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Giuseppe Gonella. Envolved Eng

Giuseppe Gonella

Milan (I), Galleria Giovanni Bonelli
September — October 2013

Painting for voyeurs
Daniele Capra

Paintings are fundamentally two-dimensional artworks, historically determined by the need to bring representations of reality on a surface. Of course, the last fifty years have brought us extreme examples that have taken artworks to conceptually defy the traditionally allocated space, such as the works of Alberto Burri or Lucio Fontana. As is universally recognized, it is a painting’s height and width that determine the space allotted to the visual content of the artwork: that is to say, the canvass is a finite, regular surface, and what is not included within it does not contribute to the making of the artwork.
The lenses of photographic devices can alter the visual angle, and thus the possibility of seeing with greater or lesser detail, but the visual angle of the human eye has its own inalterable characteristics. For this reason the dimension of an artwork establishes a (bi)univocal relationship with the viewer: beyond the subjective assessment on the content of an artwork and it aesthetic value, the dimensions of what we are seeing are relevant in terms of painting, since the relationship between our visual angle and the artwork cannot be modified.
Whilst an image – in terms of its status as a mental construct, or as an idea – does not necessarily require dimensions, the artwork must inevitably possess a physical dimension. This is because it is the result of a process whereby it is supposed to be observed by a person through their own eyes. This clearly affects one of its formal characteristics, that is, its composition: the logic governing the disposition of its different elements. Quite simply, some artworks are intended to be small, and others require a larger surface to interact with the viewer because they are intended to impress themselves upon a larger part of the retina. Height and width are also of fundamental importance, as they determine the visual strategy: with a vertical work we see the white space at the sides, while a horizontal one allows for margins above and below it. This formally inescapable modality is a static one: an artwork is determined from its very conception by the compositional choices of the artist, independently from its content and possible rethinking, since its surface is immutable and unique.

Giuseppe Gonella does not conform to such a process: he creates his works by painting on large rolls of canvass and then later cuts out the portions that constitute clusters of meaning thanks to their psychic energy, visual intensity and rhythm. The artist works by adding up and constituting compelling syntagms, to then start editing in a process which is similar to that of cinema editing, when different takes of a scene are put together.
Gonella thus applies to canvass the technique which is defined in the dictionary as “the technical operation of selecting and combining longer or shorter segments of developed film according to different criteria of selection and sequencing” (Pietro Montani describing «film editing» in the Encyclopaedia of Cinema published in 2004, by Istituto Treccani). It basically consists of creating a different sequence of the visual flow and rearranging the elements that have followed one another on the surface, in an additive form, so as to create a structure. Gonnella chooses the frame, that is the dimensions of the canvass and its orientation, thus determining its content and as a consequence the elements which are to be outside the picture, to be excluded. In this way the structure, made up of a cluster of both figurative and aniconic elements acquires the desired compositional thickness, as well as rhythm and, inevitably, meaning.
The artist’s approach is thus dynamic and non-academic, as it isn’t constructed in a linear, orderly manner, but rather through parataxis and accumulation. The smallest semantic units (a sign, a picture, an object) are juxtaposed with no pause between them, in an approach which uses aggregation and also has clear elements of chance. Its final cut, however, assures its formal cohesion, through a process of revision and rethinking. It is as if a piece of literature came from the sum of elements gathered by sampling from a dictionary. More than anything, it is as if the grammar that functionally supports each element of a sentence had been abolished and yet the sentences were perfectly understandable for the reader, who can only devote themselves to a careful work of scanning the artwork.

Gonella’s art is a pure form of painting, pouring out without design through the work carried out directly on the canvass. Nevermore so than here does the thought coincide with the execution and develop essentially in the course of the making, in the hours spent experimenting and working tentatively to then cut out and ponder on the aspects that don’t fit. The surface is covered by the continuous quivering of the elements that can be seen in realistic detail, in the primordial, gestural and dense brush stroke, in the aniconic plot. It is a whirlwind of details enveloping the viewer, further fuelled by the continuous agitation between figurative elements and aniconic parts. What emerges is a climactic executional vigour, and an imaginative tension which is at the same time erotic and a source of anxiety, for its thrilling magnetism, capable of making the viewer a voyeur unable to resist his own scopophilia. Pleased and aroused like one of the biblical old men watching and coveting Susan bathing.

Igor Eskinja. The day after Eng

Igor Eškinja
The Day After

Milan (I), Federico Luger Gallery
November 2011 ― January 2012

The Day After
Daniele Capra

The Day After gathers together the works made for the Pomodoro foundation for a solo show that never happened because the institution was forced to interrupt its activity. Above all, the works by Eškinja, which start from ephemeral and complex site-specific situations related to the foundation’s space, speak of the force and vitality of an art that overcomes time and resists the fleeting changes of the social and political human context.

