© 2015 Nino Ovan | all rights reserved
designed by Officina11 Studio
TO SEE THE SEEING / ROBERTO MASIERO
(english translation by Valentina Bolani)
Ovan enters the gallery and puts down some sturdy boxes. He then proceeds to pull out some objects, handling them with the same care used for something precious and fragile, hanging them on the walls. He takes even greater care while placing them, obsessing over position, symmetry, reflections, relations and shadows. He does that with precise movements, shifting the objects ever so slightly, taking everything back to level, to an alleged and final steadiness, worrying that even the smallest particle could change the meaning of what is happening, that that should remain forever, regardless of time. It may be so for he can say, in his own heart:
“There! I finished. It is done.”
But what have we made? What is done?
In the end, we are in a trivial art gallery where so-called artistic items are sold (and “made”). Here people (more or less attracted and interested) can see Nino Ovan’s work, a man we are to believe is an artist, as his biography tells us.
It is said for every artist and their exhibition: same obsessions, same distress, doubts and fears, rituals. But as I watch Ovan’s work, I know there is everything and more, something hidden in the wrinkles of a masterpiece. It is this something more that I must, and want to, understand, questioning and watching Ovan’s work – this work.
First of all, it is from a specific relation between shape, color and light that these pieces are born. It can be said, rightfully so, that every object has a shape and some colors, stands in the light and can be seen, sometimes it can even yield or reflect lightness. We have to question why these objects are special, we have to try and say at best what this specialty is and not fall for an unconvincing definition. Even the fine Dino Formaggio (aesthetic scholar) believes that art is what men call art, in what can be defined as a sociological snare. I am under the impression that without this specificity we may fall into the trap where everything is art because someone has the power to say so (it is not, however, my case). Without this specificity even my writing becomes a hoax. Nino Ovan’s effort, determination, rigorousness, commitment and passion, they would all be a hoax. Masterpieces, art market and art history become hoaxes themselves. Baudelaire wrote that art is prostitution: fake feelings, fake passion, bought pleasure. If we deny this specificity, we are then agreeing with Baudelaire’s statement.
Back to the point. We have talked about the specific relation between shape, color and light. Let us try to question shapes, colors and lights of these objects. I do not call them masterpieces yet, because not every object is a work of art, but every masterpiece is also an object.
SHAPE AND SHAPES
Shapes can be recognized as (for example):
• a parallelogram, that recalls a “painting”, but its thickness makes it an “unpainting”, with a neon wound;
• a parallelepiped with the upper edge in a jagged line, or on the surface in which you can see a small neon tube;
• a shape-figure that has fitted quite easily in the corner created by ceiling and walls, cut by a neon light.
Simple shapes that resemble one another, like pebbles in a stream, all the same yet so different. Basically, they are minimal, essential shapes, always on the brink of obvious. These shapes are always on the verge of certainty and evidence, like something that does not want to lose to ambiguity. The purpose here is not to deceive the audience with unusual shapes, seduce or mimic something else. What I care about is the “not”.
These objects look like perfect volumes, complete. One cannot take or add anything, they are objects of a timeless land, of a human-less hyper-uranium. Under the circumstance, perfection means what appears in our minds when we think about squares, triangles and rectangles. It is not only shapes that are perfect this time, but also colors and light, all together. There is something relentless and absolute, even cruel, that keeps together that light, that shape, that color: a logical hyper determination or the specificity itself that we are looking for.
Shape needs matter even when it is only in logical form. Language itself reveals that the matter of math (and something of geometry too) is logic, with logic being immaterial by definition.
The matter of these shapes is mere support. A thick color, always smooth, covers the matter. Smoothness deconstructs matter.
The trouble may be to try and go over the limit of deconstructing matter, where matter flees itself and makes ideas possible, where reality ceases to exist and leaves place to the urgency to think. That means both art and science. Concept detaches itself from matter so that concept can master matter. Number 1 has nothing to do with the other pebbles in the stream, but it is that number that makes us able to identify, recognize and use it. Setting it apart allows us to pick up the true essence of this concept and even rule reality. Maybe what we call art, among other things, can take us to the brink of matter and concept, where our own being and our own power lie. Philosophers might say that the next horizon for art is to be and so art thinks and does, does and thinks (which is something for ontology).
First things first, every work of art is also an object, an artifact. Maybe to reach the true essence of an art piece we have to strip it of its uselessness and futility, but first we have to prove it. We need the work of art to just be a piece of work, in all of its oddity and singularity. We must render the action of watching a reflection about watching, before one can begin to contemplate, so that one can see the seeing.
Let us now go back to the shapes that I still, knowingly, call objects. No one can tell what is it inside those shapes, underneath all of that color/matter. Shape tries to free itself of matter. But inevitability puts a stop to it. Shape keeps trying, despite it being a support, despite matter being matter, despite our ability to reason, because there is always something that cannot be destroyed. Art cannot help but be technique. Art is a trip, a process towards the borders of inevitability, where concept and representation can collide (a forthcoming match, not a transcendental one). At the core of the concept lies this inevitability. When art reaches this point there is no more science or art: the two metaphysical siblings are no longer antagonists. Arts cannot be set apart anymore. There is no more sculpture or painting within these works.
It can be seen that these objects are hiding their support, showing a smoothness that is inclined to deconstruction. We are surrounded by things pretending to be something else, so nothing unusual in that. Is there anyone that can tell if the bodywork of a car is made of aluminum, plastic or steel? Are boats still made of wood or what else? This is the world we live in. A world in disguise, made of smooth and aseptic surfaces, always trying to erase the frailty of time, pretending to be perfect. Nothing new, then. But Modernism claims matter to be true, not to itself but in its nature. There is a need for a coherent bond between shape and matter and shape and its function, all in the name of authenticity. Ovan, on the other hand, accepts this polished and oily world, this plain and highly concealing paint (almost post-Modernist). Ovan does not want to praise this world, as Pop Art did, but he accepts it as part of our everyday lives. Modernist ethic and aesthetic authenticity are no longer dominant and not even post-modernist pseudo-libertarian and populist aesthetic. Change to what already exists does not bother those who seek reality. At the same time there is nothing more upsetting and sweeping like the factuality of that particular reality we like to call art. Nothing, for sure, more anti real and more open to possibility.
