by Luisa Valeriani
In a study of several years ago (Dentro la Trasfigurazione. Il dispositivo dell’arte nella cibercultura, Meltemi 2004) I ventured into the heroic and extolling undertaking of blazing up the theological dimension of the Evangelic Transfiguration through the immersive, performing and interactive experience of contemporary art, as the cultural practice of the new media delivered it to us a posteriori: a messianic experience, as I then upheld following Walter Benjamin, as an experience that transforms at the same moment when one acquires its awareness, i.e. as a crystallization of time in the Now. In fact, jetzt was the key word of that study: a lightning flash of thought and a stoppage of happening. And, as far as art is concerned, “death of intention and power that moulds empirics” (the words are still Benjamin’s).
What I did not realize at that time and now appears to me in its full evidence is that Transfiguration and contemporary aisthesis represented a dialectic image for the fact itself that they are exhibited together. Putting them into contact caused a short circuit, a power of collision acting as a thunderbolt, the only light that according to Benjamin makes the genuine historicity of things visible. However, lightning unveils while it destroys: a thought just formulated immediately cedes to the darkness of disappearance, of historicity as a mute continuum. The fact of wanting to detect a continuity of opposition with respect to Platonic paradigms probably compressed image inside secular categories of philosophical, religious or historic-artistic tradition. It curbed dialectic image inside the historical reason, a desire of synthesis of sense. And image eclipsed in my subsequent investigation where I was not able to recognize it as its target in the present, but was satisfied of hoarding the past by delivering it to secularized criticism.
Both conflicting terms of that dialectic image, the already-been of Transfiguration and the now of contemporary aisthesis, encompassed as an element of fragility just the relation with the sacred, which is difficult to assimilate by lay people of positive religions, but even more so by the public of art “after its technical reproducibility”. The sacred rose the question of the aura, causing some discomfort with respect to a Benjaminian type of feeling. I was wrong, because I had not yet read Georges Didi-Huberman and his illuminations on the fall of the aura. In fact, the French scholar asserts that, even though the aura within the Modern declines, this does not mean at all that it totally disappears, but rather inclines, deviating towards the bottom, assuming a different inflection. Aura is a trans-historical and deeply dialectic experience. The misunderstanding I was a victim of, consists of having tried to express in a program the relationship between a re-invented, unexpected cultural tradition (the Evangelic tale), and a certain artistic experience, without taking into account that mystics and ecstasy must give rise to a friction every time in the now, in order to be transformed into remembrance. Having tried to historicize that dialectic image as a continuum means that the conviction that the relation between the already-been and the now is a discontinuous, intermittent one, a clash of times between memory and desire that may renew and destroy itself in infinite times, without bending towards a program, has not been fully put into practice.
“The image we produce - Barnett Newman asserts in The Sublime is now - imposes the autonomous evidence of revelation, real and concrete, and this can be understood by all those who observe it without the nostalgic eyes of history”.
My Transfiguration supposed a dialectic image in a context of death of the aura: here was the error. On the contrary, dialectic image is a declination of the aura, and therefore this is its original phenomenon that subsists also within a context of technical reproducibility or in the Post-modern. An aura does not die, because it belongs to the order of memory, and not history, that is why it survives like Warburg’s Pathosformeln.
It is starting from this point of view that my approach to the device set in place by Gianfranco D’Alonzo makes sense. Or, better, the following question rises: why does D’Alonzo’s work raise such reflections on my own work?
Because this Land of Prayer is an aurization of the network, obtained by re-inventing the painting medium. Here, the dialectic image is produced in the disturbance that the already-been of painting causes on the now of the network flow, in the upsetting extraneousness that the habitual web user experiences when he contemplates rather than the ec-stasy proper to the post-human, the aura of an artist’s laboratory. This does not mean to go out of oneself in spatial configurations altered by different social uses allowed by the web, but to con-sist within the cult alterations of the virtual space proposed by the artist. Such disturbance, such friction between media, web culture and painting cultures, convokes the aura: as a phenomenon that declines new inflections forever, as an original phenomenon that rouses the dialectic image of the relentless deflagration of survival and novelty.
The disturbance of the aura works according to a double articulation: the “pictorial” one of surface, on the work’s subject, on its formal singularity, we could say; and the one of its deeper principle - its anthropological paradigm.
In fact, how does Land of Prayer function?
