Fractures

by Rebecca King

The works featured here are fractured, overrun and half-buried beneath fabrics, gears, metal rings, and wires. Abstract landscapes and spaces of chaos tear open along fissures, unzipping themselves to reveal the layers beneath. Female figures, when they appear, are faces, arms, and thighs suspended in a swarm of shapes. The tension between the classic beauty of these women and the surrounding abstractions echoes the discord between the natural and mechanical in modern life.

Eva Rorandelli’s newest exhibition, Fractures, includes works created over the last few years, spanning her most recent migration from Italy to the United States. Rorandelli began painting in Florence at a young age. She attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze after an apprenticeship at the bottega of the Italian painter Italo Pettinato. Her early work reflected the influence of traditional Florentine painting (pre-Renaissance through Mannerism) as well as a concern and respect for history, tradition, and memory. Throughout her career, history has retained its importance in her work. She no longer relies on a shared history but has developed a story that is autobiographical as a reflection of our times. She has come to use painting as an instrument of introspection and solemnization of the role of the artist today.

At the start of her career, Rorandelli focused on rigorous realism; however, following her move to the United States, she soon became enamored with the colorful, complicated contradictions of Western, and specifically American, culture. Her artistic focus has increasingly centered on the relationship between imagination and reality, examining the rapid expansion of technology in all realms of contemporary life. When she first moved to New York City in 1999, Rorandelli used discarded objects she found lying in the streets as the subjects of colorful painted abstractions.

During these years, she worked in the extravagant world of New York City fashion. This experience continues to influence her work, in her embrace of the contradictions of beauty and image perpetuated by our media obsessed culture. She describes her use of fashion-inspired imagery as “an act of remaking and revising previously successful object/symbols celebrated by society—it is a way to emphasize the transformation and metamorphosis of the era we live in.” In 2000, her paintings were exhibited at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, and more recently, her work has appeared in international galleries and exhibitions in France, Italy, and across the United States. She has been recognized by numerous art institutions across the globe, including a recent solo exhibition (Post Bodies) at Fondazione D’Ars in Milan.

Rorandelli’s most recent paintings and video installations employ collaged materials and body-extending costumes that form hybrid-textile “skins,” which are inhabited by mythological female cyborg-like figures. These beautiful women, frozen in fashion-inspired poses, appear misplaced and overwhelmed in the busy, geometric background, which increasingly dominates her work. Half of the paintings in Fractures feature these stylized women, while the other explores layers of chaotic abstractions, compact landscapes devoid of all human life. All of the paintings play with traditional techniques and themes but with untraditional materials including collaged digital images, resins, chemicals, and mechanical fasteners. The physical nature of the textile becomes the works’ subject: a hybrid form of chemical imbalance.

These pieces reference the technology that is creeping ever forward, invading our daily lives. With technologies like mobile computing and robotics, our understanding of reality and humanity itself is changing. Drawing on themes from post-humanism, Rorandelli’s work reflects upon the end of the human age and seeks to capture the metamorphosis from organic to virtual. It is evident that concepts drive her practice, yet rather than submitting the complex structures of visual language to critical analysis, dreams, emotions, and ideas trigger Rorandelli’s canvases. Her process begins with an urge to express an idea, image, or feeling and proceeds methodologically, but she does not have a linear process, preferring instead to work on many projects at once. “The entire studio is like a garden in which many things grow at the same time,” she explains. “I sometimes work with the painting on the floor, and I move them a lot. For me this is natural; the painting is not static, my easels have wheels. When I move them, they generate new combinations and living relationships.”

Gustav Klimt claimed that “art is a line around your thoughts,” and while Rorandelli captures much of his style with long, beautiful humans engulfed in geometric abstract landscapes, her work is sharper, darker. Klimt limits his chaos to one section, one shape, while Rorandelli forms her world from it. The humans in her paintings are buried in chaos, extending the material tradition of European artists like Antoni Tàpies and Alberto Burri. Rather than merely representing the world, she assembles the canvases from its material elements. They contain collaged paper materials including images of wires, fractal shapes, and computer-generated patterns, different fabrics, textiles, fasteners, oil paints, and varnish.

In Centrifusion, the largest canvas in the exhibition, a woman stands alone in the center of a cyclone of copper gears and mechanical shapes. Her own dress betrays her as the gears work their way into the fabric. Beyond the chaos, there is nothing, painted in navy hues. The tone of this painting and the order of the collection itself must be decided before these figures can be interpreted as tragic or triumphant. Do we see the empty abstract landscapes devoid of human life as a prologue or a final chapter?

Perhaps these women are being swallowed by the mechanical abstractions. Lost in these technological landscapes, they are stuck between chaos and nothingness. They are lambs to be sacrificed to the hard-wired gods. Their skin and the fabric of their dresses are a metaphor for the progression of history. There is a strange cyclical beauty in death and time. History is the regenerating force of the future, and the frozen, empty abyss of technology reaffirms the habitat of life. The past and the present, the dark and the light are all intertwined. Rorandelli’s mediation blurs the line between inner and outer, positive and negative. Creativity is the relation between self and other. The recognition of the body itself as a force gives rise to an art, gestural and magmatic, defined by action.

The small abstract paintings of zippers and gears offer a glimpse of the post-human future. Technology multiplies like a virus, filling the void, drowning the women and humanity so that it may replicate. After all, in the end, machinery and humanity are not so different. We only seek to reproduce, to survive. Perhaps coexistence is no longer possible. In this story, the women are victims, detached from their surroundings, impartial to their impending doom.

