Pietro Gaglianò, The Human Condition, 2012
“Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live”
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition[i].
In her analysis of the human condition Hannah Arendt makes it clear that the principle reason for the intolerability of contemporary society (identified by her as mass society), lies not just in the sheer number of people which crowd it, so much as “the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them”.[ii] The social space – composed of verbal communication and shared signs, that extension that is at the same time physical and intangible and in which the specific qualities of a civilisation are defined – has degenerated into forms from which it is difficult to bring out those differences which make communication necessary, and even those communal traits that make it possible in any form. In the Internet age some terms of reference have changed – those of a technical nature and numeric scale – but the “world that lies between them” still does not include the ability to imagine the plurality of individuals consciously active in the creation of the public sphere.
Across centuries and cultures the visualisation of the dimension in which this collective participation is (or should be) created always corresponds to the idea of a surface which hosts a network of passages, whether this is the agora of Greek civilization or the Web[iii]: a map, a graphical synthesis of a concrete or virtual space which may involve a sizeable group of interlocutors and any communication structure. Giovanna Bianco and Pino Valente experiment with a possible interpretation of this representation, understanding the content which conceptually generates the map (its intellectual value) as both a constitutive and graphical element of itself. Moreover, the processes and outcome of the projectConstellations Of Me raise a series of questions about the sense and meaning of these maps, effectively implementing them as “an operational practice which on the one hand excavates, finds and displays, and on the other generates constructive relationships”[iv]. The artists’ explicit reference to the theoretical universe of Gregory Bateson restores the demiurgic and creative dimension which is part of any cartographic procedure: the capacity to describe (functionally) a material or immaterial territory, but also to invent it (exactly in the sense which resides in the etymology of this term, from the Latin ‘invenire’ which is translated as ‘discover’, ‘find’).”
The Constellations of Bianco-Valente signal something which has already occurred (the exchange of contents and contacts between diverse subjects and their times), but, principally, they show the complex plot of the trajectories through which these relationships occur and the latent linkages between the different interlocutors. The formal specificity of the Constellations is not reducible to an indication of reading, but concerns the possibilities opened up by emersion in this network. No map is neutral and no map is ever definitive; in fact, beyond the intrinsic transformation of the surfaces translated by the form of representation, it is crucial to remember exactly the new dimension through which one perceives the surfaces with meanings added, or revealed, by the cartographic system.
Thus the Constellations expresssomething objective but they inevitably bind it to subjective experience, as is declared in the very title of the work; the reference to the author, ‘me’, suggests two paraphrases: the most direct refers to belonging and announces the constellation as mise en scene of the relational network that includes me and of which I am the principal subject; the second instead declares the point of view: the constellation that I see, the one that I alone can trace because I emit it as the point of origin. This takes us back to the formal specificity of the Constellations, which seem to strive for the starkest clarity. The limit of every cartographic instrument lies in the possibility of decodifying it, of sharing its key, that is of access to the information it contains – “That the world is my world, shows itself in the fact that the limits of the language (the language which only I understand) mean the limits of my world” wrote Wittgenstein in Tractatus[v]. Bianco-Valente simplify as much as possible the necessary codes and so highlight the overall aspect: the rhizomatic nature of the bonds between people, which is proposed as a concept (that is, the constellation) even in its own existence.
Mark Lombardi called their graphical representations of relationships between powers (political, financial, and other hidden hegemonies) “narrative structures”, and so centred the meaning of their work on the quality of the information it contained and on the almost functional value of the diagram which expressed it. Bianco-Valente’sConstellations cover this same idea to confer a narrative capacity to the system which is put in place, but overcoming the functional perspective also gives space for nuances of an emotional, intellectual and affectionate tone. The connection of complex structures (people) into an organised network thus becomes the instrument to formulate an aesthetics of information, and it demonstrates (and at the same time strengthens) the existence of other relational models. The project once again finds itself in line with Bateson’s point of view: Constellations Of Me rejects a system of interpersonal relationships dominated by an aseptic hierarchy of ancestries and classification, and admits the oscillations of doubt and the necessarily partial and imperfect representation of a whole, that of relationships, which is unstable and flexible even whilst it is developing.
The abstraction required by the design with which Constellations is presented is inherently unrelated to the time it passes through, and in this limitation it carries the necessity to overcome the design itself. The Constellation is implicitly infinite, even in the project proposed in Bologna, where it refers to a closed number of contacts (closed simply because of the extinction of all of the interlocutors involved), because its perfectibility is congenital to the very material from which knowledge is made. Indeed, the view of the network itself tends towards the clarification of its plastic capacity, but also its unreliability, subject as it is to the will not only of those who made it (and in this way define the terms of its temporary extension), but also those who read it.
In this way Bianco-Valente assist in the radial multiplication of the traces, the shift of meaning that the transfer of information may take on, crossing languages and mediating itself in instruments, multiplying the chance factor represented by the cultural conditioning that composes the complexity of the transmitted data (in particular, the reference is to the project presented in Marrakesh in 2011). Their point of view, mobile and fallible, recalls the definition that Aby Warburg gave of himself as a “soul-seismograph to the meteorological divides of culture. … in order there to experience life in its polar tension between a pagan, instinctual nature cult and organised intelligence”.[vi]
[i] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago 1958, p. 8.
[ii] Ivi, p. 52.
[iii] Cfr. Franco Farinelli, La crisi della ragione cartografica, Torino 2009.
[iv] Lorenza Pignatti, Mind the Map, Milano 2011, p. 24.
[v] Is the proposition 5.62, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, 1922 (it. edited by A.G. Conte, Torino 1995, p. 89).
[vi] Aby Warburg, cited in J. L. Koerner (1997) ‘Paleface and Redskin’. The New Republic March 24, pp. 30-38 [Review of Warburg’s Images from the Region of the Pueblo Indians of North America].