Rome

Marco Bagnoli

Galleria Pieroni

From the beginning, Marco Bagnoli’s work has been based on the idea of inquiry. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bagnoli has not sought to create an art of mere objects—that is, things that are observed and are thus the “objects” of our sight. He is more interested in the connections between subject and object, observer and observed. Bagnoli repeatedly distinguishes “sight” from “vision,” in written texts that are integral parts of his work, contrasting “the cone of sight” to the “sphere of vision,” while knowing that the former contains the latter. He has always followed paths that lead him to explore the meaning of representation and to give form to the representation of meaning (in the sense of that ultimate and total “meaning” to which everything leads and all things return). The tools he makes use of, and to which he puts himself in service, are often polar opposites: the logic and mathematics that inform Western thought (up to Kurt Gödel) and Eastern spirituality (as in the writings of René Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and Mircea Eliade); concepts of modern physics (that of Maxwell and Einstein, of Heisenberg and Bohr) and turn-of-the-century art; alchemical symbolism and current technologies; mysteries of language and the psyche, whose secrets are inherent, and the mysteries of art, whose contents are apparent but whose exact meanings remain indescribable. Each of Bagnoli’s works is marked by the confluence of these elements, which form the framework of that specific work but at the same time pull it free from its own being by situating it within a broader framework (his art; art in general), and which find a greater significance in the context of the above-mentioned totality, that meaning into which everything ultimately is absorbed, even the individuality of the artist himself.

Every one of Bagnoli’s shows is based on this process, of which it is a fundamental individual part: “Whoever takes the measure of things cannot pretend that, through a single experiment, the cause is once and for all established. . . it is necessary to repeat the experiment a great number of times, each time meaning something in itself.” As such it always offers a double face: an internal one, pointing toward the artist and the processes involved in making art; and an external one, which projects outward, determined by the various contexts into which the art moves after it is made. The two parts of this duality remain separate and unreconcilable in the work, like Narcissus and his reflection. It is only afterward, in our memory of the work, that they can be reconciled, through a process of intuition that goes beyond the work, overcoming it, and, in the end, leaving it behind.

Bagnoli keyed his installation here earlier this year to a poetic conceit: “Tutto il tempo penso a quella fonte dove bevve cavaliere la cui sete da allora cessò per sempre” (I always think of that spring where the knight drinks, his thirst from then on ceasing forever). The show consisted of three works, each one in a separate room. The first room contained only a “red stripe” (his signature motif), a narrow vertical panel, this time done in cinnabar on white gessoed canvas according to fresco techniques and titled Spazio x Tempo (ergo sum) (Space x Time [therefore I am], 1975–88). It was located near a doorway through which one could see a structure of wood and canvas that blocked one’s entry into the room and that seemed to occupy the space almost entirely (“If I introduce space, I don’t enter the room”). From here, one passed through a vestibule into the room furthest from the entrance and beyond which one could not proceed, where the second work was located—a sort of table/altar on which four small sculptures were arranged, Quattro punti cardinals (Qui il bel Narciso perse la vita) (Four cardinal points [Here the beautiful Narcissus lost his life], 1986–88). The “table” was made of a round millstone placed on top of two pairs of wooden beams laid crosswise on the floor. In the center of the millstone, which was green from the grass that Bagnoli had rubbed into the irregularities of its surface, was a square cavity filled to the brim with mercury. The four sculptures were made of four different materials, and their positions around the square corresponded to the four cardinal points: the wood figure to the east, the bronze one to the west, the alabaster one to the north, the terra-cotta one to the south—like “material points suspended by wires without weight” (to borrow a phrase from Bagnoli describing an earlier installation). Thus, they are arranged according to a cosmic order and at the same time in respectful homage to the traditional techniques of sculpture (cutting and inlaying wood, forging metal, sculpting stone, shaping earth). The figures are based loosely on an ancient statue—perhaps Narcissus, for they are reflected in the mirror of Mercury.

In the same room, there is a second doorway, which Bagnoli had turned into the entrance to a “tunnel” constructed from the doorway to a window opposite. This canvas tunnel was the structure whose supporting framework we had glimpsed through the doorway of the first room. The pale gray canvas was bathed in soft blue light, for he had covered the window with translucent blue plastic. Rectangular in section, the tunnel looked like a three-dimensional manifestation of a perspective diagram of the sight lines from the corners of the doorway to the corners of the window. However, it could not be entered; its threshold could be crossed only by the eye. Conventional perspective expands the subject’s point of view to infinity; but here the equation was reversed, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Such a shift places the observer in the field of the things that are observed; by accomplishing this, Bagnoli made it impossible for the viewer to see anything except the illusion of vision. The tunnel thus symbolized the indeterminacy of this “point of origin,” from which we have slipped to reach our position in this penultimate room, in front of this deceptive opening—a point where the circle and the show are completed. The jewel case doesn’t open, for it guards the philosopher’s stone and its light, which all signs indicate it contains. The passage that leads toward that spring about which “I always think. . . where the knight drinks, his thirst from then on ceasing forever” remains hermetically sealed.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.