by Bruno Di Marino
In seeing Antonello Matarazzo's videos for the first time, perhaps after seeing an exhibit of his paintings, one is struck by the fact that his two activities – that of the painter and that of the video artist, or videomaker – remain rather separate, distinct. His films (films, not videos, as he rightly calls them in the opening credits), at least at first impact, are not necessarily tied to painterly research. Exceptions are perhaps The Fable (2000), La Camera Chiara (2003) and Warh (2003), which make up a triptych of sorts, in which the interference between the fixed (photographic) image, its (pictorial) re-elaboration and its placement in (filmic) movement become the crux around which pivots an idea on the (immobile/immutable) memory of the past and on the (specific and unstable) vision of the present. Incidentally, they are works that, unlike others and featuring a greater narrative structure, can be enjoyed even as installations.
La Camera Chiara is a concise "history of the gaze" drawn from the photos of the Centro Guido Dorso in Avellino. Barthes, in his eponymous essay, dedicated numerous pages to the fact that a photograph allows for that which cinema prohibits: looking into the camera, thus reflecting on its infusing a conscience and not on being the thing, but of having been it. Matarazzo seems to work precisely on this concept, rendering it, however, ambiguous, and hazy since – as opposed to the gap that Barthes claims exists between cinema and photography – in today's digital era video's time ends up coinciding with photography's time, thanks, for example, to morphing, which moulds the electronic material as if it were a sculpture, making it possible to transform one photographic face into another, so as to suggest an even somatic continuity of the faces that is, at times, genealogical, anthropological.
Matarazzo chooses to isolate certain figures (mostly children) within the photographic portraits, to re-work them chromatically or luministically, rendering them not only more ectoplasmatic, but creating a game of infinite combinations. And this is where his nature as a painter emerges, not so much because he measures himself against the fixed rather than moving image, but precisely for his sensibility, the possibility of giving a narrative sense only through the texture, the transfiguration towards the abstract. Warh pushes the idea and the contrast between pose and motion even more to the extreme. Added to the photographic portraits transformed by morphing, as a backdrop, are solarized sequences of war: the nighttime bombings of Baghdad, MiGs that shoot into the sky, the dramatic images of September 11th (which make up the entire last part of the video), articulated every so often by a flower of Warhol's (where the title's play on words comes from) that serves as a counterpoint and reinforces the idea of a collision between imageries that are seemingly very distant: having been and being, art and war. Thus, the theme is not so much the memory of the conflict as the (visual, mental and perceptive) conflicts generated by memory, by videophoto-pictorial images that enter an infinite short-circuit.
Matarazzo's works are indissolubly tied to the territory in which he lives: Irpinia. There is a strong sense of belonging to a place and, simultaneously, the ability to describe it, to present it with humorous detachment, from a Martian's perspective. In other words, Irpinia seen from the moon. The strange visitor of Apice (2004), a sales representative or an alien dressed up like a human, who lands in this little town that was completely abandoned (perhaps because of the earthquake), is silent proof of a very Italian reality of thousands of small, ancient towns that are deserted because the inhabitants have chosen to go live in the dreadful houses of hideous towns newly reconstructed in the valley. But he is also the protagonist of a metaphysical painting, a surreal space full of atmosphere and suspense: Southern Italy, where Matarazzo lives and works, is full of these urban paradoxes, these existential gaps. Naturally, the "sociological" level becomes secondary, and wandering through the ghost town – which seems, incredibly enough, to have been abandoned the day before – allows the artist to re-mark an aesthetic of this exodus (that is external and internal, which touches our collective conscience). The "natural" set is at his complete disposal, like an entire village in a western; he needs it to add another notch to his "Irpine surrealism." Such as, for example, in Mi chiamo Sabino (2001), a portrait of a mad philosopher or, rather, a madman philosopher, who speaks freely on the streets of Avellino. Matarazzo's gaze alternates the frozen hand-held camera that nervously and obsessively follows this strange character with the beret with a bird's view of the city, immersed in a bucolic and absurd silence. The formal contrast between Sabino's non-linear and chaotic words and the reassuring view of the city is clear. But the meaning of the video is perhaps deeper, and it is the hazy boundary between nature and civilization. Avellino is a strange city (not even a very small one), totally surrounded by green, thus, just a few meters away from its principal street we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of the countryside. Similarly, the gap between normalcy and madness, the rational and the irrational, is very small. The main backdrop against which Miserere is set is the industrial archeological landscape of Bagnoli, the port with the enormous cranes and hills dominated by the modern and aseptic silhouettes of the windmill blades. The characters that wander about this space that is as "lived in" and worn-out – where time, along with the salt from the air has become coagulated and crusty – as it is unreal and lunar are men and women in wheelchairs, who move in restlessness but not resignation. There is not just a sense of desolation around them but also an indefinite atmosphere of suspension and expectation, for something that will not happen. They are surrounded by the sea, wind, earth, (internal) fire, blood, suffering, as well as piss, hunger, saliva, the loathsomeness evoked in the lyrics of a slow dance, music, from the rhythm around which the entire video is constructed. Miserere is an apologia of silent desperation (none of these characters speaks) that is simultaneously screamed through an ancient, ancestral chant. The closing credits that give us these people's stories certify their authenticity, distinguishing them from actors and thus adding – along with the procession of Good Friday in Guardia Sanframondi, shot in grainy black and white – a "documentary-esque" value to the video, in which real suffering is transfigured with a skill that is visionary as well as dry and calibrated, making this one of the most intense and efficient works of the entire Matarazzo aesthetic. If the shorter version ( Miserere cantus ) is a kind of trailer for Miserere or, rather, an actual "music video", in which Canio Loguercio's music accompanies all the visuals, and there are no more pauses or sonorous voids, A Sua immagine can be considered an appendix to this same video and explains more deeply the meaningful final credit: «Dedicated to all those who cannot confirm with certainty that God exists». The characters are the same as in Miserere, as well as the setting, thus the gesture of the handicapped people in the wheelchairs beating theirs chests repeats the gesture of the vattienti in the procession: is it a prayer to a possible divinity by someone awaiting a miracle, or an unexpected healing? Or is it an invocation towards he who has forgotten them, who was not generous with them? Or perhaps it is a mechanical ritual, emptied of sense and even a bit sarcastic towards religion, the Catholic religion, based on the sacrifice and suffering of individuals? The (tele)visual interference that disturbs the scene and allows the "good Pope" to surface can be seen as something torn, a passing from the earthy to the divine, precisely to emphasize a discrepancy, a contrast between what should be a just and merciful god – at least in our reassuring perception – and the one effectively revealed in everyday reality. But there is another, ulterior interpretation of A sua immagine that would render it more surreal and less controversial: that is, that god almighty is a paralytic and that those in the wheelchairs are his followers. What is surprising about Matarazzo's video imagery is that he is perhaps the only Italian artist – careful, not "video artist"! – who truly knows how to use video, in terms of aesthetics, technical prowess and cinematic language. Besides the cuts in framing, and a skill for composing images, all of which have a powerful visual impact – which, all in all, is normal for a painter like Matarazzo – he has an exquisitely cinematic sensibility, for rhythm, editing ( Apice and En plain air are exemplary, not only because of their stylistic code, but also for his editing skills), audio effects, and the overall construction. He furthermore manages to perfectly unite experimental, narrative and documentary (or documentational, in his use of archive material) elements, precisely through his capacity for info-graphic manipulation, that is resolved not so much by the range of special effects offered by post-production software, but by a visual awareness and technical ability of someone who understands painting and artistic devices in the universal sense.
(text published in the catalogue 42. Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema, Fondazione Pesaro Nuovo Cinema Onlus ed., Roma 2006)