14 january 2014

to be moved by the sum of individuals

emma ciceri in zagreb (by giuliana carbi *)

A simple naturalness that is lost almost immediately: the first big disillusion that we often experience as children occurs when we become aware of our separation from “everything” that our senses can perceive, when thinking about why we are not somebody else, why we are not the external world but are separated from everything that surrounds us and that seems to be a part of us. Nevertheless, when the so called maturity is reached, some bits of what it means to be a part of life “communion” can be gathered here and there. For example, when you, walking down the street through a crowd, try to imagine individual fatigues, joys and vicissitudes on the life path that each passenger chooses to lead, and because you cannot really empathize, since you don’t know any notable element of precise connection with the absolutely individual flow of their lives, you are incredibly moved…
I believe that the main driving force of refined artistic procedure that Emma Ciceri makes in a very personal way is the attempt to develop and to extend her own apperception, and also, having the opportunity, to show others how fundamental it is to be aware of the emotions we feel when we try to understand the emotions and the experiences of others. I also believe that it is a result of learning from an expert such as Adrian Paci, great listener and amplifier of the smallest vibrations (which are, I am afraid, often painful in this very confused world of today) of authentic and insuppressible dignity which all individuals possess.  
I would like to consider here two affirmations by Emma Ciceri, took from two interviews of hers, which I found crucial. I believe they give us indications that we need for defining the particular point of view from which the artist is watching and representing the world. 
About her drawings, that isolate single figures of people from their contextually significant background, which is hidden and permanently eliminated by white paint – we will talk below more clearly of these cancellations that often occur and distinct the work of this artist – Emma Ciceri says that she wants to “remove in order to accentuate”.  The second affirmation of the artist that I would like to extract is: “I abduct these images; I collect them by archiving them”. It refers to the moments when her hidden video camera catches the natural behavior of individuals which participate in a gathering: studying the crowd is the second big field of action which characterizes and guides the originality of Emma Ciceri’s artistic research. (1)
The exhibition in Zagreb presents two series of small drawings and the video animation trilogy Zone (zones), which will be mentioned further on. The dialogue between the drawings and the videos follows agreements and analogies which amplify the meaning of cancellation, central for this artist. All the exposed drawings are from the last year: the series Roghi (pyres), which bring into focus small images of fire and smoke episodes took from magazines and newspapers, all on a whitened background, and the series Senza Titolo (untitled) which is still in progress. In the last series the idea of fragility becomes more evident as a result of the development of prior investigations of the artist.
The sentimental fragility is precisely highlighted by the artist’s return to the intimate dimensions of the drawings of figures with infantile lines. It becomes one with the supporting paper and pencil mark which traces outlines of drawings of faces and animals. Its representation responds to two opposite forces: on one side these undefined drawings are often blurred with haziness and it seems that they want to be protected in their privacy and from the others, but on the other side, highlighted with a showy circular mark,  they call for inquisitive exploration. Here the coexistence of these two opposed forces of distancing and closing of the observer, which are ever-present in the overall work of this artist, is certainly balanced and calm. We can say that the artist herself leads us to these two ways of interpretation with her statements mentioned earlier.
So, in the light of the aforementioned, how come removing/destroying and achieving/preserving can be found together? How is it possible to remove the individual from his most intimate context, and, in the same time, to search for the smallest reason for bringing him closer, on the contrary and because of it, to the collective identification, no matter how small it is?
On the technical level of the art history, how is it possible that in post-modernism the modernist tradition of de-authorization, instability and uncertainty is found together with the classical tradition of searching for the places of attraction, association and memory?
In trying to answer these questions I would like to converge two lines that seem incompatible. 
The first comes from typically secular tradition from Lombardy which gave to International Gothic the miniatures of Tacuina sanitatis. They don’t leave a lot of space for the text, since the images themselves describe the fundamental rules of leading a healthy life and in that way drawing the society of the period, as in the excellent example of Giovannino de’ Grassi. We need to bear in mind that Emma Ciceri is from Bergamo and that these splendid illustrated manuals, in trying to render medical rules more understandable, are actually useful models of how people should behave in one precise historical period. Since today we have lost the directness of old rules, these illustrations are a collection of magnificent figures in one specific context. 
