Vittorio Messina was born in Zafferana Etnea (Catania) in 1946. He read at Accademia di Belle Arti and at the Faculty of Architecture of Rome, the city where he lives and works and where, at the end of the 70’s, he debuted in Sant’Agata dei Goti art space – a meeting point and a place of experimentation for young artists in those years – with “La Muraglia Cinese” [The Great Wall of China], an exhibition articulated around Kafka’s same-titled text.
As early as with the “Muraglia”, as well as with his exhibitions in the La Salita Gallery in Rome (1982), and in the Locus Solus Gallery in Genoa (1983), Messina’s work had been focusing on a kind of environmental sculpture where the use of organic and natural materials gradually disappears. Thus, going through his exhibitions at the Minini Gallery in Brescia (with Garutti in 1985), at PAC in Milan, as well as through “Il Cangiante” [The Changing] exhibition curated by Corrado Levi (1986), Messina exhibits his first “cells” at the Moltkerei Werkstatt in Cologne and at the Shimada Gallery in Yamaguchi (Japan), real buildings built with serial construction materials, usually backlit by industrial lamps.
In his quest the artist has time and time again developed this iconography as a reference unit, a synonym for the “chamber”, a building block of architecture and in particular of urban building construction. Since the mid-80s Messina, while using their materials and modes, has been highlighting the “abuse” committed by art in relation to environmental and social decay and issues at work in the outskirts of metropolitan areas.
In 1987, at Palazzo Taverna in Rome (International Art Meetings), in a cycle with successive contributions by Maria Nordman, Bruce Naumann and Luca Maria Patella, Messina builds a “cell” and issues a text, “Paesaggio con luce lontana” [Landscape with distant light], where Heisenberg’s uncertainty theme emerges, although this theme was already present in the exhibition “Spostamenti sulla banda del rosso” [Red Shift] at Villa Romana (Florence, 1985). From that time on Messina’s work is performed with stringent visionary continuity at the large “Krater” displayed at the exhibition “Europa Oggi” [Europe Today] in the Pecci Museum in Prato (1988), at the total installation at Oddi Baglioni Gallery in Rome in the same year, till the exhibition “Aetatis suae” at the Tucci Russo Gallery in Turin (1990), where a television picture out of sync acts as a counterpoint to a series of five large niches, presenting the theme of nomination with a sort of “plastic writing”.
Later on, from the “cell” at Minini Gallery, Brescia (1991), to the one at Kunstverein in Kassel (1991) and at Victoria Miro Gallery (London 1992), as well as in the one of “Stanza per Heisenberg” [Chamber for Heisenberg] (night artwork for Edicola Notte, Rome 1991), as well as in the 24 windows at the “Lux Europae” exhibition in Edinburgh (1992), to the works in the Girifalco Fortress, Cortona (with Thomas Schütte, 1993), Messina’s work takes shape with the unpredictability and the disenchantment of a true metaphysical project. This latter concept has been being developed since the 90’s, in the exhibitions at Kunstverein in Düsseldorf, at Villa delle Rose, Bologna, at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, at Am Fischmarkkt Gallery in Erfurt, at Henry Moore Institure in Leeds, till the large installations in “Dialoghi” [Dialogues] at Maschio Angioino and Castel dell’Ovo, (Naples, 2002), integrating a form of radical mobility and precariousness with an image of the city as an improper and artificial entity. In the exhibition “A village and its surroundings” at H. Moore Foundation, (Halifax 1999) some installations include the use of film-videos in the “tableau vivant”, “signal” and “control” perspective. In “La discrezione del tempo 1” [The Discretion of Time 1] at Ujazdovski Centre for Contemporary Art, (Varsaw, 2002), and in “Una città visibile” [A Visible City], (Modena, 2004), and then again in “Cronografie, o della città verticale” [Chronographies, or on the Vertical City] Cavallerizza Reale, (Turin, 2006), and in “Momentanea Mens”, at DKM Foundation, (Duisburg 2009), the space-time of human habitat tends to further expand to its extreme expansion in “Hermes”, a 72-hour work, divided into 9 “Capitoli” [Chapters], resulting from the processing of a 42-minute 8mm film dating back to 1970 at Museum Insel Hombroich, (1970/2008). Finally, in his exhibition at Guidi Gallery (Rome, 2011), as well as in his works at MACRO “Eighties are Back”, (Rome, 2011) and in the exhibition with Thomas Schütte at Villa Massimo (Rome, 2011), Messina strengthens the tautological component of his work and starts a renewed consideration on the forces and dimensions of real space.
In 2013 Messina, at the Museo delle Mura Aureliane in Rome, engages again with a setting that is strongly shaped by history and events, as in his two large exhibitions in 2014, at MACRO in Rome and at Kunsthalle in Göppingen, on the theme of “Postbabel e dintorni” [After Babel and Surroundings], where the issue of the city emerges again as a consideration on the origin of language and of the form of art itself as a tension and cultural heritage of the human community, the same that in “Teatro Naturale, Prove in Connecticut” [Natural Theatre, Rehearsals in Connecticut] (2016), the exhibition at “Regio Albergo delle Povere” Museo Riso in Palermo, is the absent protagonist of Messina’s “Habitat”. Absent or forgetful protagonists, maybe, in front of the ruins that history builds up inexhaustibly before the stunned gaze of the Angelus Novus, in the same place where they are gathered for a “Convivio” [Convivio] at number 271 Höherweg (2018), in the elegant Düsseldorf, where the same Messina set up the burning ambience of the returning, eternal “Red Shift”; and it is through the constant, radical innovation of his lexicon that the artist has been clarifying a discontinuous concept of space-time and, therefore, of history as an endless and senseless build-up of experience – no doubt of personal experience –, which in art manifests itself as a remuneration of an inner life that is largely inaccessible, if not by generous attempts.
We may read this in the “fluency” of his lexicon, as it appears in his later works designed for the one-man space of the 24th 2019 Miart edition in Milan as well as for the contemporaneous Biennale de L’Havana 2019.