Il tempo delle illusioni – Gabriele Perretta

When illusions become the set for global effigies

If we accept Arnheim’s reasoning that perception is not atomistic, the bringing together of many separate fragments, but the observation of the whole as a unit, the objects we perceive, even in a photograph, tend to organize themselves into a flowing structural entity, that outlines the shape as a whole, and at the same time illustrates the function of the different parts and their interrelationship. We perceive images by means of a process of categorization, a selection determined by our interests and cultural background. Perception is controlled by a cognitive relationship between the subject and the whole, and the detection of particularia is achieved by the acquisition of previous knowledge and the ability to generate abstractions from individual and concrete objects. In contemporary photography, considering the means available for the reproduction of reality, the emancipation from the so-called danger of actual facts and the dichotomy between true and false, we should bear in mind the positions sustained by Arnheim and Prieto regarding the concept of semiotics and linguistics of pertinence. By pertinence or concern we mean that principle by which we isolate a group of linguistic components that are similar (from a specific point of view) or dissimilar (that is, distinct from a different specific point of view [for a better definition of pertinence, see: L. Prieto, Pertinenza e pratica [1975], Milano, Feltrinelli, 1976]).

And in fact, looking at a picture from Montaggio di un piccolo set [Construction of a Small Set], as in these recent works by Claudio Spoletini, we find we must make a distinction between the result of a digital re-construction and that of a craftsmanship based on the use of a wide-angle lens that allows the integration of the foreground with the surrounding landscape. Faced with the habitual ambiguities of the world of art, we must query the reliability of the intrusive microuniverse of toys and the macrouniverse of the contiguous fields of geography and invention, a space that is concrete but completely irrelevant! Spoletini remains faithful to the principle he has followed throughout his long career, and produces these threats to the relevance of images as a criticism of the use of photography as a means of documenting reality and ordinariness. The toys are a straightforward impertinence, because they take upon themselves the reorganization of their set, repositioning and redirecting the imaginary axis we normally draw between the actual and credible and the unreal, or even the false and fictitious. But if we accept the principle that art is a language, and photography is by now established as such (actually Barthesian semiotics come to our aid, having stated ahead of time that it is the visual language even before painting), then visual thought – formed on the basis of perception – can show with Arnheim that there is no difference between vision and thought and that very often we see through the realistic or illusory aporias dictated by the classic tradition of modern and contemporary art. This research by such a craftsman of photography as Claudio Spoletini is, proves that in preparing and staging a set it is possible to communicate and express in many ways those mechanisms of structure and abstraction from reality that corroborate the principle that photography is a purely linguistic-visual effort, capable of a view of humanity that transcends the old juxtaposition of the disciplines of reason (rationality and abstraction) and visual production (irrationality and creativity). Spoletini uses the photographic set to create an effect of an image, proving unquestionably that the old categories are inadequate and any fantasy, any play in the staging of contemporary art, derives almost always from a design that the artist defines as “intellectual connotation”. A design that, without adding significantly to the overall pattern, yet renews, regenerates and gives a new appearance to this use of visual consciousness, the play of a paradox. We could say with Arnheim that to work with photography today, as far as visual theory is concerned, is to use a rational illustrative standard to get one’s bearings with reality on the one hand, and on the other to pursue the logic of what the photographer effects or wants to effect on the visual principle itself.

If we are to interpret the title of Spoletini’s exhibition, that is to be shown at the VI edition of the Rome International Photographic Festival, we could say that it is through the analysis of a time of illusions that we can find the way to communicate an aesthetic message and to reconsider the interpretation and comprehension of its meaning. In viewing modern, as well as past, photographic artwork, we set a cognitive process in motion, and carefully try to understand if the true appearance of the representation is real mimesis, that is imitation of an original, or a similarity of the representation to the original! In a field in which photography serves to illustrate the misinterpretations to which our senses are subject, the artificial sets that are intended to confound the traditional balance between mimesis and realism should be simply an eulogy of effects. This seems to be the case with Spoletini: the sets are set up for the performance of models, effigies and mnemonic tables that have abandoned their inviolability to endorse an ironic strategy, a game that overturns the idea of ordinary space in this time of media reproducibility. This reproduction of visual conditions diverging from the didactic comparison with reality, represents a serious impediment to the scheme of building a national language of photography, and claims recognition as a territorial genius loci, unquestionably different from those of the English Martin Parr or of the Portuguese-Parisian of Koudelka. In the era of the global and mediatic transformation of photography, how is it possible to recognize the author’s identity in the affinity between the toy train and the Italian small-town station? What if that place in the “time of illusions” were to be a completely different one? We all know toys are for the child an encouragement to play and a stimulus for the imagination and the development of intellectual capacities. Until the nineteenth century, the term meant a small object used by adults and children as a pastime, and included anything from cheap playthings to valuable objects in precious materials. From then on it was used solely for children’s playthings. Toys are the medium that can, better than any other means of communication, traverse any interim of time and space, transposing the image into a different world.

Because of this they become the privileged means of observation with which to decorate that genre of contemporary photography that eschews reality’s direct line. A photography that finds its corroboration in the set, in perception, in thoughts and concepts, such as the theory of Alberto Savinio, who proposed to transfer the impressions offered by music and the ludic fantasies of sound into the realm of painting. Contemporary photography tends to call in doubt reality rather than to serve it, and does so through the cut of its frames and an exquisitely psychic horizon. And so it returns again to a suspended time continuum, it nibbles away the duration and fractures of the time-span, and using different sets it comes near to plural simultaneity. In this way photography queries its own nature, always balanced between traditional form and the impetuous force of the present. Examining these shots carefully, what do they tell us of contemporary life? The artist is attempting by means of invented situations to isolate moments of existence in an “iconographic sandwich”. Action and image in his work come to the aid of the subconscious reaction creating an impression of illusion and disillusion through an exploration of infinite expanses holding out the promise of opportunities for future construction.

Gabriele Perretta

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