|screen of vision||screen|
|misso in atto||ritratto a ritentiva|
This publication is abridged from a longer textual account by Elena Cologni of her involvement in drawing and installation during her studentship in the Master of Arts, Fine Art at Bretton Hall between 1996 and 1997.
Elena Cologni has a determination to develop as an Italian outside of Italy. She is widely travelled and has studied and exhibited in Europe, the USA and Britain. She has excellent English and is an eloquent and enthusiastic communicator.
Elena Cologni explores differences between the perceived and the actual. The perceived, that which is discerned and distinguished becomes less clear, confused. Familiarity has invested values in it. The actual, material and authentic become tenuous securities, a matrix of accumulations collected on her journey. Distilled into a series of formal propositions they are given a form that provides her with opportunities for manipulation and inquiry. The installations that Elena constructs are the controlled environments in which she conducts her explorations. The models are propositional. They represent choices from a range of potential equivalents in which she can examine conceptions and preconceptions of space. The outcomes of Elena's deliberations are similarly reflective and propositional. She regards them as options and selections. In addition to the substantial installations that are the major works, Elena produces drawings as a series of memos for other large works which because of time and expense may never be made.
Head of the School of Art and Design,
MA Fine Art Programme Coordinator,
University College Bretton Hall
I felt that I needed a script for my exhibition at the Centre for Sculpture. Something in which I could underline the most interesting parts of my research relating to my own coherence criteria. I would refer mostly to the second position statement for the MA Fine Art course at Bretton Hall, University of Leeds, about my experience here in 1996 and 1997; this catalogue is in the form of a collection of fragments representing the way I develop my creative thoughts.
During this year of work at the Centre for Sculpture, I have grown artistically and personally.
I wish to thank the Head Rob Ward for having been always present. He made me think about my responsibility as an artist and he helped me to find again the strength to achieve my goals.
I approach my artwork in the same way.
Whatever I do is part of my own experience, but it has a meaning for the outside world as well. I am able to translate a feeling that has a meaning through that part of myself that is social and that relates to the world.
All I have done in aesthetic practice has developed relating my personal experiences, my life, changes of social context and way of living.
I am always leaving.
I always have to detach myself from something, somebody, for a new house: another exciting place, another society, another culture.
Far from home, I find another home as a nomad.
I think I begin to understand its culture just now, but there was a particular time (November) when I hadn't any response to it.
"Ho passato la notte ...
I ate so much, I went to the gym, I had my period: I could not work.
I felt intimidated even at Longside by all those people: sculptors. I thought they were better than me ... and then, I don't know, I had so much energy that I could explode.
That night was a nightmare: English phrases from other people, myself speaking English and Italian ...
And I was so anxious, because the time was passing so quickly and I wasn't working.
He said: 'experience the space', I couldn't: that's it.
I went home (Italy) after that. I saw those three paintings of mine in my tidy bedroom, I thought they were somebody else's. I found myself thinking of how much I missed painting, I got so insecure, within that environment, with those paintings...
The development of my work can be related to that of my surroundings. In those there is the taste of a middle class that had to match paintings with antique furniture: I can't paint like that anymore.
...So why am I supposed to come back here: to fight against my feeling, alone?
Who for? For those friends of mine at home? To have, eventually, something new to talk about when I go back there?
Sometimes I think it is really like that: to demonstrate something to somebody.
NO, IT'S NOT! Today while I was hanging some dirty plastic sheets in front of the window, I felt I began to understand: I have so many things to say but I can do it only far from home.3
That climbing up and down the stool had a cathartic effect: I started to feel more secure and I went to work to Longside, finally trying to experience the
Even so, I've never thought about the space as a container for whatever object, sculpture, gesture made in order to mark it.
As Michael Foucault says:
The Greeks used optical effects in their theatrical staging, in order to get the spectator involved in the cathartic representation of tragedies. At that time the concept of space developed from being discontinuous and anisotropic (Aristotle) to being infinite: that of quantum continuum, as Panofsky pointed out in 'Perspective as symbolic form'. The theoretical concept of space and aesthetic space recast perceptual space, one in logical terms the other in symbolical terms. The Damoiselles d' Avignon is an expression of the time of relativity and therefore of a new concept of space. What I need to understand is how to relate my interest in perspective and visual-physical perception to an actual concept of the space.
