An exhibition by Vittorio Santoro at Rosascape

From June 10th to July 29th 2011.

Vittorio Santoro
Paris, June 2011.

Rosascape is showcasing a series of "script works" by Vittorio Santoro — works "activated by other people" according to a rule fixed by the artist, thus making the various individuals co-authors of an artwork. It is important to state that however many elements a piece may comprise, each piece constitutes a single artwork rather than several. Unity arises less from the script itself than from the notion of action and participation in a shared process.
The work is never reducible to the object that constitutes it, but neither is the object ever a mere pretext for illustrating theoretical or conceptual reflections, etc. Firstly, VS's works are seldom made up of a single object. Instead, the artist deals mainly with mises-en-scène, stagings, or with composite arrangements. And as for the single-object pieces, they always convey the trace of past interventions. The objects provide a basis, but the purpose is not to expose a self-sufficient idea but, rather, to enable a reactivation of the piece.
The work can thus be viewed as a totality which, while taking into account the sphere of thought as much as work on the spatialisation of objects, places action and the notion of script activation at its core. The participant-spectator is invited to reflect on the nature of this act, and on how unity is achieved despite the extremely diverse nature of the participations.

Vittorio Santoro invites us to explore the notion of community in the realm of creation: a community of authors and of media. He stresses the idea that a work has no autonomous existence, being bound, instead, to reactivation. Like the "time-based text works" — a series of works which entailed repetitively writing down the same sentence over a six-month period — reactivation does not amount to repeating the same element. Thus, the unity established between the various pieces, and between the various letters making up the pieces, does not derive from the script — for the latter always remains the same — but from the action. An action which, through repetition, is amplified and reinforced. "I do not repeat the sentence", VS says, "I insist on the sentence" — and, similarly, the action is never the same: each one is unique, singular. In this way, the various participants' actions are brought together through the unity of the script and the expression of a singularity according to specific modalities. This singularity of action crucially constitutes the piece, making it perpetuate itself while constantly increasing in intensity. An intensification which is given over to any potential participant and thus, ultimately, to any spectator.

Let's consider the letters now. VS asks several people to write down the following sentence on a letter: "Silence destroys consequences" and to include the date and location of writing. Such data — the dates and sites where the works were made or the scripts activated — frequently feature in his work. These indications suggest the unsubstitutable and exclusive, and therefore eminently singular dimension of art-making. They also match the personal data provided by the participants. The same sentence can be copied down in myriad ways and contexts, with variations in the quality of paper used, the thickness of the line, the spacing of the letters on the page...the singularity expressed is not only of a spatial and temporal order, it also conveys something more personal. Indeed, you can sense an expression of shyness, arrogance, enthusiasm, indifference, and sometimes embarrassment as well.

Moreover, the names of the participants are not concealed, and you might even think the letters chosen for this show have been selected with specific visitors in mind. Many of the names are familiar, for instance, you recognise some of the people attending the private view. In this way, the boundary between the viewer and the viewed collapses somewhat: my name could have been on one of these letters, for I was, myself, present at the function, and in a sense it is as if I were indeed among the participants, while remaining unseen. I imagine myself responding to the request, I reactivate the process in my mind. And what would I have written? Would I have tried to produce a stylistic effect? Would I have left the envelope on my desk...never sent off, like most of the letters I write?

VS prompts the mental reactivation of a simple action. A gratuitous action. A free action, all the freer that it abides by elementary rules. This action might be accompanied by gestures, or instead solely constitute a mental action.

Reactivation of an artwork and the mental trail are also central to VS's "Erased contributions" piece, as well as his Ermenonville forest project. In fact this feature is present in almost all of the works shown at Rosascape (although the status of "Man leaving on a ship - in a room" is perhaps somewhat different).

During my interview with VS, we only very briefly attended to the role of the imaginary in the process of apprehending and defining an artwork. What prompts me to take this as a guiding thread is that it is closely bound to the question of the space given over to the singular expression of the participant-spectator — in other words: their share of freedom.

Contrary to how it might appear, for the spectator, expressing their singularity does not mean attaching anything and everything to the work they behold. Only in appearance does VS leave the way open to all possible interpretations of his work. In fact, this is one of the elements that greatly surprised me during our interview.

To each possible reading angle I suggested, VS initially responded with a "no", or with: "you could interpret it that way, but.." — then rejecting the interpretation. I went on to realise that these "nos" are pervasive features of his work. The artist is constantly laying down obstacles in our path of interpretation, but they are obstacles which somehow guide us. He does not reject an interpretation on the grounds that it does not match his intention, but he dismisses lazy interpretations which ultimately turn over the same hackneyed ideas or project overly common categories of thought.

Thus, the diversions VS enforces on us lead us to the idea that singularity can be expressed in myriad ways. It is as if the artist were inviting us to vary this modality of expression thanks to the obstacles set out, and via the principle of mental reactivation.
Imagination is a faculty considered either the foundation, the in-between state, or the byproduct of sensibility or reason. In this way, it is not uniform: it can be conceived in a diversity of ways. With all these theories, a common feature stands out: the idea of producing a novel form based on prior data.
Likewise for the expression of singularity: based on who I am — on what I have experienced, felt and thought — I produce something original and new.

But this production can take different forms. Here, we will attend to three of them:

The register of fiction. It is about re-using elements of past perception in order to actualise them in a composite form. You can thus refer to it as the combination or association of discrete elements. For instance a chimera could be a combination of the body parts of different animals. All fiction works this way, re-using and re-assembling real data in order to produce strangeness.

But imagination does not only involve fiction, it also plays a part in the immediate perception of objects. In Kant's theory of imagination, the faculty of imagining entails effecting a synthesis of the various impressions gathered by the senses to produce the form enabling you to discern discrete objects among these myriad impressions. We are no longer dealing with "composition" but with synthetic unification.

There is a third kind of imagination and the latter is of particular interest to us in that, here, the prior data are transformed to the extent that they disappear to leave way for the advent of an autonomous form. This kind of imagination is all the closer to VS's work that he frequently employs the method of erasing his sources: erasing his own singularity, the references he uses, the motives behind his art practice, etc.

Presently, we are dealing neither with combinations of elements attached to one another, nor with synthetic unification but, instead, with condensation. The term is borrowed from psychoanalysis and it refers to the unconscious process whereby several representations merge into one in such a way that the initial representations are no longer distinguishable. These representations are "nomadic mental images". Without studying this concept and its implications for psychoanalysis in detail, let's simply use the expression and what it suggests. "Mental image" refers to the faculty of imagining and "nomadic" suggests that our points of reference, the past, and our security have been erased. Being "nomadic" means advancing knowing neither where we are coming from nor where we are going, but focusing all our attention on the now of action which consists of moving forth.

In a sense, the only subjectivity that is has a place within VS's work is that of action. The mental act is thus different from a simple mental representation. It may not even be a question of interpreting the work, or only to come up against an ever reiterated dismissal, inviting us to relaunch our efforts in an endless quest.

On leaving, VS told me an anecdote, adding: "I don't want my works to be hermetic, but I refuse to state the obvious, what is already known...".

The essential point is therefore to feel involved and engaged in a simple and gratuitous act. Any interpretation that would let its impetus drop will be met by a refusal, a refusal of stability, contrasted by an incessant need for movement. In this way, these obstacles and refusals, which keep the momentum alive, are a condition of freedom. The action we are invited to perform may be a mental action, but this does not make it any less dynamic and singular, and therefore any less free.

Theodora Domenech.
Translated from the French by Anna Preger.

Read the text about the exhibition written by Jacinto Lageira
Listen the interview with Vittorio Santoro