Paolo Monti

Galleria Arco di Rab

The work of Roman artist Paolo Monti can be divided into two distinct but closely interconnected conceptual and methodological categories. On the one hand, the artist has created a body of work about money (both its symbolic and material aspects) in which he explores the fetishism of value. Then there are his investigations into scientific epistemological processes, carried out through hypertechnological arrangements that isolate problems of perception and relationships between subject and object, identity and otherness. Some works have even incorporated elements from both approaches, as in Immagine di dollaro (Dollar image; first exhibited in 1989), in which a cutout of George Washington from a dollar bill was placed between sheets of chemically treated glass. When the resulting slide was projected, the chemical solution, activated by the heat from the projector light, slowly corroded the paper, subjecting the image of the dollar-bill icon to a gradual disintegration. This poetic attention to changes of state, to controlled yet dynamic processes (typical of the second category), was fully evident in de-localizzazioni (de-localizations), 1998, the installation piece presented in Monti’s recent show.

In one room of the gallery, viewers could walk up to a black, polycarbon plate framed in thick steel. A miniature television camera hidden behind the black surface recorded whoever (or whatever) was in front of it, instantly transmitting the image to an analyzer that broke it down according to the angle of light. Almost instantaneously, the altered image—not a “realistic” representation but a set of chromatic variations of light and shadow—showed up on a monitor placed in an adjoining space in the gallery.

However, anyone pausing for a few moments in front of the framed black matter activated sensors that released mercury contained in a vitreous chamber within the thick frame. As the level of mercury rose, it interacted with the polycarbon to form a mirrorlike surface in which, as the black substance disappeared, the viewer could gradually see his or her reflection. At the same time, the rising mercury little by little submerged the microcamera, so that as soon as the viewer’s likeness appeared before him or her, the chromatic image slowly disappeared from the monitor.

This symbolic play between identity and otherness seemed to function as an interrogation into the very meaning of subjectivity. When another viewer saw me (on the monitor), I didn’t see myself (on the sheet of glass). I eluded myself, only to allow myself to be caught by someone else. Conversely, I “found myself” only to the extent that others lost me. The profundity of the work lies in this alternation, which has decisive existential reverberations. After a short time the mercury fell, once again leaving the visual field free for the miniature television camera, which had previously been obstructed by the liquid; and, beginning from the top down, the image of the observer in front of the sheet of glass reappeared on the monitor. It was as if the complex technology that lay behind the operation of this piece contributed to freeing images from the reality they were supposed to reflect. Images migrated from one surface to the other, newly autonomous from their “model.”

Massimo Carboni

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.