SOMMER&KOHL, BERLIN | 12 MARCH – 16 APRIL 2011
The central piece of this exhibition is a structure of five vertical and parallel planes, open at the sides and standing floor to ceiling. The sheets of board and window screen material form a structure that is ad hoc, but elegant and open at the sides like a thick, layered, section of wall. The whole ensemble recalls, at some remove, the often improvised and contingent urban appearance of a southern Italian town or city suburb. “Sculptural Structure, Inside Outside” (2011), supports, on one side, “Lungomare” (2011), a video piece 6 hours in duration. On a gallery wall at right angles to this piece is a framed collage, “Scena di strada” (2011), a diagonal composition, tumbling top left to bottom right and featuring a found image of a Neapolitan street scene. It incorporates torn paper of marine color and fragments of what appear to be two reproductions of 19th century seated portraits, both informal in posture, one photographic, one painted.
Deborah Ligorio (1972) was born and raised in Brindisi, south Italy, though she has lived most of her life elsewhere and is currently based, like many other young Italian artists, here in Berlin. The exhibition was initiated from an ongoing meditation regarding perceptions of southern Italy and its historical, social, and geological context. The situation there is complex and often surprising. For example, its existence as a former colony of Magna Grecia is evidenced in both archeological sites and in the occasional Greek menu of a traditional Campania Trattoria. It is a popular tourist destination and an area of high unemployment.
In “Lungomare” the artist is filmed on a 10-day walk along the Bay of Naples, keeping as near as is possible to the shore. A parallax view of the walker, always between houses, fences, people, and the camera, which faces in the direction of the often inaccessible sea, continues for the duration of the video. In a film by Roberto Rossellini, Viaggio in Italia (1954), the protagonists, played by Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders, are a couple who travel to the Naples region from London and experience the disorientation of their own “escursione meridional.” Rosselini allowed the camera to record passages of Neapolitan life in documentary fashion, splicing reality with fiction in the course of the film’s meandering narrative. In one memorable scene the camera slowly pans around the bay of Naples, exposing an urban and geological co-existence that has a powerful effect on the couple, used almost entirely to the routines of denatured big city life. Ligorio, in a series of collage works from 2007, “Inconsapevole leggerezza,” used post-card images of Neapolitans at leisure and included images of Ingrid Bergman seen between bouts of work on Rosselini’s 1954 film.
The locations seen in these images have clearly changed, although the previous incarnations of place persist. As Ligorio herself has said, the idea of the south, La meridionale as Italian politicians and sociologists from the late 19th century have called it, is very much a construct. The Bay of Naples in its present form is clearly seen from the artists walk, surveying in a very different way the span of the bay filmed by Rosselini. A recurring theme in Ligorio’s work is the existence of both history and geological time in shaping our social space. These elements are presented as co-dependent and reciprocal. Franciso Bonami has said, “Ligorio tours Italy like a new ‘Goethe’ turned ecologist, exploring the coasts and cultures which, in ancient times, already built their own landscape in close connection with their natural surroundings.” In modern times, this effort to adapt and transform the environment has often met, no less so than in the past, with tragic results: Japan’s recent catastrophe being one sad example amongst many.
Ligorio shares an interest in ecology and film with the artist Robert Smithson (1938 – 1973). For example, Donut to Spiral (2004), a film made during Ligorio’s MAK Schindler’s Artist in Residence Program in Los Angeles, records a road trip through the Mojave desert ending at Smithson’s snow covered “Spiral Jetty” (1970). Here, Ligorio confounds expectation as the well-known photographs don’t show the Smithson piece covered in snow. It’s a very simple idea, but complex in its direct assertion that the changing reality of a place often does not correspond to our memory or past media representation. Of course, the passage of time and entropic processes are snared in “Spiral Jetty”’s accretion of lake deposits and, in the disparities between that memory and the experience of Ligorio’s film. The slow temporality, casual and without forced emphasis, is common to both artists’ cinematography, the aerial filming of the Jetty echoed in Ligorio’s filming of Naples in Il Sono (2007). This grasping of time, so abstract as chronometrical measure, in Spiral Jetty and the evolution of a coastal area, is summed up by Saint Augustine (354 – 430) who remarked, “If you do not ask me what time is, I know it; if you ask me, I do not know.”
The social spaces, psychological and architectural, inhabited by people everywhere are produced, and are then productive in return, effecting lives lived in every way. Nothing is neutral and everything connects in Ligorio’s visually engaging work, as it reveals through process and image, in equal parts, our relationships to political and geological time and place. The success of Ligorio’s work reminds me of Henri Lefebvre’s (1901 – 1991), text, Attempt at the Rhythmanalysis of Mediterranean Towns (1985), in which he sought to reveal an experience of a social space and time at variance with everyday life, subjected to post-industrial conceits about what is “natural.”