Ovan finds himself to be a mathematician when he substructs to bring close together shape and concept. He can, without a doubt, create a theorem featuring his name, his own signature, but that theorem will just be a mathematical theorem. In other words, in this case is not about the author’s will , about his personality or style but art itself as logo-technic, like building a construction that, being useless, can only be itself, like art is firstly a production of an identity logic, a thing in and of itself. Just like a mathematician’s theorem belongs to math, Ovan’s work belongs to art. In this sense Ovan’s work is humble: completely dedicated to art for art. In order to achieve this result, the author must negate himself, refuse the author’s idolatry, let go of becoming the work style or to justify himself or justify the work throughout rhetorical forms. Work is dedication, strictness, maximum availability to technical technique. The author cannot chase himself and his egotism if he wants to encounter reality, as well known as the power itself of factuality. From this point of view, Ovan’s attitude is neither modern (the reign of knowing how to do) nor post-modern (indifference towards the ‘how-to-do’, at the point where the work of art can be done by others, whilst the artist puts the idea or the mis-en-scène), but ancient, he still wants to be one who knows how-to-do, the “best blacksmith”, like Eliot apostrophized Pound, another author looking for reality in a timeless space.
First conclusion about shape and its shapes:
the shape of these objects-works of art lean towards triviality, obviousness, to what is be given without mediations, explanations, that binds itself to truth in order to be immediate. These shapes are looking for truth in themselves, in evidence only, and thus becoming objects with a logic status. They are concepts-objects that constitute themselves like an identity in the relationship within light and color. They try to be a genre in the same way an apple is a fruit or in the same condition as pebbles of a stream. They allude to dematerialization so that matter must be support only. It will be said that this has more to do with ontology than logic and aesthetic. It will be said that these issues are insignificant from the point of view of both history and philosophy of art. Well, I am convinced that the issue of art is an ontological issue at its core and Nino Ovan’s works-objects are simply evidence of that.
We have said: specific relation between shape, color, light, let us now see what happens to colors.
COLOR AND COLORS
If we look around it is clear that everything surrounding us is what it is because it stands in the light (it is observable) and can be recognized by its shape and its color. In particular, nature offers herself to us with an infinite amount of shapes and colors (who knows what nature is to a colorblind? A Wittgenstein kind of question: “How can a colorblind think about red or talk about colors?”). For a very long time the idea of mimesis as fundamental procedure in order to know the world and relate to it (also to plan what is useful, to survive or live above) made us use colors to reproduce and represent the already existing. There is no ornament without colors and ornaments belong to nature first. Even colors were made from nature: dirt, minced stones, dried flowers, exoskeletons of beetles crushed and pulverized... and more. An osmosis was tried between the thing pictured and its picture and the willingness for the picture to be nature because made of nature, drawn with nature, painted thanks to nature, colored like nature. All the thinkable was in nature and nature had in itself all the thinkable. It was nature (or a god, see Dosso Dossi’s picture at the beginning of my effort) that painted the world and the painter could only imitate it with nature itself. All was contained in alchemic logics, supported by omoiosis and likes and dislikes between entities: this combines with that, that refuses another one. Then, slowly and gradually, a skeptical attitude, aimed at capturing not nature but its laws in the most abstract way, the geometric-mathematical, became prominent. We call this attitude modern science. Light is not representation of divine essence anymore but a movement of a wave and the same goes with colors. Nearly at the same time, with Brunelleschi’s invention of perspective (because it is indeed an invention) what is happening is that to represent a piece of the world we frame it ideally (and also practically), we redraw it discretizing what is real and identifying the notable points, combining them so that a figure, a drawing, a shape appears. To level with you, it is the same logic behind the games of La Settimana Enigmistica where inside a box there are numbers and dots. Join the dots from 1 to zero and a figure comes out.
Perspective painters do the same: they spot the dots and then join them. Upon ending this discretization of reality they can say: “I finished drawing the thing” and be done with it, or they can proceed with coloring the different areas created by the drawing, with colors matching the represented reality. The perspective painter, however, even if unconsciously, is setting in motion something that concerns the entire organization, or reorganization, of their time mindset (not strictly applied to art). Here, at the beginning of Modernity, what philosophers call separation amongst entity and truth comes about. By drawing only discreet elements of what one is supposed to represent, a hierarchy is established, so that those dots, proceeding by abstraction, can catch the substance of the entity under observation and representation. Its truth will not be in its shape with its color, in its perfume or taste, if the entity under consideration is, for example, an apple. It is its profile that defines the apple and lets us not be mistaken with, say, a pear. It seems rather irrelevant, but it is not. Newton’s theory of falling bodies allows us to better understand the situation. To elaborate and arithmetize it, Newton had to evaluate the objects of this world not by their specificity, singularity or (what our ancestors called) substance, that is the fact that an apple is different from a pear, even if both are fruits, by shape, texture, perfume, taste, etc. but from what makes them equivalent in this world, their weight. Shape, taste, perfume of apples and pears are completely inessential with Newton’s algorithm. Truth lies, according to Newton’s theory (and all theories in modern sciences), in its weight; the entity, the apple, in its substance, is different from its truth and it is this truth that leans towards universality and annihilates singularity. Science, in some ways, suspends the substance of the thing, leaves it aside (or transforms it in something else) in order to verify, to control, to dominate.
