MATTERS ON THE RESTLES SURFACE
Looking at the works carried out by Calogero Barba in these last years of the Nineties, we have the clear sensation of how the Sicilian artist has put his work again on the registers of surface. The passage point, if so it can be defined, is represented by two installations, both planned in 1997, entitled Sifting the press and Sacellum which draw attention to the implied desire to evoke images. In fact they are as a zipper and, in the meanwhile, they outline a definite border between the interest towards the object-sculpture which till that date had stirred up Barba’s imaginary – evidence of a vitality taken from mythologic calls with experiences driven at questioning the space through the restless matter of objects drawn from inventories of the modern city – and the idea of resetting that perspective to come back from a conception we can say “representative” of such vitality. The works which mostly connote the research developed in the first half of the decade, above all for instance the installations The puff of the vector or Magic structures, both dated 1993, can be ascribed to that moment of interest towards the sphere of the symbolical, where the objects have a particular narrative value, rich in references to the anthropological dictation typical of his land.
But, little by little, such calls make room for new arisings, paging up the symbolic value of the object in a composition subjected to a minimal register, or better, to an essential reduction of the tale. The sculptures, which the artist keeps on defining installations, carried out during the 1996 – as the works Ovum pictum and Intersection – point out this new approach amplifying the symbolic reference of the object: I mean that the shape leaves the figure of casual symbol, as Fromm would have said, to tend towards a new “reality” that is that one of showing itself as an element of an imaginative universe. In practice, Barba looks at the perspective to project his work in a communication system which does not stay limited into his own habitat, into sensations turned to a mirror of the collective imaginary, in few words, being a prisoner of a pleased identity.
He does it, starting from 1997, questioning about the notion of painting, about the meaning it takes in a particular moment in which it is greater the urgency to make clear his relation (or dialogue) with the new electronic technologies, with the “spaces” suggested by the virtual, interpreting them as further modellings of the reality. Barba does not sound the alternate way to the painting, shuffling the cards uselessly as today many artists do in order to seem “new”: he feels the deep sense of a truth which points out, to the contemporary artist, the impossibility <<not to live in our time>>, as Menna suggested at the end of that very lucid essay dedicated to the “modern plan of art”. But, as Menna points out, that does not mean to give up a critic plan <<on the contrary, it means to take sides with those who work today in the direction of a deepening and a renewal, of a new use of the notions of plan and rationality>>. All of this in the convinction, as the essay concludes, <<that the rational instruments and their effect on the real transformations have lost, for time, a guaranteed role and an absolute definability>>.
The title Digital journey which the artist gave to a triptych carried out during the 1997, does not reward the imaginative figure typical of these three boards: to be exacter I think Barba has consciously drawn the two terms “journey” and “digital” near, terms which are apparently different, to give an immediate imaginative match. However, his interest is not devoted to the possible relations interlaced on the pictorial surface, with the symbolic meanings assumed both by the elements derived from the inventory of the origins – the idea of the sea, the metaphor of the sand and the stone and above all the hemisphere, perhaps suggestion of the terrestrial globe, of the plane of existence – and by the long numerical line, typical of the digital translation.
The artist places everything on the surface, dwelling only on its exact value of plane, where a narrative mark is still the main author. A more evident position in paintings ( but the term seems to be out-of-date because we should say “plastic surfaces”) as B/teeth always painted in 1997, Balanced journey and Balanced painted in the first years of 1998, in which the artist insists on the cooling of the plane, appealing to a predominant blue, consciously marked to give emotional prominence to the profiles-shapes. This register has been put up soon for discussion, and this is another variant which lets us understand the efforts made by the artist not to yield to the easy seduction of painting, from the symmetric division of the pictorial plane and from the participating presence of writing: that is witnessed by works as Yellow Gold and Frontal gaze carried out in 1998, too.
Barba turns over again the placing from which he looks at the painting: he induces the shapes to come out from the monochrome ground, charging it with an energy driven at giving substance and matter to the shape, at emphasizing it as a presence. In practise, he drives at making it come out from the plane till to move it away, or rather to lead again the value of the image to the space.
THE MATERIAL AND RESTLESS SURFACES
The suddenly emersion of the magic, even the recuperation in that thick line of the earthly alchemy, joint to metal and to different materials(the holy invention to link to the inquiring deepness of Mircea Elide) seems to give back value to the symbol and all the same to the substance.
The effective role of a fancied life that, besides to draw from to the collective, dips its roots , with wideness, in the memory emerges and each necessity of charm and recuperation in a sort of pre-romanticism of post-modernity rises( in this way Calogero Barba acts in a strong and obsessive research on the land of the destination of his language).
He is able to make, the string of a near civilisation that is already buried, vibrate again, today, after the experiences that linked his work to a multidirectional tension, he feels the necessity of an acknowledgement of the bi-dimensionality to sustain the poetics.
