Riccardo Caldura, Extended Alphabet, notes on Bianco-Valente's artistic research, 2008
I saw an image in a publication a few years ago (Espresso. Arte oggi in Italia, Electa 2000). It was called Deep in my mind and showed Giovanna Bianco’s pale face, slightly out of focus, shown in profile with her eyes closed. Itwas taken during an encephalogram with electrodes, sensors, cables and the straps to hold the apparatus in thecorrect position on her skull. It was a very important image for understanding the starting point of a highly originalartistic career.
This artistic exploration lies on the border between perception and reality. It makes use of technologyand electronic devices to give a visual form to the process of decoding the bio-electrical impulses which make upthe incredibly fine psycho-sensorial and neurological network we use in our relationships with “external” things.
The Neapolitan artistic duo Giovanna Bianco and Pino Valente, who are partners both in life and as artists, areparticularly interested in exploring an area where the contact between reality, the body and the mind reveals aprimordial condition, indistinct and full of murmuring, out of focus and suddenly sharp.
It is as if the messagescoming from outside had been captured at the moment when they were passing through the audiovisual decodingnetwork, allowing them to be understood.
Often very large Lambda prints, video projections and environmentalvideo installations are the visual expression of the artists’ investigation and recording of the area of contact betweeninternal and external, the lightning fast connections which pass between them, synaptic activity not yet translatedinto a distinct representation. Their work starts from an investigation of the sensorial magma, producing thresholdimages which can not be defined as being simply dreamlike- even when they are made up of the deep vibrations ofthe REM stage, as in the eponymous work from 2002- nor can they be mistaken for a plain and simple perceptionof reality. This is an investigation of sensorial experience which on one hand pays great attention to scientificanalysis and results, but on the other is not afraid to address altered states of mind brought about by taking drugsor psychotropic substances.
Many of their woks, particularly the videos, seem to have a powerfully psychedelicflavour, with strongly altered colours and shots taken with the camera just skimming over the ground (“CloudSystem”, 2004), as if only the relationship between the very close (blades of grass, stems of wheat) and the distantsky in the background (“Uneuclidean pattern”, 2003) existed.
These are images which show landscape in aprimordial way, where even the smallest thing is an apparition, shadows of shifting colour, light fringed clouds. In “Ishould learn from you” (2003) for example, a person appears holding the string of a kite flying way up high, a blazeof light which oscillates against a pink-orange sky. In 2003, with sound design by Mass, Bianco-Valente composedthe various sequences of their widest ranging video work “Self Organizing Structure”.
This lasts about 35 minutesand shows recurring elements and aspects of their poetics: psycho-perceptive alterations during a car journey or awalk; the primordial landscape, in particular with images of highly evocative seascapes; abstract compositionsgenerated automatically by computer programs which combine the generation of the artificial image with the growthof micro organisms; the insistence on the gaze, with slow footage of a face with the eyes open, caught in a momentof such intense attention that it hardly blinks.
A fixed gaze, on the edge of hallucination. “Altered State” (2001) is aparticularly revealing work. The video shows extremely rapid shots of phrases from Alfred Hoffman’s diary- the manwho discovered LSD, and a friend of Ernst Jünger. The video and single images of “Slow Brain” (2001) also referto the experience brought about by drugs.
When we look at the work of the Neapolitan duo, particularly the piecesfrom 1997 to 2004, it is as if we are asked to reconsider, through a kind of echo, the psychedelic atmosphere of the1960’s. Bianco-Valente seem to return to that atmosphere, but now it has been stripped of all social re-birth andalternative lifestyle ideology, “cooled” and regarded purely in terms of the visual power it contained. There isanother work, (“Machine is dreaming”, again from 2001), which gives a good indication of this separation.
