucid white fabric that choreograph the visitor’s performative experience, as both subject and object in the show. Scattered throughout the space, the artist’s holograms integrate beautifully many of the elements that permeate his work: gesture, natural elements, abstract structures, and movement – in this case, ours – reconfiguring the notion of moving image.

His diverse practice is, however, strikingly consistent, systematically drawing attention to shifts in perspective: within each piece, as well as in our relation with the work, with the space, and with each other. The exhibition A Leaf-Shaped Animal Draws The Hand is a seamless extension of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s practice, conveying the symbiotic relations of culture and nature and exposing their inherent fragilities.

A Leaf-Shaped Animal Draws The Hand is on view at Pirelli HangarBicocca until January 19.

Joana Valsassina is a Portuguese curator, writer, and cultural producer based in Lisbon. Working as an independent curator and the co-curator of The Art Gate artspace in Lisbon, Joana has previously worked at MoMA and at the Drawing Center, in New York; and at MAAT, in Lisbon. Joana holds a master in Museum Studies from NYU and a master in Architecture from the University of Lisbon. Besides developing her curatorial practice, she writes regularly for Umbigo Magazine and produces the Lisbon-based arts iniciatives Bairro das Artes and Mapa das Artes.

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