(by Elena Magini)
Keen explorers, through their work, of universal themes such as the relationship between body and mind, between story and perception, Bianco-Valente have designed a site-specific environmental installation for the Palazzo Strozzi Contemporaneo cycle entitled You Are Here, an artwork reflecting on the unique nature of experience and symbolising the dynamic of choice and the pressures and influences that determine that choice.
Personal experience takes pride of place in the research of these two Neapolitan artists, whose prolific thought is given concrete shape in both monumental installations and delicate operations that record and reproduce the relational dynamic. The installation devised for Palazzo Strozzi continues in the vein of experimental work conducted by Bianco-Valente over the past few years: the unique environment of a Renaissance courtyard, an area with a strong architectural connotation that is also “marked” by the daily activities it hosts, becomes the next step in a project based on recurrence, assonance, resumption and rediscovery.
In You Are Here, Bianco-Valente endeavour to depict and to explore the dynamics triggered by our “being here” through the construction of an immersive, stratified environment. The installation comprises a large mirror in the centre of the Courtyard and a diagram on the ground shaped by lights projected from above.
This large reflecting surface bears the legend “You Are Here” on both sides: a direct, simple and instantly identifiable statement echoing the words found on maps in cities or inside buildings. The sensory level that reacts to these words, which are commonly associated with tourist information panels and maps for finding one’s way around (thus, spatial and cognitive skills acquired through experience) is here contradicted yet, at the same time, expanded by its uncustomary positioning. Language here is no longer a functional tool or an informative code but a device capable of conveying essentially cerebral considerations linked to the complexity of reality and of its perception: observers are prompted to ask themselves questions regarding the meaning of the words, to redirect those words’ significance by associating them with the image of themselves that they see on the reflecting surface.
The relationship of continuity between the visual plane and the iconic plane of the words imparts visibility to the experience reproduced by the reflecting surface (the presence of the observer in a given here and now) while simultaneously evoking an earlier, ongoing dimension. The words are a direct reference to the audience, and indeed to anyone simply passing through the Palazzo Strozzi Courtyard: reproduced in the virtual image in the mirror, observers become aware of the transitory nature of their position in time and space. The installation also alters people’s customary perception of the Courtyard by changing its spatial nature in a game of continuity and reflection between the portico and the doorways, while at the same time enhancing its Renaissance features by inserting an optical device which echoes and reproduces its symmetrical, mirror-image architecture.
Bianco-Valente have always interpreted personal and collective stories as a network linking places, people and things, as a connecting fabric which redefines the environment around us and which is defined by that environment in its turn. This process of action and reaction is mirrored in the light traced out on the ground, where the image, though insubstantial, clearly highlights the Courtyard’s architecture, while its lines are altered in their turn by the transit of observers involved and absorbed inside the projection surface. The diagram on the ground becomes an abstract and symbolic visualisation of the personal pathways, choices and events that populate our existence and shape our fate, a condition already evoked by the mirror. The gridwork of unbroken, intersecting lines spawns a kind of alternative geography of the Courtyard no longer associated with its mere spatial dimension but now endowed also with a temporal dimension made of stratification, connection, acceleration and movement.
Shunning the deterministic conception of reality, the artists interpret the development of mankind as the product of happenstance, of encounters, of choices, of errors and of influences. The complexity of individual experience is impossible to determine or to circumscribe, but You Are Here endeavours to provide a depiction of that experience that is at once symbolic and aesthetic. In embracing the many aspects of an exhibition space which has a social function but which is also a place of transit, Bianco-Valente have produced a mental environment that accompanies the observer into a composite linguistic and sensory communication capable of shifting people’s reflection on the complex nature of reality from an intimate, private level to the level of a public and potentially shared experience.
The critic text by Elena Magini, here published with the original title, accompanies the project «You are Here» signed by Bianco-Valente and curated by Elena Magini herself for the courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi Foundation (Palazzo Strozzi, Florence), within the project Palazzo Strozzi Strozzi Contemporary CCC – Foundation (Florence, Italy), visible to the public in the courtyard of the Foundation until January 25, 2015.
Images(all) Bianco-Valente, «Tu sei qui», Palazzo Strozzi’s courtyard, 2014, photo by Martino Margheri.