The Labile Frontier

Franco Vaccari

in "Light Specific", monograph, Nuovi Strumenti, Brescia 1995
in "Spazio Mentale", solo exhibition catalogue, Galleria Mercato del Sale, Ilford, Milan 1981

It has always been suspected that photography has more than one point of contact with magic. I do not refer so much to its most obvious “power”, that of multiplying reality, with respect to which we are mithridatised. The excess of images has destroyed our capacity to recover a minimum of the surprise that photography caused when it first appeared. The images must therefore shout louder and louder and contain more and more surprising details to obtain a little attention.

The term “magic” is intended in the sense used by Ernesto de Martino when, on the subject of the world of magic, he spoke of it as a “world in decision”.

In a magic world, “Presence is still busy collecting itself together as a unity in the eyes of the world and the world, thrown in front of it and received as presence, has not yet moved away from presence”. “Reality, as independencies of the given, as the becoming aware of an observable world, as decided and guaranteed otherness is a formation relative to our civilisation, relative, that is, to the decided and guaranteed presence that characterises it”. (E. de Martino, Il mondo magico – “The magic world”).

Strangely however, it is photography with its capacity for “hard” observation which instead of confirming the world as “decided and guaranteed otherness” often achieves the opposite result. It is then the precariousness of the real which reveals itself through photography. When the paintbrush was the only instrument for fixing an image of this otherness, the difference between the quantity of facts that crowded together to be recorded and the speed of the recording medium was too great. So the world could be felt as something that was absolutely compact.

Today, however, new recording instruments show that the real is full of cracks, crevices and false bottoms.

Anton Giulio Bragaglia, with his photodynamic experiences had already dissolved the hard outlines of figures, leading matter to reveal its fantastical nature.

All futurism, however, must be seen in the light of that dematerialisation of the real which new technological means, and photography above, all had produced.

In fact Boccioni said, “the continuous flight that objects make around us has made them fluid, extending into infinity, no longer existing as luminous appearances.”.

It is therefore technology, the most mature fruit of the post-magic way of facing the world, characteristic of western civilisation, which upsets the very foundations of this attitude.

After a period in which presences that felt themselves guaranteed could face a guaranteed world, we are slipping into a world that is in-decision.

The post-modern could therefore be brought down to the loss of a sense of ones presence as compact, conquered once and for all like a right to a pension.

The post-modern is this rediscovering oneself in a magic situation, that is, the substantial precariousness of the real when it seemed that  decision of itself and of the world no longer constituted a dominating and characteristic problem for our civilisation. The post-modern, if we were still in time, could be  the gestation period of a new rationality.

If one now looks at the work of Wolf, one notes that its interest is concentrated on that delicate diaphragm, more mental than physical, that separates the inside from the outside.

The photos are never isolated, almost as if to say that it is impossible to resolve the problem of vision in one single image. The sequences are usually binary and this suggests a work of arrangement rather than a desire to describe, in fact they never result in a narrative fact. Rather than sampling  the different ways in which things appear they appear as a recording of changes that occur to the ego which moves. But this ego never manages to constitute a stable reality capable of being called real. It is an ego which only perceives itself in movement and which is continually thrown into crisis by the movement.

Each slight shift of the point of observation causes a surprise, a new necessity to find an equilibrium. If one raises ones head above a wall, then the vision of an expanse of sea bursts in; the reassuring light of a lamp hanging immobile in the centre of a room becomes a grandiose rotation of stars if we look out of the window.

If the slightest little thing is sufficient to discover unexpected realities and if in discovering our ego it is completely filled with surprise, then our movements must become cautious and careful. Opening a door becomes a gesture emblematic of all dangerous gestures.