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Giulia Caira - Speculum (Photographs)

Essay (Italian / English) by Achille Bonito Oliva
Cover Design: Stefan Sagmeister
Size: cm 29 x 22,5
pp. 36
22 colour-illustrations
Edizioni Pendragon (April 1999)
ISBN -00-0
List Price: € 14,97 $ 14,5
Our Price: € 10,32 $ 10

The art of Giulia is, in brief, the installation of the mirror. The mirror is the place of the self's impartiality, where space and time no longer participate in its celebration but concur in rendering themselves as presences which help it to locate itself within language. If art is language, the artist (whether male or female) cannot but run into tautologies. By now the mirror is set up against life, and only the reflection responds to the mirror; the performance takes as its context the domestic theatre, and for its props the materials belonging to the quotidian life of the housewife: cling-film, tin-foil, bin-bags and distorting glasses. The main actor is her body, laid bare and at the same time preserved in the transparency of a material which thrusts the figure into the corner of a deliberately opaque form, into the lumber room of a domesticated image. The performance is thus the border between life and its opposite, the straight stretch whereon facts reveal their flagrancy and receive the proof of their reality. Here the performance does not coincide with the whole but in some way points to and exorcises it, constitutes and postulates it as a matter of principle, without enabling it either to develop or to conclude. Life becomes the impassive mirror which reflects the wounded name (Giulia Caira), the absence of wholeness and the discrete partiality of a self which assumes even the narcissistic position of the set pose. In short, the name is wounded when, as in this case, the self is totally displaced and intent only on being named, on rendering itself in its visible appearance which permits others to name it. This is the drama of the portrait and of the self-portrait. Even when she establishes her own subjectivity in the shining space of the self-portrait, by means of frontal photography or anamorphic reflection, Giulia Caira uses a superficial vision which allows her thereby to soften her own inner tension. Paradoxically the portrait serves the artist to displace and be displaced from first to third person, to wrap up her own image in the photographic distance. A state of impassivity seems the condition deliberately developed by the artist, who senses the way through to a visual system of pubblicity which dispossesses her. Art becomes a procedure of lightening, of removing a burden, which provides the private self with the comfort of a public, objective presence. The self-portrait in this case confirms the third person in the sense that the figure represented is third also as regards the authoress herself. In Caira's case the passing from the household space to the domestic theatre, from the private to the public, determines the displacement of identity, inasmuch as being and appearing do not live in the same place, but are on the route which the self must complete in order to be portrayed. The adoption of the impassive mask is the result of an awareness, the consciousness that everything is able to live only by means of language and that behind language is the mysterious tangle of repressions, which on the surface succeed essentially in helping disguises and displacements. The secret and the silence overturned in the public confession of the image constitute a demand for the spectator's complicity, the restoration of an interrupted communication with life which reflects woman's isolation within the social discourse. So the ghost of Giulia is promoted to the image of Caira, the unconscious trasformed into the logic of visual discourse, even if mocked by the intentional awkwardness of a set pose decided without directorial discipline. Sign of the self's obsession with a model which life cannot accommodate and only fiction can sustain. Undoubtedly there coexists the choice of a condition, that of a burlesque state, a movement which doubles life and shifts it into the counter-norm of derision and resentment. The geometry of the photographic click transforms life into a mental adventure, where the imagination is the medium for the rapid flow of elated and reasonable thoughts. Reasonableness expresses itself through the fretting, the ironic reflection upon a condition of a self-made woman who confirms her own identity in the exaltation of an image produced by an ironically sado-masochistic plot. In Genet's The Maids the housemaids take advantage of the absence of their mistress to assume her clothes and behaviour; here Giulia Caira takes advantage of her own solitude to prise herself open, creating around her the excited performance of thoughts and misgivings. It is not the voyeuristic shiftiness of the petit bourgeois in the respectability of an elegant set pose, but rather the redemptive transferral of profound drives into the polychromatic objectivity of photography which, without moralising, documents a playful, solitary eroticism. The pornographic gaiety of Caira's images documents the successful outcome of a splitting which strengthening existence but not as a happy splitting of a condition which constructs around itself the virtual album of its own double.

Achille Bonito Oliva, March 1999
(Essay from Speculum)

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