Interviews and texts
"Mind the Gap"
20/03/010n the floor of the nearly empty hall, stranded like a whale in the shoals, apocalyptically blasted open as if by a demented pianist running amok, writhes a once magnificent grand piano — an image of woe. At some distance we see a cluster of folding chairs, also more or less bizarrely deformed, disarranged and falling over, handwringing weepers, citizens of Calais bemoaning their fate - like them bravely defying catastrophe, by no means completely broken, far from being definitively resigned. At least one triad, a little further away, leaned up against the wall, remains more or less on its feet.
Visitors to the exhibition wonder: What could have happened, what horri?c catastrophe might have transpired?
The disturbing scene oscillates between drama and irony and yet, strangely enough, it also exhibits a quiet, poetic melancholy, similar to that of the photographs and videos on display right next to the described installation, on and underneath the gallery. These, therefore, are the three groups of works presented by Loris Cecchini in the Heidelberger Kunstverein, in his first major exhibition in Germany.
Musical instruments in art — shattered violins, piled in a heap and covered with aspic; cellos with implanted video monitors; but above all, pianos, pianos, pianos: decked outwith lights, shrouded in felt, brutally hanging from the ceiling, suddenly falling open with an apocalyptic roar, terrorizing visitors, literally tortured to death in a sadistic performance - this evidently is a topical theme, much loved in contemporary art. It seems as if artists had a sort of love/ hate relationship with this instrument, and at some point it might be worth scrutinizing this more closely.
But here things are not quite so bad. The smashed piano is take, a copy cast in rubber, though - very painstakingly - reproduced with minute details, and thus, even as a gray replica, still identifiable as a once costly instrument from the late 19th century, mode in ltaly. The chairs also are mode of rubber, and their expressive demeanor is largely due to the flabby heaviness of the material.
And thus, no catastrophe has actually taken place. What we see here is, rather, a deconstructivist memorial, the gray shadow of something that once was, but is now irretrievably gone — a manifesto of memory, a melancholy mememto mori, o symbol of vanity.
More important than the professionally manicured collector's item is the staged polarity of instrument and chairs, that is, the opposition between o place of presentation and o zone of perception. And then the striking distance that opens up between the two: Mind the gap.
The scene does not necessarily let us assume an unbroken relationship between producer and recipient. Might then the theme of this installation be art itself - art as a failed, or at least problematic attempt at communication? Loris Cecchini’s works cannot be reduced to the simple denominator of one Single, clearly definable message.
But the perspective implied above gives deconstructivist deformation a plausible thematic dimension.
Everything is Theater. Even in the photographs we encounter this aspect again and again. We see rows al seats, balconies, stage, spectators; and again and again there are ruptures, aspects al the absurd. Everything is artificial, everything is play‚ performance, dream, illusion. The young Milanese artist's work deals with the world of images and their relation to reality, with our perception and, as well, with the possibilities of both traditional and new digital technologies, which he applies with such consummate mastery.
For Cecchini, however technology is neither an end in itself nor merely a means of sly deception. It is‚ rather‚ also the content of what is being represented. The viewer is never so ensnared by the seduction of the trompe l'oeil that he can no longer escape - Cecchini is not interested in the production of habit-forming virtual worlds from the digital test-tube. He cares more about making the deception recognizable as such and thus pointing the viewer back toward the world of reality. But: What is reality? In Cecchini’s work highly dissimilar realities came together, reminiscences of the most different origins. And each of them is as real or unreal as the new whole that is created from this encounter as a work of art.
It is worth devoting some attention to the sculptural quality of these "soft," rubber sculptures, and examining the individual components of the work, each for itself, and also in correlation
with one another and with the overall space — from different perspectives, and especially from above, i.e., from the gallery.
For Cecchini's installation was created specifically for this space. Of course this does not mean it would not be able to unfold its presence somewhere else, but in that case it would probably be
in a notably different arrangement, and one equally specific to the space in which it is shown. Nonetheless, the relation is not merely of a formal nature. The iconography itself, the idea with
the grand piano, is directly related to the "genius loci". The hall of the Heidelberger Kunstverein, Cecchini explains, reminded him of a concert hall, not to mention the fact that to him the piano is
an element that is highly typical of German culture, in contrast to Italy. Furthermore, Heidelberg is a cultural city with o very strong focus on music.
The spatial relation also involves the — one could almost say nonexistent — color of the objects. Cecchini's concert ensemble presents itself in neutral gray, a gray that links the variety of forms in the manner of a basso continuo, and which, he explains, is an absolute characteristic of artificiality — the artificiality, for instance, of computer texts and images, before these, then, secondarily and randomly, are again charged with color; but also of the cool, sober colorlessness of computer hardware and similar technological equipment.
