Marzia Migliora. The Spectre of Malthus

a cura di Matteo Lucchetti

10 October 2020  -  12 March 2021

The project, winner of the Italian Council 2019, is a journey into virtual reality in Sicilian mines dedicated to the unsustainability of the relationship between capitalist production and the exploitation of human, animal, and mining resources.
From October 10 to December 13, 2020, the Museo MA*GA in Gallarate (VA) will host a solo exhibition by Marzia Migliora, entitled ‘The Spectre of Malthus’ (Lo spettro di Malthus), curated by Matteo Lucchetti.

The exhibition will revolve around a project realized thanks to the patronage of the Italian Council, developed mostly in the Sicilian salt mines of Petralia and Racalmuto, which were formed about six million years ago.

The Spectre of Malthus is the ideal conclusion to a research project that, Marzia Migliora has dedicated in recent years to the analysis of the relationship between the capitalist system’s production of food, commodities and surplus value and the exploitation of human, animal, and mining resources. These are subjects evoked in the title of the project itself, in which the artist calls into question the British economist and demographer Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), who as early as the late 18th century theorised the problem of unsustainability, between demographic growth and food production and pointed to global famine and pandemics as possible consequences of monocultures and factory farming.

As Matteo Lucchetti explains, ‘The reasons why Marzia Migliora has explored the contradictions intrinsic in industrialised agricultural production models and the intensive extractive practices of neoliberal capitalism are anchored to the conviction that the paradigms on which the industrial world as we know it is based are at the root of the emergencies, past and future, that humankind is progressively having to address.’
‘This isn’t the first time that Marzia Migliora has worked at Gallarate,’ says MA*GA curator, Alessandro Castiglioni. She is present in the Museum’s permanent collection with her Made in Italy, a work produced in 2016 and dedicated to the complex question of the exploitation and renaturalisation of the river that runs through Gallarate in relation to the explosion and subsequent crisis of the Lombard textile industry since the 1950s.

‘With The Spectre of Malthus,’ explains Alessandro Castiglioni,‘ Marzia Migliora is pursuing the research she has been developing for many years on labour, natural resources, and the environment, questioning each one of us about our individual and collective responsibilities for the use and exploitation of resources and the work force.’
The exhibition will be organised around a set of new works by Marzia Migliora, in a site-specific experiential layout featuring, among other things, environmental installations, a virtual reality digital animation and a large curtain divided into three parts. The public will walk through the whole exhibition space, discovering the works behind the curtains, which present a timeline of demographic growth from 1790 to 2100, the focus of the artist’s work.

‘The project,’ specifies Matteo Lucchetti, ‘came to life from a series of 29 collages that Marzia Migliora began in 2017 entitled Paradossi dell’abbondanza (Paradoxes of Plenty), which blend drawing with the papier collé tradition to speak about the contradictions experienced in the agricultural field from the perspective of the agricultural workers themselves, be they present-day seasonal migrants, labourers on colonial plantations or, more simply, people from the artist and her family’s own rural background. The title of the work is borrowed from a chapter in An Edible History of Humanity by the British journalist Tom Standage, who reconstructs a certain idea of modernity through the history of agriculture and its subjection to the production of food as a commodity with the introduction of monocultures, intensive production, pesticides, genetically modified organisms and everything else that has allowed man his supposed control of the natural cycles of germination. These drawings introduce the installation The Spectre of Malthus, which directly involves the figure of the British scholar who, in 1798, published An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, in which he foresees the imbalances that exist between demographic growth and food production.

‘Marzia Migliora imagined this work as an immersion in the bowels of the earth, to a depth of more than a hundred metres below sea level. This is the lowest depth at which it is possible to find rock salt, extracted for centuries in Sicilian salt mines from geological strata formed six million years ago. The work, which takes the form of a virtual reality video, takes the visitor on a journey that would otherwise be impossible along tunnels bored by man into the depths of the earth. Their appearance is that of intestines populated by animations of the artist’s drawings of some of the fundamental stages in the conflict between so-called progress and its costs within the ecosystem.’

The initiative is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue/magazine, which will be distributed with the Internazionale weekly in October, and anticipated by an e-book, downloadable from the site, in which Marzia Migliora’s previously unpublished sketchbooks reveal and anticipate her studies and output over the last year and more.

The project has been realised under the patronage of Italian Council (6th Edition 2019), a programme promoted by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (MIBACT) for the promotion of contemporary art in the world. A special thanks is due to the project partners: Serlachius Museums in Mänttä, which showed the first version of the work in its The Quest for Happiness, Italian Art Now exhibition; the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven for the online exhibition and presentation of Marzia Migliora’s work; the Italian Institute of Culture in Warsaw for support in promoting the project; and our cultural partners, the National Gallery of San Marino And the City of Gallarate National Award for the Visual Arts, thanks to which the artist worked at MA*GA for the first time in 2016.

Biographical notes

Marzia Migliora is an artist who uses a broad range of languages, among which photography, video, sound, performance, installation and drawing, to create works that elevate the simplest human activities to moments that tell fragments of collective history. The recurring themes in her work are memory as a tool for articulating the present analysis of employment as an affirmation of participation in the social sphere. (Matteo Lucchetti) Institutions that have exhibited Migliora’s work include: Rivoli Castle Museum of Contemporary Art, Rivoli, Turin; Fondazione Prada, Milan; Fondazione Merz, Turin; MA*GA (Gallarate Art Museum), Gallarate; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Padiglione Italia, 56th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition, Venice; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; FACT, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool; Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice; Museo Maxxi, National 21st-century fine arts museum, Rome; Carré d'Art, Nîmes; Serlachius Museums, Mänttä; Le MAGASIN Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble. The artist is represented by Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan/Naples.