by Vittoria Coen
ln this rich and diverse homage to Piranesi and his Roman monuments, Danieta Gullotta chooses from the artist’s many engravings those which represent sites that can still be found today.
0bserving these sites from the same perspective and portraying photographically what the city conserves, she traces a journey back in time, reìnventing, modifying and altering the visual and spatial perception of architectural forms which, already by the XVlll century, had become symbols of what the Eternal City had represented and continued to communicate to expert observers and to the early tourìsts on the Grand Tour.
The artist works conceptually, according to her very personal sensibility, playing with a double vrew poìnt, the hìstorical one that emphasizes the past stories evoked by “the eloquent Roman ruins” with all their physicaI and dramatic power, and the contemporary one that translates the spaces, both empty and full, the light and colour, as well as the whites, black and greys of the scenographic eighteenth century engravings, into new forms.
That “antiquity” of Piranesis, at together different to that of Winckelmann, is not the reassuring backdrop of a classicism which is almost fossilized through an excess of idealism. lt is not a model to be emulated and, rather than an object of worship it is a document to be studied, to be made known, with all the effects that time has subsequenty produced, intervening, as nature invariably does, and adding flavour and meaning to the original.
The subject of “ruins”, so frequently explored by artists in the past, has been softened in an atmosphere which tends to play down the drama and make it almost a natural way of being.
Instead, in these extraordinary works, the spaces and locations which have become imaginary as Piranesi’s “prìsons” had been imaginary, induce a sense of expectation rather than of dereliction, as though it were possible to envisage a future which would see those structures created many centuries ago for a specific purpose rise up again.
The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, specific locations in the city and in the works of Piranesi, can be identified, and it is precisely this ìnterweaving of reality and imagination, of faithfulness to what really exists and freedom of interpretation, that makes them so seductive.
The “ruins”, the industrial archeaological structures that Gullotta had already chosen in the 2006 exhibition, were the precursors of these latest works. Left to the neglect of time, these forgotten places, photographed by her with the curiosity of a present day explorer, came back to life in the “lnterior Works” through the decomposition and subsequent recomposition of arcades, ceilings, windows in deliberately altered perspective, as lonely and disquieting places. The stairways, like those of Piranesi, invited one to climb them even without knowing where they led.
There is a strong sense of continuity and persistence in the artist’s attitude, a sense of history which is not banal, not straight out of a textbook, but which instead leads to constructive reflection and comparison, albeit within a very balanced, free re-interpretation.
A perfect correspondence with the painting is found in the various materials that accompany and support this path. There is a dialogue between the canvas and the wood, the damask and the slate, the soft and the hard.
The preciosity of the damask confuses and blends lines and colours, while on the slate the smal modules compose a large work in which the architectural forms alternate and interact to unexpected and almost abstract effect.
The light is in the work, the whites and greys pierce the visuaI perspective providing flashes here and there, and transform the Roman monuments into something we have never seen before.
Architecture has a very speciaI place. Made to be usefull to man, to serve his basic needs, over time it has acquired its own qualities and values, initially perhaps with timid and modest ornamentaI detaits, and later with increasing freedom it assumed its own authority and autonomous rights.
The architectural object puts its roots down in nature, it wisely shares its unique aspects, it become so much part of the landscape that we would no longer be able to think of a place entirely devoid of it.
Only woodlands have their own naturaI architecture laying claim to all the space, like the ir repressible vegetation that inextricably enshrouds magnificent temples of the past.
So we could perhaps speak in terms of a challenge by the author of this work: to soar ever higher, to create forests ofstone on top of gothic cathedrats.
Or else to follow nature? Just as Piranesi, a Venetian who moved to Rome, was daring in his “caprices”, in his only church Santa Maria deI Priorato he created a monument which was not showy but was convincing in the respect of its memory.
Gullotta attentively registers the dialectical game of the artist of the eighteenth century, the so called century of the enlightenment, who was able to reconcile imagination with his story. The stylistic eclecticism and ideotogical syncretism of the city that is Rome, throughout its long history, make up the distinctive feature that emerges from the artist’s discerning setection, while the centre of gravity moves along an impressive archaeotogical trail and the linguistic code remains constant.
