Marco Senaldi, The colonizers and the colonized, catalogo della mostra / exhibition catalogue, First Gallery, Roma.exhibition catalogue,
Which of us was being governed
And who was the governor?
These are facts that concern History:
who was the province and who was the Empire…
Battisti Panella, Hegel
Taking his inspiration from a phrase by Valéry (“The man who gets ideas from the difficulties inherent in his art is a poet, and the one whose art takes them away is not,”), Andrea Zucchi told me that in his opinion “the strength of a discipline is its limits”. This is a notion that put me at ease.
In fact, how can you not agree with it, seeing as how more and more often, and in the case of the arts, the most interesting things are born somewhere at the limit between different media? If you really think about it however, this observation is not as simple as it seems at first glance. Anyway, we are saying something which is not that obvious: the force of an art form does not lie in its centre point, within its hidden heart, but rather lies at the margins, on the fringe, in that place where it comes to an end. Secondly, the concept of a limit is revealed to be double here: there are internal limits to one thing and there are limits that are imposed on it from the outside. It seems to be a subtle difference, yet it is easy to grasp. Nothing, above all if it is something cultural, created from the human spirit, moves in the void – but always in relation to something else. Of all the arts, painting is the one upon which modernity, with its media, photography, cinema, and video, has imposed brutal limits, revealing its shortcomings. Suddenly painting has been exposed, without further justification: inept at producing truly realistic images, unable to restore movement to things, totally impotent compared with audio-visual technology and incapable of being interactive…
This strange situation has nevertheless ensured that the intrinsic limits of painting, as technique and art form, have become its true strength and resistance. Forced into being compared with apparently stronger languages, almost out of the blue, the gesture of painting has taken on new, unexpected meanings. Relieved of its unsustainable burden of “representing reality”, rather than simply dying out, painting has been pushed by these historical circumstances into rediscovering itself and its true identity of total expressive form. Painting has become a discipline of vision rather than a form of representative art.
“An effective photograph can burn itself deeply into the consciousness, but a good painting can absorb and appease the flow of consciousness, even for just one instant”, the painter himself said in 2005.
This might be a key to understanding Zucchi’s work in general, and the Colonizzatori series in particular. If you notice, images never appear by themselves in the cycles of his work, from Configurazioni d’impermanenza [Configurations of impermanence] (1998) to Combinatoria [Combinational] (2004) and White Lines (2005) up until his more recent works. There are always combinations, matches and overlaying, in which the visual fields never coincide. The figures are hemmed in, almost besieged by other figures, which challenge them or negate them. The icons, layered as they are, never reveal what they simply are or represent – yet they are always copied by a supplementary filter: split by parallel white lines, (White lines), countered against, recombined or subdivided (Combinatoria), or eaten away, attacked, filled with holes of geometric patterns of overlapping hypothetical abstract squares (Quadri polari [Polar ]).
All these negations and visual reversals are not however intended to “bring to light” some secret meaning hidden beneath the surface of what we see. The idea of forcing appearances, revealing a secret and solving an enigma is not enough for the context here. The problem is not the result that you get at the end of the production process, but the creative path that precedes it. As with so many other contemporary painters, also with Zucchi, looking at the painting is important but not enough. The preparatory work is fundamental, because it is already an integral part of the final result. A visit to the artist’s studio confirms my hypothesis: no image that we find in the artist’s paintings arises out of fantasy – the imaginative mind that produces all this does not lie in the “secret recesses of the soul”, but already lies “out there”, scattered in thousands of references that come from the most diverse sources, in a sort of Warburgian Atlas of the Memory that ends up resembling an even more impressive search engine because it is made out of real and not virtual tiles. This preliminary phase, both meticulous and eclectic at the same time, gives rise to a potentially fertile shuffling between photographic image, drawing, painting and back to photographic image. At the end of this movement the final painting ought also to be itself taken as a “preparatory work”, in the sense that it is a preparatory exercise for going back to “observe” the images of the world, after capturing, cropping and literally “reproducing” them.
In this sense the artist’s aspiration is that of a painting “which is classical without being nostalgic”: the classical nature of painting, its “typicality”, cannot once more nostalgically call on its own many thousand year old history, but rather should be used as a suitable tool for analysing the continual “unpermanence” of the contemporary, the immense iconic inundation with neither history nor memory, the “flow of images” which, as Marco Meneguzzo puts it, surrounds us in all directions. The painter’s “classical” stance is therefore the right collocation. It allows room for a “critical” distance compared with the hegemonic “scopic regime” –provided, however, that every nostalgic comfort from the tradition of pictorial language is renounced.
Now, if we were to stop at these considerations, despite having understood the overall sense of Zucchi’s artistic operation, I daresay we would risk undervaluing the most authentic sense of it. Even if it seems casual – and partly, in line with the birth of contemporary art, it is – the combining process to which the images are subjected always generates baffling meanings.
That is precisely what the Colonizzatori series seems to be saying. Not only do certain images intervene brutally within others but also generally the confrontation between such clashing images does nothing but remind us of the harshness of the reality that has produced them and allowed them to circulate. The “clash of civilization” is at the same time a clash of images, and the “war of images” (as Marc Augé called it) is another form, and not the least vicious, of that conflict.
In this sense, the Valéry phrase that we started out with ought perhaps to be re-read, this time in an even broader meaning and not only relating to the comparison of artistic disciplines. Perhaps, one might add as a paraphrase, the strong point of a culture is its intrinsic difficulties. If this is true, the question raised by these Colonizzatori is about both the evident asymmetry in the relationship between the tribal individual and the one in folklore, and its Universalist and modernist context, and also in the direction of this symmetry. To use the words of Battisti-Panella once more, we are led to ask ourselves who is colonizing who, “who is being governed and who is the governor” – or rather, in other words: what relationship does the image of ancient Papuan dancers have with the aseptic contemporary architecture that forms its backdrop?
Taken to the limit, the cultures are forced to show off their own strong point, which does not lie in “a mythical identity”, but in the fact that even those who presume that they are important for everyone and be on a par with the Universal, are condemned to the scrap, detail and idiosyncrasy. Between the two poles of the relationship, between the masked Tibetan lama and the sinuous forms of the Daniel Libeskind Museum of Ontario behind them (Toronto, 2009), or the women from Guinea decked out in handcrafted costume and the super hi-tech silhouette of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai (Dubai, 2009) – in the end, you can’t say who will have the last word, whether it will be the technical-financial Empire or chaos. The confrontation between these two realities merely indicates a limit, a threshold with two sides to it, entrance and exit – which leaves doubt and offers no concrete certainty. Are the mysterious bizarre characters the last remaining indomitable representatives of populations who are about to become extinct, wiped out by the steady progress of globalization, of which modern architecture is an obvious symbol? Or are those cities and urban monuments the ones who have lost their meaning and have been conquered by hordes of terrorists dressed up as barbarian warriors?
Perhaps we ought to start asking if by chance we are not ourselves, the ultra-civilized Westerners, unable to understand either the ancestral folklore from whence we come or the futuristic technology, which we however make use of every day, the last exponents of the typical tribe in the dark about everything.
It is precisely to escape this double destiny of bizarre involution/technological perversion that we ought instead appeal to the classical stuff that we have created, to the very foundations of our own knowledge – among which the noble art of painting indeed takes much more than a secondary position.