Silvio Wolf

Giorgio Verzotti

in Cimal Arte internacional N. 39, Valencia 1991

While I was in Silvio Wolf’s studio, I noted the different stages of his work as summarised by the succession of colour photos the artist showed me. Two statements came to mind that I remembered having read among the “Verifications” by Ugo Mulas and in a passage by Emmanuele Severino.

In the “Verifications” the last of Mulas’ work, the photography shifts from its traditional function of documenting and becomes the subject of self-reflection starting with its technical aspects and involving its cultural implications. In the second and thirteenth “Verification”, Mulas talks of the place of the photographer within the photographic process and defines it as the place of absence (“…the camera does not belong to me, it is an additional instrument the importance of which can be neither overestimated nor underestimated, but that is precisely why it is an instrument that excludes me while I am most present”).

As an artist, Silvio Wolf’s work tackles photographic language starting from this same awareness and in fact many conceptual contributions started with the reflections of Mulas. Analysis of the specific process of signifying leads to a criticism of the illusion of reality, which the language of photography, more than any other language, involves as its myth, as its imaginary dimension.

While, however, Mulas questions whether reality can be represented by the medium, artists who have followed this line with photography have come to question reality itself as an entity that can actually be experienced.

In his first works, going back to the end of the 1970s, Wolf often defined the place he was working in and, like Mulas, experimented with the centrality and at the same time with the laterality of the place. Basically, the process of photographic signification is built on a moment of not looking, of blindness as Wolf says, where the mechanical eye is appointed to deputise. Apart from this, which is clearly a starting point, the artist’s intention is to investigate the referents of photography, the images of reality. In Wolf, images take on the features of ambiguity. It is rooted, as far as it is present, in its complete visibility. The work Le due porte (The two doors), 1980, is rightly considered a key work of Wolf’s: it presents us with a perfectly readable image, yet it is highly ambiguous. A strange architectural construction standing in the desert is photographed from the front in the most direct and also the simplest manner. The two doors that make it possible to look through the walls of the construction and even to glimpse the horizon have precise cultural connotations. One resembles Islamic architecture with the upper part depicting a dome while the other on the opposite side and framed by the former is a pure form of our geometry, a rectangle. What is the subject of this photograph? The construction itself or the elsewhere that we can see beyond it? Or is it not rather the relationship between non-light and light where the dark of the inside is unquestionably a condition for the visibility of the light outside?

And is the desert presented as a document or as a metaphor?

At this point one cannot help thinking of  Severino’s comment on a passage by Heidegger. He said that eyes that know how to read the desert do not belong to the desert. What Silvio Wolf does is to tackle a negativeness that starts by posing the subject as a blank, as proof of an absence and which verifies this absence as the motor of the arguments. Light on condition that there is dark: photography lies in this relationship and Wolf’s works are in effect a discussion of this relationship. They hinge on the representation not of things but of the light which signifies things, not on the objects of the vision but on the vision itself. The images that the camera records are reflections and shadows, they are the relationships between reality and virtuality in a game which at times is that of a virtuoso and at others is limited to simple shots, which, however, are always of phenomena with an elusive meaning imbued so to speak with ambiguity. One of the most emblematic of these, always the same and always changing is that of flowing water; or, loaded with symbolism and at times disquieting, that of mirrors and the effect they have of multiplying, complicating and transfiguring spaces. It may be said that the artist investigates what creates appearance and what makes images apparent, what destabilises perception and comes to transform perceptible reality. With light and its effects the artist elaborates what he calls the ordering structures of an image, structures which lie beyond the objective facts of reality and which all present as discrete and united elements within the linguistic universe of photography.

Images printed on transparent surfaces, constructed very similarly to genuine stained-glass windows, as in the case of the Puzzle Copto (Coptic Puzzle), 1985, exploit the grid into which the surface is divided, as a framework for the arrangement of the image. This in turn is structured according to a freer but no less constant and identifiable pattern. It functions as an unconventional ordering structure that contrasts with the convention of the grid which divides the glass into equal parts and which although presenting as a mere “object” clearly recalls one of the elements of modernism and therefore a historically given way of representing. Nevertheless this representing is called into play to create appearance and not to return reality. In the Puzzle Copto another of Wolf’s key works, the image of the shadow of some grape vines all of which seems to have been photographed is in fact the result of a set of different details.  They are located next to each other with no other order which is not that of its own internal structure. The unity between each individual part is determined without any relation to real referents.

In the “stained-glass windows”, the light of the environment makes the work itself visible, passing through it and with it, it visualises the  represented light, the “plays” of light which weave through it. His most recent work deals more directly with the representation of light and the interaction of his works with the environment in which they are set. In Vittorie della luce (Victories of light), for example, the artist photographed portions of columns of an Egyptian temple each lit to a differing extent by natural light from the outside. In this case the light defines the outlines of images sculpted on the columns, it cuts them out from the whole and that is how we find them, isolated, in the work of Wolf. The photographs were in fact cut out along the borders between light and shade and mounted on thick wooden supports. The set of images was then mounted on the wall projecting out considerably. With Luce verde – Prospettico (Green light – perspective), 1989, the image is rendered in a false perspective so that it restores the condition of space in which the artist found himself. The original environment which receives or allows the effect of light, due to its structure, is recalled in the layout of the work which in more recent works is increasingly freer. The light effect is frozen in the representation and the work-installation opens up new relationships of meaning with the new environment of the exhibition that houses it, for example in the relationships between the false “photographed” light and the effects of the light in the new environment starting with the shadow thrown by the elements that make up the work. The work-installation tends towards the possibility of fusing together two environments because of the difference between the areas of meaning and between functions which again revolve around an absence. It may be said that Silvio Wolf’s recent work visualises absence, makes it present and in this way restores its function of opening to it, starting up the formalities of discourse. In these works the artist again takes up the architectural theme of the “Myhrab”, the niche which shows the faithful in a Mosque the direction in which to pray, the direction of Mecca. The Myhrab is an empty place, a blank around which a Mosque is constructed. It is emblematic of an entire system of beliefs and thought. The artist reconstructs it in his three dimensional photographic works and gives life to the spaces with it. He thereby locates a sign in it that is decontextualised and made a re-generator of thought. A thought that leads us to a free zone where even two cultures that are in some ways divergent such as our contemporary culture and islamic culture can find harmonies: in the singular testimony of a subject that mirrors itself in the empty space that constitutes it and that establishes it as a subject of thought.