Such a space remains in the realm of unreal, that of painting.
The viewer has a certain approach to it, less physical, more abstract as Lacan describes it:
This reference to virtual space, which is a painting space, is important in my art that is environmental, three-dimensional, sculptural. The perceiver will refer to it more visually than physically, to feel the dichotomy between visual and physical perception.
Space is an abstract dimension and, even if I deal with the matter that constitutes a work of art, abstraction, immateriality, illusions are my interest.
The field of vision and its limits, illusion as opposite to materiality (what is real? real is what has physicality ) is what allows me to focus on a sense of self of the spectator detached from that materiality. He or she will follow his or her abstract dimension: that of vision, mind, memory.
My main interest since in painting has always been the limit of that surface and the intriguing possibility of giving an illusion of a three-dimensionality by using perspective methods or any optical illusion . But it is just an illusion!
The illusion of the surface, then became that of, no more the canvas but of the vision.
screen of vision
It gives us just a false comprehension of an object, of an empty space even if we walk around it, we walk through it. Because what we have then is a knowledge of the object of perception that comes from the sum of many view points: it's again the sum of many images of it.
I saw the Brunelleschi corridor at the Spada Gallery, in Rome: eight meters deep, I thought it was at least thirty.
He applied the method of linear perspective (central perspective) to an architectural context.
I could see it only from a view point: a glass screen stops the viewer from walking through it. I still had a two-dimensional image of that three-dimensional space.
I thought about the dichotomy between the vision and the actual space, about what was true and my eyes told me was true, but was just illusory.
The Brunelleschi misso in atto of geometrical laws of perspective was interesting to me, maybe because of that unknown depth beyond the screen; that as Merleau-Ponty said:
but, more probably because it looked like a three-dimensional drawing, that was a virtual space a space that because I could not experience what was not physical at all.
In early December I started to work in a 320x 320 x 320 cubical space. I had an image in my mind: that of those dirty plastic sheets in front of the window, whose effect was a strong contrast of light veiled by screens.
Many screens (for images, narration, of vision, that the observer has to be aware of...) to divide the space, create a route, a trace to be followed.
I tried to move wooden panels in the space, to hang perspex sheets, but I understood what to do, in what way, just on the 28 of January (as my diary says), after the Italian journey.
The most interesting thing that happened while I was working in that space is that my attention moved from the actual work of art itself to the
The process of clarifying the idea in my mind, and translating it , and then the long process of actually doing it, became more important than the finished piece. It is something that I used to think of also when I was painting: the process of juxtaposing 'velature' on canvas. The procedure of making things involves the passing of time while we, subjects, live our lives.
Experience changes our approach to the external world, we change.
"Processo creativo, in which the object that I work with is just an excuse that, although it has a meaning, I often leave apart, so that I can focus on the process of developing ideas. In my mind it has a modular structure, constituted by similar parts, moments; each of them refers to its own context and has its own content.
The creative process itself, which is the same that unconsciously starts when in painting, sculpture, the artist wants to improve the knowledge of colours, matter, space ... is never ending. I 've never done series of works. I need to know that 2, 3, 10 works refer to one of those moments that I can inscribe in a modular form and that, once closed, I'll think about the next one.
The evolution of an idea is so fast that I can't even see a finished plate 2; installation 'misso in atto' (part.), 1996/97
a piece of art has been the expression of that thought.
This is what happened in the approach to the space: the work that as soon as it takes form and will need just
to be cleaned up, evolves and is never finished ..." 12
The idea of the process of the work in that cubic room is shown by keeping all the records of measuring on the unpainted floor I needed to create a virtual space.
The idea of process is connected to the sense of time, that of the evolution of an idea, of its fixation in a drawing, the project of a work, the practical resolution of it.
I expressed this idea of process by adopting a kind of open structure, in which the viewer will follow the evolution of a form, its development without reading each sign by which is constituted.
