Luca Massimo Barbero Les mains libres, a joint venture between Paul Eluard and Man Rain, went to press in 1937. The work contains a number of chapters, including one devoted to Marquis de Sade. When talking about these stunning drawings, Man Rain tells Eluard that it was as though his hands where dreaming as he traced out the lines and created the shapes. I believe that in this wonderfully surreal and surrealist impression we can detect the power and imagination that has always permeated the most diverse forms of art. All this is undeniably linked to the deep-rooted resistance of imprisonment that set De Sade’s imagination free, liberating the entrapped world and allowing it to acquire real, free substantiality. This also occurred in visual art: Reynolds’ and Watteau’s “complete” man led on to the idea not of an ethical but of a heretic-erotic man. It led to the threshold of a boudoir of Pop visionariness, and to the repression-involution on the salon lady crammed into the little space of Araki’s Polaroids. In the “glam” of post-manga intertwinings, which are no longer Bellmer and will never be Pasolini, in the popular imagination it definitively consecrated a form of bondage, for everyone is virtually the identification of anthropology. I believe that this journey has its nemesis in the mise en abîme and in a choice of crucial or apical passages of literature and of the real interpreter, who is no longer De Sade but rather the reader himself. They bring together and contain an anthology of images produced by art and by the imagination of man, who certainly sees himself within them and yet who no longer plunges into the narrative: the image is blind, but the eyes of those who read on the blackness and on the mirror are those of an individual to whom the consciousness of reading has been restored. In your Blind Images the viewer becomes a protagonist in the explicit and physical narrative of large monochrome reflecting screens, which are occupied at the bottom by brief quotations. In this “dark place”, the observer seems himself, his own body and his own innermost self. This observer is primarily the artist – the first person to come up against his own work: I’d like to hear about this journey of yours and about this way you have precipitating into the infinity of words and into the sometimes tragic crudeness of the blind image…
Basically, how did the Blind Images come about, and what is your relationship with them?
João Louro In this long journey in search of meaning for the Blind Images, you said something very important, which could be a starting point for this conversation of ours. You mentioned mise en abîme, which is somewhere I place myself in as the first man, as the artist, facing the sight of a completed Blind Image for the first time. Beacuse that very first moment does indeed exist… It’s the moment when, for the first time, you really look: it’s vision of unknown lands in all their fullness, seen by an explorer, by the first across the line. It’s the Eureka moment…
Even without giving it too much importance (and I’ll explain why in a minute), it’s the opening moment of a Blind Image. As George Orwell said, there are two moments in a breakthrough: one of “indignation” and one of “trembling”. My moment when faced with a Blind Image for the first time is that of “trembling”. At this point I hand it over to the public, who play an extremely important role, which is that of (each of them) concluding the work that I show to them. It seems to me this is the only way to break down the romantic paradigm – the paradigm we all still use when formulating our own opinion about art. Breaking away from the artist’s style, from his or her signature and author stamp, is the only way we have of making this leap, launching ourselves into a new paradigm, which we have an urgent need to reach, and which appears so hard to conceptualise and put into practice.
LMB/ My Dark Places is however also a reference to James Ellroy, another great literary “hero” who in this work, which midway between a diary and a newspaper report, tells of his mother who was killed in 1958. This murder case was never solved, but simply swallowed up by a cone of shade filled with fear and mystery, which inspired the literary works of this writer, who was specialised in thrillers and crime stories. Until just a short while ago, this sort of fantasy was to be found only in popular detective stories, but the author is now viewed in a very different way, his works are published in leading collections, and he has been reassessed as a “self-made-hero writer”. In the public mind, the “on the road” violence of “beat” fantasy gave way to an everyday form of violence, and reference to a literary and cinematographic form of fantasy appreciated by the working classes in cities and little villages in America and around the world has put aside the idea of the happy family and od the self-made man, even in terms of images. Success is often used as an instrument to exorcise and, in a sense, to accommodate the tension, the constant danger and the violence of the society we see in movies. In this way of seeing Ellroy’s work as crime news – in the finest tradition – being turned into history, don’t you think he might not be a hero who has survived violence?
JL/ I’m sure he is! James Ellroy is a “misfit”. It was his own desperation that launched him. He investigated the case of the Black Dahila, because his mother had been murdered in conditions very similar to those of the Black Dahila. A sordid crime, a murderer who was never found, and so on. For a long time, he took a great interest in it and, like a policeman or a detective, he was so compulsively engaged in studying its details that he ended up turning into a style. And here, once again, we can see how difficult it is to escape from style… Contemporary artists are asked to be fickle even though, when they do find a strong, profound “style”, they feel they’ve reached a safe haven… And once again we find ourselves back with the previous issue. Basically, we only have a few questions. And the answers are always a way to create a link with the next question.
LMB/ Here I’m thinking of Black Dahila, a novel about the true-life murder of the actress Elizabeth Short. These interests of yours and your reference to this literary choice show you how you are determined to see the characters, who appear to talk from behind the surfaces of the paintings just as they do through the pages of the book. How important is narrative inspiration in the equilibrium of your works? And how do you view the relationship between language and image?
JL/ I believe in some writers, in poets… And these narratives about fresh, shady lands are the landscapes I listen to. I rely on this wisdom and I seek it out the way a gold prospector sieves out a speck of gold. I never give up! And sometimes I’m a contemplator of diamonds and nuggets of gold. I’m a tireless explorer. And this is why my life and work depend on narratives that blend in with my own experiences – I don’t even know where one ends and the other begins. And it is from this background that my works emerge.
