Reimaging Michelangelo via Art, Dance & Music

First Commissions 

Thursday, July 4: FIRST COMMISSIONS. Fine Arts Academy (Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze), Via Ricasoli 66. Open 11 am – 7 pm with live performances at 11 am, 12.30 am and 6 pm. Free entry.

Florence’s Fine Arts Academy has reached across oceans and continents to form a strong bond with the University of Melbourne, strengthening their ever-increasing focus on internationalisation and cultural exchange. 

The University of Melbourne has curated a collection of 30 works that involve over 100 emerging artists and students of all creative disciplines in the exhibition ‘First Commissions.’ The participating artists were guided by seven commission briefs that the artists who paved the way before them, from Bob Dylan to Tchaikovsky, followed to create iconic masterpieces. Kept in the dark as to what the original brief related to, the young talent produced their personal reinterpretations of the historical commissions, urging the viewer to simultaneously ponder the societal, technological and artistic changes that have occurred since the original piece, as well as the overriding constancies of art.

For one day only — July 4 — Florence’s Fine Arts Academy will welcome one segment of the exhibition that is particularly pertinent to Florence’s artistic identity: five works that reimagine the original commission for Michelangelo’s ‘David.’ Completed in 1502, Michelangelo’s masterpiece draws millions of visitors into the Galleria dell’Accademia every year, all itching to catch a glimpse of the beautifully proportioned, excellently executed embodiment of physical human perfection that ‘David’ has come to symbolise. 

Five young artists utilizing various mediums – dance, visual art, classical and contemporary music – were set the challenge of representing their personal interpretations of the impetus behind Michelangelo’s creation of ‘David:’ Perfection. The exhibition includes two visual works of art, two musical performances and one dance piece. The live performances will take place at 11 am, 12.30 am and 6 pm, and the visual art will be displayed permanently throughout the day of the exhibition. 

Click here to see a video courtesy of Florence’s La Repubblica news site.

The first live performance is a musical composition by Samuel Kreusler, a budding contemporary musician whose unique take on the notion of perfection led him to compose ‘It’s not fair having 13 strings’. In an accompanying film clip that forms part of the exhibition, the young musician explains that as an entryway into the idea of perfection, he decided to turn the brief on its head and reflected on its counterpart: Imperfection. 

He drew inspiration from individuals who have what would be considered ‘imperfections’, speaking in particular of Django Reinhardt, a guitarist composer who lost the use of his fourth and fifth fingers entirely following an accident. While doctors were convinced that Reinhardt would never play the guitar again, against all odds he was able to regain his musical mastery using only his index and middle fingers, never recovering use of his two injured fingers. 

The crux of Kreusler’s composition is this idea of using imperfections to your advantage, refusing to let perceived limitations impose a ceiling on imagination. In order to channel this spirit, Kreusler set about creating an imperfection for himself to incorporate into his composition: ‘It’s not fair having 13 strings’ is performed on a classical guitar from which the A, G and E strings have been removed, leaving only three strings. 

Not only does the musical piece present an unusual exploration of the contrast of tone, colour and range between the remaining strings, the guitar’s ‘imperfection’ adds rich texture to the composition. In the face of the obstacle of lacking strings, Kreusler introduces other sounds that can be made using the guitar, including hand tapping, manipulation of the fret and board and silent finger movements around the instrument to produce a work that theatrically reimagines a traditional instrument, enhanced by its limitations. 

The viewer can then move outside into the courtyard of the Accademia where Esther Stewart’s visual art installation entitled ‘The space has been created for something to happen 1:2 (floor plan)’ is displayed, a series of colourful geometric textile pieces that hang in the cloisters. Stewart’s intention with this work is to communicate that perfection is contextual, by creating the fabric floor plan that responds directly to the space in which it is exhibited. The angular shapes and block hues stand in contrast with the rounded arcades of the courtyard while also connecting with them through the softness of the fabric. 

The Accademia’s main courtyard also provides the stage for classical musician Danna Yun’s 12-minute composition ‘Riddle for String Ensemble’ performed by violinists and cellists. Yun approached the brief by drawing on her personal experience of perfectionism, endlessly seeking to reach the impossible point of perfection, as when one horizon is reached, the next one becomes visible. As the ultimate symbol of unattainable perfection, Yun’s three-part piece depicts gods and deities in a composition that provides contemporary audiences with an accessible experience of classical music.  

The piece opens softly with traditional, harmonic melodies that flow in and out of airy staccato sections, a musical expression of the classical representation of ethereal deities in paintings and statues. Moving into the middle section, the mood shifts surreptitiously, transitioning into some minor keys and more eccentric melodies, suggesting that perhaps the traditional portrayal of godly perfection does not tell the whole story. The juxtaposing moods push and pull in a struggle between depiction and reality until the resolution of the final section concludes that the gods fail to break free from the canvas, as their perfection is but the representation of an impossible vision. 

The final room displays the two remaining pieces of the exhibition, the first being a work by Aboriginal Australian artist Ashley Perry entitled ‘Anthology of human physical perfection.’ The sculpture comprises of a number of stands that display various images pertaining to the theme of physical perfection. Some of the images are still, including one of Michelangelo’s ‘David,’ and some are shown on digital screens in animation that propel thousands of images towards the viewer. Perry sought to expose society’s unhealthy obsession with physical perfection, starting as early as the 16th century, to present day. 

More importantly though, the work examines the way in which search-engine algorithms reinforce and shape homogeneous ideals of physical perfection in the modern age, as demonstrated in particular by the images projected on the iPads, the very devices through which we are fed such ideals. Perry’s piece encourages the viewer’s awareness of these forces at play in order to fight against them and defend that human physical perfection can be whatever you want it to be, not what you are told it is. 

The final work of the exhibition is ‘Duplex,’ a dance piece choreographed by Jack Riley in which a male and female subject move through states of independence and physical connection in ying and yang-like progressions and regressions. Riley’s interpretation of the commission posits that perfection is a paradox, only achieved during the very pursuit of perfection. The dancer and choreographer sees perfection in the desire to be more than one’s self and the raw, visceral struggle that ensues in the attempt to achieve this. 

In the film clip that traces the journey of choreographing ‘Duplex,’ Riley explains the inspiration he drew from the movements of judo and martial arts, precise and poetic that nonetheless convey the fight he identifies with the search for perfection. Riley steers away from his trademark nudity to strip away the identity and humanness of the dancers with futuristic costume as they perform the oscillation between intimacy and isolation, who they are and who they strive to be. 

While the exhibition only showcases five pieces that all follow the exact same brief and explore one shared theme, the sheer variety that is achieved by this small sample of artwork and artists is a clear testament to the expansive possibilities and pluralistic nature of art. The Renaissance masterpiece that is Michelangelo’s ‘David’ is shown to be just as relevant today as it was 500 years ago, a timeless source of inspiration from which has stemmed an authentic and provocative examination of perfection in contemporary society. (saskia brown)