Monday 28 April 2014

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Only for your eyes

A balance in perpetual motion: the art of Elena Cologni.

, Elena Cologni et Susanna Crispino

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Las Italias reaches its fourth release with Elena Cologni, whose creative universe combines art, philosophy and science. And gain meaning in the sharing with the viewer.

«I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be, so I’m on my way home». (Bob Dylan)
A home is not necessarily a physical place, it can simply be a place for the soul. And sometimes you have to go very far to come back. Elena Cologni found it in the Anglo-Saxon world that she has begun to explore as a student and where she put down strong roots that has entwined with those of her native land.

Grew up in Bergamo, she lives in Cambridge, where she joins her artistic activity with the academic research. An innate interest in psychology and a passion for philosophy combine to a varied creative universe, with a single one constant: the presence of the viewer.

Removing the distance: the dialogue with the viewer
Through a multimedia art that includes video, performance, happenings but also more traditional artistic media such as drawing and sculpture, Elena Cologni investigates the perceived time and the subtle relationship between the work and the viewer, or - as in many of her works - she lives it: she moulds her works searching the interaction with other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology and philosophy, through which she seeks explanations, analogies and parallels to weave collaborative relationships, fitting in an environment with undefined borders that enriches and makes her artistic practice fascinating.

Along this guideline, there is Communications (Leeds, 1997), a live art action in which the audience is called upon to recite the Italian nursery rhyme "sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa (above the bench the goat lives - under the bench the goat dies)" standing in front of a video in which the artist recites some proverbs drawn from the Oxford Dictionary: "Out at elbows, to be. Out at heels. Out of debt, out of danger. Out of God’s blessing into the warm sun. Out of gunshot. Out of sight, out of mind [...] Eye, one eye of the master sees".

At the same time, the artist is in the room to film the audience and the performance, implementing this way an exchange of roles: she views, the viewer acts. The overlap of the voices and the rhythmic repetition of sounds (whose meaning the English audience is assumed to ignore) ends up in a non-sense situation, where traditional communication is rendered impossible by the linguistic difference, but at the same time, through the sharing of this kind of mantra, it originates a new kind, almost an arcane ritual language that goes beyond the limits.

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Comunicazione, video performance partecipata/participatory video performance, Leeds 1997

This research, which could be defined linguistic-dialogic, is developed by the artist through a series of works that starts in the nineties and up to date. Beginning with Diagrammi (Charts) an interactive performance (in the The artist as researcher section of the project Oreste alla Biennale, Venice, 1999) that involves people that the artist met in different environments.

The dialogue between the artist and two friends opens the action, followed by a reorganization of space: first on the basis of a unidirectional prospective outline and then on the basis of a multidirectional one, during which the participants are free to choose their position in the space.

The conclusion is a verbal exchange play based on preset words (giallo, luce, blu, tranquillity, atmosfera, luna, Giappone, rosso, verde, arancione, giardino, erba, fiori, pomodoro, rosso, bianco, padiglione, cinema, luce, acqua, mare, liguria, bianco, cielo, bimbo, amore, anguilla, pesce, cane, nero, cane, gioco, bambino, padre, io, anguilla, pesce, acqua that is: yellow, light blue, tranquility, atmosphere, moon, Japan, red, green, orange, garden, grass, flowers, tomato, red, white, hall, cinema, light , water, sea , Liguria, white, sky , baby, love, eel, fish, dog , black, dog , play, child, father, I, fish, water).

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Diagrammi, Azione partecipativa/participatory action, Venezia/Venice 1999

The title of this action refers to a 1997 drawing (concerning the different social contexts in which the artist had lived) and evolves into a new diagram, which refers instead to her present, in which the ego, meant as the personal identity, meets the self, or of the "social" identity, as it is perceived by others depending on the context in which they were known.

The passage of time has an effect on the ego, on the self and on the context itself, then the terms of the relationship are constantly redesigned, resulting in a continual repositioning of the subject.

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Diagrammi, disegno/drawing, Venzia/Venice 1999

The intent of the performance is to remove the perception of others based on constraints related to the environment in which the meeting took place, that is where each has acquired a "role", in order to establish a new communication. In this way, it shows how the word should be freed from the cultural codes and social environments in which it is forced, to show its creative dimension and to push towards the abandonment of the social identity in favor of personal one.

