Lorenzo Scotto di Luzio

Total darkness. At the back of the gallery, beyond the arches that divide its two spaces, a large screen showed Mondo fantastico (Wonderful World), 2004, a short animated video by the young Neapolitan artist Lorenzo Scotto di Luzio. The opening image is a cooked chicken leg moving up and down—the first of a long series of curious symbols connected to one another like gears in a piece of eccentric machinery. (From the beginning, Scotto di Luzio has played with irony and paradox, as if to warn us that what we are about to see is his own idiosyncratic interpretation of life.) Next follows a series of abstract details that suggest a bicycle wheel, a car engine, the pulley of a torture machine. A caption informs us that the work has been inspired by T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1936–42). The Neapolitan artist evokes the poet’s work with total freedom, appropriating only certain details, using above all the poem’s structure and its tension between good and evil, horror and hope.

We immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of the work. A man flies over what looks like Naples but could really be any Italian city. We are lulled by a sound like a carillon with a heartbeat (a stereo system was mounted on the gallery ceiling and a subwoofer hidden behind a corner). The images of the animated cartoon unfold in a half-abstract, half-naïve idiom. We enter the dream and witness a dramatic episode: An airplane plunges, exploding over a verdant landscape; a taxi-limousine speeds by, heedless of the event. Inside, we recognize some strange characters. A clown is driving, while seated in the back we see an Orthodox Jewish banker, three masked terrorists, a pinup girl, and a priest. These passengers resemble—and the likeness is hardly accidental—Italian and international political figures: powers of this world, men who sow terror. It is no accident that the next scene shows images of war and death, accompanied by the deafening noise of a helicopter. Here Scotto di Luzio’s style is close to Expressionism, bringing to mind Munch or Grosz, but ground up into a mixture made from electronic and computer graphics.

Every detail of this work helps to illuminate—just as when we read Eliot—the concealed story line whose presence beneath the surface of daily life often eludes us. In another scene a mannequin-man travels by subway, mouthing unheard words. Magnified, the mouth becomes an abstract shape against a cobalt blue background. The image recalls something out of a pop video from the ’80s, but the content is rather weightier. The words we lip-read are from the opening line of “East Coker,” the second of the Four Quartets: “In my beginning is my end.”

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.