Let us continue. The separation entity-truth allows the birth of the so-called modern science. It sets in motion logics that belong to the history of representation, of art and in this case (we are inquiring about colors on the objects in this exhibition of Nino Ovan’s works) belong to the history of use and of meanings that colors can have, particularly inside history of art.
Before Modernity, the painter, throughout mimesis (in analogy), searched the most appropriate color to its reality in its evidence like totality or like a perfectly completed set, or tried to represent the totality of the thing, reproducing mere appearance without worries. (The ancient world could not be thoroughly realistic in this case, because every single entity, especially the ones produced by men, “was” in totality, either referred to nature or to a deity.) In the exact same moment reality presents itself as divided (in the separation between truth entity, as mentioned before) the painter can say that the drawing alone can capture the same substance of the object represented. It captures, discretizing, everything that might be essential in the object itself. (Here is the modern belief that the drawing can be a work of art rather than a means to reach something more.) The painter can also decide that the color, instead of trying and adapt to find a mimetically synthesis with the object, can propose itself, or be a ploy to new elements, ulterior elements and values in the game, into the void, into the “none” that is being created amidst represented and representation. The house we want to represent is gray? Nothing is keeping us from painting it with a mismatch color, say a chrome yellow.
The color, detached from shape, becomes a means for everything that science (that is the supremacy in abstraction and separation entity-truth) cannot and does not want to use as an evaluative paradigm or as a truth indicator, the sensitive qualities, the tastes, the perfumes, the colors, because considered invaluable. As Koyré wrote in his Newtonian Studies:
"Modern science (...) is splitting of our world in two (...) broke down the barriers that separated the heavens and the earth, and that it united and unified the universe(...) substituting for our world of quality and sense perception, the world in which we live, and love, and die, another world — the world of quantity, or reified geometry, a world in which, though there is place for everything, there is no place for man. Thus the world of science — the real world — became estranged and utterly divorced from the world of life, which science has been unable to explain — not even to explain away by calling it 'subjective'".
Contemporary painting has first tried a grammar of relation between colors and feelings, attempting to transform painting in soul writing, with the use of reds in a completely unrelated way as a means of showing a strong reaction to blood or light blue, to conjure up the peacefulness of a cloudless sky. Let us think about empathy logics and Kandinsky, in particular. He has actually tried the logics of colors for colors, relieving it of every “sentimental” suggestion, objectifying it. Modernism has gone as far as saying that the task of painting is to objectify the surface as mere support and the colors in their absolute independence. Ovan introduces a significant change: color builds itself in its self in the relationship with shape and light, becoming an object. From this point of view, his works are not painting, or sculpture, but works of art. Now, Ovan’s color frees itself from nature, denying every mimetic allusion, posing as entirely fake and as a self: that red is only a red, the same way that that pebble is a pebble or, as philosophers say, a rose is always a rose. It is in the relationship created though (is this not a keyword to decipher art?), or maybe thanks to the bond created with that particular shape and that specific neon light. This bond puts in itself an “is”.
Bringing back Koryé a consideration can be made: art as we know it begins to be free in the moment when modern science (which has created the illusion, around ‘400, of being able to rationalize and arithmetize the entire existence) is forced, in ‘700, when aesthetic and history of art are born by the way, to accept the fact that everything concerning taste, perception and, always following Koyré, our own lives cannot be objectified. It has to be considered as a kingdom of subjectivity opposed to (irreducibly) to one of objectivity. For the metaphysical plan of modern science this is a great failure. The result is the metaphysical separation between art and science and not only among object and subject (as later will be said about spiritual sciences and natural sciences). It is as if it was accepted as fact that two different truths can (must) coexist in their diversity.
Colors in particular (even if they can be explained scientifically by means of light analysis and the theory of refraction), pose big problems in terms of forming an opinion. It could be because when we say “red” the one listening thinks (?), perceives (?) the same red, or because we get completely lost when our computer lets us “see” three million and two thousand different colors, each and every one minimally dissimilar from the others. Which is at the core? That minimally is suspicious and makes us think that in the end (art goes toward this end) the number of colors is infinite and maybe even colors never seen might exist.
The most convincing proof of this difficulty in keeping together the perception of colors, logic and argumentative systems comes from Wittgenstein’s remarks in “Remarks on color”, which says that in front of colors: “We stand there like the ox in front of the newly-painted stall door.” Just as we are, facing this objects-works.
It is known that this and other issues have brought Wittgenstein to reconsider his initial position, exposed in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which stated the impossibility of deducing the existence of some things from the nonexistence of other things described in the linguistic system. Doing so, the semantic limits of classical empiricism, of traditional positivism or even the very same logical neopositivism (for which the meaning and the truths of statements are in empirical observations and in procedures of experimental controls), are challenged. Wittgenstein affirmed that “just looking, you learn nothing about colors concepts” and went on distinguishing the conditions of meaning of a statement from the conditions of its truth. According to Wittgenstein what makes a statement real cannot coincide with its meaning: “Existence decides if a statement is true or false, but not its meaning (…). The meaning of an expression which refers to colors relies upon the syntax of the language, the system of its ideas and its rules. Based uniquely on the availability of such syntax and of such ideal paradigm it is possible to carry on verification based on experience. Meaning and truth of periods don’t simultaneously download themselves on perceptive data. The meaning of a linguistic expression relies on articulating the experience via ideal paradigm and syntactic rules, assuming the authenticity of an empirical proposition. Therefore, if someone is to question why I know that specific color is red, the answer might be: ‘I’ve learned Italian’”. The very essence of objects, in Wittgenstein’s essay, suffers from a conversion, from the ontological and traditional degree to logical-linguistic analysis.
