Bruno Di Marino, From Simulation to Relation, 2008
If in the past the relationship between art and science manifested itself through a system of symbolic – cosmic (astrology) and spiritual (alchemy) equivalences – from the 20th century onward, the process of aesthetic elaboration in relation to the scientific imagination assumed other connotations: for example, the reflection on nature and artifice went even further, evolving into a challenge between the real and the virtual, where the virtual often totally replaced the real; the 18th-century myth of the machine replacing man was inverted, and man (the artist) was transformed into a machine through prostheses, extensions, and digital interfaces. Not to mention the evolution of neurosciences, that have opened up incredible horizons to the world of art: just think of the relationship between the processes that form interior images, changing states of consciousness, and the creation of abstract compositions, from painting to the structural cinema of electronic arts.
In ancient times, the work of art was a reflection, a translation of scientific knowledge into symbolic images. Today – with onset of the duty/ability to use new technologies – creation in itself has become a science. The artistic device coincides with the scientific one. The observation of the laws that regulate physics or chemistry, transposed within aesthetic horizons, are the source of methodological, conceptual, and formal inspiration.
The work of Bianco-Valente fits neatly into the category of ancient tradition, where art becomes metaphor, but also an account or critical illustration of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, Bianco-Valente contrast the methodology of simulation with orthodox science, the discipline that studies complexity with the discipline that persists in explaining natural phenomena exclusively through mathematical formulas and breaking down a complex problem into easier sub-problems. The contrast is achieved by reconnecting directly to a pre-modern knowledge - to a time when astrology, the art of drawing relationships between the position of the planets in the heavens and events on earth, was considered a science. But at the same time, their works are classified as a paradigm of a new structural relationship of exchange between the representation and functioning of thought. However, in net contrast to other contemporary artists, this Neapolitan duo constructs “volatile”, fluid, mnemonic, and immaterial images that are, above all, emotional; in other words, they succeed in transmitting a diffuse aesthetic, psycho-physical sense of well-being to the spectator even before they speak to his brain.
The installations in this personal show, together with the other works not present, should be interpreted as many chapters in the gradual evolution of their artistic activity, not towards an aesthetization of science, but rather towards a “scientification of art” that can be synthesized in a few fundamental concepts that cannot, for obvious reasons, be ordered chronologically:
a) simulation ( Breathless , Volatile )
b) alteration ( Altered State , Slow Brain )
c) narration ( Deep Blue Ocean of Emptiness , Aria , Untitled )
d) repetition ( Uneuclidean Pattern , I Should Learn from You )
e) relation ( Relational Domain , Tempo universale )
The ratio of exchange between machine and man, between the electronic device and the poetic content, can be regulated as much by rules as by chance. Both Volatile and Breathless , as is also Machine is Dreaming , are installations focused on the process of simulation. In Volatile the artists programmed the computer to replicate the flight of a flock of birds (a frequent phenomenon even in large cities) via luminous light points, fixing some rules that regulate the formation process of the images: each light point must seek another two companions and move in relation to them, but without ever moving too close or too far away. The ornithological observation thereby becomes a model for an abstraction projected into space. Instead, both Breathless and Machine is Dreaming are audio installations: in the first the protagonist is the word (as voice, sound, timbre): a computer selects and reads in real time – through its microprocessor – poems written by both artists; but the imperfection and rawness of this synthetic voice, humanizes the machine more than it mechanizes the human voice; in the second installation, the computer must produce, through the elaboration of complicated mathematical calculations, a flat sound that resembles the sound of the sea on the shore. The consequence of these works is a total overlapping of the scientific device and the artistic one, or the representation of reciprocal simulation.
