The kinematic and quantitative life of the human species slows down in order to enquire on the dynamics and quality of its own actions, the causes of so much motion that, suddenly and unexpectedly, are forced by an invisible force to stop until it becomes immobile. In the days of the forced immobility that forbids bodily, interpersonal and physical contacts, the global virtual second life replaces the real one: the emotional, socio-cultural, political, economic, historical, scientific implications of such apparent quietness will have unpredictable effects.
Starting from the historical question “Is this a painting?” by Jackson Pollock, the public is invited to reflect on the relationship between art and technology, pondering if virtual interfaces and experiences such as 3D, VR and AR simulations, in addition to immersive, non-immersive and interactive artifices are able to replace the “in presence” experience of art. Before artworks installed in a non-physical and virtual space, the sensorial perception is called to practice a closer examination, culturally investigating and problematizing not only what we see, but above all the private and public use of technology, its contents, its potentiality, its limits. Emancipated from any spatial thematization, the identities of painting, photography, video and sculpture are confused, demanding for an indefeasible right to doubt, the same that the Masters of Suspicion raise within modernity, as recalled by both Nemanja Cvijanović’s tears of Marx in Still Life (2004) and Elisabetta Benassi’s Freud journey in Freud Arrives in London as Refugees (2010).
Not remaining on the surface is the option suggested by Etienne Chambaud’s Contre-dèpouille (Undercut) (2012). Like materialism, matter can hide other conditions, other relationships, other non-material needs that require a will to understand. Darren Almond’s day in Full Moon@Sesshu (2009), Dan Rees’ abstract in Untitled (2012), Oliver Osborn’s hyperrealism of Rubber Plant (2012), Sol Lewitt’s invisible in Untitled (Paper Fold) (1973), Ugo Rondinone’s moon in Moonlighting (2000) are crossed not by one, but by multiple manifestations. Looking beyond appearances, deconstructing hierarchies is the direction suggested by the Emiliano Maggi’s baroque dress in Untitled (2019) which reveals other gender strategies, or by Patrizio Di Massimo’s Il turco lussorioso (Sipario) (2012) that portrays according to post-colonial terms the Western culture seduced by the same prey it tries to dominate.
In the traditional artist’s self-portrait discourse, the prospect of exploring and manipulating the medium mirrors a light sharp geometry as in Francesco Gennari’s Self-portrait as a triangular sunset. In his Pro-Krik (UFO) (1983), by miming the cry of Munch the ufonaut Julius Koller rejects aesthetics to create “a new cultural situation, a new life, a new creativity and a new Cosmohumanist Culture”. The artist’s identity may also disappear: replaced by history as in Francesco Arena’s Portrait with Khomeijni (2008), concealed behind the unlikely figure of by Peter Linde Busk’s Cloak and Dagger (2011), but also reflected in Wolfgang Tillmans’ iconic spinario image of his partner of Anders pulling splinters from his foot (2004).
Beyond the self-portrait, in Matteo Fato’s Portrait of Stefano and Raffaella Sciarretta (2019), while the artist questions the image according to the Deleuzian framework of likeness, willingly the portrayed subject questions its (own) post-identitarian, nomadic, polyglot nature according to what Rosi Braidotti outlines in her Nuovi soggetti nomadi.
In the age of the internet, the Benjiaminian question has been charged with a virtual soul capable of self-cloning and claiming its own corporeity as in Parker Ito’s Inkjet Painting 29#, (2013). Alessandro Piangiamore’s La cera di Roma (2014) collects and blends what remains of the spiritual myth of the eternal city: in Italy, which grammar distinguishes between the artist and the thinker? In Else Leirvik’s Untitled (2009), Federico Fellini’s opulent cinema is only a silk cloth, but the intense face of Pasolini (2005) by Pietro Capogrosso recalls how the intellectual’s commitment can even arrive to sacrifice in order for his thought to acquire value.
Giuliana Rosso’s Muta (2017) brings back the irony of not being able to distinguish between objective and subjective: which geographic direction of the Euphrates is the one that Thomas Braida detects in Sulla strada per Damasco (2014)? The empathy between subject and object reserves an unedited image of the world: Francesca Leone’s Carte 31 (2020) offers an ex-centric condition that Michel Maffesoli suggests as a resource to explore “a phénoménologie complexe qui sache intégrer la participation, la description, les récits de vie et les diverses manifestations des imaginaires collectifs”.
The story and narrations that Paul Ricoeur in his Time and Narratives indicates how the space to transform past, present and future are for Ian Tweedy just Arrangements of Forgotten Stories #8 (2011). Modernity and/or post-modernity is/are the ghosts that Gianni Politi depicts in Brunch in Venice with M.K. (2012), an impossible portrait of his father’s face evoking the burden of patriarchal symbolic order, that is power and hegemony: in Untitled (2014) by destroying his own work to regenerate it, hic et nunc, the artist seems instead to summon Barnett Newmann’s sublime present. In Tanti auguri Nomas Foundation (2018), Gabriele De Santis indicates that art is not an exclusive experience, but an inclusive one. With his Constellation Painting #6 (2011), Piero Golia re-elaborates this possibility until the exasperated gesture of collecting fragments of a taxi’s unpredictable crash into his home.
Is this a painting? intends to suggest an epistemic position to be adopted in order to discover the stories that each of these works collect, a map to generate questions, criticism, self-criticism starting from the artists’ aesthetic coordinates.
The virus that is impending that freedom enjoyed and imagined as an axiomatic truth by all of us, is also stopping global neo-liberalist and techno-nihilist capitalism. For Julien Bismuth’s Hiaitsiihi tribe portrayed in Untitled (Pirahã) (2016-19), the relationship with the world is not extractive, but osmotic and listening. Donna Haraway’s post-humanism is an epiphany that we can ignore or a journey to discover what we do not yet know about the world and ourselves. For the Native American Lenape people who lived in the 17th century in the land that will one day become the Manhattan depicted by Eric Wesley’s New Amsterdam (2001), the instability caused by economic inequality is simply unacceptable. And yet, the ius and the lex that Abraham Lincoln imagines to be the same for all can do nothing in the historical Johnson v. McIntosh.
In the face of one’s choices, the freedom of the subject must look within the present time and search deeply to understand algorithms, big-data, reality, desires, limits, solidarity, responsibility. Instead, the freedom of the global political and economic-financial community can continue in the wake of capitalism. Or, achieve the dream of abundance for all that modernity has always promised.
Curated by Raffaella Frascarelli
Viale Somalia, 33
00199 Rome, Italy