BOOKS SUMMER SPECIAL ~ LARA FAVARETTO: AGEING PROCESS
Softcover, 16,5 x 23,5 cm
Edited by Lara Favaretto. Texts by Anthony Huberman, Brian Kuan Wood, Dieter Roelstraete, Jörg Heiser, Joshua Simon, Jalal Toufic, Lisa Le Feuvre, Martin Herbert, Markus Miessen, Daniel McClean, Peter Eleey, Francesco Manacorda
“SUBTRACTION FORMULAS” by Francesco Manacorda
The question of time is not normally a key element in the discourse around sculpture in Western tradition. Sculpture is however normally thought of as something that is designed to last in time and, over the centuries, the materials traditionally used for this art form, such as bronze and marble, have been chosen from among so many others precisely because they can remain unaltered by time. They are far less easily destroyed or subject to decay than others, like plaster, sand, mud or ice. At the same time, this atemporal aspect is also true of monuments which have historically been of two different types: those that are intentionally built as mnemotechnic structures, in the form of sculptures or buildings designed to commemorate an event that is classified by the community – or, more often, by members of the political or intellectual elite – as the definitive expression of a historical period. And then there are those that have been inherited from previous civilisations – or rather, that have not been completely destroyed or eroded by time. The Egyptian pyramids are an example of both categories, war monuments an example of the first, and the Colosseum of the second. Here too, durability is an important factor, for these monuments are objects that are designed to be outside of time and, at least in the builders’ intentions, eternal. The ultimate aim of such monuments is to turn the transient into the immutable.
In one of many definitions of her Momentary Monument series, Lara Favaretto talks of her works as ‘films condensed into a single still’. In the historical and artistic tradition of the English-speaking world, films, like performances, are referred to as a time-based mediums, because they have a precise duration and, like music, this duration is one of the most important elements of expression available to the artist. The Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky referred to the work of cinema as one of ‘sculpting in time’, to highlight the importance of the rhythm and flow of time in cinematic composition. In a manner similar to the dilation of films in time, Favaretto’s monuments are the outcome of a long, complex production process that always takes place in three phases. In chronological order, the first involves the creation of the atmosphere surrounding the work by means of a collection of images that are able to evoke a series of real and imaginary situations. This is a form of writing through images, and a process that uses photographs and drawings almost as open ‘intuitive hieroglyphs’ for the expression of a phrase from which everything that is still to come is taken: in other words, the three-dimensional part of the work. This visual poetry is metaphorically immersed in the work like a time capsule – a container that preserves objects destined to be unearthed in some future age – which is buried in a particular place. The sequence of images is actually revealed to the public only after all the other production stages are over.
The second phase, which is always fully documented by the artist, is that of the construction of the monument. Each construction phase is carried out in harmony with the metaphorical space that the artist wishes to create, so the ‘how’ (the process) has the same importance as the ‘what’ (the result). This is the preparation of what the public will eventually see at the exhibition. The work is very often conceived and produced by subtracting more than by adding, but we shall come to this later on. Poised between the second and third phase is the photogram into which the entire film is condensed. In the case of Momentary Monument – The Wall, for example, the end of the second phase coincides with the appearance of the sculpture as we see it in its official pictures: a wall of sandbags surrounds the monument to Dante in Trento, preventing access to it and almost blocking out any view of it. But the film condensed into this photo has not yet developed the most important part of the plot, which is the process of its destruction.
