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Black Circle Square

Massimo Bartolini

Located at Hof Emscher-Auen in the Mengede district of Dortmund is the work »Black Circle Square« that was developed by Massimo Bartolini for the 2016 Emscherkunst exhibition. Looming out of the middle of the sweeping landscape around the flood retention basin is a gleaming white square surface measuring 10.5 x 10.5 metres along the perimeter and framed inside a small white wall. Inserted into the white concrete square is a circular opening of almost 8 metres in diameter that holds a sheet of water. The four-metre-deep water basin beneath the surface is coated in black, so that, viewed from above, one perceives a black circle inside a white square. In formal terms, the work makes a direct reference to Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting, »Black Square«, which became an icon of modernist art. With this work Malevich marked the change from figurative to radically non-representational painting, for which he is considered the pioneer of Suprematism.

»It is not strange. It breaks the stream of everydays life, it is like a spaceship that has landed here!« Massimo Bartolini

Bartolini transformed the painting of the Russian avant-gardist into the third dimension, as it were: point of departure for »Black Circle Square« was Malevich’s painting »Black Circle«, also from 1915, which Bartolini reproduced in tenfold enlargement as a spatial object. The Italian Concept artist also supplemented the inert basin with a performative component: for the duration of the exhibition a former coal miner regularly cleaned the black pool with a mop in a kind of spiritual ritual. A saxophonist and a synchronised swimmer were further protagonists in performances that animated the artwork’s presence. At the same time, the minimalist artwork serves permanently as a fire pool for the neighbouring farm complex of Hof Emscher-Auen.

As a fire pond for the fire brigade, it has to hold fire water for 2 hours, which is 200,000 liters.

In this way Bartolini proposed a link between Malevich’s art, whose absolute reduction of artistic means marked the »zero point of painting”, and the situation in the Ruhr region, which since the mid-twentieth century has faced the task of reinventing its own future. Concretely, Bartolini saw the decision to renaturate the Emscher as a central impulse regarding the possibilities for shaping an alternative future.

Rittershofer Straße 170
44577 Castrop-Rauxel
Public transport

From Castrop-Rauxel Hauptbahnhof (main station) take the bus 480 (towards Ickern Nord) to the stop Uferstr., then continue on foot for about 1,8 km or by bus 482 (towards DO-Mengede Bahnhof S) to the stop Friedrichstr., then continue on foot for about 1,3 km.


Reinforced concrete construction, swimming pool with black surface coating
Dimensions installation: 10,5 x 10,5 m, total depth 4,20 m
4.20 Meter
Dimensions swimming pool: Ø 7,83 m
Height railings: 1,25 m

During the exhibition Emscherkunst 2016, several performances took place at »Black Circle Square”.

»I find this development in Malevich’s thinking which drew him from Futurism […] to Suprematism highly relevant to what is currently happening in the Ruhr region. Here, just now, a phase of enthusiastic production and frenetic movement is giving way to a moment of contemplation and a sudden awareness for alternative strategies for shaping the future. One example of this are the current endeavours towards renaturating the Emscher – because, to use a metaphor: once the party is over someone has to clear up.«

Massimo Bartolini

Massimo Bartolini

Massimo Bartolini (*1962, Cecina, IT) works in various media, ranging from sculpture, performance, photography to large-scale and/or site-specific installations. In his work he often makes subtle changes to a space or manipulates the sound, smell or lighting conditions to disrupt expectations and create sensations that prompt or unsettle sensual perception. His work was represented, for example, in 2012 at dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel.