the wall of light
the wall of light Chiara Bertola
In 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 colors 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 luxury.
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.
The quotations in italics are taken from a conversation between the artist and Chiara Bertola in January 16 y 2004.
© elisabetta di maggio