The experience of lockdown has prompted a yearning to travel, if only in imagination. It is in this context that the Italian Cultural Institute is proud to re-present a work by Paul Coldwell made for Sir John Soane’s Museum in London last year, which has gained even greater poignancy during the pandemic. First Orders: Scenes from the kitchen (2018-19) is a short split-screen film in which Soane’s model of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli prompts the famous architect’s domestic servants to embark on a fantasy version of an Italian Grand Tour. In the lower section of the screen the artist acts out the servants’ attempts to construct their own temples and palazzi with the materials they have to hand in the kitchen. An improvised and fragile architecture, fashioned from vegetables and sugar cubes, figures their longing for a richer experience of life beyond the constraints of the basement.
In his commentary on the exhibition Picturing the Invisible: The house seen from below, Coldwell talks about how the act of imagining is at the heart of what it means to be human, and also how Soane’s collection of Piranesi prints stimulated fantasies of a now remote antiquity. The need to escape from danger or in reverie is a recurring theme in Coldwell’s work, as is the emotional aura of quietly eloquent objects, and the impress of place in memory [figures 1-3]. This aspect of his art is influenced by Giorgio Morandi’s still-lives where ‘oneiric’ objects accrue imagined recollections and poetic associations. Coldwell curated the major exhibition Morandi’s Legacy at the Estorick Collection in 2006, where Morandi’s paintings were brought into dialogue with the works of a range of British artists from Ben Nicholson to Tony Cragg.
Paul Coldwell (born 1952) is Professor of Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London. He is a prize-winning printmaker, an innovator in digital printmaking, and is also the author of numerous publications including Printmaking: A Contemporary Perspective (2010). Over the last decade his practice as an artist has increasingly involved ‘site responsive’ interventions in museums and archives such as Sir John Soane’s Museum, and also the Freud Museums in London and Vienna.
Review of Picturing the Invisible:
Sir John Soane’s Museum: