THE SQUARING OF THE EYE (or the circle, so to speak)
by Achille Bonito Oliva
"Dichiarazione di ritiro estetico. Il sottoscritto Robert Morris, che è l'autore della costruzione descritta nel documento annesso, ritira da tale costruzione qualsiasi significato estetico o contenuto freudiano, e dalla data di questo documento detta costruzione non ha tali qualità o attributi. Firmato Robert Morris"
“Declaration of aesthetic withdrawal. The undersigned, Robert Morris, who is the author of the construction described in the document attached, withdraws from said construction any aesthetic significance or Freudian content. Henceforth, from the date of this declaration, said construction does not have such qualities or attributes. Signed, Robert Morris”
This statement transfers the scientifically convincing notion of entropy to art; the erasure of the quotient of traditional subjectivity that accompanies artistic operation, bringing art back to the sphere of a language that intentionally reduces its range, to the point of redefining specific notions like those of painting and sculpture.
This is what Carlo Benvenuto is doing: re-founding these genres through a photographic anaesthesia that neutralizes any impulse toward expressive accent, the contextual presence of the artist in his own work.
From the historical avant-gardes to the neo- and trans-avant-gardes, the contemporary artist has always worked on the emphasis of the material and the concept, aiming at a representation of a thinking ego, a ‘maker’: the desiring “I”.
Benvenuto turns this trend upside-down and poetically grasps an attitude that is specific to photography, that dramatic and disheartening recording of the state of things that fears not the absence of man.
Photography, in fact, is pornographic by nature; it tends to capture the world as a series of details separated from one another by the framing, a physiological dissection of the gaze.
The technique of photographic reproduction confirms this characteristic in the multiplication of the image, the impossibility of a total view, the ecstatic preference for the detail.
The neutrality of the photographic eye bears witness to the passion of the subject that frees itself in the detachment, the zeroing of the sturm und drang, vehemence and assault of external reality that has characterized much of the history of art, down to the present. Vehemence and assault constituted the attachment of the subject to the everyday, sublime things that surround him.
What always prevailed was the omnipotence of the desire to formalize a condition of solidarity and a removal from individual solitude. Art represented the condition of the artist at work, industriously involved in the effort to construct a visible, contextual bridge to the outside world.
Benvenuto stoically accepts the philosophical essence of photography, removing every heartbeat from the physiological sensitivity of his eye to bring it into the position of the squaring, the quadrature, the geometry of a gaze that plans not to guarantee the work the time of the present, but rather the silent spatial quality of an image of everyday objects seen, as it were, in his absence, the absence of the gaze. This young artist possesses the iconographic force to sustain such a position. Proof of this lies in the inanimate objects he places within the framings of his works: chairs, glasses, tables, little ballpoint pen caps abandoned on the floor. In his creative process there are no background noises to disturb the inert quotidian nature of what is represented. These things exist, subsist, pre-exist. To prove this, the artist does not creative any technical interference that can alter their position and stillness, their angles or gravitational weight. A silent objectivity of the image reigns, that respects the world and approaches it simply through the framing, the squaring of the eye. The object, simply appropriated or photographed, or barely painted or drawn, offers us a surprise, that of a nature concealed beneath the apparent inertia of things, bizarre, solitary, even a bit smug.
The surprise is made even more visible by the clear sectioning that reveals its presence. Further wonder is inspired by the protagonism of these objects, in spite of the structural insignificance of their scattered existence.
Respect for this insignificance is displayed precisely by the photographic viewpoint assumed by the artist that manifests no signs of preference or affection, emphasizing the counter-current condition of the subject with respect to the object.
A serendipitous diachrony underlies the relationship between the artist and the world around him, the parallel detachment of a dual solitude: Carlo and the things that surround him, Carlo and the calm silence of the domestic setting.
Therefore there is no dramatic struggle, nor an attempt to jump onto the world in motion; the artist has no intention of resembling the world or of clutching at it.
Detachment and distance prevail in the iconography of Benvenuto, who never assumes an aesthetic viewpoint of condescension or affectionate familiarity.
At the same time, there is no sign of a punitive intention with respect to the object that also lives in the absence of a subject. Moreover, there isn’t even a metaphysical perspective, to make the setting mysterious and therefore attractive.
Metaphysics, as we know, was the result of a disappointment, that of not being able to be the measure of an entire world, but always the representation of a depth inhabited by a reality made ‘meta’ by a sentiment of love on the part of the artist.
The artist, in fact, as in the case of De Chirico, sought redemption for everyday insignificance, immersing it in myth and the construction of mystery.
In the work of Benvenuto there is no theatrical set, there are no lighting effects to aesthetically bathe the objects, making them into actors in spite of themselves.
Here the objects, instead, seem to prefer the self-sufficient quiet of their own stasis, the daylight that makes them palpable, visible, a full-time target without modesty or private positions.
So if a chair, a common domestic chair, is resting with its four feet on four ballpoint pen caps (two black, one blue and one red), evidently it must have just fallen there by itself, precisely on top of the little caps. The artist has no responsibility whatsoever for this situation, and certainly cannot be accused of having created such a bizarre event.
In the absence of the artist there also exists the intelligence of chance, the lucky grafting of separate objects, distant from one another in terms of form and function.
The squaring of the eye assists Benvenuto, who bats not an eyelash and iconographically transcribes the pre-existence of things.
Evidently the table, chair, glass, pen caps also possess a phenomenological narcissism, the capacity to be fully satisfied by their being and appearance, all based purely on being there.
The artist responds to this narcissism of behavioral inertia with an attitude of acceptance that naturally doesn’t imply mere recording. It is no coincidence that he has selected these objects, not others, that he prefers the domestic setting to the tensions of things seen out in the fresh air.
Indubitably, the creative process ensures a particular estrangement of the setting, because the gaze of the artist introduces the fresh air of intelligence in the inanimate space, that grain of intellectual salt that respects the object, but also produces a point of view from which the object looks at us, and through which we observe the object.
This is the only touch of cordiality Benvenuto manages, fortunately, to develop, an “equal time” that erases the logocentric hubris of the occidental artist.
Duchamp, with the title as well, gave an imprimatur to the object, raising it to a different status that, in any case, bore witness to the superiority of the subject as the bearer of intelligence and an active gaze. Benvenuto disarms the active gaze of occidental art, removing the object from the static condition of an inert target, conceding it the dignity of an autonomous, non-exploited position.
What prevails is an ecstasy of the squaring of the eye, the absolutely non-condescending acceptance of a state of things that cannot be grasped by means of intelligent deciphering or elevation.
The objects look at us and we look at the objects.
The poetics of Benvenuto develops along this axis, turning the poetics of Duchamp’s ready-made on its head, not to mention the “beauty of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table” of Lautréamont.
Just as the objects are not assisted by any aesthetic prosthesis, so Benvenuto refuses to let himself be assisted by the intelligence of an artistic tradition that has always attempted to animate the world in its own image.
Definitively speaking, Carlo Benvenuto takes part in the aesthetic mentality of our end-of-the-century, that looks at technique in terms of cultural anthropology, in an attempt to be contemporary with his own time.
The zeitgeist of this era is fully represented by iconography and objects that have, naturally, absorbed the lesson of neutrality encoded by Andy Warhol, but also grant to the things that surround us, apart from an alienating and paternalistic beauty, recognition of an existence that does not penalize the absence of man.
Carlo Benvenuto, with his production of images and objects, finally celebrates the achievement of a level of civilization based on the value of resistance, the overcoming of hierarchies, the possibility to square the circle with the squaring of the eye.