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How to activate the way of viewing – Carla Subrizi

Works from 1989 to 2001

Having arrived at this stage in the history of art, after thesuccession or alternation of different definitions of the nature of art and painting, of what is a painting or what gesture or thought accompanied the pictorial surface, the current theory is that of transforming the question and re-thinking the artist-art dialectic. Thus the way of viewing and the point of view are at issue, not only of the artist but also of the viewer – that is, of those who participate in the relation and processes which instead of ending with the work of art begin with them, opening trajectories which extend beyond the immediately visible.

The Sfere (Spheres – but the reference is also to the Italian word for ball-point pens) of Bruno Lisi, works which belong to a restricted period of his career (the second half of the 1980s), are important for the reconsideration of space and the sign or mark passing through it, without returning to superseded premises on why and how a painting or drawing is conceived or executed. What are we dealing with then? Abstraction or the final stages of a figurative representation which conserves merely the memory of something that is no longer recognisable? Are we dealing with ‘automatic’ gestures, with an echo of that magical split with logical processes as adopted by the surrealists, or of gestures evoking movement through space (of the futurist type), producing a synthesis between the sign that remains and the space which through that sign loses all balance and symmetry?

Any answer would only deal with one aspect of Bruno Lisi’s work, while the Sfere are in themselves a departure from definitions which abbreviate in a single concept the multiple experiences of art and the thought that accompanies it. It must also be remembered that, in truth, the signs created by Lisi cross space in order to create tension, to reveal the vibration of images in space rather than to place these images in space, from the monochrome surfaces of the early 1980s or the tensioni di luce (tensions of light) of the mid-70s. The Sfere also emerge from a movement which is midway between randomness and the intention of depicting that particular sign. Bruno Lisi says it’s like the doodles one sometimes draws when chatting on the phone – you begin them but they continue on their own, while you’re thinking about something else. The hand begins a drawing which through a succession of variations and superimpositions starts to fill up the white surface, cancelling itself out and at the same time gaining strength, until it reaches the edges of the surface, almost as if seeking to escape it. The result is not simply an image defined in space (whether it’ abstract or not is no longer important), it is not just a sign in which to seek something recognisable, it is rather the activation of a relationship, of a tension which pushes beyond the image itself, producing a shift in viewpoint, towards the beyond of the image, its outside – the white space which has yet to be crossed. The Sfere thus depict an absence. They speak more of emptiness than of themselves. Not just the emptiness that surrounds them but the emptiness that is still inside them, of the consistency that they have lost, of a material which has returned to a more formless shape. They are traces more than signs, shadows more than physical bodies, they are what remains of something that has crossed space or is still crossing it – a trajectory which functions more as an indication of a direction to take (towards the outside of the space/surface) than a sign left by a completed journey.

Looking at Bruno Lisi’s Sfere, Bacon comes to mind – a seemingly risky comparison. The bodies in the paintings of Bacon are figures in action, they push the movement outside of themselves, they communicate movement to the surrounding space, to the extent of producing dizzy rotations, centrifugal spinnings which deform faces and contexts, physically dissolve and melt body fragments until their remains are lost in space. Precisely because of this movement, Bacon’s figures imply that space is not just a context, that it isn’t just the surface on which the gesture is situated, that it is instead and above all a limit to be violated, a threshold to play with, a point of imbalance, where forces mix and dichotomies (inside-outside, internal-external, above-below) cancel each other out.

This is precisely the tension which Bruno Lisi seems to convey with his Sfere, with the difference that a body, a figure, is not needed to activate the process. Lisi begins with an absence, a memory, a trace. Almost cancelling a section of space, he makes the force more powerful and with a simple gesture, repeated and almost without any subjectivity, irreversibly projects the potential of space beyond that which is easily visible.

In other paintings, the same crossing of the surface – with such closely-positioned, parallel signs that no space is left for second thoughts or hesitations – is instead broken by scar-like markings, brief episodes in which the presence of an obstacle, an impediment is highlighted – a pain which has been dealt with but which rests indelible in the material of the thought/painting. Then these scars too become thresholds, zones in which to experiment with the loss of every certainty, in which the very certainty of always being able in some way to think and cross space wavers.

Thus one idea is constant, and runs implacably and obsessively through all of Lisi’s research: the idea of the limit, which almost immediately becomes the idea of the void as a memory, of the image as a departure from that which defines it, of painting as an experience of something which is missing.

Bruno Lisi’s paintings, and the Sfere in particular, aim to turn viewing around, to test it, to see if it is possible to imagine other journeys when contemplation of those already completed leads to disenchantment: that is to say, the disillusion which pushes us to go beyond appearances and the immediate attribution of meaning.

(translated by Michele Von Büren)

(from the catalogue of the exhibition: “Opere dal 1989 al 2001”, Galleria A.A.A. Palazzo Brancaccio, 26 November 2001-26 February 2002)