There where human still wonders. (Homage to Maurizio Viani)

a conversation between Elisa Del Prete and Filippo Pagotto, contribution for "You Say Light, I Think Shadow", art book by Sandra Praun and Aleksandra Stratimirovic, 2015

Shall we start from Caravaggio?
No! Let’s start from the beginning.

What is the beginning?
Beginning is the darkness. Beginning is the darkness, and then the light comes. And it is the light that divides and separates everything. It is the light that invented the form. There is no form without light. Things take shape thanks to the combination of light and darkness. Light is the first practice of sculpture in the world. The ancients saw God in the sun. The first monotheist emperor is Akhenaton, an Egyptian pharaoh, and he is the first one to summarize all religions into a whole, that is the sun God, Ra. According to him, it was enough to worship the sun. If you think about that, at a scientific level, he was also correct, because what gives life to everything and illuminates everything on earth is the heat of the sun…

So, what makes it all possible… what makes everything existing.
Yes. There is a beautiful painting by Magritte called “The empire of lights” where there is a house lit by a lantern, over the door, and the lighting is a night lighting, but the sky is a day sky.
“The empire of lights” because there is both, the sunlight and the artificial light created by the mankind. In the history of painting the chiaroscuro is the first three-dimensional effect. Before it, everything was flat, then the chiaroscuro comes, and through the play of light and shadow, it gives three-dimensionality to everything. But it is not only about the chiaroscuro. The core is to look at where the light comes from…

But why are we talking about painting? We had to talk about light.
Alright. Let’s talk about the technical aspects of light, then. I feel light comparable to the wind. They are both elements of nature that bring the same inner poetry. Light, as the wind, has no body; as the body is no visible to the human eye we become aware of its presence only when it is incident on a solid. We realize the existence of light when it illuminates an object, so that object shines thanks to that precise light: a body, a piece of furniture, a tent, a tree, a beach, the grass… With the wind is the same. We can’t see the wind. We see it when looking at a waving tree. To be true, however, the light owns a body… This is something else that has always made me mad, the fact that light is a wave, which propagates as the sound, not in a straight direction. So, when we look at the shining heavenly bodies, if we see them still they are planets, otherwise, if we see them intermittently they are stars. When we see a still body it means that it is lit; if we perceive its intermittency it means that is shining by its own light.

What impresses me, is when the light illuminates something specific, when it falls on a certain thing in its way, as if it gave attention to that particular thing; when it chooses, or we choose too, to give attention to that thing, when in fact the attention reaches also the rest.
You are talking about artificial light.

Yes, also. It is the fiction of theatre. That really puts what you do not need to see in the darkness. I’m stricken by the inability to dictate the shape of the light. Why are you interested in the theatre lighting?
Because light is emotional.

But, how did it happen?
It happened to me while thinking about cinema, where the lights are naturalistic. The theatre goes beyond naturalism. We already have life, as naturalistic matter, the theatre is something else, it’s another world, it is all about those things that can take place outside life. Since life is enclosed within a single chance, which is what everyone chooses and that is unique, the theatre can be a metaphysical place where we can afford all the other choices we have left behind, and it is a great form of freedom. Then, setting naturalistic lights in a piece makes no sense. Here the lights become a scenic language; they’re not just a beautification. A well-made light creates an environment even if the actor is stopped. The light, like sound, like the scenery, is a language, something that…Well, I mean, you can do all the rehearsals you want, but if you make them with a floodlight this comes out useless. Because when you add the lights to a specific actor, sound and scenic shapes, everything can turn down in a second. The lights are a further layer. They are the ultimate layer. A layer that wins, that dominates. This is what you were saying: I may have staged a beautiful desk, vintage, refined, but if I turn a light on that makes you seeing just the sheet of paper over it, the desk will immediately disappear and the paper will become the real protagonist, while everything else is out in a few seconds. Because the light has the last word on everything, there is nothing without the light. Light is what the viewer can perceive. You can force yourself to do a brilliant comedy, but if you set dark lights, the comedy will lose all its humour and become gloomy. Light always wins… because it is so linked to the image and imagery that conquers all…

Which kind of light did you see when you stopped on the street some days ago?
It was a backlight. It is a light that comes from behind, more or less with an incidence of 45°, and makes someone who’s in front of you showing only his silhouette. There were five big windows, at that moment, that were receiving the perfect incidence of the sunlight and were giving it back against us… We saw a shadow that shouldn’t be there, then.

A fake shadow?
Yes, a fake one.

A shadow that the sun didn’t want to draw… it was coming from the reflection on those windows.
… In my feeling the light is God.

Oh yes, you told me that once you had seen God in the bathroom.
Yes. It was a time when I was questioning the existence of God. Joking drunk, I started to say: “I figure if you exist; if you do, knock once! I don’t believe that you exist… you’re just a thing that someone else has taught me to believe in; where are you?”… Then, I turned around and above the left corner of the bathroom suddenly appeared a light that was coming from nowhere, it was a circle. And there was no light bulb pointing toward that part of the wall… Finally, it came out that it was a hidden mirror, the type suitable to check the pimples, which took exactly the incidence of the light bulb and reflected it back to a corner of the house where the light bulb was not meant to be…

Well, a banal joke.
Yes, a banal joke, but at the time it took me long to figure out if there was a source of light or not, and I really thought it was God who wanted to manifest…

But why God should be the light? Why do we always make the equation light equals God?
Because I grew up with Mantegna, or with those who were painting clouds from which the light beam was falling down on earth, and that was God…
Are you looking for God when you take picture to the light?
Yes I do.

