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Exhibitions / Rubble and Revelation / Overview

Caserma XXIV Maggio, Milan
November 13 – December 16, 2012

Like an archeologist probing the wreckage of modernity, Cyprien Gaillard travels the world looking for monuments of our era that have lost their aura and symbolic power, and with the precision of a research scientist, he documents their life and gradual disappearance. He roams nomadically from continent to continent, encountering ruins and relics that are immortalized in photos, videos, sculptures, and collages which convey his obsession with the poetry of decay.

With the gaze of a documentary maker and a dramatically raw aesthetic, Cyprien Gaillard reflects on the destruction—as well as decadence—that follow social and cultural transformations. Gaillard’s work is a study of iconoclasm, vandalism and the power of images: the artist traces the ways in which history is perennially rewritten, highlighting subtle links between past and present, and between different cultures and contexts marked by violent transformations and signs of disintegration—an area of research that has grown all the more topical in this era of street protests and popular uprisings.

Architecture, with its globalized commercial symbols and its effigies of power, is a discipline that fascinates Gaillard because of its ability to deeply influence human behavior. Modernist buildings, rundown neighborhoods on the outskirts of town, crumbling highrises and skyscrapers, and military fortresses and bunkers serve as the setting for a “Natural History of Destruction” (to cite the essays by the German writer W.G. Sebald on the devastation produced by air raids during World War II); within it, Gaillard highlights the dynamics that govern social interaction, the relationship between the individual and the group—specifically, in the youth subcultures of urban gangs and tribes—where categories such as freedom and the right to choose no longer apply, and everything seems to happen as if guided by mass will.

All of these forces can be found in the project Rubble and Revelation for the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, the first major solo exhibition by Cyprien Gaillard in Italy. The project is housed in the military bakery of Caserma XXIV Maggio, a fascinating gem of industrial architecture built in Romanesque Revival style in 1898 and closed in 2005, after having been used for over a century to supply bread to all the military complexes in Lombardy, and after nourishing the entire city of Milan during World War II. Inside the spaces of the military bakery, with their patina of memories, Cyprien Gaillard leads us through his evocative vision of the ruins of our time: in a constant crescendo of juxtapositions and layerings, videos, photographs, images, and sounds trace a path that weaves between explosions and silences, devastation and contemplation.

Designed in 1889 and opened in 1897, Caserma XXIV Maggio is part of a large military district, originally called the “Quartiere delle Milizie” and later the “Distretto Militare di Milano”, built in the late nineteenth century in a middle-class neighbourhood of downtown Milan, near Parco Sempione, between Via Mascheroni and Via Vincenzo Monti. The Distretto, whose jurisdiction covered 439 municipalities, operated out of Milan for over 140 years, becoming such an important part of Milanese life that in 1918, the city government entrusted it with the Risorgimento-era banner of the National Guard of Milan (founded in 1848 after the five-day uprising against Austrian rule), and in October 1991, as an additional sign of this close bond, conferred honorary citizenship on the institution. Caserma XXIV Maggio, the current headquarters of the Army Command for Lombardy, started out as a military bakery, in a Romanesque Revival building from 1898 that is a true gem of industrial architecture. The first floor above street level still houses seven well-preserved, spacious ovens that culminate in six tall chimneys, running through the inside of the building and soaring up from its roof like elegant red-brick smokestacks. On the middle floor were storerooms for raw ingredients, while the second floor held five flour mills. A chute connected the upper and lower levels. The complex was therefore capable of handling every step in the bread-making process, from grinding the wheat to baking the loaves. The military bakery—which allowed many young men to learn the milling and baking trades during their period of military service—was used for over a century to supply bread to all the military complexes in Lombardy, and during World War II, to nourish the entire city of Milan. It definitively ceased operation only in the late Fifties. Caserma XXIV Maggio, on the other hand, remained operative until 2004, and over the years housed all the young men of Milan who were called up for the three-day selection for military service: one finds famous images from the Sixties of young girls flocked around the Via Mascheroni gate, hoping to catch a glimpse of singers like Adriano Celentano and Tony Renis, or up-and-coming football stars like Gianni Rivera. After compulsory military service was suspended in 2005, the Distretto Militare was converted in 2007 into a documentation center housing an archive of some 2,000,000 files, one for every male citizen of Lombardy born between 1925 and 1985 who was called up for service and spent part of his life in this building. With the show Rubble and Revelation by Cyprien Gaillard, Milan’s Caserma XXIV Maggio is opening its doors to civilians for the very first time: a unique opportunity to see inside a symbolic landmark that has played a vital role in the recent history of the city, and is deeply rooted in the hearts and memories of its residents.

Cyprien Gaillard was born in Paris in 1980, studied in Lausanne, and is now based in Berlin.
He has won numerous prizes and awards for emerging artists, including the Prize for Young Art from the National Gallery in Berlin (2011); the Marcel Duchamp Prize from Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Karl Ströher Prize (2010); and the Audi Talent Award (2007).
His photographs, videos, sculptures and collages have been featured in personal exhibitions and projects at the world’s most famous museums—including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (2011, 2008); the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Metz, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (2011); the Zollamt/MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, the Kunsthalle in Basel (2010); the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel (2009); and the Hayward Gallery Project Space in London (2008)—and group exhibitions at venues such as the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2011); the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, the MoMA in New York, the ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam (2010); the Generali Foundation in Vienna, the Tate Modern in London, the White Columns, and the New Museum in New York (2009).
He has taken part in prestigious contemporary art festivals such as the 54th Venice Biennale (2011); the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (2010); the 3rd Moscow Biennale (2009); the 5th Berlin Biennale (2008); and the Biennale de Lyon (2007).