View of “Davide Balula,” 2015. Photo: Jean-Pacôme Dedieu.

View of “Davide Balula,” 2015. Photo: Jean-Pacôme Dedieu.

Davide Balula

View of “Davide Balula,” 2015. Photo: Jean-Pacôme Dedieu.

Davide Balula’s exhibition “A journey through you and the leaves” took up too much space, given how little there was to see—his intervention seemed to empty rather than fill the gallery—and yet the space was revealed as barely sufficient, if one considered the invisible component that was an integral part of the work. The show consisted of a series of seventeen plastic-and-metal sculptures, “Coloring the WiFi Network,” 2014–, antennae covered in industrial paint, which emitted a Wi-Fi signal with the help of a modified router installed on the floor, unconcealed. Most of the sculptures were installed on a platform in the center of the space, and the viewer was invited to stroll around them, to move about while observing the work.

These objects, almost without volume, have rectilinear or zigzag forms, like the GPS layouts that inspired them, except in the case of one irregular circle (Coloring the WiFi Network [with Mustard Yellow], 2015). They seemed suspended in a medium as invisible as air—aerial doodles—where it was less the gesture that designed and fabricated them than the ethereal environment itself that rendered them visible. And as for the signals these antennae emitted, their invisibility did not make them any less present. Each could be picked up not only in front of the corresponding sculpture but anywhere in the gallery, and even outside it, thus going beyond the conventional model of interactivity. The signals revealed themselves on two levels. The first was linguistic: The list of available networks, the name linked to the color of the sculptures, appeared on the touch screens of visitors’ smartphones and other devices (tablets or laptops), like a work of concrete poetry. The second level was visual: Rather than giving access to Internet navigation, the signals produced a monochrome field that filled the screen. In these digital “paintings,” one sees, as the artist states, “the presence of a spectrum of colors that can be perceived and measured,” playing on the ambiguity of the French term spectre, which can mean either “spectrum” or “specter.”

The resublimation of art through its attenuation—a gesture of institutional critique or radical removal of subjectivity—the exhibition of invisibility is a practice that traverses the entire twentieth century, from Duchamp’s Air de Paris, 1919, to Takis’s magnetic fields (recently on view at the Palais de Tokyo); from Art & Language’s “Air Conditioning Show” to Robert Barry’s emissions of radio waves, brainwaves, and molecules of inert and noble gases. These attempts to use the atmosphere as a medium in continuous expansion, a medium that can never be completely visualized, constituted a challenge to the limits of the art object, as well as to the idea that artistic experience had to create objects to be submitted to the scrutiny of vision. Balula, on the contrary, intends not so much to manipulate the immaterial as to make visible that aura or electromagnetic spectrum that reconfigures the social space, our relationship with others, and our aesthetic experience in this era of information technology.

The two works from the series “Artificially Aged Paintings (Wet, Dry, Wet, Dry, Wet, Dry),” 2010–, that completed the show confirmed this. These primed canvases have been subjected to alternating aridity and humidity, and thus have wound up with surfaces that evoke historical abstraction. Balula’s painting series begun earlier (“River Paintings,” 2008–; “Burnt Paintings,” 2010–; “Buried Paintings,” 2010–) conform to an ecosystem in which the seasonal cycle, the process of germination, climatic and atmospheric swings, or the degree of humidity take the place of work in the studio. Here, instead, the exposure of the paintings to organic elements was re-created artificially—a hybrid between the analogical trace of the impression, characteristic of the earlier paintings, and the digital trace of his more recent sculptures.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.