Manuela Cirino

Ciocca Arte Contemporanea

This exhibition of a set of thirty-five drawings along with a video and two sculptures had a subdued title—“Secondo tentativo” (Second attempt)—but great narrative richness. At a time when visual thinking seems to have become predominant in every form of expression, it is interesting that Manuela Cirino’s art couples figuration with a narrative format. Perhaps this is in response to modem systems of communication (photography, video, Internet), since visual synthesis is now seen not only in terms of artistic expression (painting, sculpture, etc.) but also in terms of everyday behavior. To use the terminology of fashion, art is a niche, a very privileged one perhaps, but without the universally representative function to which it was once consecrated, from Paleolithic graffiti to frescoes in churches, royal palaces, and mansions.

In Cirino’s drawings Nero su bianco (Black on white), 2000, the emergence of a narrative syntax behind the construction of the image implies a desire to take stories, thoughts, and lives into account rather than any particular reference to writing as such. (Narration is born on the tongue, though it finds its visibility in writing.) In fact, the drawings consist of transcriptions of phrases, read or heard, to which Cirino has added a “drawn caption.” In a brief note the artist cautions that the words and thoughts she has transcribed are by no means intended to evoke a literary or philosophical panorama, but refer instead to the moment of assimilation when an experience allows one to intuit the means to resolve one’s own expressive desires. In Italian, “mettere nero su bianco,” literally “to put black on white” in the sense of putting something down in writing, implies clarifying a concept. Here, the images and phrases are often tied together by a great ironic sweetness and by a consolatory immediacy.

The video Il toro innamorato (The bull in love), 2000, is a comic book-style story of hand-to-hand combat between an animal and an androgynous bullfighter who, with great skill, transmutes the aggressive suspense of the struggle into the more melancholy suspense of an ordinary clash of feelings. In Cirino’s animation the white and black marks are very similar to those of her drawings, although they maintain a pictorial velocity that in Nero su bianco is replaced by a subtler, more cutting line. One immediately thinks of other depictions of bullfights in the history of art, particularly Picasso’s, whose spontaneity resembles that with which Cirino has appropriated the words of famous writers or people heard on the radio. The story closes with Secondo tentativo (Second attempt), 2000, a small terra-cotta sculpture placed on the floor at the center of the gallery: a group of people supporting each other in turn, forming a circle that might signify mutual assistance or simply the inability of each individual to move forward in linear fashion—one doesn’t know which. This is the sort of dilemma that current events are posing to everyone throughout the world, and the fact that here it is expressed quietly is a novelty that should not be underestimated.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.