The action of walking while perceiving implies temporality;
Time of perceiving: durata duration
Time of the creative process: evoluzione evolution
Time of memory: passato past
Time of remembering: presente present
Time between the now and the past of those images, changes those images.
When we look at documents of them such as photographs, videos we don't recognise the moments that they refer to even if we were there at that time. There is a detachment between our way of perceiving things and the view point others have of them.
The others' images of those things are not ours.
The outside stretches them.
The outside stretches our image as well.
I find it really difficult to define in what sense I intend the relation between body and space. The viewer is, though, a problem of primary importance to me. The
perceiver is my focus, he or she is the vanishing point of all my structures, he or she is myself, is the other. How does my spectator experience the artwork?
"There is a 'constitutive interconnection' between my already flowing bodily kinaesthesia's and the appearances of things given as close as distant'. 15
The appearances of things initially distant alter as they come into my near-sphere, but I know this alteration with my body ...
That experience has to be diachronical: there is a need of moving of the body in front or through the artwork, to follow the urge of proving physically what is visually perceived.
This action of moving, walking enables the observer of knowing, testing, as the Romans used to say:
The spectator is his or her or my own eye, which is the focus, the vanishing point of my perspectival constructions.
The use of perspective and geometrical images seems to be a very rational approach to art: it is; but one cannot engage such theories without thinking about the philosophical, historical context in which they developed.
Renaissance culture, painters and architects, and all the implications of this scientific method within the society of that time. The reference to the Brunelleschi's experiments (the Cathedral and the Baptistery of S. Giovanni and the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence), regarding a use of perspective in architecture, has been quite important to me, if not particularly in the use of central perspective, for the way he dealt with the viewpoint, the observer, that was there not just observing, but also physically experiencing.
I would like to report here the process of applying perspective to a 3D space that I used in my projects.
If we consider a (White) cubic room, in the field of vision it will appear as something distorted: it will lose its perpendicularity.
My intention, therefore, is to create this optical distortion in reality by:
1- stretching a square plane while using the projection of the vanishing point F';
2- thinking of the result as the plane of a 3D structure;
3 - stretching the heights of the structure by using the spatial vanishing point F, on the perpendicular of its previously used projection.
This is not, then, just an illustration of a method, it's an appropriation of it.
I could even call it, a deconstruction
The way that I've been dealing with perspective has to do very much with the process of drawing itself. I found a paradox while projecting those three-dimensional structures stretched by a viewpoint. The representation of each of those images needed to be distorted itself in order to give the idea of three-dimensionality within the two-dimensional field of drawing. What needed to be represented: the open question of using perspective in the space, became another question itself.
I would use therefore the definition
to refer to that of my artwork which implies a human size scale.
Jacques Lacan defines perspective saying that:
Lacan's approach to theories on vision, perspective, observer have been surprisingly closed to the artistic approach that I have to them.
I developed my idea of the space, I thought about the observer walking through that space and finally projected a protoarchitecture, whose drawing is here reported It is a symmetrical structure with a screen between the two stretched human size rooms. It is a transparent screen that enables the observer to see beyond it and to desire to know more about that space
I lately discovered that Jacques Lacan, had already thought in philosophical terms about the same image.
The piece that I projected for this exhibition is the development of '3D mirror', a double-stretched room with a glass screen that divides the two almost symmetrical spaces.
The spectator can walk through them from both sides towards the screen on which a drawing suggests what he or she could find on the other side. It is a perspective drawing, two-dimensional extension of the space beyond it. It is a dimension that the observer can just imagine, but cannot reach and therefore understand. It underlines the limit of vision for a true understanding and then the limit of our body stopped by the screen of physicality. The mind comes into play here: this other dimension will give an answer, or ask a question in other terms, which our body cannot do.
This piece is also sculptural because it relates to the environment as an object in the space. There is a relation between the inside and the outside, but not in terms of architectural space-private space (Dan Graham), it refers to a more intimate experience, something more spiritual; it is about the outside and the inside of the self. Two sides that can be perceived by two people, two groups of people. The screen again will not let them communicate, that glass screen underlines an actual condition: that of the impossibility of a real communication.