Then the” Materials on the restless surfaces” (one-man show under the care of Marcello Scorsone to the Art Gallery “Studio 71”, catalogue” Il Vello d’Oro” with text of Massimo Bignardi till 26th June ) find substance in an archaic and strongly symbolic materiality, sometimes brutal that pays attention to minimal traces of the industry to the use and to the poetic organization of rustic materials, sharing models able to join the label of the archetype, it is the puff of the future.
But in this constant and modular process Calogero Barba assumes( today in a congruous and conscious way) the unequivocal sign of irony ( “ Scope Sagge”, “Cercar Cavilli”, 1997) the suffered anxiety of the investigator, the shore accepted( with joy) of an expression even biological and where the instinctual component finds its stream and its fleeting peace.
There is also a wider dialogue with the picture “Yellow Gold”, “B/Denti” where the variety of the materials (wood, sand, pigments, natural wax, poppies, plaster, oil, sulphates) underlines the artist’s disposability to receive by means of a earthly recognition, any possibility of language(we have to think about the intercommunicative projections to the late “ quadrennial” linked to the intervention on waxen materials just like in Pier Paolo Calzolari or the terracotta of Aldo Mondino or to the polyptychs in wood, iron, zinc and wax of Angela Occhipinti).
Here the communication lives in the fixity of the clays, of the powders, of the organic materials, assuming with harmony the dignity of symbol and in the preparation of a conceptuality always to the streaming inference of language and of minimal signs in the galaxy of the multimedia world.
IN THE THEATRES OF MEMORY
”the eve is not really made to make inventories as a technician does, or to flirt like a maniac with his own illusions and with false knowledge. It is made to organize a connection, a leitmotiv. Such a ductile leitmotiv gives us the opportunity to understand the relationships joining, innumerable, physical and mental structures (Breton)”.
This statement by Breton immediately highlights the transformation of the creative process related to the historical, Avant-garde that has emphasized the conceptual elaboration of the work of art: the artist does not search in Nature the source of inspiration any more, but he uses the language as a unique starling reality. And it is within this different complexity, where fantastic elements and linguistic repeats meet, that Barba’s research takes place.
Since the 1 ., half of the 90’s this artist has shown himself inclined to recontextualize objects collected from remote Mediterranean civilizations, rich in anthropic meanings and ethnological references “Capanna Fittile”.(1992), “Sidduni Magico” (1992), “Il Talamo di Eva” (1993); but, Instead of being taken in its material absoluteness and offered to a motionless contemplation, as it also occurred with the material recoveries of a certain poverista tradition, “the object is looked for in the inventory of the collective memory, to he betrayed. And the betrayal, the recovery, of distance helps a shift of meaning on the double track of play and irony”.
This practice of “quotations” (and play) does not mean, however, desecrating, but expressing the need of giving the work a historical substance, a background that attributes further stratification to the creative moment. The artist accepts not to contemplate Nature any longer in order to engage a dialectic relation with history and cultures: thus the mental element becomes a deterrent of the creative process. Barba himself, however, clarifies the nature of this process when he maintains that “recovering the object means understanding it, trying to place it in a “mental space” and giving it the connotation of a new energy/image, aware of carrying out an operation of “transgression/advancement” in search of new relationships and in the definition and elimination of others, to open new ways of communication”.
This attitude will result. in such works as “La concretezza del dilemma” (1994), (Papadoro) (1996), (Cercarcavilli) (1997), “Viaggio Equilibrato” (1997), “Lettere Luterane” (1998), in the need of letting the freedom of matter speak, together with its associations with the dimension of time, a measure that beats the rythm of things, in the soft use of materials that develop then according to natural or automatic aptitudes. The kleptomaniac and omnivorous tension charactering Barba’s research appears now more inclined to mobility, to interference, to the skill in hybridising and correlating different specific linguistic item; next to gesture, meant as the practice of withdrawal, which defines and names the image, the word takes its place: the expression, often playful and ironic, of a narrative literary element.
The “tale by images”, that tale that art cannot express through obsolete naturalistic figurations any longer, is now reproposed through metaphorical elements in which ambiguity – the ambiguity of images – goes along with a semantic ambiguity, the ambiguity of the “conceptual meanings” conveyed by words that bursts into paradox, into puns. Thus the object becomes relevant not for its formal features or symbolic effectiveness but for a sort of “raising to the power” that highlights its capability of transfigurations which is metaphoric, metonymic, synecdochic.
As in an oneiric journey, archetypal signs, fragments of archaeologies, traces shreds of scripts re-emerge from the ashes of time to surface again into the real, but equally illusory, space of the work, into a sort of extraterritoriality where the sacred and the profane, nature and culture collide and hybrideze. And they are “theatres of memory” that, in the mythical time evoked by Barba, transform the popular folk-ethos and its secret, exhausted, fascinating capability into a sort of ritual, the magic moment in which Art puts itself as the golden measure of its own events. An event woven in the langage, played on the symbolic references to an imaginary that crosses both matter and shape and ends up placing itself in front of the spectator. An extreme attempt of radication in history and, at the same time, the need of keeping himself distant from the shining technological emptiness that is being outlined against the horizon of the new cultures of globalization.
Roma, Aprile 1998 FRANCO BONFIGLIO