Sergio Ragalzi

To think of one’s death and to make art of that thought has lead to both romantic and existentialist ends. But to think of one’s direct participation in death is to dismiss all ideas of personal success or failure and to replace life, hope, and strength with passivity and silence. Sergio Ragalzi’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures are marked by a marked absence of vitality and a profound negation of life itself. Through this absence and negation Ragalzi displays a notion of loss that moves beyond a romantic conception of death and into a more terrifying contemplation of disaster.

Using an impoverished expressionistic language, Ragalzi uses various lifeless black oxides, industrial varnishes, and plastics to create simple shadowlike forms, which seem to hover before their white grounds. With groups of paintings and drawings that share the titles Virus (dittico, maschio-femmina) (Virus [diptych, male-female] ,1986–87), and Ombre Atomiche (dittico, maschio-femmina) (Atomic shadows [diptych, male-female], 1986–87), Ragalzi examines the notion of an individual silenced by his or her relationship to disaster. The images in the Ombre Atomiche diptychs are of headless, armless, melting black stumps with genitals. Ragalzi uses similar images in the Virus works, but those figures look more like animal hides; there, the remains of appendages are attached to a central form, and they resonate with death and absence. In some of the works from the “Predatore” (Predator) series, 1988, the animations of virulent Pac-men render any thought of comprehending a viruslike “predator” both comical and banal.

Ragalzi’s recurrent form is used as a sign for both the male and female “other”; it is distinguished, respectively, by the addition of a rectangular or triangular appendage. These diptychs present a radically alienated, distinctly separate and passive figure, whose only identity is a sexual one. By illustrating the difference between the position of a silenced, passive being and ourselves, Ragalzi questions our closely held belief that somehow we have been spared the disaster.

While Ragalzi never directly addresses AIDS, the association is inevitable, and this association dramatically pulls the work out of its isolated expressionistic existence and into an arena of political confrontation. Yet by presenting his figures in a radically alienated context, Ragalzi risks not only sanctioning the persecution of a sexually distinct position, but of condemning it to a state of victimization.

Anthony Iannacci