This is afaintly ironic consideration of that most outstanding machine (the computer). For the Americans of the 60’s, thiswas a device which represented the possibility of technology leading us to another life, parallel to ordinary life andwith much broader horizons. Bianco-Valente’s dreaming machine is nothing other than the remains of a dissectedcomputer, utopia reduced to its basic components, laid out on the floor.
Only the mother-board is raised slightly offthe floor thanks to small supports made with tablets of some “psychoactive” substance. The machine is presentedin a state of “physical suspension”, in the words of Bianco-Valente. Using a series of complicated calculations itcreates an infinitely varying buzz which sounds like the sea.
Dismantling the myth of the ideology of freedom relatedto altered states caused by hallucinogenic substances, also leads to the dismantling of the myth of an ever morehigh-tech, immaterial and virtual aspect of digital images created by the computer. In contrast, this also favours aconcentration solely on the power of the image itself, independently from the amount of technology needed toelaborate it. It becomes a highly efficient tool for exploring the shifting boundary between reality and vision, betweenartificial and natural.
An appropriate distance from the pathos of psychedelic and cybernetic experiences allows theartists to have a great variety and freedom in the solutions they use. Highly elaborated images lie alongside verylow-tech solutions. One example of this is “Unità minima di senso” (2002), an artwork/installation made up of a thinstrip of paper that is 1 km long. The two artists filled the paper with writing and drawing over the course of severalmonths, a recording of a stream of consciousness. Another example is the very recent installation “The effort torecompose my complexity”.
This was made using computer drawings of neuronal matter (on paper and reproducedin black and white) glued to the wall. Bianco and Valente then elaborated this with a wall drawing of lines and marksto connect the various elements. This is a network laid upon a network. The movement of the hand links togetherthe fragments of digitally reproduced connective tissue. As already seen in the video installation “RelationalDomain” (2005), “The effort to recompose my complexity” is a good representation of that which the Neapolitanartists are nowadays interested in highlighting and bringing out.
This is a profound relational plane which unites theform of the nervous system with the growth of trees (“Adaptive”, 2007); which unites the material of neuronalconnection in “The effort to recompose my complexity” with the network made up of airline routes in “RelationalDomain”- where the nodes take on names of the deepest poetics, precisely because they come from the work ofair traffic control organisations. In this sense we can see a variation or evolution in the artists’ research. Theinvestigation of psycho-sensorial states led to the creation of a remarkable series of works between 1997 and2004. These included videos and single works and were of great interest also due to the intense exploration ofhighly original chromatic solutions, close to abstraction, that took you- almost holding you by the hand- “into thecurrent of another memory,” as was written in Neural.
These were works on the edge of vision or of dreams.
However the works of the following years seem to indicate a shift in their research towards the idea of networks,maps and journeys: for example the aforementioned “Relational domain” (2005), or the series of triptychs “Reactive”(2007), which show the image of a globe, its surface covered with a dense connecting network, or the latestinstallation I mentioned before (“The effort to recompose my complexity”). Entering a room/brain, gazing at thesubtle and hypnotic development of airline routes, imagining walking across the globe to reveal points of sensorialsaturation. It is almost as if the globe itself had encephalographic area which reveal unexpected action.
All theseworks highlight the intensification of research related to using images to show the idea of networks, nodes, areasof density (fine dust, micro-organic, ‘neuronal’).
These are elements which make up the enormous connectivetissue which extends in every dimension inside and around us. The task that Bianco-Valente seem to have taken onis that of bringing out this fabric of imperceptible connections, recording the generative code and its intimatefunctioning.
From the smallest unit of meaning to the reconstruction of an extended alphabet, which constitutes theextremely thin layer, the “staminal” and equipotential condition, the profound relational plane in which physicalphenomena are not separated from psychic ones. Long before the vault of the heavens was etched with thecomplex network of civil and military flights of modern aeronautical maps, it was a place filled with psychic-astralmaps.
Taken from Alfabeto Esteso, Bianco-Valente, Dario De bastiani Editore, Vittorio Veneto (TV), 2008