Eškinja has created a series of photographs in situ, superimposing real windows on the place’s usual geometry: visual remnants, as though the camera’s eye were fooled in order to allow the viewer to see possible spaces beyond the hedgerow. In fact the artist has felt the need to construct new contexts in order to adapt his representations in such a way that the work – the photograph – might be the final product of a sculptural and three-dimensional operation: in this way reality and visual space ambiguously coexist, both indissolubly united. In Eškinja’s work the manipulation of the architecture and its geometry (in a non-invasive and non-irreversible form: in fact after the photo has been shot the setting is returned to its initial state) is the artifice underpinning his meta-theatre; and the artistic fiction becomes the representation of a short-circuit between all possible perspectives.

In condensing a complex installation work in a shot lasting a fraction of a second, or in the task of building a set from discarded materials, like the sand used for the moulds when metal is being cast (the spaces of the Pomodoro foundation were once a foundry), Eškinja’s works underline the transitory and fragile aspect of constructing sense – but also his wish for the vigorous impulse necessary for grasping time and forcibly retaining it until the day after.

Let’s Go Outside Eng

Let’s Go Outside

Bianco-Valente, Shaun Gladwell, Alessandro Nassiri, Guido van der Werve, Devis Venturelli, Driant Zeneli

Milan (I), Superstudio Più
March 2010

The Brilliance of Wily E. Coyote
Daniele Capra

It doesn’t make much sense to ask if current art has certain and unequivocal answers for (post)modern man’s restlessness, given that the solutions to be found can only with difficulty be subjected to the test of verifiability with which science is obliged to confront itself (and as a result of which it can, at least in theory, distinguish what is true from what is false). And even more so because art shows itself to be a universe of ever increasing questions and lateral thinking; in other words, one that can hardly be measured against definite criteria because its enormous strength results from questioning the status quo, from the playful pleasures of manipulation and invention. As Lyotard has written, “In contemporary society and culture, […] the question of the legitimation of knowledge is formulated in different terms. The grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses, regardless of whether it is a speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation. The decline of narrative can be seen as an effect of the blossoming of techniques and technologies since the Second World War, […] or as an effect of the redeployment of advanced liberal capitalism”. [*] Art, instead, allows a recuperation of the narrative approach that Lyotard thinks has been discarded in favour of scientific efficiency and the development of the economic system, and it has put a spoke in his wheels.

Art, then, even though having an enormous capacity for the creation, appropriation, and elaboration of codes, still has as part of its nature a strong explosive component with regards the systems of thought that are available here at the start of the twenty-first century. This is a role which, in a certain sense, brings to mind Socrates and his position vis-à-vis the philosophical tradition that preceded him: simpler problems, a refusal of both rhetoric and the tradition of knowledge, and an approach that was not programmatic. In other words, an almost terrorist conceptual function, as was confirmed by the fact that it cost the philosopher his life. At the same time it is reasonable to expect that artists’ answers or proposed ways of escape are either on a reduced, even tiny, scale, and yet are unexpectedly interesting. But in this field the real value lies, not in the consistency of the solutions presented, in science itself, but rather in the creativity of the questions asked of the observer – of an aesthetic, political, and philosophical order.

It is fundamental that in the last twenty years of the twentieth century many of the macro-utopias that overpoweringly nourished the “brief century” (characterized by the entry of the masses into history, by rapid technological growth, and by various ideologies in the form of opposed -isms) slowly melted away. In other words, these all-devouring utopias – social, political and, at times, even aesthetic – did not take long to reveal all their heaviness and all their blunders, and they more or less rapidly collapsed under the weight of reality: the lightness that underpinned them, to paraphrase the famous novel by Milan Kundera, had become unbearable. In this situation of the end of history, so precociously analyzed by Francis Fukuyama at the beginning of the ‘nineties, the climate of temporal suspension had produced an ideological vacuum that had not been filled, with the effect of a continuous oscillation between a hardening and an extreme loosening of thought. In other words, the trend was that of polarization and the continual creation of small niches: this was demonstrated in the field of art by the pulverization of what, until thirty years earlier, had been movements, and by the fact that the resulting artistic practice became an individual activity.

After more than a decade trailing in the wake of this (individualistic) reaction, the last years of the past century witnessed, instead, the emergence of new ideas and new expectations that were overtly public or political, a result too of the new lymph injected by emergent countries: in fact, we often have the sensation that artists are rediscovering the social aspects of their work, as is shown by the great interest in the theme of cities and urban living, but also in the infiniteness of nature and the heroic aspects of living. Progressively, that is, after having long been smouldering under the ashes, thoughts about utopias are beginning to develop in art again, though not in an intimist manner and even less in an ideological one. These, in fact, are small utopias, without any presumption of explaining the world, but simply having the wish to offer or suggest visions and points of view that do not belong to us and that are, unexpectedly, something different: they are knots, discontinuities, virtuous accumulations that emerge after having sifted through a reality that no longer seems deeply satisfying. These are no longer simple evasions but genuine subversions that show us how an external view – beyond the curtain of normality and the humdrum – is both desirable and necessary. These are formidable, user-friendly Swiss knives for hacking through the hedge in order to see beyond it; they are Popeye’s spinach or the inspired and edgy inventions of Wile E. Coyote. And falling down into a canyon really will no longer be a problem.

