Abitanti Ambienti 2008
Leonora Bisagno Letizia Renzini
5 - 16 February 2008
Matteo Baroni Federico Gori Francesco Ozzola
19 February - 1 March 2008
The two-part exhibition Abitanti Ambienti 2008, curated by Silvia Lucchesi, brought together the work of five Tuscan artists: Leonora Bisagno, Letizia Renzini, Matteo Baroni, Federico Gori and Francesco Ozzola.
The second outing of the project begun in February 2007, Abitanti Ambienti 2008 looked from personal viewpoints and interpretations into the body’s relationship with space and nature. Our own and other people’s bodies, coming face to face with universal and personal history, and gazes entranced by natural phenomena are the topics analysed by the five artists, using different means, from video to photography, and painting to installations and sculpture.
The installation and video that Leonora Bisagno presented on this occasion are works centred around research into the materiality of light and the visibility of what cannot be seen. The One-Night-Stand installation consists of a sort of refractometer, the tool used to study light in ancient times. A music stand is dismantled and the top rest taken off. When lit by reading lights, the small Plexiglas prisms placed on it project their shadow onto the wall behind. The newly created object receives the light and then gives it back in intangible shapes, shadows and the faint colours of the spectrum generated by the refraction. The fascination towards this rudimental scientific tool is a bit like what the experimenters must have felt at the beginning of the century about the mystery of magic lanterns, those marvellous machines of the early cinema. Here the artist experiences a similar attraction towards the miraculous contraptions that man has used to pursue the image and its ghosts. “What I am trying to do is to somehow recapture the procedure”, she states. A procedure also captured, or rather bared, in the video Calco where a tree is filmed through a window pane, reflected onto which is the wall of white tiles in the room. The effect is of a sort of immaterial and yet visible layering, where light becomes substance: in the same instant we get the images of the object (tree), its reflection (projection) and its return (shadow), which, due to the chance preciosity of the visible world, ends up coinciding with the object itself.
The work made by Letizia Renzini especially for the occasion is linked to visual and musical research into black culture which has been the artist’s passion since she was very young. Tears For Johannesburg*, a multimedia project that includes a performance, a video and some photographs, was kicked off by her finding a series of images of her great-aunt taken in the 1950s when she had gone to live in South Africa. The artist works on the atmospheres of naïve amazement that seep out of these old private materials in which the white woman seems to live in her privileged circumstances unaware (rather than cynical) of the racial drama around her of a black population relegated to the status of exotic and picturesque souvenirs. These images are projected onto a screen to provide the iconographic and scenographic base for the action of two female dancers filmed as silhouettes by a video camera and camera. Their shadows become part of the strongly descriptive reality of the old black-and-white images. As their bodies get further away from the projector light and become ghost-like, almost abstract presences, we can feel the force of the alienation of place, space and dimension. The back lighting is an obvious reference to some examples of Afro-American figurative culture, such as the paintings by Aaron Douglas, a leading figure in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, or more recently the videos with self-propelled silhouette cut-outs by Kara Walker. In the case of the four larger photos, the black and white take on a symbolic and emblematic worth through the choice to place yellow, pink, blue and green Plexiglas surfaces on the images. In the two videos, the shadows’ story becomes more perceptible, more palpable through the digital processing and its relationship with the sound.
* Tears For Johannesburg is a piece by Max Roach from the album “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite” released on Candid Records in 1960.
Dressed in the clothes that the artist usually wears, jacket, jumper, jeans and trainers, the figure put together by Matteo Baroni stands in the classic chiasma position of traditional sculpture, the same position as Michelangelo’s David. Were the comparison not to seem too far-fetched, we could define it a modern Riace bronze. The sculptor has made his own natural self-portrait, building it by welding together numerous, at times small pieces of iron laminate, found at scrap merchants or building sites. Through a long, tiring, patient process, the figure slowly captured its own dimension, fragment after fragment, while its maker assembled and transformed the thankless, rusty material, shaping it around his body like a plaster cast. In a previous installation, Matteo Baroni filled the barrel-vaulted ceiling of a room with a multitude of little wire men who lived in a world the other way up to the visitor. You looked at them busying away in many positions/actions in a mirror that reflected and straightened up their silhouettes. On that occasion too, I remember what struck me most was the artist’s control over the material. Now, a piece of guttering becomes a trouser leg wrinkled at knee height. The figure has a wealth of details, but the aim is not for it to be natural: the same warm, burnt colour of the iron gives the fingernails, pupils, eyelids, hair, the shoelaces a sort of grace and it gives itself over to the spectator’s gaze in its demure and simple humanity.
The photographic image is the inside of a wood, with the tree trunks reaching up high and such dense foliage that the light of a sunny day struggles to get through. Nevertheless, what interests Federico Gori is not to represent a vibrant landscape as a physical place. He has gone in search of a gap, which lies in his interest in the boundary between nature and artifice, a topic at the centre of his recent works. Here that imperceptible ridge disappears by choosing a diagonal frame, which he obtains by photographing the woodscape not directly but by capturing its image reflected on a mirrored aluminium surface. His use of the photographic medium is further elaborated by white enamel signs. They form a sort of tiny, tidy calligraphy of a mysterious alphabet that has featured in the artist’s work since the outset. All Federico Gori’s art moves between these apparently irreconcilable pairings: nature and artifice, figuration and abstraction, meticulous signs and interest in an informal freedom. These opposites blend in a feeling of alienation and in visionary, pulsating, evocative atmospheres. The same sought and found in the video Zerkalo where he electronically processes a lake landscape penetrated by close-up video filming to remove the original colours, colour it anew and cram parts of it with flashes of white, red and blue graphics, at times resembling micro-organisms, or vegetable and animal beings, and at others as if the medium were damaged, like scratches and imperfections on an old film.
The work by Francesco Ozzola collides with nature, moving along the thin line marking the boundary between reality and fiction. Presented here for the first time, Natural Mystic combines three images that are made-up landscapes, photomontages made by using numerous details from photographs taken by the artist on various occasions, at different times and places. In Rose the mountain of Pomonte on the island of Elba stands out against a Mexican sky and is dotted by an endless number of brightly coloured garden flowers: petunias, roses, geraniums, zinnia, poppies and French marigolds. Instead Verde is taken close to a river, the Arno at Stia, and is bordered by aquatic vegetation where we can make out a caper and some odd, bright pink flowers. At the centre of the triptych is Wat Phra Kaew, a depiction of a spell where yellow and pink flowers and some figures taken from the wall decorations in the Royal Palace in Bangkok depicting the history of the Thai population float weightlessly among the light, fluffy clouds. Francesco Ozzola’s landscapes are journeys of initiation towards knowledge, where the exotic and far-off mix with the familiar and ordinary to build a very personal visual and mystic journey. His video recordings of atmospheric phenomena such as rain, wind, moving clouds and the appearance of rays of sun through the dense tree foliage, captured as they suddenly appear, are to be read in the same way. His look at nature, both as it appears naturally, and as he rebuilds and elaborates it, transmits a never-ending feeling of enchanted amazement as everything abandons itself to the flow.