This third phase, which might be termed as one of ‘de-sculpt- ing’ or sculptural entropy is not performed in public but instead takes place after the exhibition has closed. It is, however, the real key to understanding the momentary nature of Lara Favaretto’s monuments. Every monument has its own way of being dismantled: (Stone) was reduced to dust and gravel by various industrial processes, while the ferrous waste of (Dump) was returned to the recycling process from which it had temporarily been taken, and the sandbags in (Wall) were grabbed mechanically by an earth mover so that they could be made into a single pile of sand and shreds of jute in a quarry. The process of entropic dismemberment and dispersion that takes place on the expiry date of the momentary monument appears as the culmination of the creative act, and the artist plans it with the same care as she devotes to the first two stages. In one of the classic examples used to illustrate the concept, entropy is likened to the action of mixing a bag of white sand with one of black sand, which leads to one that is more or less uniformly grey. The irreversibility of energy dissipation accord- ing to the second law of thermodynamics is easily intuitable, for it is clear to see that the two sands will never return to their original state by separating back into their distinct colours. Similarly, we shall never see Favaretto’s momentary monuments being resurrected from their process of de-sculpturing. While Robert Smithson’s ‘non-sites’ are metaphors of the site where they are gathered together, what remains of Favaretto’s monuments is a metaphor for the actions that occur in the time the monument exists, like posthumous frames of film.
The question of absence and negation, or rather of subtraction, does not play a role solely in the final phase. Each monument is designed and built around a process of deprivation that, I would say, almost mathematically subtracts elements from the realm of the visible. It is no coincidence that the series of cenotaphs – which in formal terms is linked to that of the Momentary Monuments – celebrates personalities who adopted different forms of escape and disappearance, which are themselves forms of subtraction. In chronological terms, (Swamp) is almost a three-dimensional manifestation of the unconscious, swallowing up memories we no longer even know we have, and we do not know if they are real or imagined. The swamp is a space where reality is subtracted, and it absorbs things and accumulates new memories only through absence and approximation. Like the unconscious, also the swamp conceals objects that have a memory, obscuring any direct radiation while nonetheless allowing their presence to impact reality as though they were spectres. Favaretto also tells us that it may contain real objects, absorbed by the monument as a power of negative attraction, like a black hole that swallows them up. In the artist’s words: ‘the swamp will be a mechanism designed to remain independent and inaccessible. This frustration will transform a hostile machine into an impossible device.’1 (Swamp) was the first Momentary Monument, and the one in which the idea of disappearance as the highest, ultimate celebration of a phenomenon culminates in its destruction, as the extreme fulfilment of the semantic parabola of an event to be recorded as absence. As we have mentioned, a monument is a legacy of past civilisations, or a celebration of the past in the future, but in the case of (Swamp) the withdrawal of memory into a dimension that cannot be perceived by the senses constitutes the ultimate process of negation. It constitutes a de-memorialisation of the world through the celebration of absence as a hollow space, a void that inevitably attracts.
This acting by negation appears differently in later Momentary Monuments: in (Stone) it appears in the perfectly rectangular but invisible hollow space carved out inside the stone, and in (Wall) it is the monument to Dante that is made inaccessible – in a negative ver- sion of a cinematic trope, the figure of Dante is hired as a walk-on (or rather, walk-off) artist – as though a state of emergency required protection against human or natural events that threaten its destruction. The temporary removal of nine objects from the pile of metal scrap in (Dump) is made manifest by the concrete shapes that fill the volume left by the abstract forms of the pile, acting as temporary surrogates. This withdrawal of nine elements is an action that is inverted, in mirror-image fashion, with regard to the burial of objects in (Swamp): the absence and its hollow form is made visible by the shift in space. In (Core) it is the invisible – what has already been removed from collective memory – that the artist attempts to visualise in a series of core samples: cylindrical geological specimens that show the stratification of memory in urban soil. These core samples are once again the reverse of the swamp. Memory, and where it is hidden, is defined by the inhabitants of Kabul in questionnaires, and Favaretto’s work of extraction is an attempt to understand it, as though in each of the places indicated in the past there had already been a swamp in which objects had traumatically been inserted. Michelangelo’s famous definition of the work of a sculptor as one by means of removal – per via di levare – as opposed to painting, which works by placing – per via del porre – is mathematically subjected to an inversion in the negative. This means that, instead of removing the superfluous and bring- ing out the form trapped in the marble, Favaretto gradually removes the form in order to produce what she herself refers to as the “space of perplexity”.