The screen doesn't permit contact between two situations, people, between the subject and the symbolic order, between two subjects of two different symbolic orders.
The trace is that which from the Saussure's concept of language as system of differences, and through the Lacanian concept of the 'I' within language produces the one of the subject through a process of differentiation between the 'I and not I' of discourse, passes through the difference, that for Derrida, removes the subject from a fixed position of presence and with a meaning that is always provisional.
Kristeva takes up the notion of language as the constituent of subjectivity, but focuses her analysis upon the transgressions of the law of the symbolic in the form of the semiotic which she argues is an integral and revolutionary part of symbolic language. Interesting to me is that Feminist post-structuralism insists that forms of subjectivity are produced historically and change with shifts in the wide range of discursive fields which constitute them.
References to my past, my family, the environment in which I grew up, are central issues of my work now. It is the first social context that everybody has to relate to.
By stretching the structures, by using perspective I refer to a kind of aesthetic that I would define 'Modernist', but I transfer it in the realm of illusion. The images of my narration, instead of being projected onto a screen, on the structure, become part of it.
As if this structure, as the society were controlling them, containing them, shaping them and emptying the content of its real meaning.
The images that I use are those of my memory and, in this sense, they bring all the flavour of the time that they refer to. They have a value in my own experience, but because I am a part of a certain generation, of a certain kind of society I think they are something more than just my own records.
ritratto a ritentiva:
to make a portray without the model. Referring to the image that we have in mind about the model.
It's as if the images that we see and that usually stop onto the visual screen, would just partially filter through and in a particular way. The way that we keep them in our memory, to become part of our experience: that is just ours. Because they keep fixed in our memory they have a role within ourselves.
There is an order of reference to these images that is better expressed by a drawing:
it is made of many concentric circles.
Myself in the centre.
The farther the circle is from the centre the more faded and far from my personal experience are the memories that those images refer to.
I am talking about the time of my life:
late 60's till present.
Fredric Jameson says:
Working with images of that time, also means to refer to the post-modern context, assuming a critical position.
Jameson says as well:
which means also a loss of references for artists, of roots.
I think that is important to have a sense of history because the environment that I live in reminds me of it every day and I think that I can't just ignore it.
In saying so I know that I have to relate to the modernist tradition that, as Clement Greenberg said:
but I also disagree with that side of it that represent
I think that post-modern concepts of a collapsed sense of history and temporality makes sense just in a real multicultural young society, such as USA , Australia, New Zealand ...whith a relatively short past.
Although Europe is socially developing in a culturally diverse way, with people coming from the East, Africa, postmodern theories cannot have the same meaning here because of our sense of history.
On the other hand:
A concern with history is present and central to the work of the poststructuralist Michael Foucault: he looks to historically specific discursive relations and social practice.
Among the poststructuralist-feminists Kristeva had
The other point that I will make, as Jameson said, is that postmodernism replicates or reproduces and therefore reinforces the logic of consumer capitalism.
The 80s has been the time that I remember very well.
In Italy during that time, but I suppose everywhere, capitalism and a certain way of life largely expanded all the levels of the society.
That time that I lived as a protagonist, I used to meet and share ideals, taste with people of my generation and now I find myself looking back to try to understand what happened to us.
Nothing happened: nobody wants to risk anymore.
People of my generation do not want to change their surroundings. They think about their future as their parents used to do, but emptying of meaning their values. There is a sense of emulation of that context, that is past and cannot be the same anymore.They will accept the same role as son, daughter, father, mother, worker, in the society, even their home's furniture might be that of their parents. To avoid the possibility of breaking an established order, they will accept to rebuild the same safe environment in which they grew up.
If I would have to define my work I suppose that I would put it in the fields of sculpture - installation, as already said, protoarchitecture.
"Installation is a spectacle, but without a stage: a game, but also a daily undertaking; a signifier, but also a signified ... the scene of the carnival, where there is no stage, no theatre, is thus both stage and life, game and dream, Discourse and spectacle" 33
Julia Kristeva said.
It comes from the modern notion of Gesamtkunstwerk: the total work of art which can be found well expressed in the Schwitter's 'Merzbau'.