Or do these women emerge from the chaos? In the beginning, there was nothing but shapes. Golden rings and black holes opening, fracturing, unzipping to a greater possibility. Layers upon layers of gears and glowing blue electrical irises open and pull back. The women emerge from these empty landscapes on waves of fabric and wires, like Aphrodite on her shell, rising from the sea. These women are more machine than organic, their beauty more perfect. They are not separate from, but a part of the network of technological expansion. Instead of being overwhelmed or swallowed whole, they are immersed, draped in the chaos from which they were formed. Their faces are calm and confident. These women are cyborg queens. Goddesses of the new order of machines and organic life. A new humanity.

Perhaps what Rorandelli is really telling us is that all of these narratives are true. Perhaps the story is cyclical. First the paintings of women, then the abstract technological landscapes, and back again. One order rises and another falls only to be born again in a new form. Call it life. Call it evolution. Call it adaptation or mutation. In the end, it is the only true story. A rise and a fall, a rise and a fall.

The works exhibited in Fractures implicate the notion that technology is not only altering our human lives, but the very essence of the natural world. Rorandelli describes the abstract pieces as an exploration of the elements soil and water, both of which are changing into something foreign through human contamination. Nature, in its turn, adapts. “When the CEC, or the Cation-Exchange Capacity, of soil is high and balanced, then the nutrients enrich the soil to make it fertile. Four of the canvases are named after the basic chemical components of soil, and two are named for elements found in water. Each formula of elements has been modified and unbalanced, and the result is a permanent and unprecedented chemical combination.” The outcome is a series of paintings that explores the interaction between human intervention and the balance of natural chemistry.

In representing these elements, materials are glued, pulled and hung from the surface of the canvas to cover and obscure the underlying layers, creating tension, a frantic movement, to find order in chaos. Her works bring to mind the European movements of Informal Art and Art Brut, particularly the work of Tàpies and Jean Dubuffet. In such so-called Action Painting and l’Art Informel, the materials of art were transformed by the artists’ bodies, spilling onto and penetrating the canvas in order to blur the distinctions between art and life. Such artistic production requires the incorporation of the artist’s own body to manifest the convulsive and chaotic movement of existence. In this regard Rorandelli’s work takes on a corporeal aspect that echoes the work of contemporaries such as Matthew Barney and Vanessa Beecroft, but remains firmly rooted in the material and historical tradition of painting.

Burri in particular is an artist that Rorandelli admired during her years in Italy, and his influence continues to reflect in her complex alchemical explorations of layers, elaboration on incrustations of pigments, and in the achievement of a “material universe.” Like Burri’s Sacchi, created from assembled material including fabric, burlap, and wood, Rorandelli’s paintings are inhabited by cracks and holes which seem to stand as windows into a secondary level of reality. As Maurizio Calvesi has written describing Burri’s work, “why use paint to suggest the fermentation of the material element, when on the contrary you could use the material element or even object to suggest the beauty of paint?”

Rorandelli’s “informal” pieces differ from Burri’s in the richness of colors and shapes. Their fractures and openings let the viewer take a peak at the past and into the future of an increasingly artificial humanity. Like Burri’s desolate material landscapes, her unique brand of contemporary Mannerism uses colors, objects, and materials as ways to idolize the painted surface and gain a collective meaning from it. Her pieces revive the natural character in the pigments, objects, and the scraps of fabrics that she finds. In doing so, these materials acquire an importance for their own plastic qualities as she emphasizes their beauty and force.


Donne Dell'Era Post-Umana Nell'Arte di Eva Rorandelli

di Elisabetta Bovo

Sembrano donne algide e remote, nella loro bellezza senza tempo, nei loro volti lontanida ogni emozione, non toccati da rughe, né da ombre, né da un tentativo di sorriso. In realtà, come sempre, non è possibile scindere la figura dal contesto, e anche nel caso delle figure “congegnate” (costruite digitalmente e poi dipinte) dall’artista fiorentina Eva Rorandelli, bisogna allargare lo sguardo sull’insieme e analizzare anche lo sfondo: un mosaico-collage ottenuto con immagini di reliquie tecnologiche, cavi e resti di oggetti elettronici, un mondo di strumenti di per sè minimi eppure caratterizzanti il mondo delle attuali tecnologie. Forse, allora, le bellissime sono robot, o androidi, corpi post-umani, con ingranaggi e bytes al posto di cellule e vasi sanguigni.

Non è tanto una critica alla posizione della donna in questa contemporaneità che tutto e tutti trasforma in oggetti senz’anima e dal valore limitato, ma è piuttosto—quella messa in atto dall’arte della Rorandelli nel suo insieme (e mi riferisco alle opere della serie Post bodies. Chaotic Presences, presentate nella mostra bolognese Tra Immaginazione e Futuro che si è tenuta tra il dicembre 2009 e questo gennaio 2010 nella Galleria 9 Colonne, ma anche alle precedenti performances dell’artista, come quella bresciana dal titolo “reaching for the sky,” o a quelle con le “welded masks,” o ai video ove la protagonista è lei come donna-bozzolo-sirena che s’avviluppa nella sua stessa coda—un problematizzare la pervasività della tecnica nel nostro quotidiano.

