27 May 2009

Gabriella & Silvana Mangano

The first I saw of Gabriella and Silvana Mangano's work was at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where their Absence of Evidence (2008) film is showing as part of the 2009 Anne Landa Award (they didn't win), which runs until 19 July. Their work was my favourite by far. It is haunting and subtle, like a memory, or deja vu, mesmerising and palpable.


Gabriella and Silvana pass a long ream of thick white paper over a tall barrier that divides the screen and the two sisters themselves. They are sitting back-to-back on either side of this barrier and one has the impression they are communicating telepathically - each seems to know exactly when the paper will reach their side, gracefully lifting their arms up to clasp it.

The constant droning hum makes one feel somewhat secure, at ease, in this black box, watching this gentle, almost meditation-like process. It could be described like a womb, I imagine (though I can't for the life of me remember what it was like), which is pertinent to the twins as they evidently shared one. So perhaps Absence of Evidence is their welcoming us into their world, their way of communicating, their evidence. It is really beautiful to watch.

Not long after seeing the Anne Landa Award I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art where I Walk the Line: New Australian Drawing was showing (it has now finished). Again, the best work in the show came from the Mangano sisters. Their If...So...Then piece of 2006, which I possibly like even more than Absence of Evidence, is a stunning experimentation with drawing, performance, and choreographed repetition. Like Absence of Evidence, this film employs a stationary camera, allowing Gabriella and Silvana's performance - what they are doing - to become paramount.


There is little sense of fancy editing or trickery so we begin to realise the endurance necessary to master the complicated repetitious movements. These play out in an almost transcendental manner; the two women become so focused, they force us to focus to such an extent, that they nearly become one, an optical illusion, as it were.


The pencils they hold in each hand draw patterned scribbles on the white walls behind them, their black shirts and hair demarcate their forms against the background of white. It is affectionate, and generous, they fix each others' hair, touch the others' face, one pulls down her top - the only movement that's out of the sequence. We are entranced, I could watch for hours. This black box - again - reveals to us something of their relationship (light), but also of a greater sense of harmony, shared experience and of working together, improving together, being together. It is very important.

For more information on Gabriella & Silvana Mangano, visit: Anna Schwartz Gallery.

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