Alessandra Tesi

Santa Maria della Scala

Contemporary, site-specific art in Italy can’t help but collide with an aggregation of artistic signs from the past; and when that happens, the boundaries between past and present are often blurred. Such was the case with Alessandra Tesi’s installation in Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, a Renaissance hospital still graced by fifteenth-century frescoes. Tesi’s intervention, entitled La Croce Verde (The green cross), 1998, played on both the art of fresco painting and the building’s historical function as a place for healing the body.

On the ceiling of one of the hospital’s long, gray, windowless passageways, Tesi arranged a double row of ultraviolet lights, and at the end of the space she projected a video montage of green crosses. These images of the neon signs that identify Italian and French pharmacies were rapidly superimposed over one another, each image dissolving into the next. It might be said that these projected images connoted painting both symbolically (in frescoes, painted scenes often follow one another without a strict sense of continuity) and literally: The projection wall was prepared with white fluorescent paint, to which Tesi attached clusters of sequins. Tesi’s method of permeating the wall with images evoked the technique of fresco painting, whereby cartoons were drawn separately on paper and transferred onto damp plaster; paint was then applied to the plaster so that the colors would interpenetrate the wall itself—just as Tesi’s video images “soaked into” the fluorescent paint. With these shifts in time and technique, Tesi broke video projection’s link to cinema and introduced it into a conversation with painting.

The cross, an international symbol of caring for the sick, was used here to remind viewers of the site’s history, while the cross’s projection created a dazzling, if dizzying, effect. In fact, as one navigated the tunnel-like space, the ultraviolet light, the whiteness of the background, and the sequins’ iridescence—together with the continuous mutation of the image of the green cross—came close to re-creating the experience of being seriously ill. On the hospital wall, “frescoed” by the light issuing from the fluorescent background and the video projection, a kind of reciprocal illumination took place, a metaphor for the way that art—no matter its age—creates a tie between the subject of the work and its flesh-and-blood observer.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.