La sua è una messa in questione della signoria della tecnica nel mondo attuale: un dominio, a cui l’uomo, che pure è l’artefice della tecnica, non può sottrarsi. Uno strapotere della tecnologia che da strumento è diventata padrona del corso della civiltà occidentale e, dunque, nell’ottica globalizzata, del mondo tout-court. Un’onnipresenza dominante che ormai da anni il pensiero filosofico va denunciando e indagando, e che non ha lasciato indenne neanche l’uomo in ciò che più evidentemente gli appartiene: il suo stesso corpo.

“Post bodies”: il corpo dopo il corpo, dunque, quasi a sancire una morte della corporeità come l’abbiamo finora intesa, ed ecco allora che le donne post-umane della Rorandelli si fondono e con-fondono con la “schermata” che mentre funge loro da fondale le invade, le avvolge, le incatena come moderni Laocoonte, togliendo confine ai loro corpi fisici, smaterializzandone le forme in geometrie concentriche che rinviano—più che a sfondi di matrice klimtiana, come apparirebbe ad un primo sguardo—a flussi e processi indagati o messi in atto dalle tecnologie e dai loro invasivi strumenti che guardano dentro ogni dettaglio, biologico e non,della realtà fisico-naturale, compreso l’uomo.

La tecnica distrugge la soglia di un mondo che il singolo individuo considera solo suo, che è quello del proprio corpo, che la coscienza del soggetto, pur cogliendolo con lo sguardo come oggetto tra gli altri nel mondo, estrae ed astrae dal resto della natura per farne il guscio visibile dell’io.

Ora, non solo la tecnica riporta l’uomo alla sua animalità, alla sua appartenenza al mondo della natura nel suo insieme, ma lo trasforma in qualcosa di tecnico a sua volta, con strumenti e protesi che sempre più sostituiscono i “dispositivi” umani insufficienti per natura a dargli la signoria sulla natura necessaria per quello stile di vita che oggi noi tutti occidentali condividiamo.

Donne-robot, dunque, o vere epropie avatar, le donne impassibili della Rorandelli, creature rese aliene dalla tecnica, pur nella permanenza di sembianze somatiche umane, come in un film di ordinaria fantascienza? Le sue figure che emergono senza spessore da un fondo più accattivante, pieno di colori accesi e rutilanti, che inquietante, l’inquietudine ce l’hanno dentro, appena nascosta dietro quei volti pallidi, ridotti alla distesa vuota d’una stoffa opaca in cui la traccia dei lineamenti s’è quasi persa e la possibilità d’espressione è andata perduta, soffocata tra le labbra, sigillate o semichiuse. Celata dietro quelle pose artefatte e standardizzate che riducono la donna a un mero involucro erotico. E tutte sono avvolte nel silenzio mentre la tecnologia da sfondo si fa mostro che le divora, quasi che la parola (logos, discorso, espressione del logos, ragione) sia l’ultima arma contro-tecnologica che rimane, e che la tecnica allontana, esorcizza, a colpi d’inclusioni robotiche nell’umano, a colpi di strumenti tecnologici sempre più raffinati di cui la moda e il sistema socio-economico nel suo insieme ci convincono di non poter più fare a meno.

Ecco allora che appare prometeica e un pò donchisciottesca la resistenza di una delle protagoniste post-umane delle sue tele: la ragazza di My personality is my own, che—come dice il titolo—pare trovare rifugio in se stessa, nella propria soggettività, come se questo bastasse a tagliare le catene che la avvincono al tecnologico. Come nel film “La morte ti fa bella” con Meryl Streep e Goldie Hawn, la ricerca di una bellezza e giovinezza senza fine e senza limiti fanno della donna un oggetto privilegiato della chirurgia estetica, ovvero un soggetto tecnologico (nel senso etimologico di sub-jectum, gettato sotto, sottomesso) per eccellenza, una vittima dell’imperante tecnologia, senza via di scampo.


Post-Bodies: Tra Immaginazione e Futuro

Dott.ssa Valeria S. Lombardi

Come sarà il domani? Si può forse iniziare a scorgere e ad intuire con fiducia il futuro avvicinandosi alla ricerca sentita e corale e alla resa artistica della giovane artista Eva Rorandelli. L’arte pittorica di quest’artista non è né un’ostentazione delle sue capacità tecnico-artistiche né il tentativo fine a se stesso di enunciare queste ultime. Da sottolineare che non vi è neppure traccia delle solite, infinite varianti accademiche nella profusione dei materiali. Rorandelli usa sì certi materiali, anche assai differenti tra loro, ma è da anni che insegue questi come un progetto. Un progetto che germina nei suoi pensieri, nei suoi sogni ad occhi aperti, ovvero nel saper guardare la vita ed il nostro quotidiano da un punto di vista diverso, puntando anche verso uno sguardo coevo con la scienza dell’anatomia ingegneristica ovvero dei cyborgs.