It is easily apparent that any other color would be unthinkable, if we only try to imagine such a color within the given context. Any other color would bring a determination into play that would immediately destroy the intended openness and indefiniteness of this work. And thus it is also fully intended by the artist that the gray of the piano and the chairs hardly stands out against the light-colored terrazzo floor and just barely against the white of the walls. And this nebulous blurring of contrasts is likewise to be found in the photographs and the video installation.
The anchoring of his work in authentic experience is important to Cecchini. Thus, in the end, the setting that dictates the character of the entire exhibition — the grand piano, the empty rows of chairs, also encountered in the photographs, the allusions to stage and audience — has a very concrete origin. It is not necessary to know this to be able to approach the work. Nonetheless, such knowledge is helpful, for it casts a significant light on Cecchini's relationship to reality and perception.
All the above-mentioned details are from a beautiful cinema from the 1950s, which is no longer in operation today and now belongs to the Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, one of the biggest and most beautiful galleries in Italy, whose young and engaged team has close ties with Loris Cecchini and his work.
One enters the gallery, located in the heart of San Gimignano, from the Piazza della Cisterna and descends through impressive historical rooms and medieval vaults to arrive unexpectedly in the aforesaid cinema, which now, within the framework of the gallery, offers a space for a wide variety of installations and performances — a situation not bereft of surreal components. The play is over, but the theater continues, even if no longer on stage.
Cecchini's newest works have much to do with all of the above. Let us look at one of his pictures more closely.
The hall is empty — or almost. In the foreground there stands a woman, most likely a tourist, who is looking very concentratedly, almost strenuously, into the light, trying to see something where the viewer can imagine the cinema screen. But what is happening on the screen, if there is or ever was one, remains hidden, like the before and after of this seeming snapshot, which is something like a movie still, though of course anything but o random shot. Instead, it is quite carefully composed, and if we look more closely at how the picture was processed, this fact is also confirmed from the technical side.
Moving away from the central figure, the viewer's attention now focuses on the background, where two people, apparently trying to protect themselves from a heavy rain shower, quite paradoxically are hurrying toward the exit. This action, creating a counterpoise in the picture's composition, appears strangely random and quotidian, simultaneously natural and absurd. lt is as if the virtual images had separated themselves from the screen and broken into the reality of
the room - or, rather, the reality of the image and of the image space.
Cecchini's pictures undoubtedly have a surreal component. But this results not from the classic encounter of an umbrella with a sewing machine on a dissecting table, but from an encounter that is so can fusing because it displays unreal features without being unimaginable in daily reality. "Cecchini composes surreal pictorial narratives just a hair's breadth beyond the possible yet still far enough away from the absurd. Herein lies the fascination of these photographs and their suggestive force,” writes Dagmar Burisch in an exhibition review.1
ln so far, it is surely correct when it is pointed out in a catalogue text on Cecchini that his influences are less to be found in the classical Surrealists than in their predecessors, the masters of the "Pittura Metofisica, " such as De Chirico, but also in the mysteriously still
compositions of Giorgio Morandi2, who, not coincidentally, tunes his pictures to the subtle nuances of a richly shaded gray. But in contrast to Morandi's still-lifes - seldom does a term fit so precisely as here - Cecchini tells stories. His pictures seem to be snapshots; they have
the flavor of an objet trouvé, of — in the words of Susan Sonntag — "snapshot archeology".
But Cecchini would not be Cecchini if it were all as simple as that. For only in port do these pictures have the character of snapshots; in them, the boundaries between reality and illusion - or, better, between different realms of reality — occur on different levels, and all of them, as already implied, are rigorously calculated and con- structed compositions — to use this term in a comprehensive and precise sense. lt should be noted that here precision and rigor in no way conflict with the, one could almost say, romantic poetry and tenderness of these works, or even o certain playful lightness that has nothing to do with lightheadedness, but likewise shares nothing with Teutonic relentlessness.
Nor do these pictures have anything in common with the surrealistic "ecriture automatique". They are neither uniform derivatives of reality nor reproductions of compositions staged solely for the purpose of being captured photographically. They are no surrealistically mixed-up assemblage of motits or syntheses of virtual images dreamed up on the computer screen from the collection of Photo-Shop or similar programs. As mentioned above, what Loris Cecchini cares about is the relationship with tangible, material reality, as shown by his increased interest in the obiect and the spatial installation in his new work.
