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Catalogue essay for the exhibition Il Buco (The Hole), Rome, 2006

Art and Science

Art and Science: will it allow of a true marriage or must it remain an illicit relationship? The 20th century composer, John Tavener, wrote of ‘the one simple memory,’ a deeply buried sense of that time when understanding was unified and spoke to our inner wholeness. If this is true then at some period a taglio occurred, a rip or buco in our understanding of the world and ourselves, and so art began to separate itself from what today we would call science, as two different ways of understanding the same world.

Yet there are so many ways in which art and science address each other across this gap of the taglio, or dream of a missing dimension in which they will be reunited. It may occur in a meeting of the two disciplines, or in the life of an individual scientist or artist. Indeed, there is one supreme example of how the scientific and the artistic mind can meet in one man. Piero della Francesca, followed Cardinal Cusano’s dictum, in De Docta Ignorantia (1440), that ‘one could only approach the divine though symbols and mathematical signs.’ The Flagellation of Christ at Urbino is a magnificent work filled with rich geometric devices—it is no coincidence that the length of diagonal of the square structure on the left is equal to the length of the painting. In the painting two spaces or regions are defined—that of the suffering Christ and that of the secular world outside with its witnesses. (Is this the suffering of the historical Christ, or is it the Body of Christ which suffers at the division between the Byzantine and Roman churches?) And, yes, the buco is there and clearly revealed by a computer analysis of the painting. For Christ is standing at the exact center of a black disc. The rest of the floor, within the ‘divine space,’ has a tiling based on diagonals—which to the mathematician spells irrational numbers (the square root of two, remember Pythagoras Theorem?) while the area in front of the divine space has a regular square tiling system.

A more contemporary example of the complementary visions of art and science comes from the correspondence between the painter Charles Biederman and the physicist David Bohm. Bohm had long been seeking a ‘new order’ to physics, that missing dimension that would heal the taglio between quantum theory and the theory of relativity. In their correspondence together, Bohm learned of the portrait painted of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard by Cézanne. After over one hundred sittings, Cézanne told Vollard that he had not been able to complete a tiny portion of one hand. If he were to touch that blank spot, he would be forced to repaint the entire portrait. So, for Cézanne, within even the smallest region was contained or implied the entire work.

It was this anecdote that led Bohm to his missing dimension—the ‘Implicate Order.’ Our everyday world of space, time and causality, our world of separate objects in interaction, is no more than an ‘Explicate Order,’ a projection out of a much deeper reality—that of the Implicate Order in which all forms are mutually enfolded and mind and matter become a unified whole. It was this Implicate Order that Cézanne was seeking in his paintings. Bohm then went on to express the Implicate Order, as well as the notion of ‘active information,’ in mathematical form using algebras.

And there is an interesting sequel to this story. A few years ago, the sculptor Antony Gormley was in conversation with Basil Hiley (Bohm’s collaborator for many years) and myself over ideas of a quantum pre-space—the Implicate Order as expressed though algebra. We explained to Gormley that an algebra is ‘the relationship of relationships.’ He then went on to make a new piece Quantum Cloud, in which a series of straight metal bars, welded to each other, take on, at a particular angle, the shape of a standing figure. It is now mounted beside the river Thames.

Thus art informs science that informs art.

Il Taglio

Did it all begin with Descartes, who made a taglio between body and mind?

Wolfgang Pauli, one of the most exceptional physicists of the twentieth century, was haunted by the notion of a missing dimension, a dimension in which matter and psyche would be reunited, in which there would be a mystical marriage between the subjective side of physics and the objective side of psychology, a dimension in which there would be ‘the resurrection of spirit in matter.’

It was that missing dimension that Lucio Fontana attempted to reach when he first punched buchi and then took his knife and made a taglio in the canvas. Clement Greenberg had argued that the two-dimensional surface of the canvas was the arena of art. Fontana went beyond that arena as he looked for the fourth dimension, the transcendent dimension, the dimension of black light. And so too in this series of exhibitions Pio Monti has been asking where the concept of Il Bucocould lead the artist.

Il Buco Punto

  • Punto, the dimensionless point that ends a sentence or a book. Well, except for James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake with doesn’t end but goes on in an eternal circle.
  • Punto!’ the exclamation that ends an argument.
  • Punti which leave us…
  • It is the concept of the coordinate introduced by Descartes, a point in space represented by three numbers—its coordinates. But numbers are infinitely divisible and so space becomes infinitely divisible down to the dimensionless punto.
  • Punto/buco is the intake of a singer’s breath. It is the silence in John Cage. The entry of the notes BACH (in the German musical notation) in the Art of Fugue at which point Bach suddenly ceased to write.
  • The interval of blackness between two frames of a film which the mind blends into continuity. Or does it? For recently research appears to indicate that our consciousness itself is not continuous but a succession of moments of awareness.
  • The focal point of a lens
  • The center of a circle
  • The point at infinity that two parallel lines continually strive to reach
  • The vanishing point
  • The gap that invalidates an argument.
  • Two f-holes drawn on a Man Ray photograph that transforms a woman’s body into a violin
  • abba abba, that pause in thought after the octave in a sonnet.
  • The 19th buco—place to relax with a drink after a game of golf.
  • The missing mass of the universe.
  • The Black Sun, that symbol of the Nigredo—the first stage in an alchemical working.
  • The blackness of the first vocale in Rimbaud’s ‘A noir, E blanc, I rouge…’
  • The black light used by Lucio Fontana in 1949 for his L’ambiente spaziale a luce nera.
  • The rabbit hole down which Alice plunged into the world of marvels.
  • Two peepholes in the door we must peer through in order to see Marcel Duchamp’s last great work, Etant donnés: 1. la chute d’eau/2. le gaz d’éclairage in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  • The interval in which time re-entered painting with Cézanne. That moment between two movements when Cézanne, sitting on the riverbank turned his head, ‘now more to the right, now more to the left’ so that his ‘sensations’ multiplied with an intensity that was ‘always painful.’
  • It is the: at the end of a musical section that indicates we must return to the beginning, Da Capo.