Ma è bene sottolineare che forse è la prima volta che un’artista italiana così giovane sia così determinata a voler immettersi totalmente in questi binari assai tecnologici e futuribili e a voler pertanto percorrere proprio questa strada. Ci troviamo davvero davanti a qualcosa di nuovo e di unico, a volte da interpretarsi, ma certamente ci troviamo di fronte ad opere che incanteranno, inebrieranno il fruitore per quell’insieme di più cose rappresentate e poi così brillantemente ricompattate tra loro. Un insieme di segni che vogliono propriamente enunciare la presenza delle cose, degli oggetti tecnologici; ecco difatti che, come si noterà, tutte le sue figure di donne presenti in questa mostra personale dal titolo “Post-Bodies” presso la Fondazione D’Ars Oscar Signorini di Milano sono come quasi attorcigliate, rette da sciami brulicanti di particelle, bolle, ventole meccaniche, oggetti dalla parvenza metallica. Ma è bene rammentare che non vi sono mai inseriti veri oggetti metallici. Rorandelli è come se ci desse con essi una sorta di illusione ottica ed una presenza dell’imminente compiersi di questo stato di cose. In fondo è come se ci stesse unicamente preparando a questa diretta invasione.

C’è anche da sottolineare che Rorandelli ha sempre posto l’accento nelle sue opere sulle contraddizioni odierne-contemporanee: come ad esempio su quella ricerca-cardine della bellezza portata fino all’estremo che sembra quasi essersi posta più come un limite che come una virtù. Ecco ancora puntuale il taglio dato e poi espresso in pittura attraverso le sue donne: donne scarne, magre, altamente sinuose che si perdono con facilità nel restante della tela, data la loro scioltezza. Questo aspetto lo si può ancora vedere nei lavori intitolati “Chaotic Presences” e “Plugged In.” Ma come si vede bene Rorandelli non si prefigge di indicare un modo od un altro né di mettere dei limiti o di lanciare degli anatemi; l’artista infatti registra soltanto tutto ciò che vede, elabora anche tutto quello che anche indirettamente le viene come “conficcato” in mente dai giornali, dalla televisione, ecc. Solo che invece di esserne anch’essa schiava, enuncia e sottolinea quel lento, intenso e ragionato cadenzarsi delle tecnologie in ogni dove del nostro vivere, del nostro scegliere e desiderare quotidiano.

La mostra “Post-Bodies” espone e regala, attraverso gli splendidi lavori dell’artista, la rappresentazione di questo epocale mutamento verso un Mondo dove si potrà programmare e modificare proprio tutto: dove le macchine, la robotica, le tecnologie faranno forse letteralmente da padroni anche su noi piccoli insicuri e fragili esseri umani (che duriamo persino meno delle cose da noi fatte e progettate!). Ciò non è volto e non deve essere visto come mirato a spaventare lo spettatore: del resto poi il moto eterno del ciclo della vita va avanti anche senza di noi, perciò al futuro dobbiamo unicamente prepararci e poi in fondo regnerà pur sempre il libero arbitrio. I lavori presentati da Rorandelli presso questa mostra personale appunto dal titolo “Post-Bodies” sono realmente unici, imperdibili anche per il fatto stesso di come sono stati rappresentati dall’artista.

Certo quale resa finale vi sia, la si ammira intuendo lo sforzo dell’artista a sostituire qualcosa di decisamente nuovo, molto tecnologico; tuttavia, nelle medesime opere si respira, si percepisce ed è forse un segno di pregio di questa artista, una sorta di legame con il passato pittorico. Con questo non si vuole dire che Rorandelli non è stata totalmente capace di esprimersi futuristicamente parlando, anzi è riuscita a farci notare il “passaggio,” il “ponte” tra la nostra realtà odierna ed il futuro non solo quello tecnologico che stiamo vivendo, ma anche un insieme, un assaggio di quello che diverrà. Rorandelli è come se avesse ricostruito un polittico costituito appunto da più elementi dipinti.

Le opere pittoriche sono realizzate a tecnica mista ed appaiono a primo acchito non solo come detto, ancorate ad un certo tipo di passato artistico, ma sapientemente elaborate, creando e rilasciando una profusa ed estesa armonia tra le parti. Si guardi ad esempio l’opera “Uploading...” o “Functional Error” in cui una approfondita serie di immagini viene poi come inserita nella tela, in una sorta di bombardamento spaziale ancor prima che ottico, ma con richiami anche agli splendidi dipinti di Gustav Klimt. Suggestivi poi sono quegli intarsi cromatici che sembrano costituirsi sotto i nostri occhi come ad esempio quei profusi cerchi bordeaux-noirs che quasi richiamano il grande maestro svizzero Paul Klee nel dipinto “Alcuni cerchi” del 1926. C’è anche da rammentare che questa artista ha studiato restauro quindi sa bene come plasmare, curare le opere e creare splendide scenografie finali. Sorprende poi a dire non poco che i lavori qui presentati siano altamente raffinati, studiati, ragionati per determinare proprio quella sorta di stupore ed atemporalità. Opere queste che possiedono anche tenacemente l’insistenza a mostrarsi, a farsi parte del dipinto, senza voler primeggiare, ma come solo a ricordare che anch’esse ci sono. Sì, ci sono anche queste donne, ognuna chiusa, racchiusa quasi da un siparietto, da una scenografia che richiama sia a sensualità postulate come si è già detto da un Gustav Klimt, sia per quella profusione di bolle e sfere a Paul Klee. Sfere che volutamente luccicano, incantano, stupiscono e ci rapportano il tecnologico come un bene primario da avere immediatamente; nonostante queste impetuosità materialistiche, Rorandelli riesce ugualmente a darci opere che sembrano ogni volta rinascere come in delle “Primavere” del Botticelli e persino quasi degli strazzi ed elementi orientali modello “Madame Butterfly” (si veda di nuovo attentamente l’opera “Chaotic Presences”) ma così cari anche ad opere giapponesi del primo periodo Edo. Una sorta di manifesto per questa mostra potrebbe essere enunciato dal lavoro “My Personality is My Own,” non un monito a seguirla o a doverla copiare, ma piuttosto una presa di coscienza del suo modo pittorico artistico e del nostro avvenire imminente.

