April 2008

European Magazine
by Cesare Sangalli


GALATEA european magazine, April 2008

by Cesare Sangalli

Gaialight, when art animates objects

There are artists who don’t know they’re artists. Their talent is a karstic river which accompanies their life: it emerges at intervals, unexpectedly and beyond suspicion, then remains hidden in the folds of the soul, and bores inside, in silence, provoking dull suffering, ineffable, because the creative desire hasn’t been reached by awareness.

To have a world of things to say and remain silent: that could have been the destiny of Gaialight simply because the life of a girl born in Rome in 1973 has thousands of roads ahead of it and one in particular, which would be “normal”: a degree in law, to be a lawyer by profession. Nothing to do with art, one would say. But it isn’t like that. Because to study law, if, on the one hand, is a nightmare of codes, laws and sentences to be memorized in order to pass exams that never end, on the other, it can become a civil passion, love for justice, a choice of life in favor of the oppressed, testimony that illuminates the worlds in the shadows. What is a thesis on the planet prisons in Italy, if not a “walk on the wild side”, a small torch which , at least for a moment ( if only for the twenty minutes dedicated to the exhibition) makes visible that which normally is not? Here, again, is the element light, which is to obscurity just as the word is to silence.
Gaialight could not use words, but colors. It’s not even a choice, at the beginning, it’s a necessity. One understands it better today, looking back at the notes and syntheses of dull and boring exams that become transformed into colorful posters, in red or blue or fluorescent yellow conceptual graphics, in which most people would only see a confused and joyful carnival. But for the artist, who doesn’t yet understand that she is an artist, they are simply the chromatic road to knowledge. However, it is still an “autistic” phase of the inevitably painful talent, right up to depression, because the karstic river of talent doesn’t manifest itself, isn’t really born, that is, doesn’t come to light. And because a god of little things exists, great intuitions can pass through the banality of everyday items. In Gaialight’s case, a brilliant idea was fragmented in the timid flames of tens and tens of cigarette lighters, decorated, colored, full of messages, some rather explicit, referring directly to real life, to history and news, rather than to the imaginary world of glamour, even if at first glance many find them simply “nice”.
Beauty, aesthetic pleasantness can render digestible reality normally repressed, reserved for the serious (and sometimes very sad) “members of the trade”: social workers, journalists, politicians, physicians, clergymen. Instead, the lighters are for everybody, they pass from hand to hand, they stick out of a pocket and attract attention when you least expect it. Lighters, like many objects of design, are democratic and unify smokers at all levels, all over the world who, at least for an instant a day, agree with Cesare Pavese that “To smoke is to think”. Gaialight’s lighters have conquered a world of small admirers, so far as to become objects to display, impeccable in their function of revealing, so well expressed by their name in English “lighters”.
Art for everyone, art as a gift, a small message that bursts into everyday life and catches you off guard, it has to catch you off guard, perhaps at the second or third glance, perhaps igniting in each person a different sensor, positive or negative, superficial or serious. Speaking of the profane, it is difficult to tell if this is the essence of “Pop Art”; we’d need Andy Warhol to explain it to us. However, it is certain that “pop” comes from “popular”, and it is just as sure that the sixties, so present in Gaialight ( who is nevertheless the daughter of other times), have had (or wanted to have) a disruptive effect everywhere.
To look for that which unites, to overcome barriers, compare the sacred with the profane, leave behind fences, doubt pre-established roles: man/woman, professor/student, priest/parishioner, white skin/black skin, rich/poor. An authentic creative chaos characterized the “fabulous sixties”, chaos which was generous and full of danger. Not all paths were really open. Some were unrealistic and in the end, hypocritical. Others were obstructed by force. The world that John Lennon dreamed of in “Imagine”, now celebrated as the best song of the twentieth century, was too easy to be true. Those who saw how it ended (but in reality, nothing really ended) had to come to terms with decades of delusion and with the so-called “elaboration of mourning”. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that a thirty year old Gaialight, coming to terms with the new century so disappointing, so different from the collective imagination that dreamed of entering into the “era of Aquarius” (go see “Hair” again), all peace, love and harmony, passes from lighters (and from the beautiful tin cans seen at the exhibition “Can” of 2005) to the coffins, that is to a colored image of death (a work that up until now has only been seen by a few intimate friends because it is part of a project still underway). Death of religion, death of sex, soccer, politics. A death which is “light”, a senseless provocation, a mere mockery of a theme which is taboo? No, nothing of the kind, even though everyone gives it its own interpretation.
Gaialight’s joyous coffins seem to communicate a sort of “death to the king, long live the king”. Or, as the writer Cacucci would say, “in any case, no regrets”. Also because, probably, decadence was never more glamorous than that which we experience today. And, therefore, welcome to a death which is without moralism, without taleban mourning to be imposed on the world as “the new which advances”. Once again, one finds oneself off-guard, and without any guarantee to have understood well, or, simply, to have understood. Perhaps not even the artist understood it completely. On the other hand, this is the best condition to grow, to improve, to be regenerated. To find oneself in an unknown world, and to confront oneself without false security, with the uncertainty of he who really searches. Take, for example, the world of the disabled. At best, we are at a standstill at “politically correct”: to break down architectural barriers, favor integration at school and at work, speak of “differently able” as opposed to “disabled”. All good and all right, without a doubt. But each disability is still the exclusive dominion of doctors, nurses, social workers or family members, care givers, assistant teachers. That is why, for example, all the objects and instruments tied to the disabled are so irremediably ugly, not to say monstrous: prosthesis, iron lungs, hearing aids, crutches, wheel chairs and the like. One looks at them and thinks of an accident, of a race to the hospital or of an institution; one keeps them at a distance, one feels that they are something that brings bad luck. But the misfortune has already happened, and even though it can’t be eliminated, the least one can do is to not continually underline its ugliness.
That’s how “Light Treatment” was born; it’s sort of visual manifest for design revolution: implements for the disabled, besides being pretty and colorful, become messages to communicate to the world, whether they are testimonials tied to current events, or amusing variations on the theme, like a collage of tiny pictures of the pill, Viagra, a fantastic blue cascade which seems to smile at the erectile dysfunction, and reminds each one of us that “seen up close, no one is normal”. Those who saw the exhibition at “Roma Design + (October 2007) better understand what I’m talking about. Certainly, the area of artistic objects, design, pop art, can be a minefield, the umpteenth, brilliant marketing invention, the aesthetic side of a commercial, consumer operation. Again, there are no absolute guarantees. But Gaialight’s sincerity, and even more, her freedom, are bomb-proof. She calls it “auto-extremism”. More simply, it is the sine qua non condition of real art.
Let yourself be caught off guard by “Light Treatment”. The next appointment, in Bolzano, Italy, 22-25 April (“Kunstart 2008”), and then, until 5 July, in Munich, Germany, at the Drissien Gallery. A real creative spring. “And here on the trunk buds break through/A green newer than the grass that the heart lays to rest/ (…) And all seems to me a miracle” (S. Quasimodo, “Specchio”).