WITNESSES BY CHANCE
by Marisa Vescovo
The human body with respect to culture in general (we see it especially in art) is an infinite reserve of signs. Within these signs various "knowledges" choose, above all, those that are closer to their philosophy. The metamorphosis of the body is born like this: from time to time it is flesh cured by medicine, manpower for the economy, one cured by religion, ones unconsciousness being freed by psychology, the potential for violence that is repressed by law. The artist, but also the common man, regards the body as a "writing" surface in which it is possible, when reading between the lines to see the innumerable traces (be them slight or obvious) imprinted upon it. It is up to us to visualize in our own bodies how these traces have been drawn [...]
Antonello Matarazzo presents to us a group of canvases created with the technique of airbrushing (thereby eliminating the physical gesture) born from the womb of a photographic archive that dates back from the first half of the XIX century. He discovered this archive in his hometown of Avellino, but it comes from Calitri in Irpinia. These canvases – chromatically veered onto suffocated black and white running into violet – compared to the work of the anonymous photographers of the past have developed small "differences". Matarazzo emphasizes the perspective while looking for a vision from above. He works by putting the stress onto the facial muscles which in turn contract or extend the skin of the subject.
But what do we find on the surfaces of these paintings? First of all we see characters which through their southern faces (meaning they come from an enclave of cultural backwardness, solitude, abandonment, and mal-nutrition) who evidently have adapted to the mediocrity of their daily lives – in the horizon of which an incest can always take place – but despite all these problems they try to keep a positive attitude towards life, even if still losing beautifully. It is like this that we find ourselves "face to face" with: brides veiled in white like Easter eggs; children (always with ribbons in their hair for "beauty's sake") well washed and ironed but dressed up like little men and women never grown, or perhaps done up in "sailor suits" ( as was probably fashionable amongst the local village nobles), or maybe wrapped up in black aprons surrounding a "nice" teacher or again with mean nuns as "capòs". We find women donning party dresses with fox fur around their necks, and soft or ridged purses in their hands; young men with handkerchiefs in their pockets and their shoes falling to pieces; local football teams with numbers on their trousers, short socks, white undershirts, curly hair, and uselessly hairy legs. They all, or almost all of them, fit the stereotype that who is ugly is also wicked or stupid.
In this group of works every subject seems to be proud and pleased of his or her Sunday best [...] The clothes in fact signify the world, its history, its geography, its nature, its art, but the protective value of the clothes hands over, in this case, something symbolically distinctive. Despite the artificialness of the dress code it is one of the biological tracts of the human race, and it has profound connections with the animal kingdom. This transformation of a simple clothing order now becomes a system of signs that define a social hierarchy, which the naked body alone could never express. But what jumps in front of ones eyes about Matarazzo's research is his partiality above all else towards faces. Many philosophers have written that all the world is visible in faces, and that these faces open up ones consciousness to the world. After all a face is like a thin screen, transparent in two senses: spiritual and material. Matarazzo is aware that a face is like a window, through which one can gaze inside. He therefore interprets it as a game of shadows and light which does not only make it inexpressive or motionless in appearance, but on the other hand, can relay to us the results of metamorphic processes which next to, or in it, they move, collide, or live. On the faces we sometimes become aware of the presence of a mask. It is meant as a double face, "masking" the disasters of an era that in the name of progress deliberately renounces itself to the sense of the tragic, and consequently the union of existing and living.
There is no doubt that the true sense of these works is to be understood in the looks and in the way we glance, inside "the seeing" and "being seen". The artist, thanks to this thought, weaves between himself and the "subject" (returning as the central figure) an extremely wide conceptual web, light and at the same time resistant, swaying between the reality of the photograph and the reality of the painting. In other words what is the one looking at us from the canvas really watching? And in what measure is he looked at by the artist and then by us? Is what he sees what he lives? Is what he lives and sees also what he knows?
For now, let these thoughts be. The photographs that inspired these works introduce us to the problem of a form, albeit no longer a well known form, but nonetheless is something indefinite and mysteriously indecipherable, even if it forcefully imposes on us the problem of identity. In regards to this Lacan wrote: "... I want to say and Maurice Merleau-Ponty confirms it, that we as human beings are entities that are constantly being looked at upon the world stage. Whatever it is that makes us conscience, contemporarily institutes us as speculum mundi". In Matarazzo's case the eye that looks, and in particular the eye of consciousness does not exercise its real capacity of seeing onto neutral objects, it rests on objects which have already been looked at by a mechanical eye. The artist takes on a rather difficult task, this task being the intensification of the mystery that lies behind the photographic form. He then makes these images and forms even more shocking, without touching upon expressionism, that perhaps by chance, manifest and take witness of the wounds that still rein in the world (it is enough in this case to think about the images of the desperate in the middle east) and to then return them to their fragmented truths . There is no doubt that every time Matarazzo gives a form to reality (rather then petrifying it into an idea), every time he unites the real and the ideal, and by also adding "the subjective pathos" (which emotionally moves his intellectual and practical conduct), he poses himself inside a sane contradiction.
As the video entitled The Fable which accompanies this work shows us, the absence of the place being underlined by the photograph and the work itself, is what allows us to grasp the space in all its extensions and to understand its specific reality. All now becomes "novel", a complex reconfiguration of the artist's experiences in the fields of cinema and painting. In these fields strong metaphors, full of meaning, are the most important ingredient; while the images interlace with each other they melt together. They then return carrying tracts of an experience of time which is "different" from the articulate but "closed" from the past. The dimension of waiting, tradition, and the immense force of the present are kept together by the plural characters of their narration. The present in this perspective becomes a "form" of transition that moves in between the future and the past. But it is the look that permits us to notice differences and complexities, without ever destroying them. Art turns the infinite into a "finished image", in which the subject is inside bodies, like an actor on the stage. Maybe, we could conclude that the reality is not a plan of solidity, it is the extreme, it is a border.
(extraction of a text published in the catalogue A.Matarazzo: Testimoni per caso, Studio Vigato editions, Alessandria 2003)