Un’opera che più di altre poi, che suggerisce di avere davanti una grande artista, è l’opera intitolata “0911,” un sincero omaggio (poche settimane dopo l’ottavo anniversario di questo triste evento) a quella che di fatto è stata l’immane tragedia del 2001, quando all’attacco e al crollo delle Twin Towers sono seguite le decisioni dei grandi politici, lo smarrimento della gente, e la paura dell’inizio del III Conflitto Mondiale. Quello è stato un momento di impotenza sulle sorti dell’Uomo; basti rammentare un pensiero antecedente di Albert Einstein: “so come si farà la III guerra mondiale, ma per la IV? Ci saranno forse solo alberi.”

Rorandelli è riuscita a creare qualcosa di intimamente personale usando una tecnica pittorica di tipo astratto che però, proprio per la costituzione dei dettagli, sembra anche così tenacemente richiamare certe parti pittoriche del dipinto di Egon Schiele “Autoritratto con dita aperte” (1911). La rarità di quest’opera è anche data dal fatto che è dipinta non solo con una tecnica mista, ma che qui propriamente l’artista ha voluto inserire materiali tessili, frammenti, quasi a decretarne una sorta di simulacro, un’opera che può anche spingersi verso una direzione di proto-scultura. Questa direzione scultorea si ritrova anche del resto nell’altro splendido, costruttivo lavoro intitolato “2020.”

Un ennesimo ed interessante aspetto dell’azione pittorica e personale di Rorandelli è quello di manifestare e sottolineare la presenza umana femminile. Non tanto per rendere più piacevoli i lavori pittorici, ma proprio per enunciare quasi a squarciagola che la donna, il genere femminile, è di fatto un genere che spesso viene troppo denigrato, accantonato, quasi che tutto si dovesse generare solo nell’ambito di una stretta unilateralità maschile. Se da millenni la Donna come genere è stata in primis colei che dà la vita, non si capisce poi perché ci debba essere sempre un profondo scarto tra generi sulla Terra, una sorta di sopruso ingiustificato del dispotismo maschile, quando invece da sempre si sa che le donne sono capaci di fare tutto quello che fanno, persino meglio degli uomini e che in più hanno il dono ed il potere di donare la Vita. Forse anche in questa ottica, di questo eterno, non ancora assopito e sempre travagliato dibattito, la presa sempre più costante delle tecnologie e poi dei veri cyborg così neutrali, così efficienti riuscirà a porre fine a questa silente competizione, per lo più da sempre compiuta dall’Uomo verso la Donna.

Come si noterà in questa sua mostra personale, Rorandelli sembra regalarci in una manciata di tele, un qualcosa che così “en passant” si può andare facilmente a vedere; in realtà l’artista è ben conscia del potere artistico raggiunto e ce lo mostra senza esitazioni, sicura di donare qualcosa che c’è già nell’aria, qualcosa che vive in noi già da tempo, ma di cui noi spesso non vogliamo renderci conto, nascosti dietro ad offuscate lenti: la consapevolezza di questi settori tecnologici che hanno già varcato le nostre porte di casa, le nostre scelte ed i nostri desideri. Forse questa mostra sarà l’ultimo tassello di questo modo di rappresentare le cose, ma credo fortemente che in un domani non tanto prossimo, l’artista si esplicherà anche attraverso Istallazioni: rappresentando a pieno, quasi con crudezza anche attraverso l’ausilio di veri colorati fili, telecamere, video web, il tempo futuristico. Qui invece, come si è detto in precedenza, Rorandelli mostra ancora attraverso il medium pittorico artistico quello che è ed ormai dovrebbe essere sulla bocca di tutti: ovvero l’apporto delle tecnologie nel nostro mondo occidentale quotidiano.

Per comprendere appieno questa artista consiglio di guardare attentamente i suoi video, e in particolare il video dal titolo “Hiding,” che non ha nulla a che invidiare a quelli visti al cinema. Vi è una tale conoscenza dei mezzi impiegati, con un abbinamento di giusti suoni immessi in sottofondo da rimanere quasi a bocca aperta per la successione delle immagini così vicine alla trasformazione in un ibrido, un insetto-umano.

Bisogna per ultimo ricordare che Rorandelli ha già fatto svariate mostre personali soprattutto negli Stati Uniti, ma certamente bisogna anche riconoscere che questa mostra presso la Fondazione D’Ars Oscar Signorini è assai ricolma di assonanze alla ricerca artistica perpetuata da questa artista, sia per via del Premio Signorini insignito ad artisti che elaborano ricerche nel campo delle tecnologie, sia perché la Fondazione si è avvalsa anche di un importante critico quale Pierre Restagny (1931-2004), una persona che credeva fortemente nelle intuizioni dei giovani, basti pensare al suo incontro con Yves Klein. La Fondazione D’Ars Oscar Signorini si trova da una parte coeva con la famosissima Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, riuscendo però la Fondazione a far del suo spazio eco, riflesso e alternativa al caotico dispiegarsi di una metropoli come Milano.

