Untitled 2006 consists of four wooden tables and seven bronze bells. Of the four slightly scuffed and dilapidated tables, one is painted entirely grey and two are painted grey on their lower sections. The tables are of various sizes and heights and are arranged in a corner so that they abut the wall and each other without gaps. The seven bells lie on their sides on top of the tables: the tallest table carries three bells, the one in front two: the other two tables have one bell each on them. Two of the bells no longer have clappers. The artist purchased all the components of this work: the tables are second-hand and the bells are architectural salvage. Kounellis began using salvaged bells in his work in the 1990s, such as Bells 1993 (Tate AR00071).
For Kounellis bells ‘represent language, a magnified human voice – and the enthusiastic roar of liberation.’ (Quoted in Dieter Roelstraete, Kounellis, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum Voor Actuele Kunst, Gent 2002, p.22.) The bells evoke church architecture and the action of calling the congregation to prayer. However, two of the bells in Untitled 2006 no longer have clappers and all the bells sit stilled and silenced, no longer able to perform their ecclesiastical function. This silence perhaps alludes to Kounellis’s own atheism as well as to the rise in secularism over the last century. When this work was shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2007-8 it was encountered as part of a labyrinth made out of heavy steel walls. Curator Marc Scheps notes that in this stark and oppressive surrounding the bells seemed ‘destined to the most tragic fate of this location, oblivion’, as if with the religious function of the bells lost, the congregation could never be assembled and the visitor was left wandering in the purgatory of the labyrinth (Scheps 2010, p.255). Indeed, Untitled 2006 might also be read in terms of a more general sense of human silencing and alienation, as curator Angela Schneider reads it in relation to Kounellis’s wider practice, in which empty bed frames and disused sewing machines ‘refer to the absent existence of the human being’ (Schneider 2007, p.38).
Kounellis frequently uses Christian iconography in his work, which he sees as a necessary cultural inheritance from both Greece (his place of birth) and Italy (where he lives). As he states: ‘I make no reference to religion because I am an atheist, but I cite culture because it has come to me by way of religion.’ (Quoted in Bann 2003, p.185.) While his works may engage with religious iconography and ecclesiastical traditions, Kounellis intended works such as Untitled 2006 to question religious belief rather than to assert a statement of faith.
This work was first exhibited at Atto Unico, Fondazione Pomodoro in Milan in 2006–7 and subsequently at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin before it was placed on long term loan to the ARTIST ROOMS collection in 2010.
Stephen Bann, Jannis Kounellis, London 2003.
Angela Schneider (ed.), Jannis Kounellis in the Neue Nationalgalerie, exhibition catalogue, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin 2007, pp.38, 45, reproduced pp.12, 20, 92.
Marc Scheps, Jannis Kounellis: XXII Stations on an Odyssey 1969–2010, Munich, Berlin, London, New York 2010, pp.255, 341, reproduced p.272.
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