By Tiziana Gazzini
Host of Can, the exhibition of Gaialight from 7 July to 2 October at the Galleria Santa Cecilia in Rome, is none other than Andy Warhol.
When one enters the stairway to descend from the area dedicated to the bookshop/wine bar to the exhibition hall below, one is faced with a photo format extra-large depicting, full face, the prophet of Pop Art. The face of Warhol, pasted on a can of Coca-Cola, in the middle of a cascade of multi-color hearts and stars, is encircled by the words Still Lives, cut out of a newspaper.
With this object/collage/photograph, isolated on a red background (it’s Coca Cola’s corporate red) we are already inside the exhibition; we are already inside the poetic art of Gaialight.
Warhol, guardian of the passage to the exhibition area, may seem to be an explicit and preliminary declaration that Gaialight belongs to Pop Art. It may seem so. But in reality, Gaia starts from the style and modes of Pop Art (the extrapolation of a consumer item like a can, the reuse of images and famous people who have become icons, the collage, the photograph, etc.), but goes further, arriving at the invention of her own original language which, in the end, is closer to conceptual art rather than Pop Art. A form of conceptualism, Gaia’s, which chooses with irony the material and the techniques of work, taking them heavily from the props of Pop Art.
Let’s return to Can (written, naturally, with the same letters as Coca Cola).
The birth of a new language
The exhibition, prepared with critical wisdom and communicative talent by Maria Evangelisti, guides the visitor to the discovery of the narrative universe of Gaialight. After Warhol, one encounters a series of photographs which combine, by theme, the cans realized by Gaia to build her alphabet. At the end of the hall, suspended from the ceiling, a reliquary which displays (and protects) the elements of this alphabet: 96 cans, arranged in 6 lines of 16, decorated with antique patience and artisan ability, artistic talent and creative fire.
It’s thanks to this installation that the exhibition and work of Gaia burst through the confines of neo-Pop or post-Pop to enter into the difficult and insidious terrain of conceptual art. Conceptualism, too, in the hands of Gaia, becomes an instrument. The images that the artist cuts out to compose her cans-collage come from current political and social events of the worlds in which Gaia either recognizes herself or disowns: America and Italy, Bush and Berlusconi, Barbie and the Twin Towers, terrorism and the theater, life and death. The cans-collage are the phoneme, the smallest distinctive unit which serves to articulate her language, construct her sentences, weave her stories. The photographic set is the moment in which Gaia chooses the combination of cans to transform the original objects (from which, she says, she will not separate herself) into photographs and, therefore into multiple possibilities (these, yes, are for sale). It is the moment in which the phoneme become moneme (smallest significant unit) and then words, speech.
The invention of this new language, which overturns schemes and habits, provides that the “real words” cut out of magazines and utilized in the collage lose much of their semantic value and become, above all, black and white geometric images, marks that navigate among other marks and, together with little red or violet hearts, yellow and blue stars, act as a visual carpet and an adhesive to the coarse humanity and exhibitionism, aching or moribund, pasted on the cans.
The pleasure of aesthetics, the discomfort of ethics
The construction of the alphabet is only level zero of Gaia’s art, but it’s certainly the moment in which she dedicates the most attention. It is the founding gesture of the artistic phase in which she finds herself. A da-da laden with meaning, which narrates the contemporary and knows the modern.
It’s contaminated, Gaia’s art, it’s half-breed and syncretist. And it’s ecological. In the sense that she doesn’t throw anything away. Recycling (here again Pop Art), however, isn’t the end, but an instrument among instruments of an artistic gesture absolutely original and solid , capable of bringing into play regulating devices, techniques and completely unrelated subjects which bind irony, ferocity and buffoonery with tragedy, set and cooled with the veil of aesthetics. I’m thinking of the can-collage which has as the protagonist one of the victims of the attack on the Twin Towers, captured in the final moment in which he is in a free fall, head first, towards his destiny. A vertical image in which the silhouette of the falling body becomes an elegant and chorographic sign. Gaia says that it took her a long time to choose that picture. What was Gaia looking for among the hundreds of photographs on the tragedy of the Twin Towers she perused? What would be the perfect frame for her can? It takes strength, courage to transform in an apparently decorative element the pain, the tragedy– individual and collective– the moment in which was opened the infernal abyss that is devouring our century, our history, in a decorative (apparently) element. But, one knows, everything devours everything.
Gaia had the courage to dirty her hands with death, displaying its monstrous contiguity with the non-sensical consumer in a strong and provocative artistic gesture which creates discomfort and embarrassment in the spectator.
The large horizontal photograph of five cans with the can depicting the Twin Towers fall in the center is, first of all, beautiful, but it is, at the same time, tremendous. It is here that Gaialight, at her first demanding artistic test, measures herself and her public with one of the great themes that cross the history of art and of humanity: the relationship between ethics and aesthetics. And the photo, but it would be better to say the story, which Gaia narrates, is certainly aesthetic and certainly ethical as well. It is that discomfort, that embarrassment that tells us so, that forces us to look inside ourselves and to be ashamed of the indifference, the anesthesia towards the most profound sentiments, to which we are forced by the mediatic flows in which we are immersed, that incessant background noise that deafens us to our emotions. Gaia interrupts the sequence of the flow, remounts it and reveals it to us in all its cynicism, in all of its cruel homologation. And here is the discomfort: to be able to buy and hang on a wall an “aesthetic” work, pleasant to look at, but which puts into play the conscience and, therefore, “ethics”. In this ambivalence, in this oscillation, is the meaning of that work which speaks of the moral limit of the consummation of images.
A baroque, dangerous and disturbing system
Can is not only an exhibition, it is also the text written with this new alphabet. A mature and rigorous work, in which one reads the physical fatigue of the manual application and the mental fatigue of concentration, and which seems to be the fruit of a long artistic journey. Instead, it’s only the beginning. Gaia is just over thirty years old and soon she’ll begin new artistic adventures, of which one must be very curious (and, if able, collector).
The can-collage module (the phoneme of Gaia’s language) offers, for example, infinite possibilities and varieties of content. The can, then, is cylindrical and that alone, is a multiple. A creative, baroque system, with much mise en abime of meaning. The photography, in turn, expands over great dimensions, the “n” possible combinations of the basic alphabet to conjugate and decline according to the grammar of which Gaia has also defined the rules. The malicious astuteness of the artist transforms all of the above in decorative elements of easy consumption.
Instead, Gaialight’s works are very dangerous. Pleasing and disturbing. Hung up on a wall one may also think one is looking at them. It is, however, they who are looking at you. In a circular, perverse and infinite game.
The exhibition, too, has its internal circularity. Only after having seen it, when one passes again in front of the image/poster of Can, before ascending the stairs towards the exit, one perceives that the portrait of Andy Warhol is a collage made of hundreds/thousands of tiny photographs of the can-collage. And one understands the meaning of the exhibition. Pop Art crosses the border into Op Art, and the experience (the visit to the exhibition) modifies and sharpens the perception of he who experiences it. Nothing is as it seems and everything reverts to something else. In an infinite chain of citations with no original, something Jacques Derrida would have liked in the ’60’s and the ’70’s.
In other words, never has the title of an exhibition so hit the mark. It’s true, Gaialight Can.