I want to believe

Banca Sistema_Largo Augusto, 1A/Via Verziere, 13. Milano
April 19th 2023/November 30th 2023
Opening: Wednesday April 19th 2023 @6PM

Laurina Paperina was born in 1980 in Duckland, a small village in the deep Universe, where she lives and works. She describes herself as a creature with a human head and a duck body, or vice versa. As a child, she dreamed of becoming a Knight of the Zodiac but, due to her poor athletic skills, chose the dark path of contemporary art. She first studied at the Rovereto Art Institute and then graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Verona. Popular culture is the basis of her research.

Laurina draws, paints, creates installations and video animations. Whatever comes into her hands – whether it is a piece of paper, a post-it, a canvas or a graphic tablet, it matters little – drawing is the basis of her creatures, her worlds. Whether they are characters stolen from the world of cinema, comics, video games, art or whether they are taken from politics, news or current affairs, whether they are characters from her imagination or fantasy, Laurina reinterprets and recontextualises, creates new worlds by means of mash-ups and distortion.

For the exhibition I want to believe, Laurina presents herself in the spaces of Palazzo Largo Augusto, headquarters of Banca Sistema in Milan, with different bodies of work belonging to the production of the last five years. The exhibition opens its doors with the canvas Suicide Island, a work from 2017: in the centre, on a sea of blood-red lava, stands an island, above which characters – fruit of creative genius and otherwise – try to survive. Those who do not succeed are destined to fall into the burning liquid. First Olaf, the puppet from Frozen, melts, along with the Teletubbies. The yellow Flat Eric monkey, the historic mascot of Levi’s, and a panda – invented by Laurina – hang from the edge of the islet to save themselves; a man throws his decapitated head – a reference to David and Goliath, where David, however, is holding his own head and is close to sacrifice; behind him, Nitro Tnt crates – cues stolen from video games – emphasise the scene. Laurina Paperina leaves no room for doubt; her irony and sarcasm immediately put people on the edge of their seats, even though she gives a glimmer of hope with Poochie, juggling on the edge of the precipice, out of danger together with Felix the Cat, who is amused by a rat’s tail transformed into the sticky little hand that children used to find in crisp bags.

Continuing in the exhibition, for a taste of Laurina’s art making, works from the series How to kill the artists and Loser (Superfake) branch out. These works refer to the concept of revenge and show – and demonstrate – Laurina’s origins, her love of paper and straightforward drawing. Peter Pan VS Captain Hook, where Captain Hook plunges a sword into the body of good Peter Pan; Sylvester VS Tweety Bird, where Sylvester Cat – finally – manages to catch Tweety; Frida Kahlo decapitates her head; Louise Bourgeois is trapped in one of her works; the British artist D*Face crushed by his most recognisable sculpture. In the series entitled How to kill the artists – which derives from a cycle of video animations created in 2007 – Laurina mocks herself and the most famous contemporary artists with desecrating irony. A merciless series that narrates her hypothetical death and those of artists who have now reached the pinnacle of success and are hailed by critics. Laurina Paperina’s stroke refers, on the one hand, to the tradition of drawing in illustrated children’s books, on the other, to comics and, because of her comic verve and critical capacity, also to the great popular phenomenon of American cartoons, with a pinch of extra nastiness: Laurina enjoys taking the tale to extremes to the point of splatter. Her works evoke the languages that germinate from the world of the internet, television and horror films of the 1980s and 1990s.

Once we have “entered the mood” of Laurina, we are ready to move on to her most recent works, some of which were created ad hoc for the 2021 exhibition I giovani non hanno più, where the artist dialogues with Daniel Johnston and Tommaso Buldini. An exhibition that reflects on our days, on the young people who no longer have. Internet and social networks as food for thought, perhaps of a social flattening. Memes, now part of everyday life, are a metaphor for hasty communication. Smile! The end is near is a small painting on canvas – 25×30 cm – in which Laurina sums up conventionalism. Picchio Picchiarello and Felix the Cat curtain a smile that turns into a skull. Vanitas alludes to the transience of life. Then, a small-format canvas with dancing Teletubbies where, on the chest of the characters, the writing Have a nice day is composed, a decidedly mocking wish for a Good Day given that, a little further up, from a protuberance on the Tubbies’ head, the inscription Fuck is composed.