One peculiarity of Machine is Dreaming is that the motherboard of the computer rests on some mood-altering pills. This does not have definitive consequences on the status of the device, but is only a conceptual statement that does, however, reinforce the comparison between the electronic circuit of the machine and the neuronic one of man. In this way, the hardware, like a human being, is subject to alterations often caused by viruses. In Bianco-Valente's work, alteration is a concept strictly linked to that of simulation: the video installation entitled Slow Brain , for example, takes cerebral states altered while under the effects of psychotropic substances that act on the cerebral cortex, distorting the perception of reality, and translates them into images. This is also the theme of the video Altered State , which is consists totally of phrases from diaries belonging to the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann who – after having discovered LSD by chance – decided to experiment it on himself first, writing pages and pages of notes while under the effect of this substance. The result is a rapid, almost illegible lettering of words, thoughts, associations, a sort of extremely poetic hypertext in which science, visual arts, and literature converge. All in all, it actually does not differ much from the aesthetics of the fragment cut-up and reassembled theorized by a “psycho-writer” like William S. Burroughs.
For Bianco-Valente, it is impossible to speak of narration in the strict sense of the word, even if the adventures of the mind or the visualisation of altered states of consciousness are, in their own way, tales. It is evident that the mono-channel works – with their well-defined beginning and end, visible even as part of a video exhibition – represent the narrative attitude of the two artists better than the installations do. Just consider the classroom panned in slow-sequence by the video camera as if it were an underwater shipwreck in Deep Blue Ocean of Emptiness: it looks like the students just left this space the day before, while instead, judging from the style of the desks and chairs, at least a few decades must have passed. And – for those strange combinations that link the works of Bianco-Valente even decades later – isn't it possible that the children of the “ghost” class are the same who appeared singing a nursery rhyme in subliminal succession in the 1996 video entitled Mind Landscapes? We will never know for certain. Even the artists don't know, and yet it is fascinating to think that, with time, a narrative and even mnemonic short circuit has been randomly created.
“All of us would like to be transparent / but we don't want anyone to know us,” is the verse by Alda Merini that serves as the starting point of the very short video entitled Aria, originally conceived to be used on the display of portable Nokia telephones. The image of a moth fluttering about a brightly lit bulb, attracted by the light but repelled by its glass globe, symbolises the barrier between being and appearing, the desire to enter into contact and at the same time the fear of baring our true souls. Once again the work – which in this case is articulated through a minimally narrative form – is born of the observation of nature and the human psyche.
But it is the same device that gave birth to Aria, the micro-screen of a mobile phone, that illuminates us on another aspect of the poetry of Bianco-Valente, the reflection – which is also inferred from natural sciences – on the infinitely large and the infinitely small. So let us think of another work, Untitled , perhaps the oldest in the chronology. The electronic image shows us the outline of a person walking against an intense red background: upon closer inspection, it is one of the few humans to be seen in the installations of these two artists. But, is it truly human? And, is it really a presence or is it - as in other cases – a totally mental image? The video is included in the permanent collection of Palazzo delle Papesse in Siena and is displayed on a tiny monitor built into the rocky wall, a stamp-sized light that beckons to the spectator through total darkness (an immersive dimension in the purest sense of the word), much as the light bulb attracts the moth.
For Bianco-Valente, the electronic device can be exhibited, bared, dissected, and made visible in all its essential circuitry ( Breathless ), or hidden, camouflaged, or dematerialized ( Untitled ). Visible and invisible, like the title of this show. But in their works, the dimensions do not regard only the format of the images and supports, but also the dimensions of the subjects and their transparency. The two artists prefer using micro-organic visions to be (re)animated to the sound of beats, vibrations, or electrical shocks. Natural and pulsating abstractions that replicate the wavering fabric of the pixel. Both being minimal units of sense: the former are alive, while the latter are iconic.
Their interest in neurobiological sciences is mixed with an attraction for random processes, for natural cycles, like Uneuclidean Pattern , where the symbol of grain waving in the wind alludes to the life cycle; once again we run into the concept of simulation, together with the idea of temporality and seriality, reinforced by the scan line that appears in the image and the loop device used to transmit the video. And it is precisely this fourth concept of temporal repetition that is often a recurring element in the art of Bianco-Valente, giving form to many other videos, like in the installation I Should Learn from You.
