Bruno Di Marino, Bianco-Valente, Art as Science-Fiction, 2007
Video is lightweight by definition. Fluid, immediate, liquid yet simultaneously airy, it is a medium in which the transfer from analogue to digital sees even further dematerialization in the creation of an electronic image which, in the end, is nothing more than an algorithmic process, a question of pure memory.
Yet in the work of Bianco and Valente, this type of image – be it static (generated by a graphic plotter on canvas) or moving (video) - brings together the natural and the mental, the external and interior, to the point that it is unclear whether the image represented is of an external world, deformed and translated into pixels and bits as if it were a metaphor of our brain, or of our cerebral apparatus expanding to such an extent that it filters, conditions and even transforms the surrounding reality.
There are many inevitable similarities between electronic circuits and neuronal systems, although there is no question that the two Neapolitan artists, Giovanna Bianco and Pino Valente, consider the brain to be the far more powerful device. Many of their works are distinguished by key words such as “brain” or “mind” and by adjectives such as “altered”, “soft” or “deep”; words which remind the viewers of their works that the cortical abyss into which they are about to plunge may be soft but is nevertheless unfathomable, may be seductive but is also dangerous.
The titles of Bianco-Valente’s videos and photos are often interchangeable and, indeed, all rotate around the same obsessions; fixations which, even years later, are unwittingly presented once again before the lens, all be they transformed and regenerated in form. Could the subliminal succession of children’s faces reciting a nursery rhyme in the second fragment of Mind Landscapes (1996) refer to the ghostly schoolchildren which once populated the abandoned classroom of Deep Blue Ocean of Emptiness (2002), sounded out in the video plane-sequence like an underwater wreck? We will never know. Not even Bianco-Valente know. Nevertheless time has led to the casual creation of a narrative – even a mnemonic - short circuit.
Emotions, anxieties, suggestions of a legendary ancestral past which the two artists can only imagine. Perhaps of a past which is entirely invented, an element of an artificial memory installed in an android body (Blade Runner) or transferred from one grey matter to another (Strange Days).
It is funny, perhaps even misleading, to think of Bianco and Valente as exponents of an “artistic-science-fictional” genre. Nestled among the rooftops of a working class area of Naples, their lives could not be more “analogical”. Yet although their studio overlooks an immense Baroque cupola, their artistic vision explores an imagery which is as complex as it is essential, as hidden as it is clear, as deformed as it is defined and as psychedelic as it is minimal. The imagery of Bianco-Valente oscillates between the infinitely big and the infinitely small.
As far as the infinitely big is concerned, their macroimages – generated using graphic plotters or Lamda photographic printing techniques – such as Temporary (2000), Deep Blue Ocean of Emptiness (2002), I Should Learn From You (2003) and Natural Warmness (2004) see human figures walking through natural environments surrounded by man-made architecture or electric shadows silhouetted against fluorescent chromatic backgrounds. Who or what is hidden behind these blurred smudges? Automatons, ghosts, aliens? Generally speaking the beings represented in these photos and videos have no faces; they are mysterious entities traversing natural urban spaces, nocturnal “animals” captured in a moment of flight (as in Deep in My Mind, 1997, a video in which our most subconscious fears are materialized in luminous reverberations) or, more simply, infinite series of infinitely repeated automatic gestures (as in Cloud System, 2004). Bianco and Valente's video camera sinuously cuts a path through a series of corn fields, fields of daisies and other lysergic or prismatic landscapes, filmed with infrared technology or using red, blue or green filters to exalt the three basic colours of the RBG video image. Nevertheless, lately Bianco-Valente have taken to adding other shades to their aesthetic spectrum: pinks, oranges and violets.
With regard to their interpretation of the infinitely small, their microimages – such as Giostrina Triste (1996), a video projected onto a small frosted glass screen, or Untitled (1998-2000), an electronic postage stamp-sized screen, permanently installed against the stone walls of Palazzo delle Papesse in Siena – do not focus the attention so much on the dimension of the work as on the size of the subject matter. Indeed, the two artists have a predilection for microrganic visions, (re)animated by sonant beats, vibrations or electric discharges, naturally pulsating abstractions which echo the instable fabric of the pixel. Yet both the dimension of the work and the size of the subject matter are minimal units of sense, all be they vital the former and iconic the latter.
Bianco and Valente’s interest in biological and neuronal sciences often mixes with a penchant for random processes and natural cycles - such as in Uneuclidean Pattern (2003) in which the symbol of the wheat blown by the wind alludes to the cycle of life - although the concepts of temporality and seriality are always reinforced by the presence of a scanning line and by the loop device via which the video is transmitted. Bianco-Valente also counter the stubborn refusal of orthodox science to explain natural phenomena via any other method than mathematical formulae, its insistence on decomposing complex problems into simpler subproblems, by focusing on the method of simulation, a science which studies complexity through pre-modern scientific means and the knowledge of a time when astrology – the art relating the position of the planets to earthly events – was considered as much a science as astronomy.
