La Solitudine dei segni / The Solitude of Signs (2019)

La Solitudine dei Segni / The Solitude of Signs. Installation view.

Melancholia (2019). Black marker and highlighter on paper, rods, tempera, nylon cord, styrofoam cooler, gilded artichokes.Melancholia (detail).

The Language of the Child and Sacred Fish (Anamnesis, after Giorgio de Chirico) (2019). Chromogenic prints.

Untitled (Hermes). First epiphany (2019). Inkjet print.

Untitled (2019). Concrete, plastic bag.

Catena aurea (2019). Rusted chain.

Proverbs 3:5: “Lean not on your own understanding” (2019). Paper cup, custom sleeve.

Untitled (Hermes). Second epiphany (2019). Inkjet print.

Overdue Notice (2019). Toner on newsprint mounted on board.

Overdue Notice (detail).

Studium (2019). Found book, cufflinks, gold chain, toner on paper.

Studium (detail).

Untitled (2019). Hammer, black tempera.

Et quid amabo / And What Shall I Love? (2019) Found boxers, custom waistband.

La solitudine dei segni / The Solitude of Signs

Dear M—,

Did you ever get around to reading Bernhard’s Old Masters? I gave it to you as a gift a few years ago, but you never said anything after that. I don’t mean to make you feel bad about it, so don’t worry. I just picked it up the other day, after a number of years, and I came across a passage that I think will help me to answer the question you posed in your last letter.

Reger, the novel’s protagonist, is explaining why he became a critic and what it means for him to approach criticism as an art. What’s special about criticism, he says, is that while being an art unto itself, it also offers one the possibility of being an artist in all the arts one engages with as a critic. As a “critical artist,” Reger says, “I am always in one person and simultaneously a painter and a musician and a writer. I am not therefore, as the painters are, only a painter, and I am not, as the musicians are, only a musician, and I am not, as the writers are, only a writer. Instead I am a painter and a musician and a writer all in one. That is what I perceive to be the greatest happiness, to be an artist in all the arts and yet reside in one of them.”

I like this idea that one can be “always in one person” while simultaneously being many different things, that one can be not just one thing—for example, a painter—or even more than one thing at different times or in different contexts—for example, a painter and a writer—but more than one thing all in one and all at once, in the exercise of an art that is not any one of those arts, but something else entirely.

Now I can’t imagine being an artist in all the arts—I’m pretty sure music will forever remain inaccessible to me. For the moment, three of them will have to suffice: photography, sculpture, and writing. In the work I’m doing now, I’ve also been trying to be “in all of them” while being “in one person.” My way of doing that, however, has not been through criticism, but through scholarship, which is something related but also slightly different. So if I were to echo Reger I’d say that I’ve been trying to be a photographer and a sculptor and a writer all in one, and that I’ve been trying to be those three things simultaneously through the practice of something like scholarship.

Don’t you think it makes sense to characterize this work in terms of scholarship, especially when one considers the role played by the practice of citation? Or perhaps I should say, of the citation compulsion. That’s your phrase, by the way. We were talking about my need always to place my own existence in dialogue with a system of references, and you said that for you citations are a species of the repetition compulsion, not just because they are themselves repetitions but because in my case they seem to be implicated in an urge I have no power over. Manifestations of the death drive? Perhaps, but of a death drive that has less to do with the individual than with the collective psyche, a death drive that allows the individual to dissolve into the vast and timeless realm called cultural memory. That, for me, is the greatest happiness.

Maybe the very fact that I find myself drawn to the three arts I mentioned (and the specific variations of them that I practice) can also be explained in terms of this compulsion. For me there’s something inherently citational about all of them. Certainly about the photograph and the found object, but also about the poem, that strange construction in which fragments of language, extracted from their quotidian context, come to be integrated into a system of reflections that delivers language itself from the burden of communicating anything.

I know that you share this understanding of poetry, that for you the poem can be a space where signs can enter into relationships that have no other purpose other than to render them inoperative. But if that is so, then other kinds of spaces (the piazzas of Italian metaphysical painting, for example, with their assortments of seemingly random objects) could also be said to function as poems in their own right. If I may, I would say the same thing of this installation. Think of it as a poem, constructed out of photographs and sculptures—a poem, I should add, with an essayistic intent, since this is after all, as I said before, a work of scholarship, an inquiry into a particular question.

And what exactly is that question? Melancholia, the various manifestations of the saturnine temperament across time. Each of the works here marks an encounter with one of those manifestations—and I don’t need to remind you here that in Spanish and in other languages, the word for citation (cita) is the same word for “date.” Wasn’t it you who once said that it’s like cruising, this way of making our way through that labyrinth called “tradition”? Out of these encounters comes this poem with an essayistic intent, this poem “of which I myself am the subject.” That’s how I would like you to think of this work. (But of course you can think of it however you want to.) The various signs that compose it have been arranged so as to suspend any kind of utilitarian function one might assign to them—their capacity to communicate what they would seem capable of communicating has been deactivated. I’m simply delimiting a space for them to be, to come forward in their solitude.