How can the daily awareness of living, acting, operating in a relational domain with the consequential analogy that forms between mind and universe, sense and destiny, not possibly orient the work (as well as the soul) of the artist? How can it not transform his spatial-temporal perspective? Travelling off the beaten track, comparing realities different from ours, meeting people who experience a different perception of time: all this profoundly changes the parameters, models, and meanings of the representation.
In 2001, Bianco-Valente initiated the RSM project, linked to travels and astral influences, with the intention of using themselves to test the veracity of an ancient astrological/astronomical theory that was reworked during the 1970s by the scholar Ciro Discepolo, who hypothesized that the relationship between the annual cycles to which every living being is unavoidably linked and the possibility of moving over the earth's surface at the renewal of each cycle may influence future events. RSM has not yet been formalized as a work, but has already inspired many of their works, like Relational Domain ( 2005 ), an installation of two corner video projections, alluding to the fine thread that unites all things. The travels of Bianco-Valente are not merely real-time, private performances invisible to the public, but rather a sort of spiritual exercise aimed at tracing physical and mental maps, reflections on the relationship between location and destiny. For their birthdays, the two artists – after having carried out calculations via software that models the motion of heavenly bodies – travel to precise points on the Earth to obtain the desired astral influence. These are often impractical journeys towards destinations that are difficult, yet of the utmost necessity. Their arrival cannot be postponed.
Tempo universale (2007) is another video installation – this time articulated in three, large format projections – intended as an encounter with the relational dimension. The vision of moving trees shot from below as they dance against the twilight sky evokes the concept of ramification and correspondence between heavenly writings and earthly experience; but this work once again underlines the extent to which human beings are assimilated in a system of visible and invisible relations: even though we live at different latitudes, we share the same sky and attempt – through devices like the short-wave radio – to share the same time as well.
The sounds we hear in Tempo universale and that accompany this sort of obsessive observation of the sky to discover signs and planets are in fact generated by short-wave radios; this is a type of transmission that, thanks to ionospheric reflection, is capable of being diffused throughout the world. In order to give the sensation of temporal simultaneity, Bianco-Valente have designed an audio device with ten Dolby surround channels with another ten loudspeakers positioned on the ceiling. For the spectator, the installation becomes an opportunity to experience objective global time. Perceiving the sound of the world while standing still: doesn't it sound a bit like the aleph that Borges describes in his novel of the same name? One point from which all points on the planet can be observed contemporaneously.
This is the line that future works of Bianco-Valente continue to follow. The awareness of being enveloped always and everywhere by electromagnetic waves (whether natural or man-made) is pushing the two artists to transform their own bodies into antennae, so to speak, syntonizing them to resonate sympathetically with the forms of energy dispersed throughout the universe. In the same way, the creation of a spiralling chain of human beings makes it possible to capture natural electromagnetic emissions from other planets, like Jupiter for example.
From simulation to relation and vice-versa, like a vicious circle that endlessly repeats itself, passing through various stages (alteration, articulated narration, temporal repetition); this outline should not be taken as an absolute itinerary, but rather as one of the many interpretations of a cyclical exploration of the nature of things, a purely critical suggestion inspired by the concurrent viewing of the dozen or so installations present in this show.
Behind each image, behind each sound used by Bianco-Valente, lies a profound scientific reflection and a scrupulous aesthetic elaboration, but the approach remains essentially warm : in fact, in order to read and comprehend one of their works, it is not necessary to understand the scientific theories that inspired it. The capacity to abandon yourself to your emotions and let yourself be swallowed up by the deep blue ocean of memories, vibrating in unison with the voice of the cosmos should suffice.
Taken from visibile invisibile, Bianco-Valente Opere video e ambienti 1995-2008, SHINfactory, Brescia_Parigi, 2008