If There were Anywhere but Desert, Friday, 2002
I would now celebrate trees,
if there were anywhere but desert.
— Edmond Jabès (1912-1991)
Swiss installation artist Ugo Rondinone’s works centre around themes of melancholia and isolation. In many of his works, he manipulates brightly coloured objects to set off the sluggish subject (Seven Magic Mountains, clockwork for oracles II, etc.). In ‘If There were Anywhere but Desert, Friday’ (2002), the slumbering clown-face man reclines half-naked, with a pool of glitter at his feet. The sense of desolation is aggravated by the contrast with the buoyant and illusionary outside world, reflected through the rainbow-hued windows, evoking detachedness. In the writings of Jewish poet Edmond Jabès, the desert is a central theme as it symbolises an immemorial place transcending memory and imagination, where one experiences equivalent to death and existential introspection of the self. Rondinone’s marginalised clown is exiled in this enclosed room, his own desert, positioned outside of time, between reality and fantasy, facing the only portal to the illusive, constantly-moving world. The poignant scene evokes potent sentiments, expanding from a sense of mischief to a deliberate empathy. Immersing in the prodigious silence, perhaps the protagonist has finally compromised to the difficult yet inevitable acceptance of solitude, like we all will.