Are you seeking God, when you turn the camera against the curtains illuminated by the sun?
Yes I do… I remember taking pictures of the sun in the first black and white shots I took during our trip to Prague. Because for me it was about that… I also burned two lenses and then I was putting all the other figures in the picture in the backlight, they were all black of course. For me this is the light… it’s what I consider closer to my idea of God.

Did Maurizio Viani share your point of view?
Maurizio Viani was atheist.

Did he tell you this?
Yes. It was communist and atheist. He did not believe in God.

So, he was not looking for God in the light?

But the light was his God.
Yes it was… The first thing Maurizio Viani told me was: “Which is the brightest star in the sky?” And I said: “Venus”. And he told me “You idiot!”I did not understand why for two weeks… then, Venus is not a star, is a planet. The brightest star is Sirius.

Because Sirius shines its own light…
And then he told me something else… Do you know that Archimedes used the light to burn the ships of the enemy? Because he had invented some mirrors called “burning glasses” that took the rays of the sun, harked them back tight to form a single intense beam of light that burned the wood of the enemy ships. The same concept applies to today’s profile spot lights, which are those lights that thanks to a lenses system allow you to move the focus at the distance you need to create a straight beam of light on a surface. In this way you can have geometrical shapes and isolate the light from the dark… the corridor of Maurizio Viani, my squares on the walls…

You mean, those lights that burn who’s under them? The actors?

Ok… the profile spot lights are those lights that cut the light.
No, they don’t cut the light. It’s a matter of lenses. They have several lens that moves and let the rays converge in parallel beams. It is the same system that camera has…or telescope, or slide projector. Maurizio always said this system had revolutionized the way we do the lights!

But, who was Maurizio Viani for you?
Maurizio Viani is one of the greatest lighting designer ever existed in Italy and me, I was lucky to see him at work during our pieces…

I do not think he would call himself a lighting designer…
No. He called himself a poet… and he was right, because his lights were poems.

Exactly. Where was his genius coming from? Once he said that what interested him the most was not the light, but the darkness…
No. He said that we had to work on the darkness! In order to work on the light, you can’t work on the light. The light is fixed, it is the darkness what can bother, enclose and dominate the light. The light can’t lead, while the darkness can. So, working on the darkness you make to work on the light… It’s like when we have to design a good character and we should concentrate on his wickedness to bring out his good traits, otherwise we turn out obvious…
One thing he taught me is that the light does not ever sum… A concept that nobody understands. The light works in two ways, dissemination or intensity. Dissemination means how much light there is in this room. If you can understand this, you will understand a lot about light. Here, for instance, there might be a lot more light than there’s now, but with the same intensity; you could have a light source under the table, but with the same intensity. To have more brightness, more intensity, doesn’t mean to add light bulbs, as they all have the same intensity… Did you get it?

It is clear once you see it…you can not put three 1000w lights to make 3000w…you can make it only with one 3000w light.
The intensity is the power of light, the dissemination is more light.

The dissemination is a sum…
The dissemination is the body of the light, the intensity is how bright this body is. Do you understand? Look, this thing is extraordinary… There’s not something else of this sort in nature!

It’s like painting… Does not change the intensity by increasing the amount of a green colour, you must change the components… When did Viani has begun to work with the light?
Maurizio Viani was the employer light technician of Leo De Berardinis…

His employer?

Did he start when he was young?
No, he was first a puppeteer.

Do you consider him the cleverest light technician, in Italy?
He is not a technician… Anyway yes, he is the best I’ve ever met. He called his lights by names. Once, when we were doing the lights for a show, I was on the lighting desk, pulling over the lights when he put them in place… And he told me: “Pull over Napoleon.” and Napoleon was a mixture of lights where he had seen the hat of Napoleon in the red… Every time we went around together he used to ask me what I was seeing in the clouds and we spent together a lot of time looking the sky and asking each other what kind of figures we could see…he also got mad when catching a sunsets… He used to make me stopping the car, saying: “stop, stop, stop!… Look! Do you see it?…”
Then, when I looked at the sunset he always told to me: “I’ll never be able to do such a thing, I can not do this, there’re no lights that can do it…” and then he became quiet.

What purpose does it serve?

Those who work with artists, that is those who are not artists themselves but work for the benefit of artists and art, that is those who protect the right to free of charge and purposeless character of art and artistic actions against all the actions which a man imposes on the society, which they have created for themselves and which they live in; those then who are faced with the task of deciding between the often moody will of the artist and the context in which their work is placed, providing access, preparing the ground, grasping and reassigning value to pieces of art, which do not always hit the mark, creating opportunities and possibilities for producing new creations, both permanent and ephemeral, remembered or just temporary; we, who call ourselves curators, critics, mediators often wonder about the purpose of this work.