[*] J.F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, University of Minnesota Press, 1984, pp. 37-38.

The works
Daniele Capra

Entità risonante, 2009, video, 3’35’’, courtesy the artists
We usually write down whatever we want to record, in order to hold on to it, and preserve it. From a shopping list to an essay on ancient history, we entrust to writing any concept we wish to last for longer than a few moments. Even music – which is born, lives, and dies only and always in an instant – needs to be physically deposited on a support that can contain its traces and symbols.
In Entità risonante the words are written, instead of in water, with a pen. And for a moment the liquid seems able to contain the form and meaning. Then, slowly, the vibration within the liquid spreads the marks which become dancing stains of blue ink, just as the viewer inevitable expects. Scripta manent? Perhaps we have trusted in this Latin proverb for too long.

Shaun Gladwell
In a Station of the Metro, 2006, 2 channels video, 10’35’’, courtesy Studio La Città, Verona
A busy subway station, an unexpected contest in the middle of the crowd by some young break-dancing enthusiasts. A contest in any city whatever in any continent whatever. Then, suddenly, “the apparition of these faces in the crowd”, as the first verse of Ezra Pound’s distich (In a Station of the Metro) says and which inspired this work.
And, like a haiku, two horizontally-placed videos harmonize and contrast in a hypnotic rhythm. A continual questioning and answering, like one of Bach’s two-part fugues in which the elements interact and chase after each other at a certain distance: similar but without necessarily being the same. And in movement and development they find a subtle and disturbing balance that glues the eye to vision.

Alessandro Nassiri
Once Elephants used to fly, 2008, 3’, courtesy the artists
Perhaps they are nothing more than watery vapour, but clouds can be anything: they are the projections of our imagination which allow us to discover in their form whatever our thoughts suggest. To imagine animals, battles, supermen is a game that we play as children and which we then no longer want to continue, either from laziness or because we no longer wish to lift up our head.
What the artist tries to do in his wanderings around Istanbul, on a motorbike and with a camera in his hand, is an impossible challenge: to film a cloud shaped like an elephant. He does so without worrying about the city, the traffic, or the roofs of the buildings. A utopia that is almost within his grasp, one to be chased among the fragments of blue before the wind of the Bosphorus finally scatters it in the sky.

Guido van der Werve
Nummer acht. Everything is going to be alright, 2007, 16 mm to HD video, 10’10’’, courtesy the artist, Marc Foxx, Los Angeles, Juliette Jongma, Amsterdam, Monitor, Rome
In the white snow a man walks over the ice: ineffably calm, uncaring of what happens behind him. He is tiny and defenceless in the face of the enormous icebreaker which follows him at a short distance, as swollen and fat as Moby Dick. The man is a romantic hero from a painting by Caspar Friedrich: he measures himself against nature in search of the absolute, the sublime.
His is an act of defiance in the face of an extreme and hostile place, of immanent danger. An unbearable tension transforms every one of his steps into magic: he constantly seems to bypass the abyss, careless of his thorny path, of his fate. We will never know what might actually happen but we would like to have the courage that he so strongly demonstrates.

Devis Venturelli
Continuum, 2008, video, 6’, courtesy De Faveri Arte, Feltre
In Continuum, Devis Venturelli races around the neighbourhood of a city still under construction. The urban context is hardly sketched in but we can intuit the forms of the buildings – wrapped in scaffolding and surrounded by cranes – that lie behind the enclosing walls and which are to be the city of the future. On the asphalt, instead, are all the traces of a building site with its barriers, plastic trellises, and sand.
In fact the artist chooses to run with a shiny gold-coloured ribbon that escapes from all about him and which at times makes him seem to have the sculptural shapes of Boccioni’s Forne uniche della continuità nello spazio. But this is not only a question of acrobatics or a breathless race. Venturelli, in fact, seems a creature that can arouse amazement, or that might be a zoomorphic being stepping out of a fanciful and post-modern bestiary. Uninterruptedly.

Driant Zeneli
The Dream of Icarus was to make a Cloud, 2009, 4’05’, courtesy the artist
Flying has always been one of the activities that has most enthralled mankind from the beginning of civilization. Icarus was forced to collide against his own ambitions and inadequacy. Zeneli, instead, has decided on something closer at hand, something which, in a certain sense, is more fragile and anti-heroic: to create a cloud. A simple, and ephemeral gesture that does not seem to produce anything of value.
Having been carried by a professional athlete, the artist in fact undertook a paragliding journey during which he trailed white powder that condensed in the air to form clouds. A lot of effort in order to produce a highly rapid and not very noticeable action. Clouds, in fact, last just a few seconds and then disappear in the winds among the mountains. There is nothing else to do than be led by the hand and feel the breeze.