Throughout time, the superstitious practice of ex-voto has developed across cultures as a testament to the human drive to negotiate the benevolence of divinities, nature or fate. Appearing in a variety of forms, ex-votos invoke a religious feeling, a need to access the kingdom of magic and the supernatural. In a transcultural and transhistorical approach, votive offerings have a common symbolic function, placing these artifacts in the lineage of the material representation of a culture. Between 1968 and 1971, more than 3,500 Gallic ex-votos carved in beech were found in the Les Roches spring in Chamalières near Clermont-Ferrand. Made of wood, these objects are the expression of a popular culture, representative of a non- artistic and naive production, designed for religious use rather than for aesthetic purposes.
Their status hovering somewhere between offerings and sculptures, the ex-votos were thrown into the spring, a sanctuary in nature where believers could go to be in direct interaction with the divinity of the place. Maponos, warrior god and healer, appears to be the name of the entity who presided over the source, treating pilgrims’ illnesses with purifying water.
For «TREVIS MAPONOS», Namsal Siedlecki brings together the Gallo-Roman rituals of ex-votos and the contemporary tradition of throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome in order to accomplish our dreams and wishes.
In 1800 the German archaeologist Wolfgang Helbig noticed the suffering and nostalgia of his friends as they left the Eternal City and so he invented the ritual of throwing a coin into the fountain as an atonement and hope for a future return to Rome. The Trevi Fountain thus becomes a famous example of a wishing well that, in addition to amassing the desires and dreams of thousands of people, collects 1.5 million euros every year.
In «TREVIS MAPONOS», Namsal Siedlecki transforms In extenso into a contemporary sanctuary, a waiting room for desires yet to be fulfilled. The artist 3D scanned the ex-votos of Chamaliéres, now kept at the Bargoin Museum in Clermont-Ferrand, to reproduce them in wax preserving their current state of conservation. In addition, he has gathered more than 130.000 coins from the Trevi Fountain, which represent a portion of the 5% of the fountain’s annual profit that cannot be exchanged by the Vatican City (due to the fact that the coins are not legal tender or come from states with very high inflation, or because they are modified coins or medals…).
After selecting and melting down the silver coins, Siedlecki uses the technique of electroplating: through electrolysis, the metal block (anode) obtained by melting the coins is deposited onto the surface of the reproduction of the ex-voto (cathode) by covering the wax with silver. The primordial spring encounters through electricity the contemporary fountain in a third tank, the galvanic bath, a solution of water and metallic salts. The expectations and dreams from different eras blend into a unique and collective artifact, thus becoming a tangible material.
Trevis Maponos is a faceless god who presents a fragmentary identity composed of several limbs lying lifeless in the exhibition space. Through the electroplating process, the original shape is the emptiness inside the sculpture and the metal layer acts as a protective mask. This crystallizes «the presence of an absence1», revealing the relationship between the trace and the memory, the extracted part and the whole. The bodies here seem to have been torn apart, and only the artist’s intervention can restore a new identity to the remains by exalting both their autonomous character and their collective spiritual strength.
These composite desires show Siedlecki’s interest in the symbolic search for divinity that is crystallized in the gesture of throwing an offering, the result of a promise and a palpable exchange between the human and the supernatural. In these magical rituals, the divine and the abstract intervene in favor of our earthly needs, establishing a cognitive paradox: although their usage aims to solve problems, the rituals manifest cultural conventions that mask the original connection between the performed action and the achievement of desire. The human aspiration to control ones environment faces its powerlessness, finally allowing itself to be dominated by the glorification of celestial power.
1 — Georges Didi-Huberman, L’Empreinte, cat. exp., Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1997
Namsal Siedlecki (Greenfield, USA 1986), lives and works in Seggiano, Italy. His works was recently exhibited in venues such as: Magazzino (Rome), ChertLüdde (Berlin), Galleria Acappella (Naples), Very Project Space (Berlin), 6th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art (Moscow), Frankfurt am Main (Berlin), Galeria Boavista (Lisbon), Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci (Prato), Galeria Madragoa (Lisbon), Villa Romana (Florence), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (Turin), American Academy in Rome (Rome), Villa Medici (Rome), Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa (Venice), Cripta747 (Turin). In 2015 he won the Cy Twombly Italian Affiliated Fellow in Visual Arts at the American Academy in Rome.