His photographic work is based on the combination of photographs directly taken from his experience at reality — and at these he has an enormous collection (a large number at the people depicted in the pictures exhibited here were photographed in the streets of Taipei, where Cecchini participated in the Biennale last year) - with an atmosphere that, while by no means unintluenced by the realm of concrete experience, as shown by the reference to San Gimignano, was ?rst painstakingly constructed by the artist as a model landscape and then photographed in a fairly conventional manner. Sometimes only small but vital details give an indication of the model character, for instance, nails that reveal something about the obiect's size.
lnto the interiors he has thus created — in earlier works Cecchini dealt primarily with desolate, anonymous landscapes at the urban periphery, likewise reconstructed in model form - he then integrates the figures taken from reality. Only in this phase of the work does the computer come into play, enabling a fusion and assimilation that can hardly be imagined in a more elegant form. Cecchini sees his trod with photography and computer as "classical" painting using different means. With the help of the computer he creates perspecti ve adaptation, shadow, sfumato, reflection.
Like Cecchini's formal stringency, this process of combining, which, in turn, is not just a means to an end but a readable substantive consideration of the levels and ruptures of ways of conveying reality - with new reality constantly being created - points much further back than Pittura Metafisica or Surrealism. It is reminiscent of the "sacre conversazioni” of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and of the altarpieces of the great Italian masters in particular, in which space and time were bridged in a completely plausible way, "sub specie aeternitatis,” and highly divergent realms at reality were imoginarily connected with one another.
In Cecchini, the confrontation between the "naturalness" of the figures and the recognizable ”artificiality" of their surroundings is an essential aspect of the described process of composition with contrasting realities. Today, however, the rupture is no longer as obvious as in earlier works, where Cecchini worked mainly with the amazing assimilation of different scales and, à la Gulliver, had "real" people climbing around on a toy car or - even earlier, before he started
recreating reality in models - situated himself as a midget in the exciting world of enlarged household appliances - in the sink and in the soap dish, in the iungle of computer cabels or the grandiose cupola of a washing-machine drum.
It may be that these works, created in the years 1997-1999, are more witty, more spectacular than the newer ones discussed here.
But there is no question that since then Cecchini's work has grown beyond the formulation of original points and the virtuoso performance of amazing special effects into a mature, a for more complex and intense art where, nonetheless, the dimension of the philosophical and the meditative does not exclude that of the humorous.
In 1998 Cecchini began to turn the tables and decisively expand the repertoire of his series of works. The principle of inserting photographs of real persons into a model landscape was ioined by the construction of threedimensional models on a scale of 1:1, which were then, in turn, situated in real space. The circle closes in a highly topical way: The model af the real obiect, constructed alter the reality, takes its place in reality.
lnitially Cecchini was working with enlarged reproductions of plastic blanks with the casting burrs left on as an element of distress. But soon he discovered that the material of synthetic rubber was extremely well suited as a medium for his intentions for the manufacture of 1:1 casts at real abiects, whose amazing artificiality results from the material's soft-sculpture character on the one hand, and the use of the previously mentioned neutral gray, on the other.
The viewer may feel reminded once again of the art of the Old Masters: not only the abovementioned gray of Morandi, but also the grisailles of the Renaissance and the Baroque. He may even think of art from tar earlier times, such as when the colored panels at late Gothic altarpieces were flanked by the figures of saints painted in gray on gray-painted pedestels, which, within the iconographic context, are not meant to be any less real or unreal than their colored counterparts, but in the system of illusionistic reproduction are on a different level, namely, that of pictures of pictures, depictions of fictitious sculptures.
Cecchini's predilection for the color gray culminates in the already mentioned video, which at one level treats with irony the only all too well known theme of the toils of Sisyphus: People are sweeping dust, which spreads out all the more evenly with increasing activity.
But at a deeper level it has become an extremely poetic, positively visionary investigation of the topic of perception and insight, of becoming visible and invisible, of the dialectics of revelation and secrecy, a work on the miracle of light, of becoming and passing away, which simultaneously makes a statement about the almost ritual dignity and importance of completely unspectacular, seemingly unimportant, perhaps even nonsensical actions. In conversations, Cecchini has made a connection between this apotheosis of the quotidian with Zen philosophy.
In her previously mentioned review, Dagmar Burisch describes the video as follows: ”Behind whirled up clouds of dust and veils of haze, the contours of the visible blur into the unreal scenery. In his search for the moment between standing still and movement, between the seeming and the real, Loris Cecchini has struck gold."3
ln the installation with the grand piano, however, Cecchini has translated the pictorial principle of his photographic works into threedmensional space. The film is running, and the part of the Chinese people, the actors in this theater of the seeming and the real, has long been taken on by those visiting the exhibition.
Heidelberg, March, 2001
Translated from German by Katherine Cofer
1. Mannheimer Morgen, 01.31.2001
2. Cfr. Augusto Pieroni, 21st Century Man, in: Cat. Loris Cecchini,
edizioni NLF / Galleria Continua, Castelvetro Piacentino, 2000, p. 75.
3. Exhibition review in "Mannheimer Morgen,” 01/31/2001