Auto Italia presents A Story Backwards, a new site-specific installation and the first solo exhibition in the UK by the Geneva and Berlin-based artist collective RM.
In this show, the artists employ narrative and staging strategies adopted from commedia dell’arte – a form of Italian public theatre popular across Europe between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries – to consider how experiences of power, authority and agency are narrated through roleplaying and story-making.
Commedia dell’arte developed the early theatrical dialects of mime and farce in the Middle Ages into a professionalised form of ensemble acting. Its companies were composed of strolling performers and street entertainers, who performed exaggerated parodies of stock characters in evolving, improvised productions. These comedies established a new form of democratised public theatre that satirised social and political hierarchies, and its popularity contributed to the formalisation of social archetypes that were dominant in cultural discourse at that time. These archetypal characters, such as the Harlequin, Pantalone and Pulcinella, continue to appear regularly in contemporary cinema and television.
A Story Backwards borrows from this methodology of storytelling through a series of material investigations, to explore relational ideas on power and identity. The show begins with an encounter with two road traffic lights fixed in sequence, introducing the exhibition environment as one mediated by systems of control. Passage through the installation is then determined by large-scale architectural interventions made of mosquito netting, staggering the exhibition spaces into segments or chapters. The perforated quality of the netting recurs in other materials throughout the installation, operating as an adaptive emblem for exploring ideas of agency and authority.
Three kinetic sculptures are marked with statements referencing the roles commonly portrayed by characters in commedia dell’arte: masters, servants and lovers. The texts appear as ambiguous commands or stage directions. Scattered across the installation, they propose the social function of these archetypes as historical, cultural and imaginary constructions which, through satire, may destabilise hierarchies manufactured by dominant authorities in society.
A Story Backwards is commissioned and produced by Auto Italia, London. Its production has been made possible by the Italian Cultural Institute in London, Pro Helvetia, Swiss Cultural Fund and The Embassy of Spain in London. Its public programme is supported by Goethe-Institut London.
RM (formerly Real Madrid) is an artist collective founded in Geneva in 2015. The group’s works explore the intersections of sexuality, consumerism and identity through large-scale sculpture and installation projects examining social and political responses to stigmatised illnesses, focusing on sexually transmitted infection and disease. Their recent exhibitions include CEC Centre d’Edition Contemporaine, Geneva (2023), Swiss Institute, New York (2022), Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (2021), Fondazione ICA Milano (2021), Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva (2021), Quadriennale Roma, Rome (2021), and others. RM were awarded the Swiss Art Award in 2018 and 2023.