2008 – SCUPLTURES – FRANCESCA TULLI exhibition catalogue – Interno Ventidue Arte Contemporanea – Roma.
The Sculptures of Francesca Tulli portray mermaids, acrobats and sylph-like creatures balanced in precarious equilibrium. Mythical and mystical, their precise features are hidden, their anatomical details are suggested rather than exaggerated. Recently, Tulli has produced her small bronze statues in four distinctive series. Each new series shows elongated figures in athletic poses, presented in their own unconventional way.
Balancing on tall cylindrical pedestals made from corroded steel, Tulli’s Mutante (Mutants) are heavy-headed figurines, some with horns, some wearing helmets or crowns. Without legs or feet, these bronzes have long tapering tails, sharpened to a point, sometimes curved into a whiplash. Given the nature of their anatomy, the only way they can stand upright by themselves is to balance upside-down on their thickset heads. The forms of their broad headpieces act as additional ballast. The diving aspect of their stance accentuates the aquatic toning of their bodies. After all, these figures figures developed from Tulli’s earlier sculptures of mermaids suspended in water.
Meanwhile Tulli’s series of five Acuminato (Sharp) bronzes are symmetrical, upstanding figures with limbs that merge and taper to a spike. Lithe and lethal, they conjure up violent associations, hinting at the actions of stabbing. For this series, Tulli has constructed small, rectangular steel plinths filled with sand, so that each bronze figure is skewered in to its base.
“Without a foot or a stand, they are small idols that need to be planted in the earth,” says Tulli. “Gradually, their forms have mutated into something that looks like a knife, a dagger or a pin. In any case, in the end, it was always going to be something that was dangerous.”
Their silhouettes are archaic and iconic, with an underlying votive nature. They hold their arms out from their bodies, in totemic gestures that also relate to their masculine or feminine characteristics. With the hint of breasts, muscles or genitals, their outlines are further shaped by flame-like protrusions.
As part of the Acuminato series, Tulli also completed a series of preparatory drawings and rough sketches of similar pointed creatures. Using oil pastels, pencil, enamel paint and mixed media on paper, the same winged silhouettes of Tulli’s bronze figures emerge from layers of overlapping colour and cancelled detail. These floating figures, depicted by Tulli in blue, green, white and grey, take on an ephemeral, angelic quality.
“These sculptures and drawings are my representations of possible future idols, depicting a metamorphosis of a being. They are not supposed to resemble historical artifacts, but are part of new mythology, about looking ahead. They are natural beings that have mutated. Even with their horns, helmets and spikes, the transformation from human form is not entirely about physiognomy, it’s part of a larger vision.”
Tulli’s Arma Bianca (White weapon) series takes all of this to a its physical extremes, combining techniques in a manner which is both poetic and multi-faceted. Born from the idea of a knife, Tulli researched the creation of bronze figures that could not be balanced in the normal upright mode. So she made stream-lined creatures of precise equilibrium, balanced on their heads and on their hands.
“I look at these statues in two ways, as sculptural forms in equilibrium, and also as objects to be utilised, to be touched, to be grasped in your hand. The figures might be simple, yet they feel precious. They are surreal yet tangible, slightly malevolent yet tactile.”
Each of these figures is balanced obliquely on a small wooden block attached to the wall. Mounted on this block is a solarized photograph of the same bronze sculpture, this time held in the artist’s hand, in a way to accentuate its dagger-like quality. While the bronze idols themselves cast sinuous shadows on the wall, a factor which somehow makes them appear more naturalistic, softer and fleshy, the photographs are printed in the colours of emerald green, steel blue and rusty red. This technique lends a metallic sheen to the real hand that clasps the bronze objects.
The inherent physicality of these works is also evident in Combattimento (Combat fight), two aligned works in which the same pair of bronze wrestlers are knotted in pugnacious battle. In one work, the writhing figures are wedged between two upright steel bars, in the other, they are tightly slotted into a break in a single linear bar. As with all of Francesca Tulli’s work, equilibrium plays an important part in these sculptures, but this time it also takes on a symbolic role.
“The two men are locked in mortal combat, but within their fight, the pressures of gravity and counterforce help to keep the sculpture intact. It is so violent, that it actually becomes the fight for life. How can they survive, since the death of one involves the fall of the other? The foot of one figure is already in the mouth of the other one, in the act of anthropophagy, a more antique version of cannibalism. Ironically, they are two vital elements which fundamentally oppose each other, yet thanks to counterweight, they exist in perfect balance.”