On the artist’s website a black screen appears, made bi-dimensional by a ticking made up by small dots and crossed in its centre, vertically, by a kind of stitching, a thin intermittent band stressing the weft effect of the horizontal dotting. The image immediately associates painting and memory, evoking two of its models, Agnes Martin’s minimalism and Barnett Newman’s sublime. However, such pictorial quality is then immediately deconstructed because the artist’s relation to the past - “citation” – collides with the ontological mode of the now, because it appears as the home page of the website, that is in a place of enjoyment completely different from the traditional one of painting. On the sublime of visual experience, to which Newman’s and Martin’s spaces opened, an experience of near doing (clicking) is grafted, which is proper of the web. A further critical factor is implicit in the central writing that provides for access, Land of Prayer. Here, the blurring effect, a sliding of focus, induces the perception of field depth, a perspective dimension, though disturbed it may be, that doubles the bi-dimensional superficiality of space: essentially a return to the visible of representation, that seems to close the experience of opening the visual attempted by Newman with his zips.
The collision between seeing and perceiving becomes in any case bursting as soon as image, by a click, starts requiring attention, also in terms of time, and opens sight by extending it beyond perception. The painting medium re-invented by D’Alonzo transforms itself into a space-time threshold: the intermittent vertical band, initially perceived only as a disturbing intrusion, imposes itself to gaze as a tensional force that slowly opens a different space that inexorably encamps, devouring the black curtains of wings. This different space that hosts shapeless rubble chaotically arranged within an informal grid, later on materializes in time, because of the sudden happening of a cembalo sound, developing in a loop. The reference to Newman’s drawing Onement I (1947) cannot be ignored. But, also this time, as destruction. In fact, as Didi-Huberman (Storia dell’arte e anacronismo delle immagini, Bollati-Boringhieri 2007, p. 236) upholds, “Onement I can in no case be interpreted figuratively as a double-wing door opened in front of us, because the borders of the central band drop or bleed due to a contact and then a detachment – or tearing - process of the stripe materially bound to keep the white of the support for the moment when ink passes over; but also because the areas saturated with black, far from being uniformly compact, reveal a flaking of the brush, a loss of bond that makes the gesture itself visible and together the unravelling of brush hairs.”
In Onement I the vertical band does not divide the visual field, but makes it up as an indivisible unit. On the contrary, in Land of Prayer it has the power of the threshold raising the aura, and by dilating itself opens to a near remoteness, without any depth. Slow opening favours the assimilation of the device with a thoughtful and contemplative dimension, strengthened by the musical rhythm of the cembalo as soon as the opening process ends. However, the enjoyment is not smooth at all, on the contrary it is strongly disturbed by sudden and intermittent flashes, with a chaotic rhythm, causing painful eye sensations, disturbance. Yet, such disturbance, which is the disturbance of prayer, never heavenly and always jeopardised in the world’s imperfections, is the disturbance of the technology used, the electronic disturbance of laddering in bits. A disturbance that makes image dialectic by calling past and present together, a disturbance that creates an aura.
And this is the disturbance of the work’s formal uniqueness the “pictorial” one that acts on its surface. But such disturbance is a figure of the other disturbance, the one that deforms the anthropological paradigm of painting works by transforming them into web operations, connections and relations. In fact, if the indications on the home page are followed, by clicking on “Enter”, a window appears in which a square-ruled notebook is vaguely evoked in negative, on which, white on black, a text written by others is related to D’Alonzo’s work. It could be a marginal note, as is the case in many works of relational art, but its uniqueness consists of the fact that the text appears on the website only for one month, afterwards it enters a kind of virtual data bank and is replaced with another intervention, that will last again one month and so on for twelve months. Thus, it is a continuous writing and rewriting, overlapping each other, in a perennial super-exposition, as the artist himself says. On the website, all of those who accept to enter the play, are exposed, according to a cult rite, but a provisional ephemeral one, that seems to try to elude the establishment of a permanent aura. A passage rite that passes. Everyone stresses a keyword, a possible reading, making the work visible through an image, and then this image is condemned to disappear, to fall again into the darkness of pure virtuality. Nobody deserts a condition of extraneousness. However, these writings all together, one at a time, make up a web. They are cancelled from the stage and become links. They become, one by one, indices of a social use of the screen, an investigation on the surface, and the connective web dynamics.
Furthermore, the work’s formal uniqueness prepares, also in this case, a technological disturbance that makes it difficult to enjoy the writing. They should be watched in visual immersion rather than being read as critical texts. Each text functions for its value of use rather than for a possible gnosiological value. Characters too big with respect to the field of the screen, or writings too long for a relaxed concentration, or in any case oversized, constantly stressing the eye and making focusing difficult, in view of a rational understanding of what is writing and at the same time is not. Writings that are more visual than logical, independently of their intentions. They, too, function more as visual images, and by remaining alien they finally integrate with the visual and musical stimuli prepared by the artist. And this disturbance is aura, the aura inside the web. And, being a disturbance, prayer.