A crucial work in the exhibition is the large canvas Death/Resurrection – a masterpiece measuring 200×150 cm – which took up two years of the artist’s production, in which Laurina reflects not only on society and her surroundings, but also on her life. A personal reflection. With her most iconic language, made up of deceptive bright colours, characters and scenes, Laurina reveals herself, or rather, allows herself to be glimpsed. This is definitely the most significant work of the last few years, a painting that speaks 100% about her – the  personalities present are almost all symbolic and refer to personal events that actually happened; in this work, there are not only “biggies from popular culture”, but objects/subjects that recall real life and are translated allegorically: first and foremost, the angels shooting pencils and striking Laurina’s body – the main subject in the centre of the scene is actually her, the work is a self-portrait – and  refer to her work, to art, which supposedly could kill her (she often uses pencils as a weapon of self-destruction when working on her depictions); Salvador Dali’s clock, which shows us a time that sometimes seems endless and sometimes seems to pass too quickly; the angels turn into evil characters and contrast with the devils, which we find in the lower part of the painting, positive, good and charitable characters who try to hold up the whole scenario; the frogs plunging from the skull refer to an episode in the Bible, one of the events of the Plagues of Egypt in which frogs rain down from the sky during the liberation of the slaves; the skull, a symbol that usually refers to the concept of death, is represented by Laurina to symbolise resurrection, in fact it has wings and drinks a coke as if it were the spectator of all the events that take place on the island but, at the same time, it is the one who supports the protagonists. In this work, we find many of Laurina’s historical figures, such as her dog, Zelda, hanging from the plant; the smoking mouse, Bubo, her character/self-portrait who, under the skull and grabbed by the bat, has a ghost coming out of his buttocks; the marmot writing Fun cool O, perhaps the phrase the artist would say today, looking at this painting and thinking back to the events that took place. Certainly, the whole truth about this canvas is not for us to know.

And so, we come to the most recent works. A megamix of small and medium format canvases. Among the most comprehensive is Greta Thunberg VS methane emissions, a 35×50 cm piece in which Thunberg, with a menacing face, rebukes the cow that produces pollution and holds up the sign “Skolstrejk för Klimatet”. Her protest for climate justice, aimed at political action to prevent global and climatic warming. Always with attention – and disapproval – towards what is harmful, we meet Kermit the Frog, the Muppet frog, who commits suicide in Sex, drugs and rock’n roll; Racoon – invented by Laurina – a raccoon who stuffs himself with junk food; Heidi eaten by her goats “the goats don’t say hello anymore!” The circle closes with the super ironic Ice cream I scream, where the terrifying face of Wes Craven’s Scream appears among the scoops of ice cream, where the person who screams dies, but don’t worry, hope is the last to die; I want to believe in something, where an alien duck flies above a small UFO, reassures us.

In dialogue, eight drawings depicting “famous mice” that hint at Mickey Mouse in a Paperina’s style – Bat rat; Itchi mouse; Mickey rat; Ratbo; Super rat (Pikachu); The suicide of Banksy’s rat; Marcel Duchamp VS Speedy Gonzales; Weird mouse – are here a display of her creativity and her enjoyment of art. The mice are independent works and details of larger canvases at the same time. If Mickey rat and Bat rat seem to be playing with each other, Banksy’s eyeless mouse may be zooming in on other, more complex works.

Among the large canvases we find Burning Owl Island, from 2019, where references to the art world such as Paul McCarthy’s The rabbit, Banksy’s balloons and mouse, Claes Oldenburg’s saw, Martin Kippenberger’s crucified frog, Warhol’s tomato soup cans and Koons’ little dogs are the protagonists of a revenge in which they do absurd things, referring to events happening in today’s world such as war, pollution, drought and global warming. A significant work is the one with the Venetian mask used during plagues to protect oneself from contagion – better known as the Plague Doctor and now widespread in Steampunk culture – which alludes to the Covid-19 pandemic. For Laurina, in fact, painting and, in some way, recalling current events is a stimulus and a desire to talk and make people talk about the present and the past.

Continuing on, In Pink Pig We Trust – a revisitation of the slogan In God we trust (a motto found on US one dollar notes) – we find at the centre of the theatre the piggy bank – symbol of Banca Sistema and metaphor of savings and liquidity – which, here, is worshipped by the characters in the scene and who, as in a sort of procession, bring Pink Pig something of theirs as a pledge; works of art, objects, people of the heart and desires ready to be transformed into projects for the future and new dreams. First Maurizio Cattelan, brings his sculpture commonly known as Middle Finger, whose real title is L.O.V.E., an acronym for freedom, hate, revenge, eternity. The sculpture placed in the centre of Piazza Affari in Milan, in front of Palazzo Mezzanotte, headquarters of the Stock Exchange, is certainly a provocation and, not by chance, Laurina decides to place it in the central part of the work; then, Keith Haring’s little men delivering the artist’s works; Banksy’s mouse donating Banksy himself; Snoopy delivering Woodstock; SpongeBob entrusting his friend Patrick Stella and the Little Bears of the Heart pledging the rainbow.

The exhibition, with its most recent works, wants to believe in something, it is as if it wants to send an optimistic message to the contemporary world that often has little hope… I want to believe!

This post is also available in: Italian