A Gradual Approximation to the Sun

 

‘This man was very concerned about not having become a person (…) in contrast to his own belittlement of and uncertainty about himself, he was always on the brink of being overawed and crashed by the formidable reality that other people contained’ (R.D. Laing, 1969) [1]

In staging the paradoxical struggle of the individual to adapt to objective reality, the work focuses on the inner pathos of the subject (the artist himself[2]) caught up in the process of be-coming, particularly on what Kierkegaard calls ‘subjective inwardness’. The thirty-two photographs re-presenting nine actions combined with the ready-made sculpture take the form of an existential study in Conceptualism and Subjectivity. In the photographs the artist is seen drifting in the city, performing subtle gestures that can be read as poetic and ironic (in their own peculiar way) explorations of the self.

Action (I) sets the stage, announcing the departure from an objective and convincing reality. In action (II) the artist is seen while walking around following the path of sunlight, in the utopian attempt of reaching the sun. Action (III) is a slightly ironic take on the search for truth[3] while action (IV) is the portrait of the artist leaving his mark in the world, as to puzzlingly reassure himself of his own existence. In action (V) the inner world becomes the subject of contemplation and a safe place to hide in order to survive the coldness of the real. Action (VI) is inspired by Sartre’s idea that emotions are a ‘conscious’ way of overcoming fears ‘by magic’[4]. In action (VII) the artist is seen running along an imaginary life encompassing timeline and entering the frame, authentically unfolding his possibilities as a being-toward-death[5] (and as an artist), whereas in action (VIII) he’s portrayed as an outsider struggling to enter a seemingly inaccessible world in order to deliver his message, whose content is not revealed[6]; In the end in action (IX) he breaks into the world of others; in a decisive quest for empathy he engages in a series of ‘synchronised’ walks with strangers on a busy street.

The title of the readymade ‘Petra and I (Nice to Meet You)’ reveals the intimate nature of the work, a re-presentation of an encounter between the artist and a woman named Petra, that in Italian sounds very similar to pietra, meaning stone. Beyond this (Freudian?) coincidence, the materials, glass and stone, disclose in the artist’s intentions the inner world of the subjects, and although from what we see all possibilities remain open, the encounter as it is, seems doomed to failure, with the fragile glass (a fragment of memory from the encounter and a substitute for the ‘I’ of the artist) that could ultimately crash into the solid stone and break down into pieces, would any attempt at getting closer be carried out. In contrast with the warm atmosphere suggested by title, the distance between the two subjects/objects is filled only with uncertainty and anxiety.

Visually the installation as a whole looks simple and minimal, almost elementary in its layout, as to emphasise the link with historical conceptual practices and to stress the reductionist ethos informing the whole work. The driving force behind the making has to be found in the utopian attempt to bridge the conceptual and the romantic elements of the work, and overcome the traditional dichotomy reason/emotions that originated (artistically) in the early conceptual experiences of the seventies. According to Jorg Heiser, curator of the exhibition ‘Romantic Conceptualism’, early Romanticism was intended as a ‘cultural technique for emotions’ pointing towards the fragmentary and the open, and had nothing to do with romantic clichés or the confession of the artist’s soul[7]. That’s how an exploration of ‘my-self’ becomes an exploration of ‘one-self’, and that’s where the creation of an artistic persona (or an enquiring agent) comes in to the picture.

 

The photographic series and the ready-made provide all the ingredients for an emotional experience that never gets to the point of investing the senses, instead somehow the feelings are subjected to critical analysis. The work as a whole takes the form of a narrative imbued with self-analysis and lightly tinted with ironic posture, an approach that is partly borrowed from Sartre’s book ‘Nausea’ (1938), but another main influence is certainly the work of Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, as far as the conceptual abstraction of a melodramatic feeling is concerned. The delicate equilibrium between pathos and detachment, ironic and dramatic accent, highlighted by the carefully planned use of language in the titles, is an important expressive and poetic element in the work. ‘A Gradual Approximation to the Sun’ has been chosen among others as a general title to emphasise the restless wandering that has shaped the work as we see it today, an incessant movement of self-creation and self-transcendence that is captured by the camera, or through the objects; an exploration of the inner pathos of the individual on the road to (Nietzschean[8]) freedom, in a style that explores a border territory between slapstick and conceptual drama.

 

Marcello Simeone

 

 

 

[1]  Laing, R. D. (1969) The Divided Self, New York, Pantheon Books

[2] Being this an analysis of a self-analysis, in this text I will refer to the artist as an enquiring agent

[3]Heidegger is mentioned in the title to both refers to his inspiring (in its very conceptual form) ontological account of Dasein in ‘Being and Time’ (1927), and to create a playful dissonance between the seriousness and heavy weight of Heidegger’s reputation as a philosopher and the everyday, snapshot quality and atmosphere of the pictures, hence between theory and practice of living

[4]Sartre, J.P. (1939) Sketch for a Theory of Emotions, London, New York: Rutledge Classics

[5]According to Heidegger is only in recognising death that Dasein can attain authenticity. The work means to stress the importance of authentic life, and revolves around the idea that only through a dynamic involvement with the world (what Sartre calls ‘adventure’ in his book ‘Nausea’) consciousness gets awaken and meaning, beauty and poetry arise from the dark of nothingness.

[6]This is a planned strategy meant to live a blank space for the viewer to participate in the construction of the narrative. For me the point is to emphasise the problems of consciousness and subjectivity arising from the relations with ‘the other’, re-presented in the photographs as an inaccessible entity.

[7] Heiser, J. (2009) Moscow, Romantic Conceptualism, and after – e-flux journal #29, November 2009. Available from: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/moscow-romantic-conceptualism-and-after/ [Accessed 16 June 2013]

[8] As pointed out in the introduction of “Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy” (Gemes and May, 2009) Nietzsche considers freedom a kind of perpetual self-overcoming, a psychological self-relation, a paradoxical form of mindedness, whole hearted and ironic; a tension of the spirit.