The second line is formed in the “incubator” of the Black Mountain Collage which brought Robert Rauschenberg to his famous Erased de Kooning drawing (1953) – a pragmatist environment, that was bursting with energy at the beginning of the fifties thanks to the minimalistic anticipation of his White Paintings (1951) and 4’33” (1952) by John Cage, in which is, for our purpose,  interesting to notice that every accidental sound in the hall (like breathing of the audience) or from the outside (like trees on the wind) forms a fundamental part of this work. In Rauschenberg’s time the act of erasing a drawing by de Kooning was an important minimalistic procedure, in the sense that voluntarily “removing” one work can produce a new work of art.
The fact that exactly the same year, in 1953, Larry Rivers completed Washington crossing the Delaware has a special connection to our subject. As highlighted by Marco Livingstone, this incredible challenge to the modern art tradition tempts with the use of a “pre-existing subject”, an historical theme so famous that it seems trivial, but Rivers takes away all the heroism, even the pictorial one, “concentrating on fragility and hesitations of the figures”. The new concept of the American painting is nourished by the personal “tendency to scatter on the surface (of his paintings) episodic fragments seen as materialized memory”. (2)
I believe the mentioned historical premises and the contemporary need to discuss friction between singularity (the main creator of attraction, association and memory) and the simple pre-existing images (which have, in the meantime, multiplied disproportionally, because of the great abundance of visual incitements) can find adequate dialectic in the direction Emma Ciceri undertook with her research. For example, in her series of three videos Zone (zones) the artist chooses in turn to obliterate a “familiar” or easily recognisable background. That is to say that she uses in a very interesting and current “contrary” way, both Rivers practice of pre-existing subjects (but she suppresses them) and Rauschenberg’s practice of erasing (but she eliminates not an authentic work of an artist, but a simple pre-existing subject). 
We cannot say that the work of this artist derives from an extreme stronghold of minimalism. But, precisely because of the particular story of a specific minimalistic “incorporating” method (which, for example, at Black Mountain Collage allowed the chance to become an essential part of the work of art), her work can, with the tools of minimalism, filtrate unexpected variables (which today are urgent problems), and those are emotions. In other words, in accordance and through minimalism, she can collect emotions’ current manifestations and explicitly define them in her work. Emma Ciceri does it by cutting the background of small figures, which appear as “found miniatures” that materialize the memory. Both Rivers and Duchamp, would really like this personal medieval notepad of hers. She uses “reduction” of easily recognisable images – like a political meeting of communists (Zone 2011) or fascist assembly (Zone 2012) are – and then she arrives to Zone 2013, which announce a shift occurring in the last cycle Madre di Monumenti (mother of monuments), which will be motioned later.  
It is interesting to notice that many artists of her generation, which tell normal and non heroic stories as our time requests, use, just like Emma Ciceri, what they have learned from minimalism for carrying out further operations of reduction, even on the moving images, as is the case of many recent Italian video works. 
The crowd, topos chosen by Emma Ciceri in videos presented in Zagreb, is a system that works well in that sense. First of all, every crowd is different, each changing the object of influence and identification. It is, in fact, very different, not just historically but also psychologically, whether the crowd is gathered to greet a king, a head of state or an idol from media, or to participate in some entertaining event (which vary from gladiator fights to rock concerts or football matches), or to storm the Bastille, or to march compact in the strike of workers that claim the social rights of the fourth estate, or even to be killed on the Tiananmen Square or when escaping from a great danger that the nature, suddenly, exposes us to. 
A second characteristic – very important for the artist in terms of “accentuating” – is that every single component of the crown is equal and different at the same time (society of “equals” and singularity of “I”). There are many points of view for watching the particular ways individuals aggregate. Here I want to point out, at least, that the crowd belongs to the group of dynamic systems; that it is well-known from the times of Gustave Le Bon that the emotions inside a crown are both very simple and much exaggerated (3).