In trying to trace a map of references I' d probably go back to Tatlin's Monument to the third International of
1919 as a union of purely artistic forms (painting, sculpture and architecture) for a utilitarian purpose;
and then I, quite obviously, would remember the Donald Judd's concept of 'specific object' in 1965 as not being sculpture.
Among the Minimalist artists, I would underline that Morris's stressed importance of simpler forms that create strong Gestalt sensations.
I don't completely agree with what I read and I quote here:
I'd rather refer to what experiencing Minimal art was for Fried: it was an instance of theatre. Meaning unfolded as a consequence of the spectator's awareness of his or her relationship, psychological, physical and imaginative to the object.
Other references are Postminimalism and Arte Povera in Italy, Francesco Lo Savio for his sense of abstraction; but more Gianni Colombo's kinaesthesias and his approach to the viewer in a time when in Italy there was the Gruppo Forma. These together with Situationist International on 1957 created an atmosphere in which:
This is to mention just few artists of the past.
Dan Graham is one of the artists of a more recent past that I've been looking at. Since his 1966 project Homes for America till his more recent Pavilions, in his works the here of the spectator is never a space in the strict sense of the world, it is either a there for another spectator watching, or a space reduced by its own reflections. From the knowledge of a loss of place he wanted to restore the unity of space and scale. With him the scale of the model takes on a completely new importance, the model must be placed at the eye level so the viewer sees it to scale as if he or she lived there.
Protoarchitecture is not architecture, I stretch the appearance.
Graham does artcriticism with his artworks, my operation envolves very much myself as a person therefore the narrative side becomes very important.
I suppose that what allows us to define an artwork as architecture is its function.
It depends on its location, if the work of art is exhibited in an art gallery or in a museum it will relate to it as an object in the space: a sculpture.
There is a need to define its specificity.
If the so called architectural work is brought in an art gallery then it may lose its status as such.
The fascinating White Cube Gallery context or any other exhibiting context is not relevant to my work in terms of content: it doesn't change or direct, or reinforce it (not yet) .
What I do with my structure is actually to build up that white cube kind of atmosphere, stretching it; in a way criticising it as a modernist concept of purity of space ditched from the real world.
The use of space that I have in my mind is based on shaping, distorting, containing, controlling the exhibiting space itself, although I know that the piece "Stretched mirror" is also a sculptural one as already said.
There is a relation between the inside and the outside as architectural and sculptural, but it is not only about this.
The most important thing in my work becomes the place where I am. The experience of these years out of my country, in Britain and USA has been central in the development of my work and of the understanding of myself. The narration changes in relation to the place where I am, in relation to his culture and society. If the environment, the site of installation becomes important, it is so just after its location in a certain social context. The place is the country with its culture, people, society.
For an interim exhibition, in April, I focused the work on my family and the house in Italy. The works: 'Rossana, binocular' and 'Rossana, paradox' refer to the kitchen as the meeting point of the family. A work I exhibited in Italy in the mean time was about the England that I know.
In talking about those things there is a need of taking with me myself as Italian in another place. In Italy in the mean time I exhibited a piece that was about here. There is this idea of cutting the distance and being able to communicate. I want to create a dialogue between two places, countries with their cultures, through my experience. This is what artists used to do also in the Renaissance.
Language becomes the barrier for communication, when it is not used from native speaking people. The gaze that language creates, between people from different cultures or from the same culture enphasizes the impossibility of real verbal contact. This means misunderstanding each other. The eye lies in the same way: while giving us access to the other, the screen of vision functions as partition.
audience English students sitting in a squared preordered way; they were reading Italian words;
TV screen playing a video of myself in front of them; I was reading English proverbs from the Oxford Dictionary;
myself videoing the audience, from a chosen central point behind the TV.
The superimposing of words pronounced by people that cannot really undertand them creates a non-sense situation in which words become sounds. The modulariry of their repetition gives a rhythm to the performance and reduces words to signs. Because we were not capable of an understanding through the referred meaning of the words we were looking for a more abstract possibility of understanding, a new context of reference. We forgot about the boundaries of language.