Certamente questo fatto di cose offre un dono unico agli artisti che espongono le loro opere ed in questo caso Eva Rorandelli: le sue opere vivono e sembrano compenetrarsi con il visitatore, quindi l’accento in questo caso sull’aspetto tecnologico verrà come triplicato, bombardato, il visitatore si sentirà quasi sotto tiro, osservato, quasi piacevolmente stordito, incapsulato ed uscendo dalla mostra gli sembrerà persino di essersi spogliato, vedendo come al di fuori della mostra il mondo circostante sembri “ancora” privo di questa manifesta tecnologia.


Subliminal Figurations: When Everything is Artificial, the Invisible is Real

by Edward Reich

 

In these most recent works by Eva Rorandelli (Florence, 1977), a sequence of sinuous and attractive well-dressed female figures traipse through each canvas with a starkly unemotional and mildly provocative assurance amidst languid undulating blobs of stylized textures evocative of human tissue. Consciously referencing a history of representation spanning Giotto to Italian contemporaries such as Vanessa Beecroft and Margherita Manzelli, these latest works by the Italian former model draw on her classical training with layered folds of resonant color to become abstract interpretations of our technological subconscious.

This exhibition, titled Subliminal Figurations, presents 16 new canvases depicting an all-female world. In them, Rorandelli employs a delicate style of subject-oriented realism to comment on the changing roles of history and identity in contemporary life. Centered in each composition and often meeting the viewer's gaze directly (if not flippantly ignoring it), her figures evoke an idealized beauty that, while observably influenced by the language of fashion publicity, are more akin to the inspired traditions of Pontormo and the Florentine Mannerists revived for the purposes of contemporary discourse.

Since Rorandelli first moved from Italy to the United States her work has undergone a remarkable transformation. Having studied painting in Florence from a young age, attending the Accademia di Belle Arte di Firenze following an apprenticeship in the studio of master Italian landscape painter Italo Pettinato, her early work focused on landscapes in oil with respect for tradition. Both methodologies of teaching stressed a figurative formality driving a clear ideological distinction between divergent schools of contemporary artistic practice, favoring a rigorous form of realism over what was perceived as the Americanized influence and degeneration of contemporary art dominated by commercialized conceptual marketeering.

Yet despite this schooling, Rorandelli's work has always reflected a passion for the colorful and intricate contradictions of modern life. Her initial reactions to the bleak Italian quarter of Brooklyn where she soon found herself were expressionistic and vivid, depicting, for the most part, scenes of vibrant objects such as paint cans, brushes, shoes, books and disembodied trees, often standing in front of the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline. Several years later, her first major series of large format canvases—exhibited at Palazzo Morana in Trapani, Sicily, and titled Electroshock—contained wild abstractions of colorful shapes inspired by the multitudes of objects discarded on the streets of New York. The result was not simply a celebration of abstraction, but a profound foray into the machinery of our imminent posthuman future.

Subliminal Figurations builds on this theme, presenting a technological world in which image and identity are inseparably conjoined. At first glance Rorandelli's figurations could seem an aesthetic assertion: today's demure beauty-Goddess wears prismacolor attire on a fragmented mediascape textile stage. For while strikingly different in both color and character from one to the next, each figure in the series reflects an aspect of the romantic facade present in our collective desire for beauty. Indeed, the uniqueness of each individual is evident only in contrast to the overwhelming sameness of her situation, a situation in this case that seems to demand an often empathic gaze of pity or altruism not dissimilar from that of the Madonna in much Western painting. Thus despite the infiltration of mysterious oblong forms into their midsts, Rorandelli's figures seem to arrive from a higher plane—deities reminiscent of a forgotten history of Byzantine icons or the works of Vittorio Zecchin or Gustav Klimt and his Viennese contemporaries for their flat compositions and dappling with gold.

Even Rorandelli's most apocalyptic visions have decorative roots, their embellishments heightening the anxieties and desires of the women they depict. There is a luminous quality in her handling of paint, the backgrounds of her pictures unexplainable abstractions of crumpled color that becomes cloth, the interior shining broken only by the curvature of occasional flesh. Each figure's wrappings are at once skin, spirit, and self—they are her world—and thus comment less on the nature of style per-se as on the artificial being it has helped her become. She is the misplaced protagonist in a terrestrially complicated psycho, socio, bio, even astro-technological film noir mise en scène where it is fatefully unavoidable to flaunt one's self-worth through the momentary indulgence of clothes, be they functional object or haute couture chic.

In so doing, Rorandelli's figures reflect a compulsory embrace of the tools of our age. Fueled by the interconnective forces of participatory media, our identities are enabled, embodied, and projected on the world. In Rorandelli's conception, such extension is made possible not through the evident use of robotic prostheses or consumer electronics, but by the pervasive and emblematic technologies of attire. Our technologies, in bestowing us extensions of both image and environment, bring unprecedented levels of unease to their wearers. All of us, through our collaborations or rejections of the social machine, contribute in some part to our own domination. From nano-robotics to consumer technology, the tools we employ are extensions of the self, of the power and powerless nature of change.

Rorandelli has little interest in representing specific identities, but rather the fear of their erasure. The reach of our surroundings lies increasingly in our access to the infrastructures of identity, whose effects spread beyond the personal comforts of physical presence to a globalized superculture of meta-cognition. Already, humanity can be seen as a vastly complex and intelligent networked bio-robotic organism relying on a complicated web of such underlying networks, including food production, agriculture and the energy sector to feed our constructed and biological machines, globalized economies to distribute resources, and scientific and artistic research to stimulate its technocultural consciousness. Increasingly we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of short-term benefit with unanticipated long term consequences. Not only must our actions ensure the sustainable wellness of the planet, they must also protect the developing ecosystem of our collective mind.

