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.