The dialogue with the viewer returns in the work In Bilico (hanging in the balance) - Experience of Aestethic Pain (London, 2003), in which the artist looks for a contact with the public and at the same time explores the different perspectives through which we perceive the world: the appearance (or "outside-in") and the substance ("inside-out").
These points of view are not necessarily opposed, rather they represent two complementary and co-functional processes of perception, even if they are not devoid of problematic interactions.

In front of a lavishy table, the artist -who wears a camera which sends images to a screen (that is the appearance of the event and a symbol of the "outside-in" glance) - sits in front of each guest, "provoking" him/her with a word or a phrase that refers to concepts related to pain, decay and death, and calling him/her -if he/she wishes-to respond (that is the substance of the event and then the "inside out").

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In Bilico, Experience of aesthetic Pain, video performance partecipativa/participatory video performance, Londra/London 2003

Every work is a combination of intuition and documentation, it moves along more disciplines and leads to an artwork –that is not necessarily material- in which the viewer has his/her own space, an (inter)active role.

The artist addresses to the Other, called to participate the fruition of the work, but also to its narrative, through an (inter)action that takes many shapes: from the dialogue, in its various possibilities, to the perceptive, moving along the single space-time contingency.

Becoming aware: the words of the artistic action
The artist’s attention is focused on the sharing of the work, that does not necessarily mean sharing the - philosophical, sociological and aesthetic- research that sustains it: every work is structured as a journey that each viewer fulfil in a different way, reaching levels of in-depth analysis and understanding that are suit him/her.

As for the Socratic maieutic, evryone has the answers within him/her and just needs to be able to reach them. From a strictly artistic point of view, the methodology of active involvement of the viewer bring straight to Marina Abramovic, the tutelary deity of the performing arts, which is along the same direction of Elena Colgni and her Re-Moved (Glasgow, 2008) a multimedia performing installation within the Glasgow International in 2008 in the Center of Contemporary Art.

During three days, the artist finds herself with one spectator at a time in front of a screen connected to a video camera that records them and show their images on delay, combining them with footages of collapsing or under construction buildings.

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Re-moved, video installazione partecipativa/participatory video installation (part.), Glasgow 2008

During the face to face, which lasts about fifteen minutes, the artist makes to each one some questions on the flowing of time, on the memory, on the condition of the present and on the memory of the moments just lived and recorded by the video camera, asking him/her to rebuild places of the his/her past, overlapping aspects of their past to their present experience.

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Re-moved, video installazione partecipativa/participatory video installation (part.), Glasgow 2008

The dialogue then becomes a performance one-to-one, and the work takes shape and meaning only through the viewer, his/her words, his/her memories, that -just like for the buildings that flows on the screen- build a new space-time continuum de-constructing, at the same time, the here-and-now and revealing how much the personal and perceptual dimension may be conditioning for a dimension -time, in fact- which is presumed to be objective.

The dimension of dialogue also returns in one of the most recent works of the artist, Balancing (Bari, 2014) composed of a dialogue, a performance opened to the spectators and some drawings and sculptures.

The work is the second phase of a site specific project started in Radio Materiality (an initiative curated by the cultural association Vessel in Bari during the summer in 2013) and consists of a series of dialogues with some women-mothers-workers on the sociological aspect of the concept of trust, which were presented at the 2013 Athens Biennale.

In both phases, memory, storage and places tie, in the first place, to motherhood, which, if it affirms a poignant autobiographical component on the one hand, on the other hand, as it take shape in a series of meetings with the mothers of Bari, in places of the city that they consider most representative of their relationship with their children, recovers the theme of memory and of the public space.

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Balancing, Bari 2014

This comparison with the Italian mothers represents for the artist also a reflection on the status of women, their role as women in the society and the evolution of the individual Italian woman from adolescence to adulthood, hovering between emancipation and social advancement and the bloody dimension of gender violence.

