Neon installation at the entrance of Istituto Svizzero

Mai-Thu Perret
Istituto Svizzero, Milan, Italy
5 May 2021 – 31 July 2022

Istituto Svizzero presents a new semi-permanent work at the entrance of Villa Maraini. The work consists of a newly commissioned neon installation by Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret (b. 1976, Geneva). The piece lights the building and is visible for passersby on Via Ludovisi.

Untitled (2021) consists of nine hands, made of yellow glowing neon tubes. It almost seems as if they want to climb the brick wall in the entrance area of Villa Maraini, or perhaps climb out. Franz Kafka’s aphorism “A cage went in search of a bird”, noted in 1917, is important for Mai-Thu Perret in the development of the neon work. Thus, the question of the balance between cage and bird, the contradiction between freedom and protective loss of freedom. Mai-Thu Perret’s artistic practice is based on profound research and draws on references from cultural history, literary texts, feminist narratives, avant-garde aesthetics, and craft traditions. The neon work Untitled follows on from research on the hand, on hands, which Mai-Thu Perret has been pursuing for some time now. 

She is interested in the hand as an almost original pictorial motif – Stone Age cave paintings show not only animals or hunting scenes, but also handprints or hand negatives that, according to anthropological evidence, originated from women.

At the same time, Mai-Thu Perret also deals with the hand as an important symbol in Tantra, the Indian philosophy from the 2nd century – for example in the hand painted on wood in the work Untitled from 2006 – or ties her reflections on the knowledge, the memory inscribed in the body to the image of the hand. At the same time, the hand can still be read not only as a symbol for work, but also as a symbol for art-making. Mai-Thu Perret’s neon hands can trigger these and other thoughts.

Mai-Thu Perret’s installation follows a series of neon works previously placed over the walls of Istituto Svizzero, including Pittore in Africa by Mario Merz, exposed between 2019 and 2020, and Miracle, a monumental purple neon realized by Sylvie Fleury, hung above the entrance door from 2016 to 2019.