There exists a complexity here which does not derive from systems but from the course of events. The expressions that have ensued have therefore acquired quite naturatly that air of famitiarity that is proper to great historic cities. This is a way of narrating without shadows, but in depth, a choral embrace of wonders.
The Roman Forum, the Temple of Concordia and Trajan’s Column, full of imperial pomp and glory. The civic architecture, edifices made to be useful, possess the same solid certainly as an ancient temple, as the opulent and radiant sculpture of the Trevi Fountain, as the Castel Sant’Angelo, a fortification which is the very symbol of Papal Rome, of the close-knit bond between religìon and political power, and last to a Tempio della Tosse of uncertain origin, on the Latian coast.
Rome appears to us like a single, huge monument, in which at the seasons of history and of the history of art coexist, in which the Baroque and the Classical are neighbours, just as Christianity is found close to the remains of the pre-Christian age.
Equally deserving of attention are the Temple of Canopo, built during one of the most splendid periods of the Empire, along side the order temple dedicated to Minerva Medica, dating back to the Roman Republic, the more direct and significant Roman spirit, the more solid roots of a past which is atready heavily laden with a future.
To each of these, with elegant impartiality, Gullotta makes a gift of the precious damask and slate supports. Let us look at another world famous, symbolic monument, the Colosseum. ln Piranesi’s engraving the generally dark atmosphere is only interrupted by flashes of light which penetrate the centre in particutar.
Small beings visit the place; all around them is the “deafening” silence of history. ln Gullotta’s four versions, static moments alternate with formidable interwoven marks and brushstrokes, straight and curved verifing, drops which suddenly echo cert ìn Giacometti paintings or Anselm Kiefer scenes, then the path becomes more linear once again and the structures become the protagonists.
In these last works too the dialectical relationship with space is striking. Much has been said about Piranesi’s skies to describe their dramatic aspect, heavy with emphasis, of the various, increasing ly dark, versions, but which always create a separation between heaven and earth.
ln Daniela Guttotta’s paintings of architectural structures this separation disappears, especiaIly in the works in state, where the spatial decomposition seems to put high and to won the same plane. In this way the three dimensional effect is merety hinted at and space reatly does become something purely mental.
Often scenes of daily life can be found depicted in Piranesi’s engravings, thus tending credence to the thesis of those who maintain that there is a strong scenographic impulse to these works.
Men and women rarely appear in Gullotta’s paintings, just as they are not present in her industrial archaeologies. There is no trace of any human presence, which in Piranesi’s works has the popular flavour of everyday life, but there is almost a “humanisation” of the architecture, which today is even more heavily charged with profound symbology.
Suddenly, however, the form then seems to disappear, between the coloured painting of the background and reverberations of light and “the plastic elements of art are converted into mentaI plasma” as Barnett Newman said in his essay “The Sublime is Now”. Georg Simmel writes that “the fascination of ruins is that in the end a work of man is perceived as a work of nature”.
ln Daniela Gullotta’s work the internal view of the Pantheon particulary recalls precisely one of the internal views of the abandoned factories which she painted in 2005. Both are examples of a past life, even if they are separated by centuries of history and a different use from the beginning. Time, dust, dereliction, have led them to assume a different appearance, just as happened with the highly coloured Greek temples which have been presented to us in our time in a monochrome version which has then influenced our taste.
Already in the eighteenth century many of the places chosen by Piranesi were abandoned monuments or were used for a different purpose to their original one.
What would we think of St Mark’s Square in Venice if, instead of seeing it crowded with tourists armed with cameras, we were to see it full of animals and market stalls animated with the shouts of the traders engaged in their normal everyday “ tabours” ?
In Danieta Gullotta’s works, what allows for a traditional interpretation of the perspective view of an architectural form within a space – the space itself in relation to what the observer can see, the artist’s declared intention – all this seems to lead us to new relatronships, to original counterpoints.
The artist eliminates all distances, appropriates the spaces, allows energy into her works like a fresh breeze. It is a form of painting that “breathes” and surprises us by its infinite abundance of ideas and of variants. Every work is a story, a sensitive memory fixed by the absolute mastery of technique but never abused by it.
The fresh breeze therefore, to be such, must be able to look back at history and the history of aesthetics, with an awareness that walls, ruins, chapels and pagan temples may never perhaps be able to reveal themselves completely… and that therein perhaps also lies their fascination.