February_2017 by Mauro Zanchi
Observing the Fuori tempo (2008) series by Mario Cresci, we are led to think that the paintings and statues in the Giacomo Carrara gallery incarnate ghosts of a constantly moving visionariness, living fossils that are the witnesses of the past, which have survived and have come back to interrogate our gaze. The movement simultaneously suggests that each individual is a dead person empowered and that spectres never die entirely. I imagine the term “ghost” as something or someone that survives his or her own disappearance and then reappears over time, becoming a presence without being recognizable. In the case of the artworks present in the Bergamo gallery, movement renders the masterpieces by Bellini, Lotto, Moroni, Basaiti and Pitocchetto ghosts, to be understood here as images that have survived the disappearance of the artists who made them. The snapshots dwell on the faces, the eyes, the meaning of the subjective identity.
These ghosts make themselves recognized and underscore their fame or that of their creators. Cresci becomes a medium in order to recognize a message sent by artists who lived in other eras. The photographs in Fuori tempo lead to Aby Warburg’s definition regarding art history or the history of images, understood as “ghost stories for the very adult”, or an ongoing dynamic projection, the object of which is latencies and reawakenings, in an inextricable tangle of spaces and times. Drawing once more on what is current, Cresci upends interpretation and reading with symbolic effectiveness, so that his photographic research triggers the linear vectors of duration and depth. Evoking the spectral aspect of art and the conflicting relationship between humankind and history, he allows the images of present time to stir reminiscences of the past, in a sort of projection where memory becomes the bearer of a conceptual intention.
Cresci perceived the evocative potential of this possibility in his Interni Mossi series executed in Tricarico and Barbarano Romano between 1966 and 1979. Here he is trying to understand the spirit of the place, following people’s souls, the cultural elements that shaped their identity, within a given territory permeated by traditions and customs. Thus, the photographic medium is elevated to the same level as ethnographic and anthropological analysis, with a long posing time, in order to penetrate the cracks of reality in depth. And on the tracks of an interior geography, Cresci imagines being in a space that is not punctuated by time, beyond past and present. He pictures himself in an elsewhere, albeit carrying out the real contingency of everyday life lived in a given historical period: in the here and now at Barbarano Romano, Autoritratto (1978) from the Interni series is at once presence and absence, almost a camouflaged object in contact with the wallpaper in the room, the ghostly and precarious projection that is entrusted to the fideistic eternal captured by a photograph.
In Segni e frequenze (2009), he probes the interior impulses of Gaetano Donizetti, observes the seismograph of sentiment, again through the instability of blurred shots, in an attempt to grasp what appears in the signs of the composer’s musical works, in his autograph scores and notes, in his restlessness and ghostly portrait. And movement is again part of the formal and poetic choice of the La macchina di Penelope series (2009), where even objects become the spectres of a precarious activity, the simulacra of an economic crisis, ever ready to board. The countless threads move on the looms of the Bergamo cotton factory and are conceptually tied to the myth of Penelope: Ulysses’ wife who continuously unravels her loom at night after working at it all day also alludes to what can never be completed, because previous work is in vain and we must start over again each time. In this doing and undoing, time continues to pass, as do the people who inhabit it, so that everything is destined for the continuous transmigration (physical, conceptual and symbolic) of ghost to ghost. However, what is brought into action is an important path for interpreting Cresci’s oeuvre: migration and return, the back-and-forth between mobility and transformation, are factors that continuously trace paths that cannot be simplified in the discontinuous path of memory. Since every important phenomenon is expressed in a dynamic form, signs and figures survive only if they overcome the experience of the journey, the tremor, through both time and space. The blurred photographs of people, works of art and objects lead us to meditate on their ghostly dimension, on their being composed of different temporal layers. Becoming aware of this condition can help observers attempt to inhabit history in an utterly anachronistic and non-temporal way. Cresci’s insight is very close to Warburg’s ideas, always bearing in mind that every image envisages the future, safeguards the past and shifts the present in order to enter into the simple complexity of our gaze. As a result, encountering ghosts can stir emotion. In this encounter, we can bring the images out of the specific time in which they appeared and from the work in which they were born.
In the seemingly linear simplicity of his creative approach, Cresci strives to push the semantic paths of our gaze towards the subtle understanding of the forms of thought through moving images. His research reflects a spontaneous process of orientation towards the interior of life. He seems to suggest that the act of seeing and feeling is a path to understanding, so there is no need to turn to anything else, ensuring that our gaze also entails vision. Turning to Mnemosyne, or the memorial paradigm of the Muses, in the Bye-bye signor Conte (2008) series, Cresci testifies to the disappearance of images, delocations, the variety of transfers, as well as oblivion; he seeks survivals – evident or karstic – and reconstructs other visions and possibilities. Starting from the geometric traces left on the walls of the museum, he evokes a return to zero-degree form, to the whiteness of the prospect of a new project. He roams through broken-down spatiality and deconstructed temporalities. Moments of the past and present are woven together, conceived of as an open work that make all certainties enigmatic.
The photographs of the works that have been moved momentarily, stuck with tape next to the traces of dust left by time, do not lead to knowledge of the world in an unmoving system, but mark temporary moments, fragments of a broken unity to be reconstructed each time with imagination and memory. In his long career, Cresci has assembled an archive of possibilities and constant shifts, above and beyond the usual boundaries of his field: he has accomplished experiments that go beyond photography, following a method based on the interweaving of different languages. He loves to experiment, always calling himself into play, and always running the risk of failure, and thus triggering a migration of theories, compositions and verifications, following personal intuitions or suggestions evoked by contemporary colleagues or traces of the past. He places distant times, memories and current events on the same level, without following a chronological or progressive narration, imagining connections between forms and dissonances, and trying to grasp unexpected meanings with his pictures.
Cresci brings out semantic relationships, revealing the unconscious of the pictures, the segments of memory transformed into knowledge, and imagining the mosaic of the visible in countless photos. The works of Cresci’s different periods offer paths of seeming simplification and seem to promise the possibility of tracing a method in different ways, a path that can be pursued in the forest of subjects, symbols and figures, and in the interweaving of their peregrination. Turning to anthropological knowledge, to its dense network of allusions, where friction and conflicts are evident, he photographs life, the things of the world, the bodies and gestures that have transited from past to present, the ghostly moves, trying to bridge the gaps and antitheses of different periods, beyond the logic of linear chronological development, and beyond the epistemic vertigo of countless areas of knowledge.
Mauro Zanchi, "Ghosts of Oblivion (The Archives of Mnemosyne)", in M. Cristina Rodeschini, Mario Cresci (eds.), La fotografia del no, exhibition catalogue [Bergamo, GAMeC, 10 February – 17 April 2017], (Bergamo: GAMeC Books, 2017).
Translation: Catherine Bolton, Sonia Hill
The catalogue was published for the Mario Cresci. La fotografia del no, 1964–2016. Exhibition curated by M. Cristina Rodeschini and Mario Cresci. GAMeC – Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo, 10 February – 17 April 2017