Texts by Irene Biolchini and Sofia Baldi, Show Curators.
In 1972 Szeeman presented “individual mythologies” in his controversial and iconic documenta Kassel, creating a universe in which it was impossible to separate context and biographical data. Eight years earlier, in 1964, Lacan held his seminar at the École Pratiques des Hautes Études on the fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, later published as Book XI: at the heart of his theory is the awareness that «in its relation to desire, reality appears only marginal». There is no real in Lacan that can be positioned outside the subject. Similarly, there is no gaze that can be separated from the point of view of the one who is looking (and being looked at).
Re_g(u)ard_e restarts from these two fundamental experiences without any archaeological vocation: simply - today as yesterday- it is necessary to investigate «the field of subjective formation of myth with the claim of universal validity through figurative formulation». And so here comes the formulation: in the exhibition we encounter three researches that pass through installation, video and performance. For each of them there is no outside or inside; no real thing and no represented thing; it is difficult to separate the viewer from the viewed. Visual data and language meet and break up to make room for experience: there is no way to describe things, no possible didactic explanation. Poetry and incommunicability replace narration, sound prevails over sense, detail reveals the whole without describing it. And this is because there is no universality that does not pass through personal biographical data, there is no reality that can be thought of outside the self. In this Matthew Attard, Meloe Gennai and Stefano Non are three artists who inhabit their own time, they are part of that community of “semionauts” (as Bourriaud has defined them) who draw freely from a universal heritage, but always bend it to the partial and compromised vision of the private sphere.
Matthew Attard wears an eye-tracker that records eye movements: the line is drawn while the artist looks. But what is he looking at? His own passport and Castille Square in Valletta, a perfect symbol of the cultural dominations that have inhabited his home island, the same island that since 2014 has launched a programme to sell Maltese passports to wealthy non-European investors. Matthew Attard reappropriates an identity, redefining it through the gesture of his gaze: his passport is not him, he is not his passport. The history of the island is not only the history of the rulers of the past (and the speculators of today). His identity is defined by his work: by the decision to place the passport drawing on the entrance door, a series of cut-outs on a black background. The eye pierces the barrier, the frontier, the threshold. By passing through this door we destroy the bureaucratic power of the document; his passport is our instrument of entry. We are him; he is us only because he is only himself. His uniqueness is the rejection of specificity, of the number, of the code, of the symbol. There is neither a place nor a time that defines the legitimacy of this document, simply because time and space are irrelevant in the dimension into which the artist leads us.
We suspend time and space to enter the exhibition and approach Stefano Non’s complex installation in which two banners (containing ideograms of Cosmic Call, a bitmap language sent into the universe since 2003 to try to communicate with alien species outside our solar system), a video, an audio and an installation of three sculptural elements entitled Le custodi dell’infinito (The guardians of infinity) coexist.
The guardians of infinity is a site-specific installation that focuses on the powerful connection between the act of looking (as a form of infinite care) and the transformation of care into a poetic act. The installation consists of three elements in anodised ergal at the top of which stand three soft toys inspired by the artist’s beloved dog Devendra and by Anna and Olvia, the two cats I live with. These delicate objects-puppets, made by a seamstress who converted poor waste materials, are the perfect symbol of the love guarded by animals.
We know, still following Lacan’s lesson, that love and death escape verbalization, language, as does the real. There is no real except in our non-being in the mirror, in the impossibility of definition. This is why Schwarz, the protagonist of Schwarzkommando, the video that populates the central room of the exhibition, is an ethereal entity without a body; a projection of a mirror image. Our impossibility of grasping the real is based on the impossible definition of death, of trauma, the only openings that allow us to circumscribe the indescribable. Death is outside language. So the three stuffed animals are the voice that cannot be said, the only proof of experience of life that comes through death; trauma. Devendra’s loss is then something that positions us beyond the biographical datum: love and death, the real that no one can grasp. The keepers guard the infinite: only their love is given to know the whole, the universe, that beyond from which Shwarz also comes (who decides to give up immortality and absolute knowledge in order to feel).
