The Theatre as a Place for Seeing

Roberta Valtorta

in "Scala Zero", solo exhibition catalogue, Galleria Fotografia Italiana, Milan 2004

The theatre as a place is the subject of the complex research conducted by Silvio Wolf from 1999 to 2004 for a work he entitled Scala Zero.

According to the root of the word, which is the ancient Greek verb theaomai, a theatre is a place for watching. Wolf started from this concept and applied photographic procedures to the theatre, firstly with photography as an instrument for looking at the real, at what is in front of our eyes, and then using digital procedures with photography as an instrument for looking at what does not exist in tangible reality. He therefore constructed a work that is based totally and intensely on pretence or make-believe, a concept which he addresses (or surrounds might be more appropriate) from several viewpoints each of which reinforces the others superimposed one over the other, so that they almost generate each other with a tight consistency: the pretence is the theatre itself. Pretence is the activity of imagining (from the latin fingo)1 and is therefore the construction of images that exist in the physical world and at the same time also in the virtual world, of what exists because thought of and experienced, as occurs in the limitless kingdom of the unconscious. Wolf shows that part of the theatre which is programmed to be seen and which we expect and wish to see, its supreme symbol (the stage, but also secondarily the seats in the auditorium and the boxes: we must remain seated to watch in the theatre), and that part that is not seen and mustn’t be seen (because it lies behind and inside, like the vital organs of a living and functioning body, its innards, the control panels for the stage lights, the security monitors and then the corridors and passage ways which lead to the most mysterious and necessary places of this complex and hidden theatrical machine). He thus projects his work into an other dimension, different from that of the immediate description of tangible facts: and yet Wolf’s images are based on likeness. They are particularly clear, particularly tangible and credible, true in the perceptual sense; they meet the criteria of that original theaomai mentioned at the beginning. Nevertheless they constitute a special place for seeing, a space that creates itself and is put as a question that is almost of a metaphysical nature. The space is dark red, golden, mirrored, sinuous and contains vivid ancient objects and flat ghosts of the present. It is a photographical-theatrical space which Wolf defines rigorously, scientifically we might say. He simultaneously presents thresholds, crossroads and borders to be crossed to imagine other possible, eminently mental, spaces similar to those that Alice discovered beyond the looking glass. Wolf works on this elastic, plastic space that is there to be explored and interpreted in many ways: he reorganises the framework of the perspective following the canons of a crystal clear pretence and cuts it into neat shapes-icons that are both real and arbitrary at the same time. He cuts out fragments structured in abstract textures similar to details seen under a microscope. He blurs the tender material it consists of as if our vision were impaired and our sight is floundering (and this last device of blurred images and a loss of orientation and concrete sight is set dialectically against those times when the images take full possession of the theatre and this clearly demonstrates its nature as a place-image, which is dual).

But Wolf goes further and almost as if in an Escher labyrinth of visual procedures that chase each other, he even works on the theatre space with moving images: film. The basic method of vision-perception is that of the “subjective camera”. He films the theatre travelling through its hidden and inner parts (almost as if in the belly of a whale) thick with curves, apparitions and thresholds waiting to be understood, perhaps crossed, or even just looked at intensely, because once again these thresholds are none other than figures. The place of the theatre, travelled through insistently even its rear, its other space, allows itself to be investigated by a wandering gaze, the expression of a sort of unconscious in movement. The flow of images strengthens the sense of insecurity and suspension and triggers a going to a place, the reason for which is always and in any case that of appearing, of being an event, both in its visibility and in its hidden existence.


1 Translator’s note. The Italian word to pretend is fingere and for pretence or make-believe is finzione from the Latin fingo