Two men move on a small boat near the shores of Loch Long, a picturesque Scottish fjord also known to be the deepest in the land. Their apparently smooth sailing turns out to be a process of self-destruction as the diapositives document the journey slide by slide. Autoxylopyrocycloboros (2006) is the action by the Scottish artist Simon Starling, who, taking up various mythological and historical sources, constructs a metaphor in which climatic and political issues linked to human behavior converge.

Watching the images going on in their sequences it seems that we are inside a grotesque cartoon in which the awkwardness and light-heartedness of the protagonists leads to an unexpected ruin: in order to continue its journey, the steamboat must be fueled by wood, having no other material if not the wood of the hull itself, the artist and his partner begin to dismantle and destroy the boat, allowing it to continue its journey. In this way the boat becomes increasingly fragile and exposed to the water which will inevitably lead it to sink. But this doesn’t worry the two characters who persist in their action with the steadfastness and blindness that characterizes mythological heroes.

As if this process of self-destruction were part of an essential and imperative order, Simon Starling makes control, calm but also obstinacy the cardinal points of Autoxylopyrocycloboros: the title takes up the Greek word Ouroboros, the alchemical symbol serpent which eats its own tail to symbolize eternal rejuvenation. This reference inscribes the artist’s work in an analysis of today’s society in which every action of advance corresponds to an action of destruction. Clear and evident is also the allusion to climatic problems and to the exploitation by man of nature, which regardless of the impact it can produce continues on its way with an icy and selfish obstinacy. The hull of Autoxylopyrocycloboros becomes the container for observing human behavior in both natural and social environments. Meanwhile, it is getting smaller and smaller, destined to fall into the deep waters of Loch Long and become a carcass among the remains of submarines that live in the darkness of the fjord.
Autoxylopyrocycloboros is on display at the Gallerie Estensi in Modena (IT) within the solo show of Simon Starling Metamorfouco. The exhibition, curated by Gianfranco Maraniello with the support of Marazzi, brings together a wide selection of the artist’s works. Metamorfouco will be on view until 31 January 2023.
Simon Starling
Autoxylopyrocycloboros (detail), 2006
38 color transparencies (6×7), Gotschmann medium format slide projector, flight case
© Courtesy the artist and Gallerie Estensi of Modena


Simon Starling, Autoxylopyrocycloboros 2006, installation view, 2022, Gallerie Estensi, Modena IT

Simon Starling, Autoxylopyrocycloboros, 2006, installation view, 2022, Gallerie Estensi, Modena IT