the wall of light Chiara Bertola

n her most recent works Elisabetta Di Maggio has
removed, eliminated, cleaned, clipped away at and
refined her work as never before.With her scalpel
she has excavated and scored the hard skin of the
plaster walls of galleries, museums and private
homes, and now she has cut up paper into lacy
forms and other shapes in order to follow and
endorse the progress of her existence.
It is an occupation she has been following for some
time. All the time it takes for that accurate, wearying
and precise work that leads to her creation of
forms. And time – always of great importance for
her and for her work - has today become the main
material for cultivating and embodying her fragile
and precious work. It is no longer a question of
time that erodes form, as was the case in Pianto
(Lament), 1999, in which the ice she used needed
time in order to melt and be transformed into
music and other forms; nor as in Stupro (Rape),
2000, in which soap should, in time, have washed
away the violent pain inherent in the words
inscribed on it. In such cases time had been used
almost as an alchemical element necessary for transforming the material and forms into something
else: a destruction that left no signs of anything.
Instead in these most recent works time has become
something different during the act of the work’s
creation: it is now, more simply, that of existence,
similar to that followed by plants with the sewing
and growing of seeds in the earth. Here we see a
work that deals with the kind of beauty that surprises
us when we see it in such natural objects as,
for example, a growing flower.This artist’s work is a
complex inquiry that has matured in the studio
with all the deliberateness and rigour of a practice
based on details, keeping under control each detail
and every move. Only everyday silence and discipline
mark the rhythms behind her creativity where
daily time and the time taken by her work are both
part of the same existential plan.
The artist, following an imprecise plan, cuts her
paper with the intention of giving depth and
weight to this fragile material until we can see
within it the shapes of the cuts and the possibility of
space. The material that we touch consists of empty spaces and light, and by cutting time we create space.
In her earlier work she would use a scalpel to cut
flower-like forms into the walls of the gallery.As she
cut there would emerge the underlying colours of
previous events, and so in this way she would discover
the time that had been passed by the wall as
though it were the earth itself. She shifted the past
in order for it to emerge into the present and vice
versa. Present time and its contrast to that of the past
is fundamental to her work.
Elisabetta works with the essence, the suspension of
things. There is no sign of that accumulation or
confusion that so often serves to mislead us and
make a mystery of things that are not in fact so.
Only this is the ‘artist’s work’: fatigue and time.To
desiccate, to eliminate by paring down, to remain
balanced while working on a piece of paper that
could be torn with the slightest mistake.
The wall is the central theme in her latest installation
here in Verona. As soon as we enter the gallery,
we find that a purpose-built wall divides the space
transversally into two.This wall is then transformed,
along the left axis, into a wall of paper as thin and
fragile as a veil. It is in fact a large-scale sheet of
paper – hung as though it were a real ‘load-bearing’
wall – completely scored by precious stones and
dense drawings.We cannot speak of a drawing so
much as of the union of fragments of cut-out drawings
which sum together to form a great negative
tapestry.These cut-out drawings can only be seen as
a mass that fluctuates and proliferates over the surface.
Or perhaps it would be better to speak of a
shifting terrain, drawing that seems to transmigrate
from one form to another in an unstable way. The
shapes are derived from old lace – from the sixteenth
century until today – which originally
mixed traditional western motifs with those of the
East: the arabesque. The artist knows that by using
these themes she is working with a source that
moves in time. For her the meaning of such persistence
in these inquiries lies it the transmigration of
themes from one culture to another through time
and space with an unexpected vitality.
Out of her drawings of ancient lace Elisabetta Di
Maggio has ‘woven’ another design, that of the time
spent while doing them. It is like a tale that, in the
telling, has ended up creating a space that has been
negotiated with reality, the home-space of the walls:
‘…the material that passes through my hands is time
that, through time, becomes space.This is the work’.
Both on and inside this rectangle of paper
Elisabetta Di Maggio has spent months and months
of her existence: the time necessary for cutting and
removing the paper – the fullness, the ‘positive’ that
filled the design - with a sharpened scalpel. Nor is
it difficult to see the time of her own life woven
into these decorations.
Over those knowingly ‘perforated’ walls, time has
woven a material that seems made from nothing,
from empty space, but in fact allows light from
somewhere else to filter through. Behind the wall of
paper and through the holes of the lace, we can see
the other side of the divided space: a space flooded
with light. Over there, along the floor’s perimeter,
there are neon lights that shine a pale-green light
onto the walls. The strong greenish light radiating
from that side conveys a feeling of suspension of its
undefined space. Suspension means holding together
both what it near and what is distant without
arriving at a solution.The artist considers green as a
colour pregnant with something that has yet to be
born and reveal its fruit.
A wall that divides a space at once conjures up other
walls that have fallen or, sadly, that are being erected
today in order to keep differences at a distance.
But this wall is too fragile and precious: it only
needs a gesture in order to break it and pass
through. In fact the fragile membrane separating the
two spaces leads us back to our own interior space
and the difficulties we have in the face of change
and the stages of growth. A kind of spider’s web, a
membrane that pulsates between something that is known and the completely unknown that lies on the other side.
So we do not see, because we do not have a complete
view, but we do have a strong sensation that
there is something new and apart from ourselves on
the other side. It is as if to say that, in order to go
beyond ourselves and our limited vision, we must
pass through what we know by shattering it; as if to
say that the only way to pass to the other side is to
rip through that precious and protective ‘veil’. To
break down clichés and mould, to push ahead, to be
aware of something more. The wall is monumental,
cumbersome, and the symbol of a tradition that has been passed on to you and that is part of you, and it is because of this that it is so highly wrought and precious.You find
it hard to lose it or leave it behind. It is like giving up a
The forms created out of cut paper, amalgamated
and transformed lace, create a garden within a garden,
abstract swags of flowers and vegetation that are
only completed and continue to germinate in our
own imagination.To see beyond these abstract and
flowering forms could be a further experience. It is
a suspended tale, the start of a gaze that can continue
to see something else in that illuminated and suspended space.Beyond that paper wall there is all the space necessary for each of us to read our own history of light.