Helga Marsala, In the footstep of Calvino. The invisible maps of Bianco-Valente, 2008
“The simplest form for a geographical map is not that which seems most natural to us today, that being a map which represents the surface of the earth as seen from the heavens.
The main reason for fixing places onto paper is tied to journeys: it is a reminder of the succession of stages, the trace of a route. As such it is a linear image, such as would be represented in a long roll of paper”(1). Thus Italo Calvino, in his Collezioni di sabbia, outlined aprecise concept of cartography: the most authentic type of map is not that we are used to seeing in books andatlases, two-dimensional with a bird’s eye view laid out across the page, offering us a panoptical reading.
Theprimordial map, the most intimate and concrete, is tied to the dimension which is experienced on a journey. It is bornfrom a shift in subjectivity which faces forward, unfurling a progressive line, open to thousands of possibledirections. In this way the map is created progressively, one step after another, collecting together gazes, paths,details and personal viewpoints. The map is written slowly and from within, going beyond the things we see or theroads we travel, starting from the body which is embodied and drawn in the movement.
The dimension of travel iscentral to the research of the Neapolitan duo Bianco-Valente, who have based their creative explorations on theidea of maps and movement. Travelling becomes a real experience of corporeal, perceptive and imaginative writing:a way of determining their own “feeling” each time, modifying themselves in relationship to the energies gatheredin the places. The artists become antennae, epidermal and neuronal radars able to tune into multiple geographicvariables encountered on each stage of the journey.
The mapping of their own identity changes according to spatialand temporal coordinates, mnemonic accumulations and psycho-physical alterations. Since 2001 Giovanna Biancoand Pino Valente have been working on an ambitious project, which may not in the end assume a form whichcontains it or makes it an “artwork”.
With RSM the two artists are trying to change their destiny by travelling todifferent places according to complex astronomical calculations. This is not strictly speaking a project, but ratherm an open process. Behind it is a theory formulated in the 1970’s by a Neapolitan astrologist, Ciro Discepolo, whowas inspired by the studies of a number of medieval scholars of Solar Revolution.
The idea is that one can influenceone’s own existence by studying the zodiac and organising international journeys on the day of one’s astral birthdayaccording to the position of celestial bodies.
If the astrological photograph of the heavens on one’s birthday isresponsible for the events of the following year, then, thanks to terrestrial rotation, moving to another point on theglobe will give a different image. In this way it would be possible to monitor the influence the planets have on ourlives, drawing a focused Solar Revolution. Determined to test Discepolo’s theory, Bianco-Valente have alreadyvisited Canada, Siberia, Yucatan, Russia, Labrador, Brazil, the Azores, India, Corfu, Morocco and Australia… notseeking tourist locations, but ones which are compatible in astrological terms with the best possible arrangementof the heavens.
The celestial and terrestrial routes run parallel, absurdly crossing each other infinitely, at a pointwhere apparently distant dimensions become part of a single universal plan. These brave refractions between mapsand heterogeneous natural schemes characterise the poetics of the two artists.
Geographical maps, astrologicalmaps, cerebral, biological and emotional maps come together at the root of originating structures from extendedsubstance, following processes of combination and abstraction. In Collezioni di sabbia Calvino, in relation to thecatalogue published in 1980 for the exhibition in Paris Cartes et figure de la terre (Centre Pompidou), also writes:“In an essay in the publication, François Whale notes how the representation of the terrestrial globe did not begin until the coordinates used to represent the heavens were also used to represent the earth.
The celestial parameters (polar axis, equatorial plane, meridians and parallels) have their points of convergence in the terrestrial sphere, or rather the centre of the universe (the most fertile mistake of all)”(2). Calvino goes on to say that amongst the manywonders in the exhibition two pieces stand out. These were two spheres with a diameter of 12 meters - a celestialand a terrestrial globe- commissioned by Louis XIV. One represented “the firmament as it was the day of the birth of the Roi Soliel, with all the zodiacal allegories painted in tones of sky blue”(3), whilst the other was crammed withfigures and inscriptions “with the news passed on by explorers and missionaries which bridge the gaps where the form of places is still unclear”(4).
The two objects become an effective emblem of the atavistic correspondencebetween celestial and terrestrial routes, between astrology and geography, between telescopic observation andnomadic existence. But the writer’s considerations continue, drawing a line which goes from the earth to theheavens before returning to the human mind: “on the one hand the description of the earth refers to a description of the heavens and the cosmos, on the other it refers to its own internal geography”(5). An interesting example of therelationship between cartographic frenzy and psychic exploration is that of Opicinus De Canistris, a visionarypriest from the fourteenth century who drew hundreds of maps of the Mediterranean, obsessed by the need tointerpret their meaning.
Within the maps he added human figures, animals, angels, monsters, theological allegories,sexual images, comments about life and predictions about the fate of the world. Calvino stated: “an incredible example of art brut and cartographic folly, Opicinus simply projected his own interior world on the map of the earth and the seas”(6).
Italo Calvino was always fond of the concepts of maps, mazes and networks, and his wonderfulwriting seems to suggest a trajectory which applies perfectly to the work of Bianco-Valente. The artwork Relational Domain (2005) is a perfect example of this.
The ultramarine blue of the large video installation is woven across byimaginary aeronautic routes, their connecting nodes indicated by luminous points like stars and strange five-letternames. The trajectories of light, which carve across the heavens, recall articulated cerebral maps where a myriadof synapses weave together immaterial paths, responsible for perception, mental images, memories, emotions andlogical intuitions.
The mental map overlays the celestial map with a symmetry between constellations and neuralimpulses. The idea of interconnection between elements of a system recurs in many other works. It is particularlypresent in the new installation shown at the Galleria Contemporaneo in Mestre for the exhibition Alfabeto Esteso (extended alphabet), The effort to recompose my complexity.
