Elisa Sighicelli

“Phi”—the title of Elisa Sighicelli’s latest, almost psychedelic exhibition—was a tremendously effective investigation of the disruptive power of light: light transformed, broken down into multicolored particles, projected, and filtered by backlit surfaces. Thus in Film without Film (all works 2006), some hundred or so bulbs, attached to the walls at a height of about three feet from the floor, flashed on and off in sequence, giving the impression of a light source that ran along the walls of one room in the gallery. The optical illusion produced by the successive appearance of the lights resulted in unexpected effects: Viewers had the sensation of standing in a space that was revolving around them. But this was only one of the many illusions produced by the intermittence of the lights. In Fan-tasmagoria—which looks like a projection of concentric light circles, in fact an illusion created by pulsing colored lights on a toy fan—the intermittent colored lights created a sensation of continuous change, and it was difficult to identify a defined image, as the viewer was caught off guard by an ever-changing alternation of flashes. If one then considered that the semipolished resin surface on the floor reflected the brightest lights, one could understand that the optical effect was amplified, to the point where some of the projections on the wall seemed to continue beyond the wall surface, becoming lost in the darkness of the gallery.

The contrast between reality and appearance pushed viewers’ perceptions to the maximum, and one was left with the impression of having experienced something beyond the everyday, driven by an enthusiasm we might, in fact, call mind-bending. Sighicelli’s work has its roots in the historical avant-gardes—from kinetic art to Op art—but it exploits recent technological advances to achieve effects that are completely unfamiliar. Looking at the images projected on the wall in Phi Building, one realized that what seemed to be a geometric grid acting as a backdrop for multicolored lights was in reality the substructure of several multistory buildings. In this case Sighicelli has superimposed the abstract spectacle of geometrical patterns and artificial colors—the explanation of which is not apparent—onto a real element such as the metropolis, or, more precisely, the buildings that compose it. The buildings are anonymous skyscrapers that, behind the coldness and impersonality of their facades, conceal scenes of everyday life: the fluorescent lights of offices, residential lights, the silhouettes of furniture. And it is precisely this reference to real life that makes Sighicelli’s projected color diagrams even more powerful. These hallucinatory signs end up being a sort of concise representation of life, made up of intermittencies, sudden changes in tension, pauses, and resumptions, moments of electricity and blackout.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.