In his essay Public Space in a Private Time the American artist Vito Acconci says:

The establishment of certain space in the city as “public” is a reminder, a warning, that the rest of the city isn’t public. New York doesn’t belong to us, and neither does Paris, and neither does Des Moines. Setting up a public space means setting aside a public space. Public space is a place in the middle of the city but isolated from the city.

This is how regime art works. And this is how many inhabitants of Warsaw perceive the historical building of The Palace of Culture and Science presented to the city by Stalin after beginning to create by the Soviet Union the communist bloc established on the basis of the arrangements of the Warsaw Pact, a project of ambiguous friendship and in fact – domination.

The palace which still evokes extreme emotions, as a symbol of contemporary history, just like EUR district in Italy could be controversial after the war and, on the contrary, St. Peter’s Basilica which has already ceased to elicit strong feelings, a symbol of luxury and domination of the Catholic Church over our country, its history and particularly its culture. What has remained today is only the artistic value and the uniqueness of the heritage. Time translates a given event into an image; history gets turned into a myth.

History passes, buildings stay.

It concerns the buildings which are only the remnants of great achievements of what we now call “public art” and are not perceived as regime art anymore. Public art is actually created as art commissioned, paid for and ordered by an institution as a means of adding value to its subordinated territory, sending specific messages, establishing and impressing certain aesthetics. It is not produced as free art in the sense that an artist creates more or less consciously within the limits of assent.

With time the situation has changed. Artists have taken, also illegally, the space of their own freedom in which they meet and engage in a dialogue with their own audience. The private, the wealthy have been assuming competences and taking over the right to make choices, which should be up to public administration, until the situation when the line between both areas has clearly got blurred. “Public” space now, think about a park, is already polluted by images, ideas, information, invitations, buildings and virtual areas of divergent provenances and intentions. What has mainly changed is the way of using it, transition, means by which it can be done, perception – real and virtual, range of vision which constantly becomes broader or narrower, various relations, silent, within a group or conversing and purposeful.

Theorising about the change in “public” places, where artistic action confronts the precise “character of the place”, at the beginning of the twenty first century the art historian James Meyer in his Functional Site called them allegorical “sites” (intentionally giving an example from IT) where next to physical space other spaces overlap, abstract, virtual, there appear information, texts and images which trigger multilevel and complex piece of work that requires the command of many different languages to be read.

In her “Urban Jungle” Iza Rutkowska has realised public art in every sense of the word. Ordered by the city, the work has been created in cooperation with The Forms and Shapes Foundation (set up by the artist four years ago to carry out projects connected with public art, which engages in a dialogue with other aspects of urban reality and not only), it involves the palace marked with historical connotations, it is definitely visible for all the passers-by, therefore conducting a dialogue with the public sphere both on the urban planning as well as social level. It is substantial in size, if not majestic.

Whoever passes by, whoever sees the photos or reads about the work on Facebook, they will take part in the performance. The city with its historical palace and the surrounding buildings, trees, alleys act as a setting because they are already there. The huge snake, the magpie on the chimney or the balloon that has got caught in the fence give the impression that in a moment something is going to happen. A gesture or a slight shift can be enough to create a scene, bring life to a picture which previously seemed static but which can immediately start moving and tell us a story.

The story has not been articulated or written down, we are not sure of it and we do not know what exactly it wants to tell us but it is there, imposing itself on us, asking for attention, it makes us look up and presents us with a completely unusual view of the building. We know that a snake is definitely a symbolic animal and its form, the one created by the artist, is funny, amazing, winking at children and adults. But what else do we know about it? The story remains private but at the same time it enters into a dialogue with the society which it accompanies. The artist’s private space, creation, decision and vision suddenly enter the generally available visual field. From the protected space of a museum or a gallery, far from their prepared audience, the artist moves towards the space where her work ceases to belong to her and becomes a collective vision. Still, however, it remains hers, it is her story, the source where the work begins. A piece of art is also the common area where the meeting takes place, where the dialogue begins, where the looks cross and not just its history. The work is in the middle between the creator and the observer. It is a bridge under which flow the streams and currents of both of them.

Hence, if there is an answer to the initial question, perhaps it can be described this way: stop looking safely, break the security, the linearity of sights and landscapes, the regular passage of time, the obsessive search for an answer.

Unlike in the past when monuments were erected in order to win favour, today art also evokes amazement and wonder but primarily provokes doubt.

Therefore, those who are supposed to protect the amazement, the people mentioned earlier, curators, directors, critics, mediators who work in the space between a piece of art and its audience are often asked the same question: what purpose does it serve?

Is it possible that there is nothing to buy? That it is not an advertisement of an event, a performance or a political meeting? Is it possible that there is going to be no continuation, that it doesn’t teach us anything and doesn’t want to convey any message? That there are no rules telling us how to play, look, move, spend some free time? Is it possible that I can’t take it home? Is it possible that I can’t buy it? Is it possible that there is no purpose? But why did they do that?

That’s it. This is the question we have to protect. We must protect the inability to answer it, protect it from the necessity to explain, make it serve no purpose. Protect this little space of freedom.