This is a structure of geometric patterns whichreproduce subtle networks (arboreal or vascular), linked together with linear connections: a synthetic representationof the inexhaustible possibility of multiplying streets, trajectories, access routes, ramifications.
Bianco-Valente’smaps are ephemeral, invisible schematics which are responsible for cerebral activity as well as the functioning ofbio-chemical, cosmological, mathematic and social systems. The combinatory technique opens itself to the infinitepower of entropic energy. In his wonderful essay L’occhio di Calvino, Marco Belpoliti notes that at a certain momentin Calvino’s poetics the figure of the network is substituted with that of the maze, accompanying and completingthat of the map.
The network, which was an image used since The Invisible Cities, is most of all a compositional,authorial model (“I made a multi-faceted structure, where each short text is close to the next in a succession which does not imply consequentiality of hierarchy, but rather a network within which one can trace multiple routes and come to plural and branching conclusions”(7)…), but it is also a narrative figure: the catalogue of Gran Khan, theconceptual fulcrum of the novel, is an incredible map which includes even the tiniest detail of every city in theempire, including those which are utopias and those without form.
Belpoliti states: “the map of ‘The Invisible Cities’ is a network of the possible and the impossible - dream, vision, utopia, imagination - a combinatory game, but also the plot of the world.
From ‘The Invisible Cities’ onwards the network was the visual metaphor which Calvino used in seeking to capture the world. A world which wriggled beneath his gaze, impossible to catch”(8). Inthis way, returning to a model which was prevalent in the aesthetics, theoretical approach and epistemology of thetwentieth century, Bianco-Valente record the emergence of the possible and the impossible within concreteprocess-based experiences, defined through mathematical games, geometric tessellations and numericalsequences. Paradoxically, a structure which is elaborated according to scientific and mathematical rules (anartwork, a novel, an intelligent machine, a piece of music) can never be traced out with univocal routes. There willbe multiple and simultaneous directions. In this way the spasmodic attempt to grasp the meaning of things, todecode the world through maps and networks becomes a utopian and fruitful operation at the point where thestone-like thoroughness of rationality crosses over into the chaos of the imagination. Accidents, errors and surprisesbecome the soul of an eccentric, multi-directional dynamism in the unstable fabric of the universe. “Science seeks to define the world through mathematics, but numbers are not enough to define everything… there are too many variables.
You would need an extended alphabet to give a name to intuitions and realities which cannot be explained”(9) state Bianco-Valente, considering the essence of a work built around the idea of interpretive frameworksand the inspiration of digital technology.
Making use of the languages of science, the two artists continue tohighlight the perpetual movement of the cosmos and matter. The mind responds to this in a way which is creative,multiple and unforeseeable: ranging from the project ALife, a simulation of artificial life where single-cell organismsevolve according to complex developmental models, Tempo Universale (2007), a dreamlike video projection wherethe branching of trees is drowned in a mass of short-wave radio sounds, to the installation Unità minima di senso (2002), which reflects on the attempt to make a machine decode the world through nodes of basic information.
Bianco-Valente’s “humanistic tecnology”(10) thus uses the grammar and ideas taken from scientific progress tounlock a visual power which is quite human and imperfect.
Dreams, the fantastic current, hallucinatory states andimages from the memory are the results of an investigative process on several levels, often somewhere betweencalculation and incantation, between illusion and disillusionment, between heaven and earth. Finding an “extendedalphabet” which is able to penetrate the world’s skin is the last of the illusions because, as Mr Palomar admits,“Only when you know the surface of something can you try to find what lies beneath. But the surface of things is unending”(11). Mr Palomar, the remarkable character created by Calvino, is afflicted by a need for analysis andknowledge.
At a certain point on his (fallacious) journey towards wisdom he understands that the universe is themirror of one’s own internal geography, and the “he will draw the diagram of the movement of his soul, he will draw from it formulas and theorems, he will point his telescope at the orbits traced during his own life instead of that of the life of the constellations”(12). And what will he find down there? Maybe incredible similarities between the abyssesof the soul and the geometries of space, between black holes in the mind and the calm light of the stars? Nothinglike it.
Opening his eyes he slips, fatally, into exactly the same everyday imperfection, the same daily swarming offaces and people, amongst well-known and irregular streets. It is here, in the middle of the maze of galaxies that theintimate reality of Mr Palomar flowers: “in the end, a starry sky sprays out intermittent lights like a mechanism whci his jammed which shivers and squeaks from all its unoiled joints, outposts of a tottering universe, contorted and restless like him”(13).
Imperfect skies reflect inside restless souls, and vice versa. Whilst they endlessly evaporateand recompose sequences of numbers and letters falling into an infinite syntactic vertigo.
1 Italo Calvino, Collezione di Sabbia, Mondadori, Milan, 2002, pg. 21.
2 Ivi, pg. 23 .
3 Ivi, pg. 24.
5 Ivi, pg. 27.
6 Ivi, pg. 28.
7 Italo Calvino, Lezioni Americane, Mondadori, Milan, 2002, pg. 80.
8 Marco Belpoliti, L’occhio di Calvino, Einaudi, Turin, 2006, pg. 16.
9 Bianco-Valente, conversation with the artists, February 2008.
10 Gigiotto Del Vecchio, Bianco-Valente, tra Newton e Cartesio, in “Bianco-Valente, Meu mundo è hoje”, edizioni, V.M.21 Arte Contemporanea, Naples, 2007.
11 Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, Mondadori, Milan, 2002, pg. 57.
12 Ivi, pg. 118.
13 Ivi, pg. 119.
Taken from Alfabeto Esteso, Bianco-Valente, Dario De bastiani Editore, Vittorio Veneto (TV), 2008