The negative of the second phase of Favaretto’s art becomes positive in the third phase through the addition of a further negative: that of de-sculpture. The prefix itself, “de-“, is somehow linguistically similar to Michelangelo’s definition, and its Latin etymological root is the ‘way from’. This makes it a distancing that has to do with separation, uprooting and deprivation, as though indicating that the mathematical game we are dealing with is played entirely on the ‘double negative’ and on a multiple form of inverted subtraction. Favaretto’s real monument does not appear solely in the paradox of a duration in time applied to the paradigms of permanence, for its strength is to be found in the positive cast brought about by a double absence. As a void, this positive has the same power to draw and attract as an absolute vacuum, devoid of any physical material. Like the condensation of a film in a photogram, this creates a process in which, following a mathematical formula, the movement of the various components compresses the work of de-memorialisation by means of sequential processes of subtraction. As they withdraw, Favaretto’s elements create a reduction in pressure comparable to that of the flow of air that provides lift to the wings of an aircraft or that moves the sails of a yacht.
The world of the imagination evoked by Favaretto in her visual artistic research when preparing the Momentary Monuments often has to do with disasters that may be caused by humans or by natural forces. Earthquakes, floods and wars all produce devastation. Their immense destructive force brings about another factor of subtraction, which is the de-architecturalisation of the urban landscape. The destruction that the artist evokes in her images, and almost resurrects, is like a brutal deconstructive process of no return, in which the action of erosion and change brought about by history over the years, and sometimes centuries, is compressed into an extremely short time. The time aspect of these destructive actions resonates with the temporary nature of this series of works. Even rubble is a monument, to some extent, as a form of involuntary de-memorialisation, which once again uses a process of subtraction that is all the stronger precisely because it is not planned in advance. In (Wall) this destructive force is brought to bear before the event, as though protecting Dante’s statue from possible plundering at a time of war. In cases like these, architecture in its purest form appears as the preparation and combination of materials that protects its contents from adverse elements. In (Wall) this purity is an instrument used to evoke the potential of the adverse elements themselves. In insurance jargon, one of the clauses that excludes coverage, except in certain cases, is that of actions caused by ‘force majeure’ or ‘acts of God’. In these ‘acts of God’, devastation erases memory, taking away the code or the people that might extract this memory from the few buried objects that are still intact, but made silent and empty by the fact that they have been uprooted from the context that gives them meaning.
Every Momentary Monument ends up as a small leftover, as though each of these sculptures had its own biography, and thus a birth, a life during which it comes into contact with the world, and a death after which something remains that recalls them – an object that contains a memory. Favaretto refers to these as relics: in the case of (Swamp) it is an oxidised brass blade, in (Wall) a series of stamps, in (Stone) it is gravel, in (Dump) it is concrete shapes and in (Core) the questionnaires filled in by the inhabitants of Kabul. So what do these objects tell us? They show us a way of looking at the world that does without words and attempts to approach meaning as a lack of meaning, a feeling of nothingness that only Eugenio Montale was able to capture in the words of the last stanza of his famous sonnet:
Don’t ask me for formulas to open worlds
for you, all I have are gnarled syllables
All I can tell you now is this:
what we are not, what we do not want
 Lara Favaretto, ‘Project for a Momentary Monument’, Domus, 10 June 2009
Momentary Monument – The Dump, 2012. 400,000 kg of scrap metal, 9 concrete elements. Site-specific installation. dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany. Commissioned and produced by dOCUMENTA (13) with the support of Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; The Banff Centre, Alberta; Rennie Collection, Vancouver. Photograph taken during the dismantling of the work: the metal objects are moved from the room where they have been exhibited to the original dump. Photo: the artist
Momentary Monument – The Stone, 2009. Indian granite 310 × 180 × 190 cm. Twister, GAMeC, Bergamo, Italy, 2009. Photograph taken during the cutting process of the stone. Photo: Francesca Ferrandi
Momentary Monument – The Dump, 2012. Production in course 400,000 kg of scrap metal, 9 concrete elements. Site-specific installation. dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany. Commissioned and produced by dOCUMENTA (13) with the support of
Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; The Banff Centre, Alberta; Rennie Collection, Vancouver. Photograph taken during the dismantling of the work: the concrete elements are removed from the Dump. Photo: the artist