Far from its original purpose as a utilitarian packaging material, Sydney-based artist Patrizia Biondi uses cardboard to create intricate and multi-layered sculptural objects. Biondi gathers much of her material from footpaths on recycling days. She then combines these found materials with what she describes as “virgin” archival quality cardboard. Going through an intensive process of cleaning and treating before use, Biondi hand cuts each strip of cardboard, preserving the remnants of address labels, branded stickers and packaging tape before reassembling the pieces into their intended form.
In her solo show It’s A Circus Out There Biondi’s pieces are larger than previous works and several have even extended out into the interior space as stand-alone sculptural objects – something the artist has not done before.
Constructed to be a finely crafted reaction against consumerism and disposable culture, Biondi’s latest body of work embodies the detritus of the global economy and material prosperity. Presented in the gallery as wall-mounted assemblages, works like Entlemen-Ection, 2020, recall the stacked columns and parapets of ancient Roman and Greek architecture. Exposed corrugated ridges and rips in the cardboard layers speak of rigorous movements through place and time.
For Biondi, the layers of cardboard that make up her work connect to a build-up of history. “History is not linear, it is well and truly a three-dimensional construction,” she says. “There is a depth to our history. When I’m making my work, I think of the times when something was made and kept for decades, being repaired instead of disposed of. In my world, materials are embedded in history and history is embedded within materials.” Adding a modern edge, each piece is flushed with gradients of fluorescent pastels, elevating the aesthetic value of used materials with the vibrancy of contemporary colour.
While making this body of work Biondi was influenced by The Satires, a collection of poems written by the 2nd century Roman author Juvenal. Of particular interest were his criticisms of the Roman government’s penchant for handing out free food at gladiator games as a way to garner influence over the masses. “In The SatiresJuvenal spoke of bread and circuses, or bread and games,” Biondi explains. “He talked about how these big games were designed to appease people, causing the overall population to become distracted, ultimately failing to engage critically with the government’s alternative agendas. In the last 2000 years, not much has changed.”
Viewed through Biondi’s contemporary lens, Juvenal’s crowd-pleasing bread and circuses have been replaced with consumerism and the modern world’s appetite for instant gratification. By working to transform the base material of consumer supply chains into cultural objects to be treasured rather than thrown away, Biondi actively resists the fast-paced spectacle of consumer culture and rapid turnover of goods. “Our economy privileges disposable production,” she says. “My pieces are the opposite. They take an incredibly long time to make. Each object can have up to 500 pieces. There’s a history in each object, an energy that never dies.”
Describing her artistic practice as a form of protest, Biondi refers to her meticulous handmade pieces as “dissident objects.” Summing up the conceptual intention behind It’s A Circus Out There, Biondi says, “For me consumerism isn’t about buying a new car or television every three years, it is also about consuming the spectacle and consuming language and mass media. In my view, the ultimate icon of consumerism is cardboard because it is used for packaging, transport, storage. Cardboard is printed with words, advertising and marketing imagery, it all fits into that narrative of the population thriving on consumables and failing to think critically.”