9’30’’, colors , sound, 2006
What appears to be meaningless, such as moments of silence in a normal conversation between people, actually carries a large quantity of semantic information. When they occur, pauses acquire a strong identity and value of their own: the space between people changes, the air is taut, it is charged with expectation, or it becomes rarefied, or the light may even dissolve. What I am attempting here is to focus on that “between”, what is in the middles and seems unimportant. Redistributing the weight, this emptiness acquires its due importance, while the fullness can be read differently: language is perceived as a surface that is astonishingly arbitrary, its fullness comes through its relationship with the emptiness. As Leibniz put it: “variety in the world is wonderful, especially when it leads back to unity.” To return to unity it is indispensable to have first separated analytically: silence can be rigorously measured and classified. As often happens in my work, a (para-) scientific analysis becomes the point of departure for considerations about the human condition. Samuel Beckett noted in a journal: “How many silences of three seconds are needed to make a total of 24 hours?”
All the pauses (and contacts) of the world
The Atmosphere, the tone of this most recent video, as is the case with others by Mariateresa Sartori, is somewhat analytical and this can be disorientating at first. The video s linear and coherent articulation suggests something of a documentary-style assembly of material. No particular concessions are made to the medium in so much as there are no mannerisms, technicalities nor any reflections on the nature of the medium itself. The video is, indeed, a means, and as such tends to disappear behind the use the artist makes of it. It is an effective tool, it serves its purpose functionally Its purpose is to lend form and communication, in the least rhetorical manner possible, to what has been observed in the ‘field of life (I use this expression to create an analogy with a definition of a painting by Jasper Johns: Field Painting, 1963-64). What occurs in the ‘field of life’ is created by affective, emotional interaction. Thus the video becomes a probe observing and documenting an emotional situation from the ‘inside’. From the inside: I mean that the chosen field of observation is linked to the life and biography of the author, but in such a way as it would be useless to expect to find merely personal and subjective elements there in. The biographic element is material treated analytically: the voice of her son learning to read at the end of the video «Seen from Here. Obstructed reading project»; the silhouette of her father, and of herself, in the canvasses from several years ago, details of her home, the set for All the pauses of the world or some family members who appear among the protagonists of the same video. Perhaps the first step was this: to observe in a ‘depersonalised’ manner that which is personal, taking distance, as the medium allows, particularly the video camera in recent years, as though the medium were able to cleanse the vision of that opaqueness of subjective involvement. The result of this distance must not be confused in any way with coldness or indifference. On the contrary I believe that this analytical view is in line with the idea of pietas, not to be taken as a positive ‘consequence’ in the face of an artistically applied dissection of the emotional sphere and interpersonal contact. The pietas here is more a recognition of the human condition, the background that emerges when it is applied to a field of observation principally made up of ones own life and the life of others. The pietas seems to me the result of a transparendy secular position experienced, and therefore presented, on a formal level, as the intimate assumption of responsibility towards others, since the sphere of ‘others’ can no longer refer to one Other. And the others must be understood not only as ones ‘own’ — those belonging to the existential and personal, emotional sphere — but ‘all’ the others. ‘All the others’ come into this last video, they sit on the sofa in the artist’s home, before her video camera; they always sit in pairs, because it is relationship and interaction that interests her; ‘all the others’ probe each other mutually, seeking a possible common response to the questions set down in a questionnaire. The questionnaire, in different languages depending on the origins of the respondents, does not aim at discovering anything particularly relevant from a statistical point of view; indeed the chief aim of the information it requests is not the gathering of facts. It is a sort of opinion survey that aims at examining the ‘means’ of expressing the opinions themselves, that is the uncertainty, or certainty in the face of an unusual request, the answer to which does not leave room for nuance as it foresees only a true/false response. How can we agree on an answer to: «Entering the home of friends is it old-fashioned to say permessoP1» if indeed an agreement can be reached, or if, on the other hand, we disagree. And how do we express agreement, dissent or perplexity? And are there differences to be noted when ‘all the others’ who are called before the video camera come from different cultures, the middle-east rather than Europe, Japanese rather than American? The procedure to set up a dialogue each time between persons from different origins is based on an identical sequence of questions, translated into various languages. It is a procedure which seems to have the characteristics of a linguistic comprehension test, or of a sociological investigation into the differences of expression in various cultures: a sort of investigation into that extra-verbal sphere made up of gestures, glances or silences before responding. In this sense it is no chance that the medium chosen by the artist is video, a visual form, and not the actual questionnaire, which is rarely filmed during the action and therefore it is not easy to understand initially what sparks off the dialogue between the respondents. The main focus of the artist’s analysis is not language, It IS the extra-verbal, gesture, the Hght touch of a hand, an exchange of g ances That is to say the author places this issue of true and false, central for logos and knowledge, on a different plain than that of language She is concerned with visually proposing the layer of complexity that arises when two people seek agreement discussing with each other.