As Wittgenstein would say: we are victims of so-called “language-games” or, to put it in another way, we are talked by language, only language can have meaning and, seeing this with Heidegger’s eyes (Wittgenstein would have loathed this), the being is hiding in language.
One might argue what do Wittgenstein and philosophy (with their gnoseology side in particular) have to do with Ovan’s colors and, in general, with art? The answer is because his colors are not only randomly picked from our computer three million and two hundred thousand possible gradients, but indeed because they are especially those, which are “bonded” (in a relationship that does not allow doubts or worries) with a certain shape, deliberately trivial (capable of embodying meaning from outer sources) and with a specific light/color obtained combining neon/argon. At this point, obviousness stays language-games. In spite of Wittgenstein, meaning does not rest in language, but in the thing itself, offering itself to a careless gaze that stays perception, stays aesthetic, a suspension that creates an ecstatic dimension. This is what is at stake when the piece of art tries to introduce itself, even with the necessity and inevitability of the encounter with the “not” being. Here is what happens to art: it is appears like a phenomenon of an event, thanks to its belonging to unnecessary and the predisposition of the subject to indifference, superfluity, nothingness. It is in this that art, being a factuality free from everything that is necessary, can “disclose” the other one from itself. Phenomenon, we remember, comes from Greek fainomai that, in turn, comes from fos, which can stand for “light”: phenomenon is what appears (event) in the light. For ancient Greeks (our ancestors always within us) the evidence (the event-phenomenon, the phenomenon-event) solved truth and reality together. The event did not need an explanation, as a result of an epiphany of what it was and is invaluable. There! One path of Contemporary art (the most meaningful to me), free of any mimetic obligation, is the one trying to find this epiphany again, this theoria of seeing, this theory of evidence where the theory does not apply as a normative principle, but as theos (god, which comes from fos, light) and orao, I see. Theory is view the view and art is more apt, not to see, but to view the view. It is evidence which opens up to the possible and not imagination, as most of Contemporary art thought to be true. It is reality that transcends itself and transcendence cannot justify reality, as every idealism believes. The object with which I am attempting to communicate must be comprehended via absolute realism, so absolute in fact, that it can show as evidence of itself, the construction of an oddity, of a haecceitas (the “essence” of a thing), of an identity. The question is: what happens, or what is encountered, when the making of a piece of art (doing something and the technique) tries to put itself before the dissociation of doing and thinking (classical metaphysics), of science and art (modern metaphysics), of subject and world (pata-physics or postmodern holism and new age)? One cannot encounter the primitive, like Gauguin or Picasso might have thought, but the original, namely the logic (our companion, the philosopher, would say logos itself).
This is a synthesis of Color, colors, bearing in mind that we are questioning the specificity of the relationship between shape, color and light in Nino Ovan’s work. If the path (we are calling history) of Modern and Contemporary art (such as science, even if they became opponents metaphysics) leads us to complete abstraction, to a surface painted with one color that is (or for digital science, founded on an -abstract- positional relation among 0 and 1), Ovan tries to take (not only) art to the next level (a humble, yet ambitious task or a task made possible arresting every act of conscience or finalized will, as one might say). Depicting reality is obviously not the next level, but building a reality (completely different from the existing one) that is not an end in itself is. It can be made by putting in a binding relation basic visible elements, shape, color, light before being created... for creation. That is after all what art is made for (before it was history or even though it has become history): not to reproduce, but to try “to be”.
LIGHT AND LIGHTS
To see the seeing, I have wrote in the last few pages and as title, to strengthen with repetition (?) that the subject of these works is not what can be seen, but the action of viewing. Watching without the bias of psychology, meaning that you can see without the need to justify, via a relation amidst action and its sentimental or pathetic products. In other words, it is not a transposition of Gestaltpsychologie to art, chasing a characteristic and very meaningful passage of these years, from an aesthetic such as philosophy of illusion or imagination, to an aesthetic such as philosophy of perception or of objectification of the relation human/world in sensible perception.
View the view means perceiving action before the object. It is like watching an eye that is watching and questioning if the eye can see without a self and if the self can exist without the eye: if a mere thought thing can exist without a body or if the body itself might be a holistically thought thing.
View the view is indubitably reflexive (when one thinks, they reflect, when one reflects, they also think and are undoubtedly self-concerned) but is not necessarily cognitive. First there is the wonder of being capable of seeing and then comes the question of what one is seeing, to judge their knowledge. Bigger (and more compelling) the wonder is, the more the object singularity will be self-justified (haecceitas) the more this singularity will be presented as a “world” (as a state of basic relation: shape, color, light. Allow me to say that again: that shape with that color with that light). It has to be considered that what we call beauty for ancient Greeks was this coming to light, this wonder, this amazement and this being before knowing. Minimalist artists, apart from their poetical statements, dreamed of beauty as abstraction and abstraction as primordial beauty, even without knowing (Ovan’s works could belong to this movement, taxonomically speaking).
I see I am seeing and I can see that thanks to an object that rejects me because it is useless: it alienates my every apprehension, my interest, my desire, need... it stays the very same necessity principle. See my condition of being makes me feel whole, thanks to its haughtiness. That object is like a Christ Pantocrator depicted in a Romanesque apse.
“Do not touch me”, “stop”, listen, think about what you are feeling, not unlike what Malevich was trying to do with his Black Square in 1915, where he radicalizes doing, thinking, depicting and the condition of things.
The same words could be written for light as well as color: artificiality, singularity (one of many), specificity as identity and self-reference (it is only that, it is useless), it is always light/color that determines the shape of shapes and the color of colors. There is an issue though: why does Ovan introduce artificial light and why neon, instead of, for example, incandescent filaments? Natural light shapes plasticity and follows time, artificial light in the gallery supports, neon light (integrated in the work of art) is different and at the same time states the possibility of the uselessness of natural light, as opposed to the one in the art piece. It is ethereal, recalls an immaterial stability and is furthermore color light. Natural light follows time, artificial light stops time.
