Phosgene, porous concrete, mud, peat moss, polyurethane foam, organic matter, bacteria, chicken wire, electronic circuits, leds, plastic pipes, 2017

Phosgene is a highly toxic and poisonous chlorine compound used as a chemical warfare agent by the Italian army during the second Italian-Ethiopian war (1935-1936), in violation of the Geneva agreement on chemical weapons. Used today in the industry for the production of polycarbonate and polyurethane, the phosgene owes its name, which literally means “born of light”, to the chemist John Davy, since light has a key role in the transformation of chloroform into phosgene in the presence of oxygen. Fumigation with chloroform is a typical way to determine the microbial biomass of soil, by killing and lysing the soil bacteria.

Following these suggestions, in this work, some circles of light, similar to bubbles, pulsate to the rhythm of the energy produced through anaerobic respiration by the bacteria present in some soil samples. The shape of this porous concrete sculpture, which also recalls that of a tomb, both in form and in the relationship between earth and burial, is inspired by a photograph taken during the Ethiopian war, in which some soldiers are immersed up to the neck in a hole in the ground with artillery in hand. The photo looks blurry or exposed twice and in this way the clods of porous soil multiply in many bubbles in the image.
Voids and pores, death, personal and collective history, chemical transformations and microbial life are mixed in this work, made of bubbles of light and porous materials (cement and soil).

Phosgene is the third work, after Yperite and Arsine, inspired by the use of chemical weapons against the Ethiopian population and based on some photographs from a family album.


The work has been conceived for the project Skūmaz – a metastable state, developed together with Rachel Morellet, Eva Sauer and Tatiana Villani, with a critical text by Eleonora Farina.

Photo by Andrea Abati, Rachel Morellet