HUNTING FOR SIGNIFIERS

"Woodsy/Woodzee," an installation by Francesco Simeti at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University, explores the psychological underpinnings of decoration with edgy humor. To this end, Simeti transforms an Edwardian salon of Columbia’s Casa Italiana into a hunting den, of the sort that Theodore Roosevelt may have enjoyed with big game hunter cronies.

On entering the exhibition, the visitor is immediately confronted by a stuffed black bear rearing up on its back legs in a menacing pose. This animal unwitting sports an emblem of his own vulnerability for all to see. Emblazoned on the bear’s chest is a concentric target, bearing sober testimony to the animal’s demise and sorry resurrection. Frozen in time, this bear seems to question traditional conceptions of predator and prey, and mirrors the inner demons, anger and violence so common to homo sapiens.

The wallpaper seems to sport an innocuous pastoral scene but on second glance it presents a more complex view of the forest. Simeti has appropriated images of flora from 15th and 16th century Italian manuscripts and little deer, which populate the walls, were taken from an early 20th century American mail catalogs for hunters. Each of the deer is disjointed, like a wooden mannequin, mysteriously defining quarters of the animal that may become venison or which represent a clear shot for the hunter.

Real branches with leaves project out from the wallpaper at various places, blurring the relationship between nature and its representation. On the far wall of the salon, the wallpaper takes on a different pattern. From behind a canopy of leaves, a figure begins emerges. It is a man, but he is gesturing like a bear, reinforcing our strong relationship to the natural world and disturbing kinship with the predator.

Thoughtfully curated by Laura Barreca and Olivia D’Aponte this installation heralds a new series of exhibitions of work by contemporary Italian artists at the Casa Italiana of Columbia University.

October 5 – November 4, Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at the Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY, Tel. 212-854-4437. www.italianacademy.columbia.edu.

© 2005 Daniel Rothbart. All rights reserved.