It is for this reason that, while Rorandelli's figures address this reality with a mannerist edge, the synonymous nature of "manner" and "fashion" is not mere coincidence; both refer to the subtle workings of society and changing acceptance of the ways in which we live. The ephemeral nature of material culture, its recursive self-projection of consumption and display, is laid bare in the disintegration of this textile self in a veritable sea of subjective opinion. In all of these paintings—many of large dimensions and most containing at least one figure—the background has an alien and enveloping quality. It seems at times that the figure is being watched or consumed, by an already intelligent presence or otherworldly observers. Or that the figure herself is a prism, melting into organic geometries of skin and surroundings, her clothes an aspect of an extended being. She is consumed by her stage, by the perceptions of others in the reflections of her self, by her finite response to an infinite void. Rorandelli presents the human on a stage of uncertainty, employing a variety of methods for her form to dissolve.

In Red Figuration and White Figuration, for example (see plates 6 and 1, respectively), the figures are caught in a somewhat off-pose. Both paintings share similar construction: the clothed figure, with eventwear attire of Japan-esque origin, stands frozen in front of a ground of abstraction. In the case of the first, her body is draped with a triangle dress and the strap of a bag, her figure surrounded by blood-like globules that seem almost certainly living. Her clothes have a flatness that challenge her depth, reducing it to that of a cardboard relief, and her expression seems similarly unsure of her bodily dimension. The second figure is trapped in a nonchalant stroll, a sandy coral-patterned bag swinging back from her shoulder. Her background is a wall of translucent fabric or tissuey folds. Both figures are solid, but frozen in a seemingly reactive environment. They are paralyzed—infectious presences on a background plane that looks willing to consume them as unwanted visitors in an immune system of cloth.

In several other paintings, by contrast, the figure itself is conspicuously absent. This is exemplified well by Contamination (plate 3), a canvas in which her dress, volumetric and blue, remains vacant on a hanger with symmetrical poise. In this work as in others, there is a holographic quality to the canvas—not only for its vertical format and dimensions comparable to a full-length mirror—but for the rippled reflections of enveloping light. Gold pigment runs in veins as it would through the earth, a geological cloth of prosthetic skin. And while striking for its frontal composition, it seems evident that the dress is in motion, or rather that the world is in motion as a backdrop to the dress, the frame of the canvas panning in pursuit. It seems to consume its surroundings in an interior stream; the volume of the wearer a consumption of flame, or vapor, or liquid. It is thoroughly unclear if these dresses are possessed or desired, on display or in storage, or perhaps alive in a fantasy realm of embodiment.

Chaotic Presences (plate 5), a larger format canvas containing a Milky Way of geological globules collaged across its surface, offers an alternate version of the liquefaction of form. The figure in this case is framed in full, strolling head to toe down an invisible catwalk that could be construed as the vastness of space. Mineral veins of golden pigment splinter her essence as before, but the heightened degree of aloofness in her posture, her ambiguous Mona Lisa smile, and the mistlike dusting of stars both define and restrict the simple limits of her form. It is as if Botticelli's Primavera, dressed in blue, took a stroll through the brownest fringes of aesthetic disorder.

The tension between chaotic abstraction and classical order in all of these works has proven a ripe territory for Rorandelli's investigation of paint. Her impulsive desire to confront flat fields of color with the delicate visages of youth has a direct, honest, almost simplistic quality. Many of her paintings take on the patchwork texture of an aerial landscape, interweaving abstract planes of space with an entrapping, tectonic reality. Here the surroundings of the figure becomes a palpable geometric medium in which she hangs, a landscape of influential and possessive force. In both Walking Through Steel and Weighting, for example (plates 4 and 8), the protagonist's handbag seems to be a literal fragment of the world she inhabits. In each case, an off-kilter composition is combined with an empathic studio-like portrait to render the subject an immobilized icon of post-Warhol consumerism. Similar are the two figures' overlapping watery dresses in Floating Point (see cover), the painting's concentric composition heightening the interplay between reciprocal elements.

This latter composition adds a social dimension to the possession of goods. The presence of multiple figures in the scene invites a dramatic and interactive quality, allowing it to be construed as a Renaissance parable. Here not only do Rorandelli's subjects hang suspended in the absence of bodily confines, they find themselves pinned to the canvas and intertwined in one another by filaments of gold pigment. The smaller canvas Precious (plate 9) offers a magnified detail of this effect, in which the covetous glare of one figure at the other, a gaze then reflected at the viewer, seems to take on moral if not allegorical overtones. Indeed, in all of Rorandelli's works the posed confidence and accessorized mannerisms of these women reflect a tentative discomfort, the self-awareness of their vital role in a globalized socioeconomic trend-setting machine.