The works of Stefano Non and Matthew Attard are accompanied by two creative texts, both written by Sergio Giusti. In these two pieces, complex critical concepts coexist within a poetic construction that is built upon two alter egos, writing from two places that are anything but random: Pienza and Kaliningrad, the birthplaces of Pius II and Kant. A pope, included in the list of forbidden authors according to the Cathalogus librorum Haereticorum of 1559 and a philosopher, included in the Index librorum prohibitorium in 1817 with the accusation of being a new Luther. It is the heretics who guide a map that loses the boundaries of space and time: only in the freedom of opposites (in the same coincidentia oppositorium central to the Cosmic Boy written by Giusti) the universal can be found.
And it is precisely the coincidence of opposites that also nourishes Meloe Gennai’s performance: a cross-fertilised speech in which French, English and Italian alternate without hierarchy. The audio that inhabits the performance, and alternates with the artist’s readings, is the re-elaboration of a series of messages, recorded to be played back in situations of panic: a way of communicating with the outside world when the body goes into lockdown, refusing to speak. During the performance, the artist stands before the viewer’s eyes and delicately and carefully reads a series of texts dedicated to her ancestors. One of her great-grandfathers, in fact, had worked at the Teatro alla Scala, a pretext that triggers a new pilgrimage to the city. Meloe Gennai moves through the neighbourhoods of Milan, dispersing its geography and substituting places for encounters. The ghosts of those who are no longer with us and the private ghosts of the artist’s everyday life alternate: as spectators we are not asked to understand or decipher, but to feel.
We are called to the responsibility of witnessing these artists’ testimony, of watching by caring for one another, suspending judgements and condemnations. Let us feel before we understand. Let us love before we speak.
Irene Biolchini (Malta-Italia, 2021/2022)
Imagination as a moral event
Practices of empathy to escape the algorithm
”We only see what we look at. Looking is an act of choice.”
The English critic John Berger in his book “Ways of Seeing” (1972), clearly describes why the act of seeing is always full of prejudices and stereotypes that, more or less consciously, we project on the object we are looking at. According to Berger, how we observe the world around us is constantly influenced and determined by what we believe, by what we are or think we are. In the society of image, advertising, from a strategy to capitalize on the sale of a product, becomes a fundamental narrative structure of contemporaneity. Thus advertising slogans are transformed into daily interludes, commodified bodies become impossible stereotypes to reach, and increasingly, an algorithm shapes and predicts our needs in the light of our purchasing power. In turbo-capitalism, even the way we observe the world directly depends on our ability to spend.
What if this is only one part of the story? What if there was another way to look at the world around us? Could we escape the algorithm if we understood emotions as moral events that qualify living beings? What if after two years of the pandemic, spent hiding behind masks, the gaze had become an instrument of empathy? This exhibition does not pretend to answer any of these questions; it chooses to avoid the bombastic information and decides to try one of the few provocations still possible: to excite you. Inside Re_g(u)ard_e art and literature take each other by the hand and accompany us in a fantasy exhibition path, whose ultimate half is the rediscovery of empathy. The visual artworks are created by Mattew Attard, Meloe Gennai, and Stefano Non, and the literary ones are thanks to Sergio Giusti. In order to fully immerse yourself in Re_g(u)ard_e, we ask you to make an effort of imagination, an investment of creative energies that can remix the boundaries between reality and fiction, emotion and reason, between body and mind.
To welcome us at the exhibition entrance, we find the work My passport by the Maltese artist Matthew Attard (1986), a site-specific installation that lives on the threshold, in the gap between the everyday life of the street and the imaginative space of the exhibition. Among all the possible elements, the passport fully represents the dimension of the threshold, not only because it guarantees the overcoming of geographical borders, but even more because it encloses within itself a merely practical and bureaucratic dimension with a dimension entirely evocative of dreams and aspirations for the lands and contexts that this instrument allows us to reach. May this ideal passport be our collective passport to get the exhibition dimension of Re_g(u)ard_e, where reality and fiction, space and time mix to lead us into the possibilities of antagonism kept in the imagination.