Neon has its own history as artistic material. Used for the first time by Czechoslovak artist Zdenek Pešánek in his 1936 Torso, with a poly material intention and a praise in his mind, better than idolatry, of technique, where everything must move, be bright and artificial and the very human body is to be showed as pure energy, like Futurists and Constructivists would want.
Dan Flavin directly references Constructivism, artist that above all made neon his signature, particularly with 1966 Monument 1 to V. Tatlin. In Constructivism, while dissolving in flatness, dynamic energy has become iconic (history of art) thanks to neon/mystical gas/ethereal/virtual effect. Years before, from 1961 to 1963, Flavin worked on the concept of icons, adding lights to monochromes, leading to a form of art he called “absolute magic”.
One might be led to think that these shapes, monochrome colors and artificial light all have a direct link with Ovan’s experience. It is obviously not the case, however. Not only because half a century separates the two artists, but also because Flavin’s research mystic, a contemplative state of mind. Meanwhile, Ovan’s shape/color/light tries (starting with logic relations) to capture the precognitive (not primordial), the necessary silence between words. Or if we want, metalogic and “trans-technic”, something that trascends logic and technique, not trying to recall anything over logic or technique. The first one says the world is inexplicable and mysterious, the second one that the world is what it is: a state of relation that, when it becomes a thing, makes sense.
Ovan’s use of neon cannot be compared to Lucio Fontana’s one, back in 1951 at Milan Triennale. Exposing wonder was essential to Fontana. He wanted to enact the marvel of technique in a not-anymore-mechanical move. One that Futurists loved, but gaseous, aleatory, with a diaphanous value to luminescence that is completely different from the one produced by fire or a filament overheated by electricity. It was, of course, twentieth century second half most significant “neon event”. An event that transcends art galleries and museums as producers of legitimate aesthetic (ever so present in “duchampery” art critique). Lucio Fontana takes direct action on market dynamics and his events-exhibitions. He gets the aesthetic totalization of the relation among market, advertising, event and art and, as a matter of fact, he does not feel the need to push it away.
Mario Merz’s neons have nothing to do with Ovan’s pieces, either. Put on top of unlikely igloos, they should be metaphors of origin and (a sort of) primordiality. They seem to get along with consumer society depicted by the neon light itself, being a well known advertising code. It seems like it, anyway, but a strife emerges when the writing says (sic!) Objet cache-toi: the object that hides itself, what is hiding... Where is the hiding? Here lies the challenge: one is not seeing what one is seeing. It is 1968. This is yet another attack to metaphysics philosophy and scientific claims to shape art.
Suspension and questioning about metaphysics where Mario Merz tries to write with a neon thread, anywhere he gets the chance (sic!), the Fibonacci Sequence (natural sequence of integer numbers), like this sequence is his very “seal” of nature, his logos. Even chaos, like everything that is original, has its numbers (again with the idealistic-platonic tradition).
Using neon to recall logics, feelings and ads seductions can be seen in Nauman, Jenny Holzer and recently famous Tracy Emin. She uses neon to advertise her private life, or better yet, her sentimental and sexual life, with a disturbing shamelessness.
Other comparisons shall be made with American artist Keith Sonnier (who uses neon to draw abstract figures as one would with colored pencils), with some of Rosenquist’s works (Tumbleweed, 1966) and James Turrel use of neon in The Light Inside, 1999.
All these choices are very far away from Nino Ovan’s process. These pieces belong to visual art. Ovan, starting with artistic, strives toward what is beyond, or before, art itself.
It is peculiar, however, how formal analogies in art can create real misunderstandings and prevent one from catching what is at stake in the art piece itself. We had the opportunity to do so with Flavin’s Icons and Ovan’s objects-works. We could extend the analogies with J. McCracken, especially with On The Go, 1998. Dimensions are similar, it is a minimal object that refuses to stay in frame (as we will see in following pages) as it refuses Site specific logics: what is specific is the object itself. McCracken also makes use of acid colors, most likely acrylics, materials are inessentials, mere support, just like Ovan’s. McCracken’s work, though, is all about different angles of shape/volume determining different lights and significant tonal changes in color. He basically wants to show transmutation of the identical. It is still about a significant moment of the passage from an aesthetic philosophy of illusion (or imagination) to an aesthetic philosophy of perception, as mentioned before. Multiform shadows acquires meaning when brought on walls, changing with every movement. Ovan, with his shape/color/light relation, builds a specific “being”. “Politically” speaking, or rather, “theological-politically”, Flavin and McCracken lean towards religious, mystical and mysterious. Ovan leans towards secularity, immanence and evidence-object (the construction of a possibility).
To conclude this reflection about light-lights in Ovan’s works, as I did with shape and color, I will summarize that in these objects-works:
• light is hypostasis of phenomenon;
• a link between shape and color, as immanent transcendence;
• neon is a sort of immaterial stability and primeval light, as it is gaseous;
• artificial light (neon) poses itself as something that can fake timeless time.
SPECIFICITY, RELATION, IDENTITY
The question now (after reasoning on shape, color and light) is what it means in this context (art, that is) the adjective “specific” and term “relation”. What happens when something is “nothing else” and what does it have to do with art? Explicit questions since Contemporary art explored the complicated paths of abstract art, Minimal and, in some ways, conceptual as well.
Let us answer these questions, trying to understand adjective “specific”, how the relation can succeed as identity (specific, in fact) and how much value “nothing else” has as it emerges like a rest from the piece itself (maybe is this “rest” that means art).
