Silvio Wolf

Sylvie Parent

in "Entre image et matière", exhibition catalogue, CIAC, Montréal, 1994, published by Incontri Internazionali d’Arte, Rome 2003

Sylvie Parent: In your work you use photography because of its ability to materialise light. The Icons of Light, for example are images of light. These works make light the subject of the representation and at the same time a new object. How do you explain this desire of yours to have light seen, to give it another sensory form and to assimilate it with architecture, with a surface or an object?

Silvio Wolf: In my work light is actively both subject and technique together: an unbreakable bond has been created between form and creative process. Each one is the other. The light operates a virtual “tearing apart”, it is capable of materialising the elsewhere in an intended place. It generates a state of ubiquity, an immaterial link between a physical and a virtual body. The two exist simultaneously in an -original- space-time. The very language in which I act seems to materialise in visual objects.

The re-contextualisation of these new objects allows me to create a network of physical and virtual relations with the architectural space. A marked out space becomes a-symbolic space.

S.P.: The systematic use of photography in relation to physical space is characteristic of all your work. Your projects are always integrated into the place in which they take shape and each time they establish a close relationship with the space and the environment. The images that you add to these spaces extend them, revealing certain aspects of them. How do you hope to connect up your work to concrete space? Which aspects of these places particularly interest you?

S.W.: I feel a fundamental need to build my work beginning with the place in which I am called upon to work. I collect signs, icons, and local references on which I act in planning my work. There is always a strong desire to originate work in that specific place.

Any space is “good”. Each space already exists when I arrive, when I acknowledge it. Each marked represents a “station” of my life. I represent a stage of my existence in it. Process of interior development and physical places in the world unite symbolically in each new “station”.

I must always start from an existing – external fact-. These facts are more and more often images, which I find, which I look for, which I know how to recognise as necessary, there, at that moment.

I go to a place. I collect. I carry stuff into the studio. I create a project. I construct new signs. I take back metabolised matter to the original place.

S.P.: The idea of the frame, of framing seems to be equally important in your work. Your works create relationships between the limits of places, their architecture and the edges of the photograph, basically, the borders of an internal space. These limits often remain readable as if to assert their presence and double their function. What are the purposes of this readability of the picture?

S.W.: For many years I’ve worked on what I call “Places of transition”, on thresholds, on the “Inside-Outside” relationship, on the limits between them, on the search for a position that is not just physical, that allows me to be simultaneously inside and outside, here and there, or to be neither here nor there.

Here are two of my writings that deal with this search:


To be a frame. / To belong at the same time / to the reassuring space/ that limits vision / and to the sensory universe / that comprises it. / The outside sets itself against the inside. / The annulment of one/ is the possession of the other. / Upright and codified space / is a sequence of frames:/ the crossing of it / a prerequisite for liberation. / The mind is the means. / The mind is the limit.


That which I represent / is visible image/ of my thought. / Of thought that sees/ and recognises itself/ in that which already is. / Coincidence of position / Physical and mental. / Of being and space. / Places of transition. / Inside and outside. / Complementary opposition / of ubiquitous antagonists. / I unveil the world / of the unseen. / I represent that which I do not know.

S.P.: In Icons of light, as in various previous works, the distortion of images triggers accentuated perspectives revealing the position of the photograph. These perspectives bring out the impression of space and the position of the spectator and make the point of observation a fundamental aspect of the work. Can you explain the role that the point of observation plays in your projects?

S.W.: In my work the point of observation is almost a proof of existence. I find myself there. I was there then. To be in space, in time. The accentuated perspectives in my works are physical representations of mental positions, of a non-orthogonal vision. I place myself in an -unconventional- position. I intention geometrical rules and perspectives, loading them with symbolic value. I return to the world a work that exists relatively to the observer, to  position taken up by some one looking at it. The work varies as the spatial conditions in which it is located change.

“… Represented reality / medium of mental images. / It is thought that sees”. (1977: from Cambi d’Orizzonte)

S.P.: The images of the photographic works for Icons of light are almost entirely blanked out by the light. On the other hand photographs strangely allow a glimpse of the texture of the works, they make other aspects of the initial work visible. This re-materialisation is hindered by the smooth and reflecting texture of the enamelled Cibachrome. These works produce a strange relationship between the original image and the final image, the original materials and their subsequent transformation…

S.W.: The Icons of Light are the result of a double process, simultaneously generative and destructive. The same light that generates the photographic image destroys the painted image.

The light that illuminates the pictures in the place where they are, becomes the subject of the representation. The light that illuminates the Icons of light activates the internal light of the images.

Over the years much photography has tended to -make visible-, to amplify the visibility. These works of mine act in the direction of disappearance. Each generative act brings with it an end, a ceasing. In my works these two acts are summed up by the dual simultaneous representation of two images with a distinct nature, one of painting, the other photographic. They fuse together in an instantaneous coincidence.

What remains visible of the painting is the perspective frame and the painted surface.

Each Icon of Light can in turn be subject to further representations, modifications of perspective and destructions of icons. The objects produced by this are just materialisations of light, spatial bodies on which perception fluctuates continuously between the two dimensional surfaces and the three dimensional bodies. Vision is born from an act of blindness. Light generates instantaneous deaths.

S.P.: Many of these projects of yours are integrated into religious places revealing their spiritual character such as Trasfigurazione di Santi (Transfiguration of Saints) 1984-86,  Annunciazione Lagrange (Lagrange Annunciation) 1988, and Grande Myhrab, (Large Myhrab)1989. The Icons of Light also possess a religious connotation. The work on light, the complex fluctuations between material and immaterial and the religious references seem to participate in a form of spiritual or metaphysical experimentation. How is your work bound to these spiritual references?

S.W.: Most of the iconography that I collect in the places I work in comes from museums and churches. It is there that the most meaningful and the most narrated “Images”, those most heavily loaded with the symbolic value of place are kept, in the “sanctuaries of images”.

Profane places also, such as the Casino at Baden-Baden, the tiled walls of the old bars of Valencia, the gates of the coal mines in the Ruhr region seem to become meaningful to me when their hard and practical function becomes a metaphor, a symbol of the place, a code that is projected into the folds of time and takes on an ultra-local, universal value. In this way the throwing of roulette ball with its circular movement becomes welded to the circular dancing movement of mystical dervishes. The green and white 15×15 cm. tiles become ancient bi-polar codes of a language for which I create a visual alphabet. The image of the work of the miners fuses with that of icon painters.

Is Perhaps everything sacred?

Is nothing a question of chance?

Is everything necessary?

Perhaps every place already contains the origin and the end?

And how many more finite images will I be able to produce?

And how many works still separate me from?