1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 'Phenomenology of Perception', trans. by Colin Smith, Routledge, London, New Jersy; The Humanity Press, 1979
2. Jacques Lacan, 'The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis', W.W. Norton &C. ed., New York, London, 1981 p. 75
3. My diary: 21 November 1996
4. Michael Foucault, Of other Spaces, transl. by J Miskowiec, p. 22, quoted by Edward S. Cesey, The fate of Place, a Philosophical History, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1997, p. 298
5.Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guittary, A thousand Plateaus 1227:Treatise on Nomadology; the War Machine 1980, quoted by E. S. Cesey , 'The Fate of Place, a Philosophical History' p.307.
6. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis p.101.
7. ibid.; p. 112.
8. ibid; p. 93.
9. Maurice Meleau-Ponty
10. Jacques Derrida, 'Of Grammatology', quoted by Antony Easthope and Kate Gowan, 'A critical and Cultural Theory', Open University Press Backingham,1996, p. 101.
11. Monika M. Langer, 'Maurice Merleau-PontyPhenomenology of Perception : a guide and commentary', The Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 1989, p80.
12. my diary, 29th January 1997.
13. idem, p123.
14. Husserl, quoted in 'The fate of place a Philosophical History' p219
15. Husserl, 'The world of the living present', p.248, quoted in 'The Fate of Place', p. 225.
16. Monika M. Langer, 'Maurice Merleau-Ponty , phenomenology of perception aguide and commentary', p 25
17. Hurbert Damisch, 'The origin of perspective', Transl. by John Goodman, The MITT Press, Cambridge Mass., London England, 1994 , pag-121
18. Jacques Derrida, 'The truth in painting', p 23 quoted in 'Beyond the piety Critical Essay on the Visual Arts 1986-1993, Cambridge University Press, 1995 , p 23.
19. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guittary, 'Nomadology: The War Machine', transl. B. Massumi, Foreign Agents Series, p.27
20. Jacques Lacan , 'The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis', p 25.
21. ibid; p83 - 84.
22. ibid; p 105.
23. ibid; p.96.
24. ibid; p.106.
25. Criss Weedon, 'Feminist practice and poststructuralism', Blackwell, 2nd ed. 1997, p 32- 33.
26. Fredric Jameson, 'Postmodernism and Consumer Society' in Hal Foster, 'Postmodern Culture', Pluto Press, London, 1995, p 124.
27. ibid; p.125
28. Clement Greenberg, 'Modernist Painting', in 'Art in Modern Culture an antropology of critic text', ed. by F Frascina & J Harris, The Open University Press, Phaidon, 1995, p313.
29. Dick Hebdye, 'A report on the western front : Postmodernism and the politics of Style', in 'Art in Modern Culture'An Anthology of Critic text ', The Open University Press,Phaidon, p.334
30. ibid; p. 340.
31. Griselda Pollock , 'Generations and Geographies in the visual arts', Routledge, London, New York , 1996, p. 8.
32. Dick Hebdye, 'Art in Modern Culture' p. 339.
33. Julia Kristeva,"World Dialogue and Novel' , Moi ed. The Kristeva Readers, Oxford Blackwell ,p. 86, quoted by Oxley, Petry, Oliveira, 'Installation Art' ,Thames & Hudson ed. , London , 1994, p. 14.
34. Anna Chave in 'Art in Modern Culture' , p. 265.
35. 'Installation Art', p.
36. 'Dan Graham Architecture', Catalogue Exhibition at Camden Arts Centre London , 11-4/25-5 1997 and The Architectural Association London 22-4/ 24-5 1997, p. 6.
37. Brian O' Doherty, 'The White Cube Gallery' Ideology of Gallery Space ' p.12.
38. Gaston Bachelard , 'The Poetic of space', Beacon Press, Boston, 1994 , p. 260
39. E.S. Casey, 'The Fate of Place , A Philosophical History' , p340.
40. Michael Foucault, 'Of Other Spaces' , trans. J. Miskoviec, Diacritics ,1986 quoted in 'The Fate of Place', p.299.
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Routledge, New York, London,1996.
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published to accompany the exhibition:
Centre for Sculpture
Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds
American Yard Studios