It might help, but it would be a hypocritical ploy, adagio of a classicist matrix: the work is specific, identical to itself if nothing can be added or substructed. In this case, an idea is used as prior justification (most of the time unsaid or not explicit, so purely ideological). The idea that everything that is balanced, in compliance with the rules, proportioned and even harmonious is more adequate, more understandable and closer to the concept of beauty. An attitude that is in all ways naïve, if not comforting, because it puts the necessary equation between harmony and beauty. It rejects, and removes, what Rainer Maria Rilke said in his Duino Elegies:
“(...) For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us.”
R.M. Rilke, Elegie di Duino, Sansoni, Firenze 1956, p. 359
We must seek another road, that doesn’t question art for art or art as art, or if you want, art as history of art.
In front of us there is material (wood or perspex), made invisible by color and neon tubes that together determine and/or are determined by a shape. The relation of these elements shapes itself, in a specific one. What appears is a specificity shape, something non-generic that, despite the fact that it belongs to a genre (better yet, a species), reaches its own singularity, maybe even its own identity. In this it has a shape. It may be written that the species, like identity, exist only as shapes and that something is specific because it has a determined shape. These objects-works belong to the genre of art and the species are artificialia. This genre in Modern and especially in Contemporary art supplies its own generic with pieces that pose (thanks to artists, of course), changing the very statute of the genre. Here takes place the relation that allows the creation of a specificity, a singularity, other identity, posing not as “new” but as “beyond”.
Matter is hidden in Ovan’s pieces, sublimated by niter color, in turn modified by neon-argon light that comes from glass tubes. In turn, this light sublimates in light, in an integration process based on mutual transformation-sublimation: denied sameness is presented not as “other” identity, or as “denied” identity, but as “beyond” identity.
We should think about this “beyond”.
We should describe it better: everyone of these works-objects has that specific shape and color because light becomes what it is, or how it appears, thanks to that shape and that color and, in turn, light is what it is because in itself and around has that shape and that color. Processing and designing that object is like the result of a previous determination of shading, gradation and opacity or the reflection capacity of the color, the shape of surfaces that if tilted or bent reflects light differently, the course of neon tubes and their suitability, defining shape itself and the amount of gas in those same tubes and their emissive capacity: the research in the relation of an “absolute” identity. That one and only that one, given those specific relations. In logical form: if only one of the single parts change, the object becomes something else, even though part of the same genre and species. Its previous absoluteness (not to say presumed inevitability) makes it possible for every one of this object-works to live in a paradox, wherever it is presented as multiple: being identical makes it possible for it to be completely different. But this diversity does not get highlighted from the difference of the “farther” but the similarity of the “closest”, an otherness that intercepts not the diversity but the similarity. Like the pebbles in the stream.
Let us go deeper: it is as if these entity-pieces were trying to capture the difference that lives in equality, the difference that can (possibly) be nested in the very principle of identity A = A. Maybe the first A is the exact same thing as the second A because they have different positions? But those who look for this, were they going with? Their aim is to detect discrepancies of what we call being: it makes you wonder if there might be some kind of original error, that the same ontology is the result of a discrepancy, which arises from its own negation and, above all, that the philosophical logos does not have the ability to capture or fix the contradiction, because it inevitably uses language while this is possible for art as factuality is aimed to evidence. As if the work absolutely did not need an argumentation, not even the philosophical one, to grasp what is constitutive in the formation of an identity, singularity of the self.
We have made it clear that specificity refers to singularity and singularity to identity. We noted that in Ovan’s object-works it is the relation shape/color/light (which could also be written: shape/light/color, color/shape/color, light/light/shape, light/color/shape, light/shape/color) that makes the same binding specificity. We also faced a sort of paradox, namely that it is sameness which allows diversity and that we can even assume that identity itself may be pretending, in order to escape (or remove) the proliferation of different (chaos), suspecting that the more hidden task, but also dramatically more essential in art, is to question the being on this ambiguity between identity and difference. Indeed, the suspicion is that only art, the one that does not care about belonging to history, has had and still has this courage.
Why should I care about - in fact, because I am letting myself be ensnared – by an object that, in some way, just being itself rejects me, making me feel like I have nothing to do with it, that I cannot use it, that I am allowed to contemplate it in silence, at best, speechless, astonished, as it happens, in fact, in contemplation. It is so unique (single, unique, and not that different, unusual or extraordinary) that despite unequivocally being the product of a set of industrial technologies (prepared for technique reproduction) it does not give itself away as a multiple. It is so “extreme”, like it is saying: you can never reproduce this same color, this light color that gives us a overheated gas (neon or argon) you can not find it again, reassemble it, reproduce it. It is precisely itself because it evokes a kind of metaphysical irreproducibility. Why do I keep calling it object? I cannot call it painting or sculpture, that is obvious. It does not even have a frame. Someone might even say that because it does not have one, it is not a piece of art.
Is it not true that it is the frame that makes the painting something else, different from the world, another world? Is it not true that the frame becomes significant since Modernity, at the very moment in which art is presented as the ability of men to imagine a different world, another world, and as such should be hung on the wall and can even, with its frame, take another place?
Derrida contributed writing in his The Truth In Painting the chapter on The Parergon. A complicated chapter, in which Derrida reads Kant’s Critique Of Judgment, posing a question that I will try to summarize. Kant shows that you can not assign conceptual rules to beauty and so, it is also impossible to analyze the formal conditions of possibilities of an aesthetic judgment in general, hence the consideration that we are dealing with an impossibility, or rather, a lack of it. A serious lack in the Kantian schema because it makes it impossible for any future metaphysics. Judgment finds itself incapable of giving solution to existence, except in the form of mere efficiency. Here is the hypothesis then: “Where is the gap? What gap are we talking about? And if it were the frame. If the gap constituted the frame of the theory. Not its accident, but its frame. More or less restated: if the gap were not only the lack of a theory of the frame, but also the place of the gap in the theory of the frame.”
