Staffan Bengtsson, Vanitas, Aschenglorie, 1994

The two works presented here by Salvatore Puglia -Vanitas and Aschengloire- have separate origins and were never conceived to be assembled in this way. Nevertheless, it is inviting to consider them as a constellation. The row of vertical lines of small panes joins with the grouping of squares expanding on the floor. It stands like a construction in front of you. Vanitas with its panes in leaded frames reminds you of a stained glass window. On the floor -like an aisle to the past- the 10 x 10 cm squares reappear as the basic unit for the rectangles of different sizes that make up Aschengloire. The imperceptible check pattern -like a grid at the site of an archeological excavation- seems to structure the interior organization of this work and the appearance of its representations.

The basic 10 x 10 unit inscribes the two pieces in a three-dimensional system of co-ordinates, with its obvious associations to identity and signification. The vertical movement of a construction raising upwards –Vanitas- letting in light, is set against a horizontal sinking downwards in the dark, in the past -Aschengloire. The unearthing of memory in Aschengloire as well as the mapping of experience in Vanitas are situated in a dialectic of day and night, conscious and unconscious, identity and difference, subsuming the latter under the former in the name of knowledge, truth and comprehension.

Vanitas consist of a series of x-rays of skulls double-exposured with various types of signs, symbols and notations. The glass-plates are furthermore engraved on both sides with fragments of a discontinuous text in different languages. The merging of x-rays and signs substantialize a powerful strand in modern science and thought in favour of totalization as correlation and manifestation. No ghost in the machine! But the Puglia experience draws upon its own resources. Without dismissing the discriminating reality of referentiality and intentionality, this work opens up to a tacit dimension: experience as communication.

The x-rays represent the historical endeavour, using increasingly powerful tools, to make manifest and identify human experience. On the other hand, indirectly, they also bear witness of pain, suffering, and the vulnerability of the human body invaded by unseen forces. It is true that the lead frames are a guarantee for permanence and protection, but they are simultaneously a poisonous and alterating contact. The x-ray pictures -intended to visualize the invisible- are not transparent. They do not show their own dissembling force. Upon closer inspection the windows are opaque; as if blinds were shutting out the light but letting through an incessant murmur or noise without interruption. The details of each frame with its heterogeneous sides are incompatible with a distancing and totalizing gaze from a fixed perspective that is always too near or too remote. Instead, the observer
Is drawn to and fro and around.
The project to totalize experience as correlation and manifestation seems constantly to be threatened by an excess of determination, and yet a determination that is not enough. The superposition of different signs, symbols and images displays a fragmentary and heteronymous object, contaminated by its own density.

If Vanitas can be read as an ironic allusion to the capacity and ambition of negation and intentionality to totalize human experience, then Aschengloire rings as a commemoration of a memory that escapes manifestation. In this piece it is less the punctuality of an event, than a heterogeneous entirety that resists totalization. Portraits, passports, bones, maps, buildings, landscapes, cityscapes abundantly testify to a forgotten memory. The exact fixation of each remnant is made possible by the implied grid. But the relation between the represented object and its context cannot be determined by the units themselves. Again, it is impossible to arrest the whole work in one scan. The spectator is obliged both to bend down and move around the ‘site’ in a circular movement to be able to take in the scene appropriately. The secret of the objects does not remain hidden because of the incompleteness of the finds. It is not the forgetting of a missing bone. The overdetermined and yet incomplete manifestation of this memory is necessarily a function of the interchangeability of the units and the open boundaries of the work. Instead, it is the fragmentary and repetitive urgency of a lost familiarity that insists in a dormant experience. Not the incompleteness or the malfunction of a mind or a society that has lost its memory, but blindness to a form of communication in which seeing is also touching and reading is also listening, a dimension without manifestation and power.

Staffan Bengtsson

August 1994

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