Silvio Wolf’s Origins

Giorgio Verzotti

in "Origini", solo exhibition catalogue, Galleria Gian Ferrari Arte Contemporanea, Milan 1993

As with many of Silvio Wolf’s recent works, this show is also a so-called “in situ” installation, despite the fact that it is located inside of a rather canonic space: an art gallery. Being interested in investigating that which photography can make us come to know, the artist has visualized the element that constitutes photography as a specific language: the light that permits the taking of the pictures (and which therefore superintends over most of the so-called mass media). Within a self-reflexive, light displays itself in Wolf’s photographs and necessarily interacts with the real light of the environment in which the work is located.

The artist’s interest in space begins here, as a direct consequence of the work, and its constant as well as its verification. And the double value that Wolf’s operations assume, a value which is both negative and affirmative, and which is the intrinsic nature of all metalinquistic operations in art, also begins here. While the referential function (which pertains to the means more as its effectualness) is mitigated, the artist traces perfectly autonomous ordinative structures on the image, which are connected to the image merely on a formal pretext. The “brought” light – that is, the light reproduced on the surface of the photographic paper, with its bright points and shadow effects, becomes the icon itself (which the artist simply calls light icon). In other words, the language precedes every significance, and the linguistic elements are disjointed and treated as being self-sufficient.

But the light is “brought” by virtue of the particular point of view, which results in considerable foreshortening. In this way, the work located in a given environment tends to bring to mind the original environment and the artist’s past experience in that environment.

Each of Wolf’s installations superimposes another space and creates logical discrepancies and perceptive ambiguities which, as always happens in art, generates the sense. And the light which the surface of the work shows and which belongs to a precise place and time are not experienced data but non-axiomatic data. It is easy to reconstruct the movement the artist made in space to establish that particular point of view.

From the pure conjugation of the linguistic element, Wolf turns to focus the attention on an element which is considered qualifying in order to specify the significant potentialities of an entire system. His ceding to visibility is connected to another significant environment – real time and real space – to which he synthetically returns processuality by writing the completed empirical experience into the work.

Therefore, the artist goes beyond the point of treating the subject as a mere function of language, and themizes the empirical subject. And this new installation by Wolf leads us to believe that the empirical time of the subject is conjugated with its historical time.

The show we want to present now is given as an “in situ” installation, even though this term normally means artistic realizations in outdoor spaces. We say this because Wolf intends contestualizing the place – the gallery – not as an abstraction but as an environment which has a pricise history and role. This gallery, which is now owned by Claudia Gian Ferrari, who inherited it from her father, is one of Milan’s most important galleries and has, since the early post-war years, dealt with the works of Italy’s foremost figurative artists. The gallery now has two sections: one for modern art and one for art which follows present trends.

Therefore, taking this specificity into due account, Wolf displays his “picture show”, as he insists on calling it, and his figurative paintings, all following the portrait theme. He presents a discrepancy in this theme, a non-correspondence of expectancies. He presents them under the form of foreshortened photographic image which simply reveal the side position that the photographer took to capture the ambient light reflected on the surface of the painting. Thus we have round shapes becoming ovals and square shapes becoming trapezoids: irregular shapes that emphasize the work of mitigating or annihilating the recognizability of the painted image.

In its place we have spots of light, icons of light, flashes that occasionally allow a glimpse of some detail, as though they were spectral latencies: a pair of hands or the outline of a face. A rather dramatic effect is produced by the contrast between these “light victories” and the solidity of the thick pieces of wood upon which the very thin Cibachrome sheets are mounted. The examples of art of the past are shown and then negated by the photographic entervention, but this negation interacts with an affirmation.

The solidity of the wooden supports shows them as objects of a certain consistency. But then, while we curiously watch as the imaginary part of a painting is eclipsed, we see certain distinct details of the painting system appear from another part.

Through the side view and reflected light annihilate the “subject”, they do reveal the cracking, the material nature of the pictorial paste and its phenomenology, as has been explicated in the past.

Furthermore, the frames and nameplates giving the title and authors of the works remain recognizable, while one painting seems to be covered by a veil and another shows the visitor sign-in book of one of the museums included in the artists’ survey. The museum’s institutional space is depicted in a side view which appears to show, for the first time, the frames of the paintings. It also reminds one of the first step of Words and Things, where Foucault analyses Las Meninas also taking the paintings that decorate the room by Velásquez into consideration, as well as the room itsef as the setting of a linguistic universe.

Wolf also puts this universe in a setting and contestualizes it in a similar way, letting the personages speak for the functions they represent, except for the representation of the reality to which he himself is tied on the occasion of the show he is now giving: the Milanese gallery, for its part, anchored to its history. And we as visitors should feel an integral part of this setting, where different times and environments integrate simultaneously: the museums visited by the artist, with “their light”, Claudia Gian Ferrari’s paternal gallery, and this new one where the viewers are reminded of the paintings shown in the former gallery.

But this is a twofold operation, with two different titles: Exposition, in its canonical completeness, and Laboratory, which is located in the semi-interred part of the gallery and, as is usual, houses exhibitions of small drawings and works. Wolf metaphorically uses it as in a dialectic between above and below with the above pertaining to that which is formalized, and the below being for that which is still in the design phase. And the poles pf the dialectic can be enriched with other attributes: that which is public and which is private; that which is rational and that which is pulsative.

In effect, we can briefly say that the two distinct polarities are connected to two moments: one when the shapes are being put into their limpid, completed, definitive forms, and the other being the ideating, imprecise phase which is dependent on the aleatory and the possible.

In the dark semi-interred part of the gallery, an uninterrupted sequence of images is projected onto the walls. These images contestualize Wolf’s recent work with his past work and, more importantly, with his life. Here, time and space are the times and spaces of life; they are factors that can be qualified according to one’s past experience. The slightly red-shifted images of his preceding works are accompanied by the blue-shifted works of his historical period. All of them, which are side views and sometimes partially superimposed, seem to be caught up in a whirlwind or explosion.

It could be said that with the Laboratory the artist wanted – in a Pirandello fashion – to “unlock” the very precisely defined fixity of the works in the Exposition. As Dr. Hinkfuss says: If a work of art survives, it is only because we can release it from the fixity of its form; release its form within ourselves by giving it vital movement… But there is also something dramatic that springs from the being of these images, all of which are pregnant with history and attest to how much history each one contains.

If these portrait reproductions open onto the recognition of the historical conditions of their particular putting into being, these private images – which are tied to a sentimental instant – are also documented history. We see works done by the artist, together with portraits of his parents and of himself as a child, of the places he has visited and the paintings he has loved, as well as images of the Holocaust, electrocardiograms and ecographs: abstract signs that not less dramatically refer back to the biological body. Therefore, in a certain way, this explosion of images bonds death to life and, in particular, connects what is private with what is public, and tells us that it is this connection that gives sense to art today; the awareness of the fact that a subject becomes its own historian.