Let us leave Derrida’s epistemological elaboration aside, but not before saying that, in a nutshell: it is what is missing that determines the constitution of meaning. Art, along with Modernity, proposes man as the one being who is able to imagine and represent another world. He can do nothing else but frame it, shaping up what is missing. There is no art, as understood by Modernity and partly by
Contemporaneity, both if there is no frame, in the form of what is physically around the painting (as if to hold it down), and in the most socialized form of art galleries and museums. Are frames not themselves? Does one not say that about an event that took place in a beautiful setting? Well, not needing to hypothesize the creation (?) of the frame means to suspend or circumvent the power of what is missing, the vertigo of absence, the irreducibility of nowhere, to try to impose the in-itself and reflexively be put (see) by itself. Of course, twentieth century art tried everything to get out of the frame, to return to the first Modernity or to go beyond Modernity, for example, leaving the frame exposed, bending it so that it is no longer a painting, depicting part of the “story” of the painting in the same frame, or, in the extreme situation of using as support not canvas, but glass (preferably two coupled glass pieces) to allow the space to move from side to side, unframed, no wall to lean on (Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)), or exalted the frame making it the painting itself as in Christian Eckhart’s case.
The shapes, the colors, the lights are out of the picture, the images are out of the picture for some time and have even thought of having been freed of art itself. Leaving, they found the real space, oh yes, real (whether to the territory, the Land Art, in the gallery, in Minimalism Site specific). The objects-works Ovan no longer have the need to be free, they do not seek a dialogue with reality, they do not try to virtually characterize the surroundings, but they impose in their own factuality, in their specificity, in their attempt to be a thing in and of itself, a lucid attempt, ruthless even, to not go to the things themselves (such as almost all twentieth century philosophy says), but to try to be a thing in itself.
DOUBLE LIFE AS REAL LIFE
I think the formal analogy is a critical tool, ineffective but also (sometimes) useful. We have seen it in the comparison between Flavin’s Icons and Ovan’s objects-works and with a McCraken’s work. A “backward” example can be made comparing these two side images.
I dare anyone to say that these are made by the same author. They actually are Nino Ovan’s works and - mind you – they are not from different moments, but different periods of Ovan’s artistic career, because Ovan does not always do the same things, but the same thing, and he can do it while he does the other, anyway.
Analysis by formal analogy, at this point, is forced to evoke schizophrenia phenomena in Ovan’s artistic language or some mysterious double life of the author, with consequent escapes or psychoanalysis drifts. These two procedures are instead entirely analogous.
For example, consider the use of watercolor technique: no verve or impressionist blink; the emergence of what is most characteristic for this technique is carefully avoided. Watercolors can capture moments, be liquid and fluid, “play” with the way paper (the support) absorbs and refracts, mix colors, the characteristic of watercolor that makes it suitable (as a technique and as a material) to receive and capture the moment. Watercolor is used instead (forcing it to a rigorous technical inspection) for its ability to grasp the infinite variety of light in its relations with the facts. What is extremely significant is that the technique is controlled, ruled, to the point of being other than what it is; to the point of forcing his own nature and his own story to what is unlikely. But here - right here – there is one of the greatest art themes of all time: to represent the thing, hiding the technique used to depict it so that what is portrayed shows its own self? Hegel noted in his extraordinary Aesthetics that oil painting allowed the use of brushes with very few bristles. This, in turn, allowed the painter to paint hair one by one, for instance, of a dog. Doing so, the artist grasped both the “truth” of the dog, and the “truth” of painting more consistently. Yet another technical factor, not only essential for the development in the history of painting, but especially the truth relationship between painting and reality. Again, if the technique is under control, governed, dominated, never left to itself. This is one thing, not the only one of course, that art can and should do: fight with everything that arises as normative, with metaphysics itself.
In Ovan’s watercolors the subject, the object, is always tabià, the facts he captures are tabià, objects that are no longer used or usable (that world exists no more, they can only be used as souvenirs, fueling a longing for the “no more”, then, in fact, duchamped celibate objects... could ideally be hung on a wall. Being useless tricks are “kanted” works of art and reproduce them basically means to reproduce the very concept of a work of art). Tabiàs are artifices regressed (!?) to the wilderness, absorbed by earth in the name of necessity and technical ability of those who have crafted and used them. They evoke a suspension of time, better, a “timeless” that is strengthened by its representation of rejecting the moment, using this technique, which, in its history as an artistic tool, got closer to portray the moment. At the end objects-works and tabià are in the same hyper-uranium where men are not there, where nature is artifice and artifice is nature, where everything is relentless and strict, where being means to belong to this strictness, annihilating in it (and certainly not for moral reasons). Same realist realism; same suspension of appearing in appearance, same ontological background; what is there, is there because something is missing. Can I represent this absence knowing that I can not do with what is given as existing?
To summarize, we could say: same strictness, same logic of “suspend”. But in these objects-works you suspend representation and tabiàs represent suspension. Suspension of time, space, the author, subjectivity, objectivity. What is objective presents itself as subjective, what is subjective presents itself as objective, still at that edge, in that logical border between absence and presence. In the “not” from which they form what is there: from the “not” comes the fact, what has been done. The meaning is produced by their absence.
LET US TRY AND CONCLUDE (IF POSSIBLE)
Earlier I said that there was something I had to understand looking at these objects/works, something that was in the “folds” of art itself, which poses radical questions to art itself. I think I guessed something but I have to work much longer on these insights. These works are an attempt (successful under many circumstances. However, the attempt is in nature and in dexterity and factuality of art) to capture the boundary between nothing and everything, that limit where what we call being lives, and this happens with the establishment of an identity, of a singularity, as the result of basic elements (meaning the fundamentals of existence) such as shape, color, light, in a sort of original condition. If so, they recognize the wholeness of art - even beyond history of art or in spite of history of art - the task is not to imitate, represent, express or create something artistic, but to measure up our relationship with the being itself.