Of course, the forms in which the aesthetics of Bianco-Valente are expressed are also extremely important. Indeed, the way in which we access their work changes radically according to whether we are presented with a single-channel video, an installation, a video-opera such as Self Organizing Structures (2003) (the result of their work together with Mass, the electronic musician who created the sound elements of many of their recent works) or a permanent light box installation in an underground railway station in Naples (a site specific work whose location demonstrates that, even when printed - and thus static - Bianco and Valente’s digital images are always kinetic as they are viewed by a moving audience, i.e. the passengers using the escalator in the underground railway station).
Bianco-Valente’s research into the progressive changes of mental state (and strata) generated by the assumption of chemical and synthetic substances has led their work to be compared to the audiovisual experiments of the pioneers of expanded cinema. I refer, of course, to such analogical alchemists as James Whitney and Jordan Belson and their manipulation of light and colour to create abstract kinetic representations of psychic and spiritual journeys, although it is clear that these artists were forced to base their work on personal experiences as a result of their isolation and dedication to oriental disciplines.
As far as I know, Bianco and Valente do not use psychotropic substances, nevertheless they are personally involved in the problems presented by their art. For example, in 2001 they embarked upon RSM, a project focusing on travel and astral influences with the aim of personally verifying the truth of an ancient astrological-astronomical theory, recoded in the 1970s by Ciro Discepolo, a scholar who postulates annual cycles to which every living organism is linked and the idea that by moving around the earth on the renewal of each of these cycles it is possible to influence future events.
Although not yet fully formalized, the RSM project has already inspired many works (such as Relational Domain, 2005, a video installation based on two corner projections which alludes to the subtle bond between all things visible and invisible). Yet, more than just intimate performances whose purpose remains hidden from their audience, Bianco-Valente’s journeys are spiritual exercises aimed at drawing both physical and mental maps of the relationship between place and destiny. Carefully planned to coincide with their birthdays, the trips are organized on the basis of elaborate calculations generated by a software designed to track the movements of the heavenly bodies with a view to reaching a precise geographic point of reference, the place in which it is easiest to receive the desired astral influences. Often leading to the most far-flung and impervious places on earth, Bianco-Valente’s journeys are nevertheless necessary elements of their art, journeys which cannot be postponed.
How can such an awareness of everyday life – the interactions undertaken in a relational domain and the consequent equivalents established between the mind and the universe, between the senses and destiny - fail to orient the work (and the soul) of an artist? How can it fail to transform his or her spatial-temporal perspective? How can the fatigue of travelling to remote places with a view to comparing his or her life with different realities and meeting people with a different perception of time, fail to change an artist’s parameters, models and means of representation? Tempo Universale (2007), a video installation based on three large projections, is Bianco-Valente’s answer to this type of question: the moving image of the tree seen from the bottom up as its stands out against the sky at twilight is a metaphoric reference to the concept of ramification and the correspondence between celestial writing and earthly experience. Yet this work also underlines the extent to which human beings are englobed in a system of visible and invisible relations: despite the fact that we live at different latitudes, we are all able to share the same sky and we can all try – via devices such as the short wave radio – to share the same time.
The sounds which accompany Tempo Universale’s obsessive scrutiny of the sky in search of signs and planets are generated through the use of short wave radios, the use of a type of transmission which ricochets around the world as a result of “ionospheric reflection”. Furthermore, in order to reproduce the idea of temporal simultaneity, Bianco and Valente have designed a sound device composed of ten Dolby surround channels and ten ceiling-mounted speakers. The installation is thus a pretext which enables the spectator to participate in a global experience of objective time. Yet doesn’t the chance to perceive the sounds of the world without moving from a given place, a point from which to observe all the places of the planet simultaneously, remind us of Borges’ The Aleph? The future works of Bianco-Valente will undoubtedly develop this line further. Indeed, the artists’ awareness of being constantly enveloped by electromagnetic waves (natural and man-made) has encouraged them to consider both the idea of transforming the human body into an antenna synchronized to all the resonances of the world and the possibility of creating a helical chain of human beings by which to capture radio signals from other planets such as Jupiter.
Despite the fact that every image and every sound created by Bianco and Valente is the result of advanced scientific and aesthetic reflection, their approach is nevertheless warm and welcoming. Indeed, it is not necessary to understand the scientific theories which generate their work in order to understand the work itself, suffice is the ability to be moved to the point of sinking into the deep blue ocean of the memory and of vibrating in unison with the sounds of the universe.
Taken from Bianco-Valente, Meu mundo é hoje, ed. VM21 artecontemporanea, Roma, 2007