“Mariano Fortuny was a great modern artist whose creations ranged from the development of theatrical lighting to the invention of particular methods for dyeing and printing textiles. Knowledge of the work in the collections of Palazzo Fortuny has enabled me to trace parallels with my own research as an artist. Questions relating to light, form, materials, structure, decorative arts and serial production are at the core of my concerns. I see this exhibition as a opportunity to create a dialogue between works of art from different periods; to engage with the work and spirit of Fortuny.”
This is how Henri Foucault interprets and explains his presence here at Palazzo Fortuny.
Sosein and Satori, the two series of work on display, comprise photographic images that concentrate on different aspects of corporeality. Each image is either punctured or re-defined by the dense agglomerations of steel pins that form a layer above it. In effect, the work focuses on the perception of light, on a redefinition of the sense of volume, on the relation between the two- and three-dimensional, between form and structure, between photography and sculpture.
Often, what we look for in photographs of bodies and things is mass rather than outline, weight rather than evanescence, the modulation of volume rather than the diaphanous extension of surfaces. However, Henri Foucault has long known that photography also possesses another undeniable gift: it exalts materials themselves, facing us with the problems raised by spatial perception, by the form and reproducibility of images. From the apparent conflict between the slow development of a volume and the instantaneous act of taking a photograph emerges the opportunity to blend together these two notions of sculpture and photography. Sosein and Satori, the two series exhibited in Venice, mark the stage the artist has reached in exploring this encounter, in radically undermining the traditional categories of art. The starting-point is the model, the human body. A particular photographic technique means that in the resultant images, this appears elongated; the details disappear, leaving a luminous field; sharp outlines are eschewed in favour of a blurred contour. Starting with this spectral representation of the real, with this ghost of a very present physical body, Henri Foucault then adds a new, sculptural, dimension. In Sosein (begun 2001), this further action upon the image involved punching holes in the paper, creating the effect of an enlarged serial weft – an attempt to undercut the materiality of the image in the very act of sculpting it. Superimposed but not fully aligned, these photographs then appeared to explore the possibilities of reflected light, exploiting the vivid contest between the black background and the white images of bodies.
In Satori, the second series (begun in 2002), there is addition rather than subtraction. The photographs of bodies are invaded by thousands of bright-headed pins which redefine the image due to the light which undulates over and off their metallic surface. The chosen title, Satori, comes from a Roland Barthes reference to Zen culture; it is a term that indicates the illumination of awareness, a certain shiver of lucidity.
Illumination, vibration, shiver – these are the features that result from putting the photographic image to the ‘test’ of sculpture. The works clearly continue a tradition in the history of art, highlighting the rational conflicts that exist between the volume of things and the illusory surface of their representation. Combining the stable and the imponderous, each work is physically disturbed by the world of the real. Within each there is a brilliant alternation of dream and labour.