Ketty La Rocca

Galleria Emi Fontana

There is a lot of work in this show, although La Rocca was only thirty-seven when she died in 1976. While her career was not long—the first mature works are from 1964—she was prolific and had full command over the territory she chose to investigate, a territory that had little to do with the artistic categories in which her work was placed at the time. Her tool was words, and this is apparent everywhere in her work, both when she uses them directly, constructing ironic collages by cutting out words and images from magazines and newspapers, and when she repeats them obsessively, using film posters to create calligrams in which the figures have been outlined with words. Language is also essential to her sole, extraordinary video, Appendice per una supplica (Appendage for a Plea, 1972). The field is taken up by a pair of hands—the artist’s—that “speak” through their gestures, asking and entreating, or simply counting numbers. Also in 1972, La Rocca produced a program on deaf-mutes for Italian state television, and in that work the gesture is clearly equivalent to the word; for her this equivalence signified both self-expression and expression of the self. This is why her work went well beyond the rather narrow confines of the Poesia Visiva (visual poetry) movement, which was particularly active in the ’60s and ’70s in Florence, where she lived, and which could be defined as an offshoot of Conceptual art, often employed in Dadaist fashion, with certain ideological/political overtones. In fact, while these elements are not lacking in some of her works (generally the least interesting and personal among them), what was essential to her oeuvre as a whole was a striving toward a greater understanding of self—first of all as a woman and then as a human being—and the conscious liberation of this self by means of work in which the artist does not hesitate to strip herself naked, fundamentally disarming herself ideologically, not- withstanding the typical language of the manifestos of the day, stuffed with political and semiotic jargon. In the end, it’s as if all her photographic works, like the X-rays of her skull on which she superimposes her own fist (Craniologie [Cranial X-Rays], 1973), or the images of her hands, were covered with a single word, “you” (Le mie parole e tu? [My Words and You?], 1971–72). “You” is the Other; it is a desperate and tender attempt to make contact, to communicate. Unlike her artist friends and contemporaries of the Poesia Visiva movement, who showed they knew how to control words, and who, precisely because of this, probably remain too tied to their specific historical moment, with La Rocca the word overflows its boundaries, becomes an obsession, a request, a “supplication”: Is there anyone to answer me?

In La Rocca’s work, the ideological and historical feminism of the time becomes a psychological and individual feminism. This personal and diaristic vocation has more in common with the work of someone like Jenny Holzer in the ’80s than with the Dada- and Surrealist-inspired ironic “exercises in style” typical of her milieu.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.