From the words of the mothers involved emerges how much the balance of any individual woman within the social context depends on the harmony between the different functions that she is called to hold within the family (wife, worker, individual, mother), and how much these differ at different stages of the growth of the children, from the symbiosis of infancy to the conflict of teenage identity.

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Balancing, Bari 2014

In this dialectical dimension it combines the physical one, or the performance of the public, as it was invited to run spins through a path built in cloth through the exhibition area, under the gaze of a camera. The spinners, made by the artist herself, are very heavy and loud, able to leave a graphic sign of their passage through their graphite tips.

The top is a toy, tied to childhood, but it is also the symbol of a mother-child relationship, always looking for a balance which, actually, it is impossible to fix: the top stands only when it is moving, and similarly, the relationship between mother and son is constantly changing depending on age, on circumstances, both needs.

An idea of change that is not limited to motherhood, but that has always characterized the work of the artist and that binds to the perception of time, of the present as of a moment of awareness of the change and the concept of Lifeness (an untranslatable word which is similar to the concept of "state of immanent existence").

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Balancing (part.), Bari 2014

The deceptive look: the perception as a distinctive feature
The theory of perception, the basic element of Elena Cologni development, has won, over time, also the role of a pillar of her artistic expression, that is intended – in the Anglo-Saxon context – as a multidisciplinary element, relating more to science than to art itself.

Actually, the perceptual basis on which Elena Cologni works have more to do with the history of art rather than to science, having within the perspective the spectator as reference as theorized by Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti and the fathers of modern art, such as Leonardo and Michelangelo, and in general the Renaissance system in which the geometry, the psychology of perception and a well-defined concept of spatiality also become poetically relevant in the artist working choice.

And more, the philosophical nature insights linked to Martin Jay’s (an American philosopher who criticizes the structure of the Western philosophical system which he described as ocular-centric), a new reading of Jacques Lacan’s concept of the gaze and that of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Chiasm (according to which, the human being is a mixture of nature and culture, that is to say of body and language) and on both of them reflections on the subject who is the object of vision at the same time.

From the construction of the space to the movement within the space it was short journey, but not resoloving. The dialectical opposition between the vision and the action as the foundation of the artwork remains an unresolved issue, which often leads to a paradox.

Along the border -that the artist crosses willingly- are placed many of her works.
As the series Public Private Perception, arisen from a performance at the Toynbee Theatre in London (2011), in which the artist explores the surrounding environment while blindfolded.

The two video installations of the same name that derive from there were presented in London and Bologna. The first is a footage in direct (about the action that the artist plays in the basement of the gallery) and the other has been previously registered in the London Tube.

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Public Private Perception, installazione video in presa diretta/live video installation, Londra/London - Bologna 2001

In this installation, it is highlighted how the way to record information about places is subject to change according to the conditions of the context. In addition, the juxtaposition of past and present actions let out a transition space/time dimension, which recomposes as the viewer enjoys it.

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Public Private Perception (part.), installazione video in presa diretta/live video installation, Londra/London - Bologna 2001

This research direction is also echoed in the Italian video installation (Public Private Perception 02 - Bologna, 2002), in which the object of exploration, again blindfolded, is the gallery where the work is exposed. Investigating with the touch a place known hitherto only through the view opens up to a reflection on how the relationship between body and environment influences the perception of oneself: the inability to see increases, on the one hand, the artist frailty within the environment that surrounds her, but at the same time it increases the ability to enter in contact with the outside, enabling her -for example- to associate colours and materials to specific tactile sensations.

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Public Private Perception (part.), installazione video in presa diretta/live video installation, Londra/London - Bologna 2001

Another direction of investigation, linked to the immanence of vision and action, and aimed to investigate the hybrid form of performance art created with various media, is the origin of Menmonic Present UN-FOLDING. The project includes a series of video installations in direct in which the coexistence of the event and its documentation (presented as part of the work itself), joined to the fruition that takes the viewer inside the artist "mnemonic present", that pose questions about the nature of memory and the immanent present.

