Luca Scarlini, Lovely bones: portrait of the shadow, catalogo della mostra / exhibition catalogue, Skira Editore, Fondazione Stelline, Milano.

Posted on Agosto 1, 2013

Nineteenth century landscape has always been inhabited by tiny figures teetering on the brink of the abyss or the absolute.Along the Amalfi coast common legend circulated among well-mannered English travellers that Sunday sketchers too deeply engrossed in the panorama would be sucked down into the roaring abyss of the waters, paying dearly for their curiosity.They would hurtle downwards, easel or paintbrushes in hand, and would try to shout out, but then cease, understanding the futility of hoping to be saved.Edward Morgan Forster sets an awe-inspiring tale of sexual and existential revelation in these places, with a clearly-referenced title:The Story of a Panic.

Back in the days when artificial lighting was phantasmal or non-existent, the midday sun required to render the photograph would blind the subjects of the photographic images, who would shield their eyes with their hands, having to endure quite a lengthy period of exposure. At that point, the ancient demon Pan was ready to pounce upon, invade and possess them, providing unexpected revelations.That presence was ready to invade the much-loved parlours too, via the darkroom, location of every metamorphosis, intended for the invention of the keepsake.In the nineteenth century parlours were the iconic locations of living that existence, identified as a setting that was preferred and prioritised.Sitting by the fireside, cradling a glass of rather dry Sherry or Madeira, people would discuss loves and wars, and dream of improvements in society.And yet as much as the parlour, tedious in its predictability, was all too familiar, a snapdragon might unexpectedly turn up in one, in which a secret complaint might be treacherously placed, so that the authority figure would immediately be advised of the misdemeanours that took place in front of the cretonne curtains, drawn closely to counter the danger of any indiscreet glances.At the moment of the triumph of the living room, the room in which, according to the exact English term, lives are lived out, it was already clear to everyone that no safeguard would have ever sufficed.There was little that could be used to screen off the rooms, or place invasive plants in the bow window. The sorrowful, threatening creatures of Max Ernst’s A Week of Kindness were already peeking out from dusty little hidey-holes.Savinio had already found the place to set his monstrous Poltrobabbi and Poltromamme, gloopy domestic divinities, sitting there, ready for that one final hug.

In the brightly coloured canvases you can make out a personal museum of closed eyelids in the nineteenth century photographs, startled jumps and parallel lives of famous or unknown figures, poised and ready for the double-crossing.This might then be a reconnaissance among the lovely bones of the nineteenth century, in its monumental cemetery of photographs.It may be a reconnaissance in the age of granite-like certainty, experienced in the era of doubt and movement, when what seemed to be set in stone changedsshade and shape for good.The bright, luminous colours, like Bollywood film posters, allow you to intuitively work out the parallel plots, slumbering beneath the surface of the image.

An interpreter of Macchiaioli painting seeks in vain to draw his listeners to teachings that no one follows:heavy sleep has closed the eyelids of the two girls on the sofa to the left and a gentleman to his right is also not in the best shape.And yet the person whose task it is to measure does not manage to distance himself from his duty in any way.He is obliged to perform a recital, which is almost a prayer, mantra or desire to lose oneself between the lines and among the pages, and become proselytes to the beauty of one’s own history.

Karl Marx wears a purple jacket:he’s a retro dandy, scowling just enough at having discovered surplus value, yet exacting in his aesthetic choices.It seems like an image of him straight out of the famous London shop, Granny Takes a Trip, which invented vintage fashion in the 1960s.The revolutionaries would go there after the demonstrations in the squares to rediscover the beauty of the Wildean wardrobe, in all its echoes of wonder.The philosopher is wearing the same colours as the mother of a famous seductress,Marchioness Casati Stampa.Queen of the international jet set and patron of the arts, her calling was her coup de théâtre.The mother seems to predict her daughter, and her passion for coup de théâtre.It was still some decades before the electric marchioness, queen of atropine and dark nights, could show off her courageously shocking imagination, burning up the world, until she lost her fortune, inexhaustible amazon of fantasy.

In the painter’s workshop, Garibaldi becomes a colourful Andean musician, ready to breathe life into his panpipes, with the multi-coloured stripes of his poncho picking up a tension of the glance at the memory, to his once-beloved Anita, who at the time of the portrait was standing in the way of the revolutionary’s yearnings, as he wanted to remarry.Her body, a relic of the Risorgimento, was lost in the swamps of Comacchio and the search for his former loved one’s bones was an act of obligation so he could tie the knot again.

Vittorio Emanuele II, only father of the homeland, because of the amazing number of descendants sired out of wedlock, whom he called “Warriors”, in auspice of a glorious destiny, looks like a yellow Mandarin.A Chinese dignitary visiting the territories of the mysterious Western world, smartly presented in his uniform.More so than the historical figure, who was famous for his inability to look good in formal attire.He fiddled about with his glacé gloves until they were all twisted.Diplomatic ways were unknown to him. His were the violent passions of hunting, war and forced sex.Three strong passions that faded into one another.

The Maharajah Pratap is surprised by the magnesium flash, and tries to avoid unruffling his large, perfectly formed turban, adorned with pearls and gemstones.His hands are covered in rings, which one would imagine were too heavy for him to raise or fan himself gently in the extreme afternoon heat. Two women keep watch over a dying woman as she draws her last breaths; let’s imagine that it’s Emily Dickinson.A secret existence, jealously guarded in the unknown terrain of excruciating poetic thought, reaches its end, while a man, overwhelmed, breaks his glance and stares out of the window far into the distance.Or, instead, he is relieved at that much longed-for departure: that wise old spinster who had driven him into a corner a long while back, he no longer tolerated her sarcasm and sharp answers.

Far from the haze, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, indefatigable collector of Mediterranean bodies, dressed them with a style recalling the dream of a Greek love, which the society of his time abhorred.Cicciuzzo puts his fingers in the mouth of a flying fish. Carmine is tied up above a wheel, like a fugitive slave recaptured by his master and destined for harsh punishment. Pino and Peppe stand side by side, both with their eyes closed, seeming seeking inspiration.

Dressed as a Mandarin, Toulouse-Lautrec sits with a male doll on his knee who seems to replicate his astonishing get-up.His left hand holds a fan:in the background stands Sada Yakko, the female ambassador from the Land of the Rising Sun, who brought a taste of the world of Kabuki to Paris.Many artists, like the young Picasso who drew her in an impassioned sketch, loved her minimal discipline.Like Napoleon, with his arm inside the violet jacket, Nadar’s Baudelaire dominates the realms of the imagination of Spleen, of which he made himself absolute despot.

The postcards of Sorrento and Venice are like notes referring to a disaster in waiting:what is left of those much-admired panoramas is the hesitation of the background and the difficulty of focussing of the surroundings.The spirits of the ancient Greeks exchange a dialogue with a porn-postcard Theodora, Empress of Byzantium. set against the backdrop of Taormina, in homage to purple prose, full of sex and blood, plotted by Procopius of Caesarea around the imperial stripper, famed for her rather racy performances.

The gallery of parallel stories lingers over a detail or an instant:as in the scene of the dream theatre conceived by Artemidorus Daldianus, it prepares a scene whose purpose is the manifestation of a possible epiphany in the acid colours of the present.