It is not bad that neo-minimalism explores the primary and elementary units of emotions! Emma Ciceri is interested in the phenomenon of stability/instability inside internal relations of the system of crowd, to the point that she can present it through radical subtraction, as in Lode (praise) (2009). The artist explains that in this video “the absence, […] the energy of passage, of transition that leaves traces” can be perceived while a light breeze moves the papers and the litter left on the stands of a stadium by the crowd of fans who have just recently left. (4) 
It is a crucial point in her process of “accentuating”: absence, energy, transition, traces…  an old primer for learning to interpret our connection with time. That is exactly why a couple of years later Madre di Monumenti will refer to time. (5) 
On the exposed gradual scale of distancing and closening it seems that the development of this new theme, even before it was included in the video Zone 2013 that we can see now in Zagreb, made Emma Ciceri shift needle to the opposite side of the powerful timeless immersions she dealt with when “abducting” examples of crowd surfing on YouTube (in this manner young bodies are raised over the heads of onlookers at rock concerts) for her video work Anatomia- Folle (anatomy- crowds), also in 2013.  Here I would like to stress that the recently concluded year has been very prolific for this young artist.
In the imagination stirred by Madre di Monumenti, the big equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel II becomes an emblematic testimony (mother) of the flow of crowds and of the repetition of bursts of emotion which the individuals who form these crowds have transmitted each other. 
The statue captures (and collects) the flow of the repetition of emotions and it archives its transitions. It gladly confirms that they are in a constant number. Still, we want that it assumes a quite different role which is much closer to us. It should convince us in the illusion that every passage is strongly individual and unique. That is the aspiration of every single being, which even a small crowd can eventually dissolve. 
The artist develops the chosen “pre-existing subject”. By cancelling everything else, the monument remains the only possible constant on the scene. In that way the big monument in Milan becomes a sort of symbolic reservoir of the vibrant energy of changing fragilities and of repetition of sentiments that have passed, are passing and will be passing in constant exchange of the crowds on the Duomo Square. Its firmness in time, compared with the human course of life, has a duty to accentuate unstable zones of our fragility, which the global era has even more extended… but it didn’t equip us with new and effective instruments of resistance. Minimalism is not one of those instruments and it cannot be a prerogative of immunity for the observer. 
Therefore, could we imagine of just one new scene of gathering around a statue in time, instead of the one erased by the artist? Could that also mean unveiling new model-images for teaching us how to participate authentically in the sentiments of others?
The sense of the dream inside Emma Ciceri’s act of “removing” is an exercise of sensibility which remains open to each and every one of us. A task able to easily change into a splendid voyage that moves us, every time in a new and delicate manner, when facing the extraordinary humanity in the sum of individuals.
*  The text was written on the occasion of Emma Ciceri’s exhibition Zones, which was held from 16 January to 1 February 2014 at the Institute for Contemporary art in Zagreb. 
1.  The first of the two quotes from the artist is extracted from “talenthunter, Emma Ciceri”, Exibart onpaper, no. 72, 2011, p. 71, while the second one comes from: Caterina Molteni, “Intervista a Emma Ciceri – ‘Madre Di Monumenti’ CAREOF DOCVA, 29 ottobre 2013”, viewed 28 December 2013, For further in-depth analysis of the theme of crowd in the artistic work of Emma Ciceri look at: Gabi Scardi, Anatomia-Folle, a review for the exhibition held by Riccardo Crespi in Milan in January 2013.
2.  The quotes are taken from Marco Livingstone’s Pop Art una storia che continua, Leonardo, Milano, 1990, pg. 26. Livingstone adds that Larry Rivers chooses specifically for this painting a subject that is “mostly of all loaded with explicit American connotations”.
3.  Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie des foules, Alcan, Paris, 1895.
4.  See: Caterina Molteni, op.cit.
5.  The project was presented by Alessandra Pioselli at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan, from 29 October to 27 November 2013. It started in 2011 during the workshop Mandato a memoria, held by Rossella Biscotti at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bergamo in association with the ISREC-Istituto Bergamasco per la Storia della Resistenza e dell'Età Contemporanea (institute for the history of resistance and contemporary period) in Bergamo.