Through the work of Stefano Non, we land directly in 2124 on the Cosmodromic base of Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and in front of us stand some findings related to the attempts of contact of the cosmic entity Schwarkommando with the human species. This entity, whose name comes from the novel by Thomas Pynchon, “The Rainbow of Gravity” (1973), is a form of extraterrestrial intelligence fruit of human evolution in interstellar colonies and possible only after scientific progress of which today we can see the beginnings. Schwarkommando uses the radio messages, the video embodiment, and the three sculptures’ projects to attempt contact with the human species. The attempts to approach the human being are due to the perennial and strictly selfish desire to inhabit a physical dimension. In 2022 we escape from our physical size, trying to win death and lengthen organic life with every possible scientific spell; in 2121, an entity made only of codes constantly tries to return to the organic substrate. The attempt to become flesh for those who are only spirit takes the heretical forms of poetry by incessantly trying the sacred fullness of mind and body. In this imaginative journey, the artist wears the clothes of the Builder, who is entrusted with the task of shaping matter according to the will of cosmic intelligence. The Builder must have extreme technical design skills, be able to shape the metals of his time and at the same time have high capacities of theoretical speculation. The Builder/Artist molds matter and imaginary.
Exhibited for the first time, Custodi dell’Infinito is the last attempt at contact with the human species. If the custody is always delimited in a time and object, these sculptures, with the contradiction that characterizes all the research, wish to guard an infinite time and space. The totemic elements with shapes and materials describe the human dimension (bricks) and the aspiration to celestial one (dodecahedron) in continuous references to the micro and macro cosmos. At the top and guarding the cosmos stand three animal divinities, whose soft matter contrasts with the coldness of the materials placed at the base.
According to the Builder/Artist, the only possible guardians of the infinite dimension are the animals, symbols of the purest essence of love. Even if human beings belong to this species, they corrupt the possibility of experiencing love without limits forever through reasoning. Therefore, the animal is the purest form of the loving experience, whose power resides entirely in honest enthusiasm and tenderness without boundaries.
Following Schwarkommando’s gaze, we reach another work by Matthew Attard, an artist we met at the beginning of our journey, titled Superimposed eye-drawings and initially produced in September 2021. The drawings in both of his works are made through an optical vision of eye-tracking, a technological device that breaks the inherent dialogue between the eye that observes and the hand that draws. Through eye-tracking, eyes observe, record, and draw symbolic coordinates of reality, remaining the only protagonists of a story to be written. Since they are not easily decipherable, Matthew Attard’s drawings look like digital scribbles, essential tools for accessing the unconscious during waking hours according to British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, and as such, they represent an exciting encounter between technology, the human body, and the psyche.
The imaginative dimension we discovered within the exhibition also dwells on the work Tavole Giranti by Meloe Gennai, created with Jazil Santschi (sound design) and Rafael Kouto (fashion design). Through attempts at contemporary witchcraft, the performance invokes the presence of fantastic queer figures, traceable both to never-known individualities that have inhabited the artist’s past and to personalities that characterize her social fabric. In the attempt to connect to these spirits, the artist recovers the fragments of memory eroded by patriarchal society and revitalizes them in new cultural coordinates, transfeminist constellations that orient us among new imaginaries.
According to the philosopher Laura Boella, in the era of multi-species crises and wandering entropy, imagination is understood as a moral organ and responds to the needs of ethics every time there is a break, an interruption to the automatic progress of our lives. What would happen if we thought of love and imagination as tools of concrete reaction to the technological determinism in which we live? If we need imagination to survive a world without a future? Imagination takes courage, and it is necessary to be bold in dark times.