How could it be denied that these hands or this whole body are mine? Unless perhaps I were to liken myself to madmen, whose brains are so damaged by the persistent vapours of melancholia that they firmly maintain they are kings when they are paupers, or say they are dressed in purple when they are naked; or that their heads are made of earthenware …or made of glass. (René Descartes, Discourse on the Method)
And how many times do dreams and wakefulness blend together since I seem to possess both «dimensions», the same certainty of my body and things beyond my control? Could it be that an evil genius tricks me so that what is real appears to be false and what is false appears to be real? That everything is or could be pretense?
These Cartesian questions, which the French philosopher consistently answered promptly through the formulation of a method aided by mathematics and geometry that unfailingly and clearly lead reason towards the “righteous path” of knowledge, seem to contemplate other solutions nowadays through the increasingly astonishing results obtained by computer graphics.
It is exactly through precise mathematical calculations that everything could be a pretense by resorting to 3D rendering techniques which simulate reality to perfection, without necessarily implicating an ability to grasp or reveal the artifice. In this case, we have the photorealistic rendering of bona fide virtual objects that must be recreated in observance of the principles of physics, covered with a texture that simulates authentic building materials until they can be effective.
Proof of this are the many credible and convincing results obtained in a variety of practical sectors such as interior and exterior design – whether they are real spaces or simply virtual reality – or its use in the fields of moviemaking, set design or even art.
Reality and pretense are fused, blurred to the point that they are lost or can induce us to hypothesize infinite possible times, to actually believe apocalyptic scenarios to be true (running parallel to the truth) or at least believe that these scenes were shot by a crew of professionals. Such a short-circuit of perception is the one sought by Mariagrazia Pontorno who has been using these technologies in her work for over ten years: videos with a pictorial structure whose imperceptible movements recall the use of sophisticated 3D techniques for the design of the subjects; installations completely designed and created digitally: video-installations that fit in perfectly with real architectural monuments, animating them with solitary trees, uprooted flowers and flourishing gardens. The artist’s solo exhibit hosted at the Noesi Studio Carrieri Foundation is the ideal occasion to get a close-up look at works whose development of artistic-poetic technique and research are in perfect balance. Four theme-related cycles are on display, including a video-animation entitled Roots and the nerve centre from which everything is set into motion. The work is a jab at the artificial nature of Central Park, an area where the humanized and technological environment offers spectators the disastrous effects of that natural and cultural extirpation in which humanity is both player and victim. In fact, the video displays flowers and trees at first. It is not until the second part that we see also skyscrapers being uprooted by strong winds and evoked by threatening sounds. Wind and eradication are co-protagonists in other works like La Villetta degli Ulivi (The Villa of the Olive Trees) and Il Cedro dei Cieli (The Cedar of the Skies). Both on exhibit at the Foundation, these series of works are composed of posters, photographs and videos for La Villetta degli Ulivi, an autobiographical work in which the artist recalls the games of her childhood where she is received and protected by an olive tree that is centuries old and ends up climbing it in her adult years; rendering prints on acetate paper and video-animations make up Il Cedro dei Cieli, in which a solitary cedar tree is lifted from the ground to undertake a journey without a destination.
Once again, the wind assumes a central role in I Cieli di Roma (The Skies over Rome), a work in which news becomes an input for a reflection upon the present while offering the opportunity to view another scenario. This scenario features Pope Benedict XVI as he takes off in a helicopter hovering above today’s Rome (the MAXXI, the Auditorium and the Ara Pacis), heading off to another reality in space – dissolving into the darkness of a solar eclipse. A close look reveals the perfect replica of a helicopter flying away into cyberspace, allowing spectators to discern between reality and the virtual world only at certain moments indicated by Pontorno, due to the fact that archived coverage of the historical event is edited into the video filmed by the artist with a drone and combined with some entirely digitally-constructed images.
The evanescent boundary between real and artificial subtends to another issue: the relationship between visible and invisible – the scales tipping in favour of the latter. Far from any prejudice or metaphysical interest, the visible is what is offered to the spectator’s gaze, the invisible – which accounts for Pontorno’s inevitable tipping of the scales towards this term – is the hidden technology which makes every artifice possible. A work tool, it is also substantia or the ontological base. When interpreted poetically, technological invisibility in these works is transformed into an all-encompassing and powerful wind that (like technè) is omnipotent: it moves, eradicates and supports…thanks to this, Pontorno’s voyage will never end.
Mariagrazia Pontorno, Fondazione Noesi Studio Carrieri, Palazzo Barnaba, Martina Franca, Italy, Until Juky 26, 2015
Images (cover) Mariagrazia Pontorno, I Cieli di Roma, 2015, still frame, videoanimazione/videoanimation, 4’ (1) Mariagrazia Pontorno, La Villetta degli Ulivi_Tra i rami#1, 2015, 3d/3d image print on fine art paper print, cm 120 x 55 (2) Mariagrazia Pontorno, La Villetta degli Ulivi Play, 2015, still frame, video full HD/full HD video, 2’ (3 – 4 – 5- 6) Mariagrazia Pontorno, I Cieli di Roma, 2015, still frame, videoanimation, 4’