CONFINES: FARTHER THAN THE HORIZON
TK-21 La Revue, September 2017, translated by Charlotte Mandell
A series of photographs, and an exhibit, by Vittoria Gerardi at the Thierry Bigaignon Gallery
A journey, some cities, and, in the middle, a desert.
Death Valley appears: a world without humans, a pre-human world, a post-human world, a world in which humans have no place. Here, living and dying are on the same line, on the same plane: that of the gaze. In front of you, where the gaze gets lost, as it always does, as it is everywhere: the horizon. With this slight exception: from this horizon, there is nothing to expect.
Of course, you might imagine a caravan emerging from the horizon, as Saint-Exupéry did when his plane crashed in the desert, a sign of rescue. Apart from that scenario, the horizon remains there, eternally inaccessible, discouraging any attempt to meet it, since here living is already dying.
And yet another experience is possible. Not exactly in the desert, but closely, intimately linked to it. It is this experience at play in the works of the young Italian artist living in London, Vittoria Gerardi.
‘Horizon’ is a word that single-handedly says everything there is to say about the human situation, about our physical presence on Earth as well as our existential situation.
To move forward is never to reach it. To wait is to leave open the possibility that nothing might materialize. Phenomenology has perfectly understood that beyond its materiality, the horizon is a potent metaphor transformed into a useful concept, since it sets the most distant ‘place’ right in front of it and the innermost ‘place’ within it that awareness can grasp. In Western thought, horizon is always the horizon of awareness. It is the name of the unattainable, and the form that waiting takes.
What Vittoria Gerardi has understood thanks to a kind of revelation experienced in Death Valley is that there was nothing more to expect from the horizon in terms of any affirmation of the conditions of an existence that might foster awareness.
On the other hand, it appeared possible to her that, as soon as we stopped expecting anything from the horizon—a stance that summarizes perfectly the existential situation of humanity at the beginning of this millennium after the impossible recourse to a god to explain or justify the world—we can have recourse to the horizon as an imaginal matrix. If there is nothing to see beyond the horizon, it is possible to take this dividing line between sky and earth, expectation and despair, emergent form and programmed disappearance of everything, and make it into the element of a production of forms that might make a sort of anti-world exist as response to the pointlessness of expectation.
Labyrinth and Revelation
Once the desert disclosed itself to her as a revelation—one that is fundamentally that of our universal existential situation—Vittoria Gerardi at once understood two things: that the desert was, analogically, equal to the labyrinth, a realm in which thought finds itself by losing itself, and loses itself because it thinks it has found itself; and, secondly, that imagination linked to the work of the hand was the way to respond to that which otherwise can be experienced as a fall through all things into the abyss. Since the horizon promises nothing, it became possible to prolong the revelation of the desert by a revelation by way of forms, a revelation at once carried by emotion and produced by a constructive game rich in associations between hand and mind.
She calls this ‘visual imagination.’ This is how it functions: Not positing the negative as a representation of reality that must be preserved, but through masking, cropping, playing with chemistry and light in the darkroom, Gerardi produces a second image, one that doesn’t just appear but is created by reproducing, accomplishing, by herself, in the secret of the room, the process of revelation.
Narcissus Without a Face
Where there is nothing more to expect, there the possible also grows. Strengthened by this revelation, Vittoria Gerardi was able to appropriate the desert for herself. In fact, in this confrontation, what she saw is the face of humankind, the one it sees in the mirror. The desert is the featureless image of the true self. And playing with this desert, this horizon without expectation, using photography as a plastic art, is to invent the human face of tomorrow.
In this way, it is not surprising that, by pushing to its limit her plastic approach to photography, radically oblivious to any notion of representation captured by a negative, and highlighting grey and brown tones, Gerardi has embarked on works that, by that same radicalized play of hide-and-seek, have made intersecting lines manifest on the image, a little like the way DNA is represented.
By internalizing the desert through taking a photo, by playing with light exposure through masking and revealing, through montage and the final realization of a unique image, Gerardi offers us, each of us, a kind of intimate portrait, by revealing to us the unacceptable image of what we are, a being lost in the cosmic desert who can live only by imagining. And she manages to make us forget this deceptive revelation, through images of an extreme gentleness, like a rough caress.