The Reasons of Science

How to picture living systems9’ 50”,  b/w,  sound, 2001

Technically, the The reasons of science video is the editing of images taken from archival documentaries or old films synchronised with a voice taken from a radio broadcast (at 8.00pm, Radio RAI 2, winter 2001) which, in an unscripted and popular way, speaks on science matters, in particular on aspects relating to physics. I recorded all the radio episodes, attracted not only by the contents but also by the type of voice: composed, authoritative, and paternal. Later I sought out images from period footage or old films that had some connection in relation to human events with what the voice was inexorably explaining in the area of science.


Technically, the The reasons of science video is the editing of images taken from archival documentaries or old films synchronised with a voice taken from a radio broadcast (at 8.00pm, Radio RAI 2, winter 2001) which, in an unscripted and popular way, speaks on science matters, in particular on aspects relating to physics. I recorded all the radio episodes, attracted not only by the contents but also by the type of voice: composed, authoritative, and paternal. Later I sought out images from period footage or old films that had some connection in relation to human events with what the voice was inexorably explaining in the area of science.


What interests me the most is the thread of connection between specific case and general theory, between subjective and objective, between, on the one hand, the singularity of events and, on the other, general theory. In the video there is always a gap between the single event as experienced subjectively and general theory, to which nonetheless the narrating voice remains obstinately attached. However, there is always a thread, even if fine, that leads each individual case to a wider generalisation. What interests me is this incessant – indispensable as much as concealed – mental activity that every day leads us to search for generalisations and regulating principles.






What reasons does science give?

Chiara Bertola

Meteorology is a science that enthrals Mariateresa Sartori. Every morning she taps the glass of the barometer hanging in the kitchen to see the chan­ges in the weather, (“I like it because it doesn’t depend on me”) and at the same time it allows her to keep the meteorological chaos under some sort of control and pigeon-holed within defined parame­ters. It is a question of inserting the unexpected within marked boundaries, of feeling that if some­thing can change it is in any case within a frame­work. The constant use of meteorological science in her daily life hides one of the access keys to her latest video.

The need to check the weather barometer corre­sponds to the need to put great events in order, to categorise different behaviours that dominate and divide up man’s life – issues that are lodestars in her latest works. In her recent video the words of Science are even combined, overlapped and confused with the images of man’s History in the attempt to draw a grid within which the discontinuity of life can be inscribed.

“The Reasons of Science” technically consists of edited pictures taken from documentaries, films from the period between the two wars until the six­ties and old films, synchronised with the voice of a radio broadcast that talks about facts of popular Science and, In particular, certain aspect of Physics. The sequence of the images associated with the voice gives rise at times to contrasting connections, at other times to an overlapping, while In other moments to almost precise equivalents. The video is then divided up into sorts of chapters or issues: “The Evolution of the Species”, “Principle of Cause and Effect’, “Priciple of the Conservation of Mass”, “Perception”, creating also here a slight confusion between the subjects, between the life of man and that of the atoms, between determinist theory and the magic possibility of predicting the future.

Already in the previous video “Die Entscheidungs- moeglichleiten or The Decisions made in the Room”, interest was expressed in a categorisation of human behaviour within the domestic walls, per­ceiving in this way the possibility of a design within which the instinctive dynamics of man could be put in some sort of order.

“I am attracted by every form of generalisation and cataloguing and contemplate with amazement the sometimes pacific and sometimes highly contrasted connection between specific case and general cate­gory’. This last video deals with this – the thread between the subjective and the objective, between uniqueness of events on the one hand and general theory on the other. It is clear, however, that in every work that can be called such, the Initial reasons extend and contradict each other, opening up other paths and the hypotheses are lost letting new indi­cations come out.

The words that we hear while the images of the video run on are the reassuring words of Science, those referred to theories that always start from something that is certain and are mainly based on the metaphysical presupposition that the world can be known. But this, as is known, Is far less applica­ble in real life where the subjective events often shift and change the objective and foreseen events.

Alongside the first scientific route: detached, distant, impersonal and objective, there Is therefore that of art through the black and white Images of the documentaries and the old films, allusive and frag­mentary pictures of events of civilisation and man’s history, birth, death, life and wars. The route of sub­jectivity, emotions, creativity and what is uncontrol­lable can Inevitably be perceived In this line. In every era, art and science are configured as approaches to the same problem, In determining the world and what is real, bringing with them the same doubts, the same needs, the same breaking with existing values, giving back answers that are different every time. Two routes and two languages that even In the video run alongside each other and sometimes touch each other, meeting in the play on image that the artist wanted to create through the editing, but which mostly remain separate, replying in different ways to the same questions. For example, while the off-screen reassuring, cool voice talks about the theory of determinism, emphasising that “Every event is the effect of a cause that precedes if and that whoever “knows current events also know the causes of future events”, letting us think for a moment that we have the keys to predict the future, at this point the video picture lingers on the Intense gaze of a child who would like to know but Is aware that he does not know what will be his future.