The relationship between image and language is very important. But I really must say that I have considerable doubts about language, and also about images. The first thing to do, when you’re looking at an image, is to mistrust it. And as far as language is concerned, possibly it’s not that predictable, yet language does tell lies. Sure, it makes life easier. We order a cup of coffee, for example, and as though by magic we find it in front of us. But, when we tell someone we love them, we’re very often thinking about something else. What I mean is that words have been worn down by the bad use we’ve made of them. This is why we ought to believe only in poets and in writers who are “above suspicion”. And it’s why the relationship between language and image is extremely delicate. We need to improve our ability to plunge into the reckless and selfless knowledge of some authors and protect ourselves against vain, visceral, hysterical, rather dumb intruders who are affected by a syndrome of clichés and platitudes that are at times esoteric, mediumistic, filled with certainties and with “inspiration” – another ailment of Romanticism.
LMB/ Clockwise from Above is the title of the series of monochromatic works you chose for the back wall of your own personal room. It would seem that the only clue you give the viewer is that the order in which they are to be seen, and it is the viewer who is givem the responsability and the challenge of semantic processing, just as detective-story reader needs to have the necessary intuition to understand the mysteries in the tale. The captions are added to this, as an integral part of the work, suggesting situations, scenes, and stills in which the body of a murdered woman briefly appear. Image #01, #02, #03… you’ve arranged these scenes as though they could be recognised in the works displayed on the wall. But these works are monochrome painted canvases, with colours that appear to suggest the different temperatures and atmospheres of the scenes described by the captions. Once again you create a short-circuit between image and language, and you do so on the borderline between presence and absence, along the knife-edge of an apparently impossible communication.
Ellroy’s literary works are characterised by their terse style, in which short sentences are placed together to create the narrative mosaic of his stories. Do you think there is a connection between this style, which in musical terms would be referred to as staccato, and your own work, which is characterised by its lack of images, obliging the viewer to make their own personal conceptual connections in order to achieve the linearity of a “visual story”?
JL/ No. I my opinion there’s no link between them. James Ellroy is a writer who created a literary style similar to the pratical, matter-of-fact approach of a detective. There are no metaphors… There’s no semantic complexity… After long insisting on this way of gathering information, it became a style.
My process is different. At a certain point I felt there were too many images, and day by day their numbers just never stopped growing. So I decided to delete pictures from magazines and newspapers. When I looked at these empty pictures, I read the captions and a whole new world of possibilities opened up before me. For each one there was a caption that unleashed the imagination. For the viewer, what picture would it be, considering that only the caption had survived? A whole new world of possibilities opened up! And it was exactly what I’d been looking for… Freeing myself from the presence of pictures and, at the same time, leading the viewer towards completing of the work. I felt I had something truly important in my hands. By erasing it, I could once again rebuild the visual universe. And, at the same time, I could break down the romantic paradigm by having the viwers themselves complete the work. In this sense, the worcark was placed unfinished before them, waiting for their decisive intervention.
LMB/ At the same time as the MACRO exhibition, you’ve decided to bring an installation-type work to Rome, in the Portuguese Embassy gardens, not far from the Museum. Here too the source of inspiration is literary: a compostion by the Portuguese poet and writer Mário de Sá-Carneiro, who lived at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century, and who committed suicide at the age of just twenty-five. The poem Quasi is an ode to the inconclusiveness and pain brought about by an inability to achieve one’s aims to the full. It is broken down into short fragments which are transformed into an enigmatic and mysterious text of incongruous street signs. Once again, the viewer needs to make a personal effort in order to understand the work. Each individual will invent their own way, which will be more mental than physical, interpreting the indications (“A bit more sunshine, a bit more blue,”, “Stay over here,” “I was over there”) of the conceptual avenues offered by the work. This work forms part of the Dead End series of works, in which you bring into question the consistency of language, the idea of a rational, ordered landscape, and the very bases of communication. A game that is both serious and ironic, in which poetry emerges from a sense of bewilderment and disorientation, in a sort of present-day flânerie. What are your wanderings moving towards? What are the movements of your artistic reflections in this sort of work?
JL/ Dead End is a group of works that are very important to me. They’re one of the great themes, running parallel to Blind Images. While Blind Images mainly reflect on the image, Dead End take up the challenge of language. With these works it’s possible to experiment with language, compressing it, dividing it, altering it… Just looking and having this experience. Words have atomic power and, if one day it were possible to split the word, we would discover nuclear energy. So far it’s only been through great writers and great books and, especially, through poetry that we’ve realised this.
While the opposable thumb is an invention of genetics, language is an instrument that we invent as a powerful instrument of communication that associates signs, sounds and images. Sometimes there are combinations of words that become independent and make their escape, acquiring a life of their own and making language enigmatic and dangerous. It’s this language that interests me.
LMB/ I’d also like to touch on XJS Dj Car for a moment, for it suddenly appears to offer a joyful, pleasure-loving form of sharing. What is that work, and what are its potential effects?
JL/But that’s exactly what it is! Sharing… celebrating… It’s a work that makes it possible to put on an instant party, with lights and music. It’s the pleasure of coming together with people, for the enjoyment of listening to music and dancing, which is after all our contemporary tribal way of sharing and expanding. When a group dances, there’s a fusing together, and the group is like a malleable body that moves to the rhythm of the sound.
LMB/ I’d like to end with your considerations about Rome, which is home to MACRO. The place is packed with journeys through space and time, with a wealth of stories and narratives, in which image and lack of image inextricably coexist. If you were to think of a programme of writing, or of some other form, what direction do you think your interests would take you in during the ideational phase?
JL/ Possibly writing a book, like the one that Raymond Roussel wrote – Impressions of Africa. He wrote it on board a boat, without ever going ashore. I think I would do the same thing – a conceptual book on Rome, but without physically being there. That’s the only way I could escape from the deluge of images and people and of the city I adore.