Conservatory (San Sebastiano)
The title the artist Paolo Parisi, has given his installation is “Conservatory” (in English in the original Translator’s note), in its dual meaning of school of music and greenhouse.
Looking at the project and having assisted to the realization of this complex installation, I think that the Italian word “conservatorio”, though less brilliant in Italian, would have been philologically more correct. Playing a little with etymology we discover that “conservatorio”, both as a noun and as an adjective, gives these results: place once provided with boarding schools that “took care” of the pupils; musical high scho- ol; religious school for young girls; rest home for the poor, children, old people and similar; apt to preser- ve or even to keep as a prisoner; action aiming to preserve and exercise a right. Conservatory, besides sounding better, makes an explicit reference to the Kleenian correspondence between art and nature. The work is made up by three sentry boxes, cardboard “observatories,” linked by a system of twelve tubes.
These tubes, besides connecting the three sculptures visually and structurally, also make up an elemen- tary-but complex-audio communication system.
On the walls of the exhibition space, Parisi painted “Islands” (in English in the original Translator’s note), a landscape and an extension of what can be seen from the “windows” of the observatories. It is a new work that expresses further consideration on painting itself: water colors, possible only on a horizontal plane, are “dragged” and made larger directly on the wall in an impossible verticality.
As in some works by Franz West, this Paolo Parisi must be actively experienced by the viewer. The parti- cipation requested by Parisi concerns mainly the eyes (and of course the brain). Essentially the whole installation is a visual machine.
After entering the observatory, we become immediately captive of our own vision.
What do we see and how do we see?
The problem concerns the conservation of images, their “custody” and keeping and exercising a funda- mental right.
The observatories are built with sheets of cardboard cut along a template. Their shape and material are almost spontaneously associated with a sense of shelter, of welcome.
We enter an observatory and we feel protected, free of external interferences, alone, free to look or to spy from the windows of the sculpture. We look outside (actually in an interior) and we observe a formal dupli- cate of the same window that is multiplied, thus generating a colored, and therefore real, landscape. That art is a machine and also a machination of the visible is a concept and a process that has been well articulated, from Marcel Duchamp to Giulio Paolini.
Conservatory presents itself also as an act, an action aiming to ensure a fundamental exercise, that of seeing and being seen.
Other than in art history (about which we mentioned something), an objective correlative to the visual machine designed by Parisi can certainly be found in the history of cinema. In rapid and non exhaustive succession, three movies come to mind: Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock (1954), Film by Samuel Beckett (1964) and The Draughtsman’s Daughter by Peter Greenway (1982).
Not satisfied to use the authentic Greenwich Village locale for his film, Hitchcock had the whole building from which the “voyeur” James Stewart looked outside rebuilt inside Set 18 of the New York Paramount studios. At the time it was the largest movie set ever made.
The director sent four photographers in the Village to take pictures of the whole neighbourhood from all angles, at different hours of the day, with different meteorological and light conditions.
As is well known, the thriller (as Blow Up by Antonioni two decades later) is based on a photographic magnification and on the results obtained through a prolonged observation helped by the “captivity” and a tendency for voyeurism.
Beckett’s Film is based on an assumption not well understood when the movie was first shown (and pro- bably not even today): “esse est percipi” (to be is to be seen).
Beckett’s movie is about twenty-two minutes long and it is divided in three parts: the street, the stairs, the room. The characters are two, both played by Buster Keaton: a man with a black band on one eye who is fleeing and his eye that chases him. For the man to be free of the anguish of being perceived, the distance between him and his eye must not exceed 45 degrees.
Of course the man will not be able to escape the eye because of the deafening perception he has of himself. Set in 1694, The Draughtsman’s Daughter is a movie with special ties to language and art history.
The main character, Neville, is a fashionable landscape painter. His contract (or at least part of it) provi- des that he must paint the villa of a wealthy landowner, Mr. Herbert, in exchange for Mrs. Herbert’s favors.
While he paints, all inhabitants of the property must not be seen, letting the vision of the landscape free. Nonetheless, in the apparent quiet of the country landscape some disquieting elements appear: a torn shirt, a pair of boots and a conspicuously riderless horse crossing a field. Neville is so maniacally accu- rate and photographic in depicting the villa that he does not see the clues he himself documents, those of Mr. Herbert’s murder.
Too late Neville will realize his true function: he will be killed by his patrons and his twelve drawings will be burnt.
What do we see and how do we see?
Seldom does a work bring us back, or lead us, to the very origin of the mechanisms of vision. Seldom does one have the possibility of seeing and of seeing oneself with an almost entire world around us.
It is normal-something Parisi underlines without any solace-for all this to never happen in real solitude. Always and in any case at at least 46 degrees and “in company” of the voices and noise of others.
© 2005 The author, Maschietto Editore. Sergio Risaliti, curated by, Paolo Parisi / John Duncan. Conservatory (San Sebastiano), exhibition catalog (libro + CD), with texts by Daniela Cascella, Pietro Gaglianò, Giovanni Iovane, Sergio Risaliti, Florence, October 2005.