As in a few other cases, these objects/works confront us with the fact that there is something, as identity and difference are given, and that art is this continuous stay between identity and difference.
Perhaps the task of art is to constantly open up to the logic possibility that identity occurs as constitution of the other; recognition of the other as itself. Each artwork is unique in itself, is one haecceitas, within a species, a specific nature. The specificity inherent to what we call art is undoubtedly the Kantian absence of purpose, which we can also define as nothing. This lack of purpose, however, is implied in what has more purpose: the technique. There is no art without technique, there is no technique without purpose, the art is the negative of technique, it is presence, power, the very effectiveness of technique, which are born from absence. Art is that “not” on which we are reflecting, without which it could not be that “yes” that makes it essential for the very survival of the human race. The technique is very necessary, but not sufficient. In this “not sufficient” is what we call art.
The dynamic (dynamics) of art (art and technique itself, technique as artifice) is both ontological, in regard to the fact that something can be “itself” (identity) and logical, because it inserts “as if” in the kantian als ob (relationship as a possibility).
These objects-works take away Kant’s aura from uselessness and lead art before world purposelessness (nothingness) showcasing that from this comes the possibility of self-reference and hence the meaning. Contemporary art is born when Kant says that art is purposelessness. What happens when you realize that is not art that has no purpose, but the world itself? Of course, everything becomes art. It is as if Ovan (knowing it or not, is inessential) crossed the line placed between technology and art pieces, among work and object, regressing until the ontological reason of the object’s existence itself, thus showing that this line is completely artificial. This line is the boundary between order and disorder, good and bad, rational and irrational. Anyway art is expressed or is present in time, it always tends to place itself (meet, get lost, try on) in this line that, before being a mystical place, is a logical place. It is in this “limit” that matter, technique, necessity are tested, starting from their own inevitability to become something else. All too human. Art is actually questioning factuality. Art is that artifice with only itself as purpose and so lets the world be.
It is as if Ovan brings art to the deepest roots towards a vertigo, where thinking and doing (combined) meet the object itself, which needs no words of explanation and does not ask to be interpreted, but to be seen (wonder, amazement, contemplation do not take away the word?). Even this essay, after all, is trying to describe the journey towards the limits of Ovan’s thoughtfulness and industriousness in itself or by itself, but does not attempt to explain or justify it, much less put it in a historical critical context. The latter will clearly be of some use, being essentially necessary (at least for the cultures of idealist matrix) but not sufficient.
The critical issue with Ovan’s work is whether they should be interpreted within a defined, historical context, and, if so, how it should be taxonomically placed, or if it raises unforeseen issues. Processes that these movements had neither identified nor defined, moments of fracture or disaster within a specific historical process, or even refer to a meta-historical horizon in which art is not part of some anthropology or sociology but ontology.
“There! I finished. It is done”. Yet something happened before and will continue to happen: a fact, an event, an opera, a singularity, a factual relation. Art pieces give you more answers than philosophy: why is there something and not nothing? How? Addressing a thought that makes you do something, do something that thinks, in identity and difference.
I imagine a reader - assuming that someone had the patience to end up here - exhausted and perplexed. I apologize for my language, which is, to say the least, unusual: it is always hard to make clear what we had never thought about and is presented in a way that is completely unexpected. To this occasional reader, my hypocritical brother - as apostrophized by Baudelaire in Les Fleur Du Mal - I can only say that beyond what may seem para-philosophical drifts (... and I may ensure that I have some control over philosophical language and that it is not necessary to have a license for philosophers to reason about reason) the fact that these works asked me this series of questions, is the demonstration that in the end art is good for something, beyond Kant’s dictates, which, remember, is art without a purpose. It serves, at least, to ask questions that otherwise we would never have asked. In this case, upon seeing these works-objects-entities, questions would arise. Perhaps these things were born to evade any question, but for those who want to find again a primal condition, cannot worry about knowledge in all of its forms, including those of history. It must worry instead about doing as thinking and thinking about doing, in a freely responsibly and responsibly free technicality.
Questions are often more important than the answers. And anyway, if each of you interrogate yourselves, Ovan’s effort was not in vain. I can assure you that it was hard: material, technique, shape, color, light... it was not easy. Then what is important is to find lightness, therefore perhaps I should be, to fully respect Ovan’s work, silent.
Dosso Dossi, Giove, Mercurio e la Virtù, 1523-1524
Nino Ovan, Cinque Colori - Blu, 2011
Nino Ovan, Border 1, 2010
Nino Ovan, Vertigo, 2010
Immagine tratta da La Settimana Enigmistica, n. 3253 del 30.07.1994
Cristo Pantocratore, Cattedrale di Cefalù, sec. XII-XIII
Kazimir Severinovic Malevic, Black Square, 1915
Zdenek Pesanek, Torso, 1936
Dan Flavin, Monument 1 to V. Tatlin, 1966
Dan Flavin, Icon I and Icon II, 1961-62
Lucio Fontana, Struttura al neon per la IX Triennale di Milano, 1951
Mario Merz, Objet cache-toi, 1968
Mario Merz, Successione di Fibonacci, 1970
Jenny Holzer, Blue Purple Tilt, 2007
Tracey Emin, Is Legal Sex Anal?, 1998
Keith Sonnier, Luster, 2008
James Rosenquist, Tumbleweed, 1966
James Turrel, The Light Inside, 1999
John McCracken, On the Go, 1998
Marcel Duchamp, La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, 1915-1923
Christian Eckhart, Andachtbild, 1990
Nino Ovan, Scaleo C, 1982-1983
Nino Ovan, Tabià Pizzini Castello (TN) 2013