Silvio Wolf

Giuliana Scimè

in "Perspektief", N. 14, Galerie Perspektief , Rotterdam 1983

The recent development of photographic culture as well as the increasing use of the medium in the field of the arts, are freeing the photographer from the strictures of depicting only the “real” world.

More and more photographers are turning their explorations from outer realities to inner ones according to a historical process which involved painting and sculpture at the beginning of the century.

It’s very common to manipulate photographic processes and invent new techniques in order to find the perfect form for representing the intangible world of the individual.

In fact, since it is impossible to properly convey what belongs to the sphere of spiritual life, the artist transforms the medium for creative needs.

Other artists, however, respect the intrinsic characteristics of the medium but use the depicted object as “symbol” of the inner world. In this case, in spite of the fact that we recognize the object, we have to make an imaginative effort to interpret the object as a vehicle for “thoughts”.

The artist who uses photography with this aim, adds a new element to reality, by making ideas and thoughts concrete, and with that introducing them in reality. With this premise in mind, we may look at the work of Silvio Wolf.

To penetrate the deepest significance of Wolf’s imagery, the critical inquiries are addressed to certain common denominators which are the synthesis of his evolution. First of all, the single meaning couldn’t be represented. Consequently, his pictures are constructed with the highest ambiguity, even if the chosen objects and forms are not ambiguous in themselves. The viewer is free to form his own interpretation, to recognize or refuse himself in a sort of mirror reflection. The relationship between interior/exterior is the issue for Silvio Wolf. He extends the concept from real space to metaphorical space which involves the human being with him/herself as well as with outer realities. Secondly, Wolf’s research is a statement on the autonomy of the photographic medium which has its own language and its own expressiveness, as do other traditional visual media.

In one if his earliest works, Punti Cardinali (Cardinal Points, 1979), Wolf wanted to portray the concept of the surrounding space according to our geographical conventions. He stood in the same place and turned himself towards the four cardinal points making pictures of what was in front of him. He composed a work in a cross shape with a hole in the centre – the photographer’s place. An action like that might seem obvious, but Wolf just found out the simplest and most direct way to represent the environs that we perceive but don’t see.

Exploring inner worlds, Wolf employs surrealistic imagery, avoiding all kinds of photographic manipulation; merely putting two or more pictures side by side. The message comes with the coordination of the totality. The single photograph in itself doesn’t contain any meaning. It is useless for the viewer to look at the represented subject searching for narrative sense, literary content or documentary record. The subjects are merely devices for hinting at his own psyche; Wolf is concerned with the final image that “exposes” the mind.

As Silvio Wolf wrote in the poem Spazio Mentale (Mental Space, 1981), an introduction to the work of the same title: “What I portray is the visible image of my thoughts.” Therefore, the photographic image is a tool for revealing his intimate world by using symbols. Symbols embody etymological meanings that are hidden in the picture. That’s why the viewer needs special resources to capture those meanings.

Wolf’s sequences work like written language: an isolated single word has its own etymology which is ambiguous and poly-significant. Only in reading word by word, do we have the key for the comprehension of the sentence.

In the last work Acqua (Water, 1981/82), Silvio Wolf abandons the surrealistic imagery for a simpler record of reality. “Acqua” has surprising similarities to Punti Cardinali, but a stronger symbology.

To express the concept of continuous cariations and the loss of what bombs our minds (but which we don’t detain consciously), Wolf has chosen water as a subject. He plays with symbols freely: water is a symbol of movement, change, renewal and inconsistancy, as well as being strictly linked with the oneiric symbology of “birth”.

Indeed, as Silvio Wolf wrote when presenting the series: “I perceive by intuition a birth in these primitive representations which are ambiguous and metaphoric at the same time.” The images are built by using concrete reference feature: a semi-swamped stake covered by seaweed. Once again, he selected the simplest representation for portraying thoughts and emotions in an object from the real world. In its continuous movement, water creates forms by way of a stake and seaweed; forms that we lose in temporal experience the very moment we look at it. In photographs, they are frozen forever and become the lexicon for a silent conversation between the viewer and him/herself as well as between the viewer and the author. To be paradoxical, I may say that what we see in Wolf’s images is not what the images are. He challenges the analogical power in photography.