An Elsewhere of Space and Time

Sandra Bonfiglioli

in Il Colpo del barbaro N. 8, Nes Lerpa, Milan 1991

The common denominators

Silvio Wolf’s installations are linked by a number of common characteristics. The size of the works plays an important role on a number of levels, interacting with what might be called “the architecture of temporality”. The photographic image is an integral part of the works and this undergoes a number of shifts of focus and paradoxes which are all the more striking and unexpected because of the conventional use which is made of the technical and linguistic resources of the medium.

The conventional use of the technical medium

An orthodox approach is the key to the exploration of what is an intrinsic feature of the medium: the roots of photography or “recording with light”.
This approach calls in mind a similar dialectic between tradition and innovation, which has often featured in the development of scientific thought. Lobacevsky’s revolutionary conception of the first non-Euclidean geometry and Einstein’s concept of space as an assembly of “chronospheres”, of moving frameworks of space-time, are both examples of revolutionary thought which started out as an attempt to explore the foundations of an existing tradition – in the one case, Euclidean geometry, in the other, Newtonian mechanics.

The theme of light

In the work of Silvio Wolf, light, as well as being the theme of the research, is also the means of exploration and expression; it is this phenomenon, this “propagation” to use R. Thom’s term, which allows us to “see” the opacity of objects; it is the medium through which the classically “present” object is transcribed onto the film; and it is, subsequently the means by which this “imprint” may recreate the presence of the absent object at a place distant in space and time from the original situation. Re-inscribed in a new present, at the site of the installation, it creates a place in which traces, local and non-local, meet and interact.

The paradox of light

Here we come up against the first paradox and the initial significant shift of focus: light is the vehicle of many acts of inscription and transcription in the domain of awareness and meaning and in this respect it behaves as a medium in the true sense of the word; but light also takes on form in the image. As such, it is one of the strangest of nature’s entities; so extraordinary in fact that its study sparked the transition from classical to quantum physics and a completely new concept of the nature of matter and object – during the same period between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which saw the emergence of modern art. Light, as is now well known, behaves like a stream of particles – in striking objects – and at the same time like a wave motion capable of diffraction, interference, etc.
The work of Silvio Wolf uses the process of photography to make us aware of the paradoxical nature of light.

The locality of place and non-locality of image

The local nature of the installation site and the non-local status of the image which exists in a relation of reference to another situation in the world (whether this be still in existence or already past), together create a new space in which we can simultaneously experience both the here and now and, at the same time, a spatial and temporal “elsewhere”. Our perception, the aesthetic experience, undergoes continual shifts of focus between our awareness of a known object which is being referred to, a memory which is immediately obliterated, driven out by the pressure of a new domain of awareness.
The work is not passive: it actively involves the spectator who becomes a unique element in the play on memory, both personal and collective, which is transcribed through the signs referring to other time-frames and spaces to form a new “cronosphere”.

Spatial and temporal multiplicity

But this does not exhaust dimensions or the traces of time: there are also historic times, other places, of presents elsewhere given meaning by other people, natural cycles of time, the nature of “now” in a new place, unique time-structures in the lives of those who are here now or who will come after.

Non-Euclidean geometry

The space of the installation is not structured along Euclidean lines. This is another source of paradox and focus-shift.
Euclidean geometry provides an idealised structure for the space which surrounds human bodies, the “local map” across which we move and on which the shortest distance between two points is the straight line which connects them – and above all where what is distant is also far away. The space in which physics describes nature and the cosmos is, still today, with few exceptions, Euclidean.
In the places created by Silvio Wolf’s installations, in the “cronosphere” traced thereby, one experiences a kind of hybrid space which is structured both along Euclidean lines – expressed through the body of the observer who crosses the space and the Renaissance perspective of the photographic image – and at the same time by a “magical” plastic space in which “distant” and “far away” are not synonymous. Distant dates, other places, fragments and representations of distant localities interact in the -here and now- of the new space created within the installation.

Ubiquitousness and synchrony

While this technique “gathers” other places and times into a space-time enclave, a different operation may produce strange effects of ubiquitousness. In Pegasus, three separate cities – Parma, Brescia and Rome – simultaneously relocate and reconstitute themselves through mutual cross-references, in the form of three enclaves located in Parma, Brescia and Rome. The observer entering the work is given the task of mentally conceiving the state of invisible synchrony between the three places, which are too distant for such a state to be grasped perceptually. In this way the work elicits personal experience of the mobility of urban living and the widespread use of telecommunications. We interact with others far distant from our biological bodies, and our experience already has a kind of ubiquitous quality which enables it to transcend the limits of the “local scene”.


Finally we come to another unexpected spatial dimension in Silvio Wolf’s work, which derives from its “local” quality. In this the artist takes the orthodox artistic interpretation of the installation to its logical extreme. “Localism” refers to the fact that while the place in which the spatio-temporal “enclave” is constructed makes reference at many levels to other places, it may also be considered as a place in its own right, the unique outcome of the act which conceived, intended and constructed it. Only those who live in the locality are able to grasp the meanings which are denied to others because they are expressed through signs which, although present in the work, refer to memories which are not universal but local. Hence the images of the furrows on the Grande Muro Occidentale in Civitella, the angel covered in words taken from the church inscription, the image of the Turin Shroud in Annunciazione Lagrange, the shadow of the palm tree in the courtyard of the Swabian castle in Camera Sveva, the emphasis of the threshold in Grande Myhrab and Scale Reali al Grato Soglio.

The paradox of reference

In this way Silvio Wolf brings out an essential characteristic of the photographic image: its reference to something which exists elsewhere in the world. This feature of referentiality has become of great interest to semiologists, just as it has always been for artists. While both in art and signs in general, referentiality has been almost unanimously rejected, it remains an inseparable feature of photography, although the act of reference may be mediated through many and strange processes of transformation. Nevertheless a trace of the relation always remains. Yet Wolf takes this for granted in an almost philological manner. He smiles, in spite of his irritation, every time someone (be they well-versed in or devoid of photographic know-how), looking at one of his works in his presence, asks “What is it? Where did you take it?”

Reality and illusion confused

In this aspect of his exploration of convention, Silvio Wolf comes up against the most radical paradox of all.
On the one hand, he likes to take the unusual step of including in his exhibition a portfolio of photographs which illustrate the process of creation of the work on display: his hands at work, the various stages, taking measurements and the photograph of the site before the installation. On the other hand, his preparations for a work take the form of simulations of the site before and after the installation. In order to do this, he uses another photographic technique – that of photo-montage – to create small vignettes of imaginary places, virtual images in which, at the culmination of the work, illusion and reality blend and the features of “reality” and optical illusion cancel each other out to create a new reality which is completely virtual, more real than illusion or reality itself.


Reference texts about the topics on architecture, time and art-time
K. Pomian, L’ordre du temps, Gallimard, Paris, 1984
S. Bonfiglioli, L’architettura del tempo. La città multimediale, Liguori, Naples, 1990
V. Fagone, L’immagine video, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1990
D. Formaggio, Estetica, tempo, progetto, Clup, Milan, 1990