On the Edge of Time
I have been painting all my life. I wonder why I am drawn to the sound of a brush. To the smell of paint. To the slow walk from a white canvas to a finished work – somehow absurd in the digital age – Angela Lyn
Stepping into the Villa, moving between the centuries-old walls, I found myself able to unfold. It was not just the immensity of the rooms, but rather that the dogma of the era had sunk into the sediment of time, leaving space to breathe and look at things freely.
The people who once lived there; who they were, what they did and why, were gone. Vanished.
What remains are marks, colors, lines and the pores of craftsmanship: snippets of searching to mark and explain our existence, somehow all floating at once in the lightness that occurs when things are no longer obvious.
The labyrinth of leftovers hanging in the moment, detached, removed from context, yet carrying something deeply forgiving: perhaps the sudden awareness of the long trail of our human effort.
It was in that moment, standing between the stretch of mirrored openings, the wild garden ballerinas and a row of skyscrapers dotting the far blue horizon, that I discovered an uncanny sense of freedom.
A feeling of being on the edge of time: that fragile ledge where nothing is obvious and one can feel life, quivering in the flesh of one’s palm – somehow senseless and precise at once. Bright, like the wire in a light bulb.
In such moments, it is as if everything is possible and one is fully alive. As if, the past, present and future are one single hum.
It was with this particular sense of freedom that I began to explore the Villa.
I began to envision those who had walked before me throughout centuries of the building’s history. I asked myself where and how does my own story connect to a baroque Villa on the outskirts of Milan? The only answer is through life itself.
A single story, whether it is mine, yours, or anyone’s, absorbed within the perspective of this vast centuries-old building, is just another minute dot in time. And yet, looking into the cracks of the walls, listening to the layers of paint: a single story suddenly becomes part of the whole.
Stories lived are the transient marks of time that make history fluid. The act of telling them is a possible means to connect the past to the present while envisioning what may lie ahead.
During the two-and-a-half years preparing my exhibition for the Villa Arconati, I have felt in touch with the lives of those who inhabited the space before me. I imagined them struggling with the issues of their time, as we do in ours. Another place, another time, yet oddly similar. Men and women carving through life with its successes and its failures. Children that were born. Families that came and went. Artists that plowed their way through time. Painters that painted. Visionaries that visioned. Dreamers that dreamed. Illnesses and destinies that wrote history. People like you and me, washed along in the mystery of existence, while the garden churns out leaves, year after year, alongside an endless trail of gardeners trimming away in the attempt to keep up.
For what I may have taken in inspiration, or what may seem presumptuous, I hope I succeed in contributing to the shape of time held within its walls. Time does not make sense of the story. It simply marks what happens.
Making a bed for Room Twenty-Two, I thought of Luisa, who once lived in the Villa. How she might have slept, on the left or on the right? Placing Eva under Hypnos, I thought of the laughter of children racing through the corridors, their voices echoing against the illusionary windows. Heaving my stone books, I thought of the thousands of thoughts that had been written and stored in the library. Sewing the veins of my enormous glove, I thought of the women who had arrived at the Villa young, and left old. In the women’s quarters, I thought of the mothers who were worried for their children when a virus hit, or when war broke out. The same worries I have when I watch the news, see the sea level rising, the forests burning, and the Covid numbers closing the doors to where my children live. Looking at the peeling frescoes, I saw in each one a story, a thought, a piece of life and alongside, my own art, queueing up in the line of decay. A quiet thought like the movement of a slow river.
While digging up the stories of my past, I thought of the ghosts of Gulangyu, wondering if they might have met the ghosts of the Villa Arconati. Making an enormous skirt for the ballroom, I thought of the corseted waists of the women, strung so tight that they could barely breathe. I thought of my grandmother’s bound feet and I thought of women today; lipo-suction, Botox and the on-going molding of our bodies in the name of beauty and desire. Preparing the dancing slippers, I thought of the thousands of steps moving back and forth across the handmade terracotta bricks. A giant mandala of time. Decades of distraction to lighten the mystery of our existence. I thought of our smartphones and Instagram reels churning away 24/7, and I questioned how much has really changed. I thought of the farmers who had once sweated the land and I thought of people now: glued to computers in high-rise offices, trying to get through life as people do and have done since ever. I saw the whole lot rooted in one on-going hum, shaping the past, present and future. The sea of stories and amidst it my own.