There is undoubtedly the boy of the future already in him, but without the how, where and when. In the same way and with the same pietas towards the human world, the artist makes the moment in which the off-screen scientific voice recites with a convin­ced tone another certainty: “The only thing of which we can be certain is perception … we can be more certain about what we see than about the behaviour of the light or of the observed object…” coincide with the video showing tragic images of war dead and in particular the picture of a woman who is fol­ding over the hands of the corpse of a man. What are we certain of having seen in that moment? A corpse or the death of a dear one? In that moment, while those images are being shown and the voice is transmitting that sentence, all we think of is that It is difficult ‘to see’ death and to be aware of it when you meet it and that the rules of perception do not help us. It is not a question of explaining the whys and whe­refores of science with anthropological pictures or vice versa human behaviour according to scientific reasons.

The video instead affirms the thought of a tragic necessity: to set oneself points of reference, to place boundaries, to make order out of chaos, to attempt to define the unexpected, with the result that It is Impossible to do all this. The artist would like to choose the path of exactness, precision, completeness and rigour, but these remain just pro­perties that serve to ward off the meaning of their contrary: the fear of disorder, the danger of the ambiguous and the anxiety of the Infinite. The voice in the video that lists the elementary theories of science is an attempt to capture the truth in the sequence of events of the images that disrupt and divide up man’s life.

The aim of Mariateresa Sartori – in her latest works – is to try to lead the specific, subjective cases to a generalisation that can embrace them; to see if It is possible to create an order through language, to pigeon-hole the facts of reality, to provide the possi­bility of putting some order into the chaos of exis­tence. Order that is impossible to compose or see every time. Even going as far back as possible, using historical Images, stock shots, that come from the past, that are already part of something that is settled in our history; not even in this way is it easi­er to correlate the events to the reassuring rules of the theories of elementary Science. Sartori seems to indicate to us that it is therefore inevitable and necessary to accept the unexpected, the daily tur­moil of life, as vital elements, to give up or to allow for the fleeting nature of reality.

The ineffable joys of the listing sought by George Perec in the exhaustive treatment of places and things come to mind, when, to reconfirm his existence, he recorded the experience of the object each time in his memory and then in the tale. Sartori similarly needs to generalise the variations in human behaviour to find the limits of her existence. If we do not have the proof from the attempt, then the spectre of annulment emerges and the loss of control by the Ego. The only possible solution is to proceed with cataloguing thoughts and gestures, memory, time and space, that cannot otherwise be attempted. Almost the logic of a child and his or her primary need to create order within which to draw the world in order to live outside fear.


Venice, July 2002



Mental exercise

Alessandra Melandri

In the mass of videos that dominate present-day artistic production “The Reasons of Science” by Mariateresa Sartori stand out for their strongly dis­turbing nature and for the emotions that they arouse in the spectator. Not for the novelty of the images, special effects or the use of advanced technologies, but in a strictly Freudian sense – dis­turbing in that they show and talk about well-known things.

The scientific theories narrated by the speaker in the video are those which are commonly known, even if only superficially, but which every one of us generally leaves in a corner of our memory. In the same way many of the stock shots that appear on the screen refer to historic events or moments in man’s life that are known to us.

The video is austerely structured like that of the old television documentary: a precise black and white, the voice with the firm authoritative timbre of a scientist – and not a dubber – pleasant but severe and almost hypnotic background sounds. Elementary and detailed titles, like a scientific guide.

Nothing leads us to think that within a few seconds we will be totally swept away by emotions, by a fast alternation of joy and deep feeling aroused by the admirable and poetic combination of words and images coming from completely different contexts. For a moment Mariateresa Sartori lets us believe that we can lightheartedly watch a sequence of fri­volous or in any case reassuring pictures, such as the shapes of a kaleidoscope, the elegant pirouet­tes of dancers in splendid ballrooms, the pitiful rest­lessness of a great number of newborn or the intense kiss exchanged by a pair of newlyweds. The Illusion is interrupted, however, by the fast insi­nuation in our minds of the suspicion that there could be a link between the pictures that we are seeing and the meaning of the words that we hear, The subjects of the pictures change very quickly. Now there are threatened soldiers who surrender to the enemy with their hands raised, rats that come out from under manhole covers, women hol­ding children who are leaving the shelters after a bombing raid to suggest to us a coincidence bet­ween the description of a scientific theory and the reality of human life: “And in the cases therefore in which everything has happened by chance, but as if it had happened for a purpose” states the narra­tor inexorably “those beings were saved because by chance they developed in a suitable way, those instead for whom this did not happen are extinct and continue to become extinct’.

At the end of the first episode of the video, entitled “The Evolution of the Species’’, we have no doubt about the subtle, intelligent mental exercise to which Mariateresa Sartori is subjecting us; we accept the challenge and intensify our level of attention.

It isn’t necessary to fully understand the description of the scientific theories that continue with imper­turbable calmness to be described in the three sub­sequent episodes: “Principle of Cause and Effect, “Principle of the Conservation of Mass”, “Perception”. Words and images merge in our imagination and give life to new visions, while we are totally ensnared by the consequent alternating moods.

The pleasure lies in the actual mental exercise, in the happiness of intuition that the work of the artist bestows on us. Looking at the video again, the exercise does not lose its effectiveness, indeed the discoveries multiply and are renewed.

Mariateresa Sartori’s experiment in the workshop of artistic creativity is highly successful.

She leaves the task of suggesting how we can con­tinue in our reflection on life to the happy voices of two children.


Milan, July 2002


 How to picture living systems, Kli Institue, Klosterneuburg, Austria, curator Petra Maitz
15 October 2016