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Mnemonic Present Unfolding, serie di performance/series of performance, schizzo / sketch

Every memory comes from an experience that is stored in the mind of the subject and, when it is recalled, it activates individual elements (colours, smells, sounds). All subsequent similar experiences, on the one hand, will be conditioned by the memory, on the other hand, they will enrich it, overlapping new elements to those already stored or reinforcing the existing ones. Of course, the same happens with people, places and so on.

In this sense, even if the archive of ones memories will be built over the years, it acquires meaning only when it is brought back to life through the act of remembering, that can only happen in the present. This instant (where the hic et nunc consciousness and the unconscious linked to the memory meet) is defined by the artist "Mnemonic Present".

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Mnemonic Present Unfolding, performance/performance, Bergamo 2005-2006

Each video installation of the Menmonic Present UN-FOLDING cycle fulfils simultaneously the action and its documentation, conveying the action itself with a delay of a few seconds.

This way, the viewer perceives the action as simultaneously to its development as deferred to it, entering into a mechanism of "memory of the present" or mnemonic present that the artist activates, that calls into question the notions of memory, past and present.

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Mnemonic Present Unfolding, performance/performance, Trieste 2005-2006

Breaking down the boundaries: scientific surveys and artistic language
Within the diverse artistic production of Elena Cologni stands a remarkable inclination for contamination with eccentric areas regarding the language as specifically related to art and culture.

Like, for example, in the performance Pollen forecast, Anemofila (Istanbul, 2006), based on the study of the characteristics of pollen found on the Holy Shroud, which has determined the geographical origin and type, or that it belongs to “anemofila” plants pollination (transported by the wind ) or “entomofile” (transported by insects) .

The action takes place through an elastic fabric strip suspended between the ceiling and the floor on which the artist is abandoned until she touches the floor to collect pollen while a voice tells about its journey through Palestine, Turkey and Europe. There is no religious nuance behind the work, only the conscious decision to analyse traces of the artist cultural roots, almost detached and distant. Despite the action only lasts fifteen minutes, the audience can watch it closer through close ups taken from selected points of view, also including one the artist herself.

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Pollen forecast, Anemofila, video installazione e performance/ video installation and performance, Istanbul 2006

On the same line, that has much more nuances than it may seem, it can be found some of the works developed for RockFluid, a project based on the collaboration between the artist and the psychologist Lisa Saksida sponsored by the Department of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge University. The memory, the perception and the space are the elements around which the project itself composes, which can be also considered as a traveling that produces forms.

As well as the opposition vision / action, even the attempt to measure the present, or its illusory perception, can lead to paradoxical results, discernible, for example in Spac(e)ous (Bergamo, 2013), an installation that aims at increasing participants’ perception of present space and time, that was created as part of RockFluid.

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Spa(e)cious, video installazione performativa, performative video installation (part), Cambridge 2012

During Spac(e)ous the audience, standing on an unstable platform, is invited to carry out some given instructions and memorize the movements in space, while images of the space taken from above and other taken by a video camera worn by one of the participant flow on the walls.

The two-stage memory (from which RockFluid itself takes its name), solid as a rock while consolidating memories and fluid in resurface them to memory, finds in the performance itself an element of crisis.

The "interferences" (as the unstable platform and the solicitations of the video images) alter the perception of space and time in the present and ultimately tries severely the capacity of storing memories (even if in a very short time).

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Spa(e)cious, video installazione performativa, performative video installation (part), Cambridge 2012

The two-stage memory (from which RockFluid itself takes its name), solid as a rock while consolidating memories and fluid in resurface them to memory, finds in the performance itself an element of crisis.
The "interferences" (as the unstable platform and the solicitations of the video images) alter the perception of space and time in the present and ultimately tries severely the capacity of storing memories (even if in a very short time).

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L’Elastico, installazione partecipativa/participatory installation, Cambridge 2012

The link between the two different sets of memories suggests the possibility of a stratified social culture, composed by the exchange of memories and experiences related to different places, of built identities- as to the other aspects of today’s culture – of local and global instances.

Space, time, perception, and even the memory then dissolve in an indistinct common composition, that gets a different structure in every person. And that can offer unlimited possibilities for analysis and research, but no ultimate solution: art never gives answers, its task is to continue to propose questions.

View online : Elena Cologni website

Translated by Antonella Opera