Rorandelli's work remains a celebration of virtue, and it is here that she shares kinship with more modern Italian masters. Despite its abstract and colorful tendencies, her work is greatly influenced by a succession of painters such as Giorgio Morandi and Ottone Rosai, not to mention the universal abstractions of Alberto Burri or Mario Merz. In all of these artists' work, the desire for anti-aesthetics or contemporary goading is irrelevant to its integrity but this by no means reduces it to an act of idealism. Since Gustave Courbet's harsh attack on idealist painting, the line between candid realism and our archetypes of beauty has been thoroughly demolished. Subsequently, each generation's avant-garde has thrived on its ability to portray the human form with increasingly "realistic" repulsion and to great critical effect, thus altering social conceptions of both beauty and the ideal. As a consequence today's art is a territory ripe with the potential for glorified saccharine drivel, as witnessed in the blunt and often masturbatory kitsch of Jeff Koons, John Currin, and Lisa Yuskavage et al. Relative to these artists, who have now been embraced with pinched noses and some of the art world's highest praises, Rorandelli's figures occupy a distinctly opposite pole. She is interested in a more tasteful appraisal of the aesthetics of change, in beauty for its own sake juxtaposed with the real. To disfigure reality as a means to achieve seems a gratuitous contribution to an already unsightly culture.

Increasingly, the line between fashion and function are also blurred, between the amplification of beauty and the needs of survival. While on the one hand her work celebrates tradition, Rorandelli's motivations have little to do with sentiment but with an acceptance of technology as a necessity to endure. In many of her canvases the protagonist is present in the scene without seeming to know exactly why. It isn't simply that the figure is lost, but that her identity itself has no anchoring principles. This is what makes her a subliminal figure—the spotlight has made her disappear.

Human culture today has moved far beyond abstraction to a generation of meta-figuration where our bodies, actions and images are increasingly torn at and manifested through the symb(i)ologies of communication technology. In the face of the overwhelming forces that threaten our significance, Rorandelli's work reminds us that there is a role for compassion in the art of today. Art can reach deeper, beyond the limits defined by its commercial, provocative and sensational realities. By definition, such "subliminal" figures require the attention of subconscious awareness. The very act of perception thus takes on metaphysical terms, implicating the subliminal and the sublime. Her work evokes the nascent human desire to create something so awe-inspiringly beautiful as to seem almost heavenly in its moral or spiritual value, not simply as a form of extended well being but as a quality of survival towards a posthuman future. If we do manage to endure to a higher state of being, the separation between body and figure—much like the artificial distinctions between "figurative art" and "abstraction"—will become increasingly unclear.

In Rorandelli's view, the honest portrayal of the contemporary sublime is a pureness of feeling, one unneeding of the trappings of the body and irony that have been misinterpreted and celebrated by the markets of culture. Beauty, after all, is a deeply natural human trait. Beauty bestows empowerment and defeat, the force to captivate, to nurture and to destroy. It is here that her realism and abstractions collide. Indeed, the paradoxes of the beauty market and the concentric appropriations between fashion, identity, biological integrity and artistic success are underlying currents in the best of her work.

Are we actually in possession of both mind and spirit, or is it simply a vastly complex network of neurons, amino acids and electronic stimuli that happen to feel like we know who we are? It is in this regard that the loss of identity instilled in her work is of such central importance for contemporary dialogue. She describes her paintings as not about fashion but willing to use it. "I try to appeal to the sensibilities of fashion and embrace its contradictions. My figures aren't sexually appealing—they captivate with their eyes, with attractive expressions. Possessing an energy deeper than the garment will never negate a woman's need for superficial self expression."

And it is here that Rorandelli's vision embodies the absurdity of the truths of our age. In 1832, Thomas Carlyle published his now infamous Sartor Resartus (or "The Tailor Retailored"), a radically unconventional pseudo-philosophical text that raised eyebrows for its combination of critical theory, dramatic narrative and fantastical nonsense. Claiming unlikely status as the first major theoretical treatise on clothes, Carlyle's contribution to the logic of absurdity—once dismissed altogether by critics but now praised for its embodiment of the paradoxes of modern life—exemplified the beginning of a colossal shift in cultural values we have witnessed over the past two centuries, and set a new standard for their measure. This existentialist unfolding, evidenced in works of art, fantasy, philosophy and science fiction spanning Lewis Carroll to Marshall McLuhan to Matthew Barney, provides a central lens on our conception of the world. The role of clothing in society has become a pivotal tenet of Western thought that Rorandelli's figurations so conscientiously employ.

It is here that the abstractions of idealism will take their last inevitable steps, the nonsense of culture providing a blueprint for thought itself. From the perspective of fashion, the model begins as a canvas on which perfection is painted. In the world of art, however, she exists as a body more often torn, buried, burned or obscured. She represents not only the real world object of lust, and the object of envy, but most certainly not an object. And while rejecting what she refers to as the "fossilizing" qualities of postmodern feminist theory, Rorandelli's vision raises similar issues in regards to the nature of bodily value. From the perspective of her posthuman gaze, the model is a servant of objects—the object's object—a motory mannequin of object as feeling. Like fashion seeks beauty, and beauty is fleeting, the Rorandelli art-object reflects the pragmatic hedonism of the contemporary ideal. In the tension resulting, that between knowing what we like to see and seeing only what we know we like, she epitomizes the resulting technosocial imbalance.

In today's age of post-sensational media frenzy, Rorandelli reminds us that the ultimate reality is the power of brand and its interlaced presence in all things interactive. We're attracted to shadows, to a faith in the lies of an invisible hand. We become the shadows. Be the brand Gucci, Michelangelo, YouTube or "self," we want their reflection, and her paintings indulge us.


Rorandelli's complete bibliography is available here.