Therefore, considering the overall analytical approach we have a repertory under construction of non verbal modes which substantiate interpersonal communication. A sort of atlas of behaviour in a given situation, in quest of constants which reveal, in detail, beyond different languages, a deeper layer of the human condition, and the human condition captured in the moment when two people seek a common response.
What caught the artist’s attention – the pause in conversation, which is of division and bridge, query and research, suspension between the continuation and deviation of dialogue – clearly underlines where the point of contact stands between modes of interpersonal communication, the analytical-documentary style and the field of research in which Mariateresa Sartori operates: the artistic field
What is expected of art and the artist, among today’s discipline, and practices, is paradoxically not to be resolved in specificity. In other words, what we understand as artistic practice is a conceptual and productive practice which is difficult to define. A practice in which use can be made, as in the case of Sartori, of analytical approaches leading however to a form of communication (I would not know of another way of describing the material proposed here) so that the human condition which is analytically segmented by various disciplines can be returned to its universality. It is a human condition created by not knowing and y seeking reciprocity: this seems to underline her observation of the field of life I believe that the pause into which two people lapse for a moment when they question themselves without knowing if the result will be agreement or dissent has a lot to do with the issue of form and therefore with art. The timer, such a ‘scientific’ and aseptic instrument which appears in Sartori’s video measuring the length of silence in the conversation, is accompanied by a Inghlighting of the profiles of the two people who were speaking. What comes to the foreground is the counting of silence and simultaneously the ‘form’ that this takes on, translated into a close-up shot of their faces.
This morning I put the same video in the DVD reader, I watched it another time. It is simple and direct: the sequence opens with a graphic image of the vocal sound, with the timer running, then the dialogues follow and emphasis on the duration of the pauses is underlined by superimposing the electronic timer. In actual fact observing closely we realise that time is measured here in a way that is as precise as it is approximate: the objectivity of this measuring fluctuates following the particular state of relationship between people, it flexes with particular circumstances of their mutual interaction: measuring the pauses can thus be dilated, and the final sum, (if there is a final sum), is reached not only by an objective measure of the pauses but also by a qualitative measure. This is because there is no possible standardisation in ‘experiencing’ a pause: one looks at the other, one looks elsewhere, one looks at the paper, but as if one does not see it. The measurement of such a moment loses ‘objectivity’. Time is measured, it dilates, it fluctuates when there is no action; in a page of a particularly meaningful text for the artist, it is imagined that the pauses and silences, added up, fill the whole arc of a day. The twenty-four hours would make up one great pause in which there would be no action. The dilation of time, its suspension, formally underlined in the video by the emptiness between faces is lack of action. In this sense a day only made of suspensions represents a very effective image of the still frame which once was still life in painting. An image of things, crystallised in a place/moment where nothing else can happen, where there is no action. Sartori’s video opens with the numerical counting of the pauses, pauses in acting and conversing, but it does not end there. And considering the conclusion of the film one would be inclined to propose a variation of the title, no longer just all the pauses of the world, but also all the contacts of the world. Because the pause, as the final sequences of the work reveal, allows contact to occur; the pause is both censure but it is also a bridge; it amplifies the space between people, it dilates the distance for a moment, it makes them both very close and strangers along the path towards an answer to be found, but in the end it is within that suspended and dilated space that contact is made, that a hand lightly touches the man or woman that is beside it. And the video records, in a experiment-hke situation, the phenomenology of relations between people. Relations of reciprocity, contact is made, suspension has not only annulled the relationship between people for a moment, it has made it possible again. The images of He and She which featured in Sartori’s pictorial research of the nineties, recover, in the video (a means which underlines the intimate coherence of her choice of media in these last years) that contact which – for a he and a she and for all the others – ‘animates’ reciprocity.
Entering the home of a friend is it old fashioned to say «permesso»?
Venice, June 2006
1 In Italy it is considered polite to ask permission when entering someone’s home by saying «permesso»
(may I [come in]?] when crossing the threshold, [translator’s note]
Venezia, giugno 2006