Letizia Cariello

Centro Pecci, Prato

Letizia Cariello’s installation Hallenbad Project, 2000–2003, inaugurated the Centro Pecci’s project room, a newly opened showcase for emerging artists and part of an overall renovation of the museum. Cariello transformed the space into a swimming pool, coloring the walls blue. Pervaded by the sound of breathing (audio installation by HB Sound), the “pool” contained a sort of sentry box, also blue, containing three photographic triptychs (“Hallenbad Portraits,” 2002–2003) and a DVD projection (Hallenbad, 2003). The latter consisted of three more or less simultaneous sequences in a loop, showing the artist swimming. The videos and sound track were made underwater, from the artist/performer’s viewpoint, in different pools, using a camera and microphone attached to her head and throat. The microphone picked up her breathing and heartbeat as well as ambient sounds; the camera recorded the movement of her arms and her progress through the water. The sound, transmitted into the project room by loudspeakers, allowed viewers to become submerged in the depths of a pool, as if within a living body. The result was an intimate and yet circumscribed space, which the body—that of the artist—attempted to measure, verify, and mark.

In 1997 Cariello designed the IO, CATERINA (I, Catherine) living unit, a refuge from which the artist issued communications in the form of plastic postcards—something like what Saint Catherine proposed in her Dialogue: “Make yourself a cell of the mind where you alone may enter.” Since then, the practice of constructing spaces, built around and for herself, has become a recurring theme in Cariello’s work. The swimming pool has a precedent in the installation Non respirare/respirare (Don’t Breathe/Breathe), 2000, at Viafarini in Milan, where a pool was simulated with ropes and lines on the floor that divided the space into lanes. Some earlier photographs of swimming pools, such as Piscina nera (Black Pool), 2001, show dark, mysterious spaces with plays of light and reflections, which seem above all like mental spaces, transfigurations of thoughts or feelings.

The need to give shape to time is another recurring obsession in Cariello’s work. She has marked down ciphers and numbers in interminable rows (“calendars”) on every type of support, ranging from objects to her own skin. In Hallenbad Project, too, time is made tangible, measured by the rhythm of the breath, the beating of the heart, and the strokes of the swimmer’s arms. Repetitive, regular sounds and movements suggest the idea of a circular space and time, as within a cloister, where the only possibility is to move unceasingly in a circle and to let the mind go. Through her own body, Cariello gives birth to a sort of habitation, which the viewer is invited to share.

The photographic portraits in the sentry box are a prelude to and commentary on Hallenbad Project. Shot in the three pools used for the video, they show the artist clad in a bathing suit and outfitted with the microphone and camera. They convey the ritual nature of her work and underscore the theme of effort and physical constriction. Cariello’s construction of her space presupposes discomfort, concentration of body, and organization of mind.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.