And so the punto/buco/taglio is ubiquitous, for it both tears worlds apart, yet connects them in new ways. And finally, it is the famous of all buchi—the buco nero. Black Holes are the inevitable end points of stars of a certain mass as they lose energy and collapse inward under the pull of their own gravity. They are the vast Trash Bins of the cosmos. Their possibility was inferred by Karl Schwarzschild, as he examined the equations of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The Buco Nero is a mathematical singularity—a rip in the fabric of space-time, a region of zero volume and infinite density. The place where Einstein’s equations break down. The space we can enter with ease but never leave.

The Works

Begin with Lucio Fontana’s buchiwhich have become the archetype of the buco in art. Holes punched into another dimension.

The name Pio derives from Padre Pio who was a friend of the gallery owner’s father. And so it is natural that Roberto Cuoghi should portray the gallery owner with stigmata on his handsthe buchi of a saint.

Elisabetta Benassi tantalizes us. Here is a blue box with a hole. Maybe we would like to peer in the hole. But after all it would be easier simply to open the box and see…nothing.

Teresa Iaria’s video installation, Multiverse, opens us up to the world of superstrings, that theory of modern physics in which the elementary particles become the vibrational modes of incredibly tiny strings existing in an eleven-dimensional world. But if this is true then why do we not experience these extra dimensions? The reason is that they are curled up so tight as to be as small as…a point. In a variant of the theory two ten-dimensional universes exist at each end of a line in an eleven-dimensional space. While each universe does not ‘see’ the other, it experiences its gravitational pull. And so the mass of our twin cosmos becomes the ‘missing mass’ of our own universe. And so Iaria gives us a Multiverse with two sides, vibrating strings…and a sea horse.

Liliana Moro’s Pozzo di San Patrizio, refers to the well built on the orders of Pope Clemente VII at Orvieto in 1527.  But it is also a buco of memory, for once wells were the main source of water for many communities. It evokes the secret underground river that brought water to Siena and the strange voices emitted by wells in Ermanno Cavazzoni’s Il poema dei lunatici.

H.H. Lim’s buco is about missing the mark, il centrowhich in English is called figuratively bull’s eye ‘l’occhio del toro,’ that black central buco of the eye. It is also a medallion to be seen in another dimensiononly in Alice’s specchio do we see ‘ognuno di noi ha la sua stella,’ (each of us has his own star).

What can I say about Katharina Fritsch’s CAT? After all I am a physicist by training, and what else can I think of but Schrödinger’s Cat?: That quantum paradox of a cat placed in a box such that after one hour, when a radioactive substance has decayed or not, it is not alive OR dead, but both alive AND dead, and, indeed all possible combinations of dead and aliveness until, that is, we open the box and discover only one outcome. Yes, maybe that is what Katharina Fritsch’s CAT is all about. It is a cat with a question mark for a tail. It is the essence of catness, but also a round absence in the center.

Emilio Prini’s buco was created by accident when he folded a manifesto in four. Which also reminds us that chance is a buco in the laws of causality. It was chance that cracked Duchamp’s Great Glass and left it ‘definitively unfinished.’ It was the chance imperfections in a sheet of paper which indicated to John Cage where he should ink in musical notes. It was the chance disintegration of a radioactive nucleus that determined the (multiple) fates of Schrödinger’s Cat.

Jannis Kounellis’s buco is produced by a cigarette burn. It reminds us of that other form of chance, the bad luck we have when we happen to leave a burning cigarette on a friend’s coffee table or piano lid. Or that menacing character in a film noir who brings his cigarette closer and closer to his victim’s fact—cut to scream. But here it is a gentle burn; one produced deliberately. Like the first brush stroke on a blank canvas, or the first word typed on the blank page, it signals a beginning. The eye now has a place to rest. The work has begun, all that remains is to fill it in.

Damien Hirst collects and isolates—his famous The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living involved a shark suspended in formaldehyde within a glass case. Pharmacy was the pristine reproduction of shelving, and glass bottles. Hole in this exhibition is equally elegant—a cylinder, a white ball in a glass of liquid, and a diagram showing the positioning of the ball with different levels of fluid. Each object has a polished quality and the whole installation is isolated from us within its Perspex box. And so it is as much about surfaces, boundaries and isolation as it is about the objects themselves. It evokes the sensation of a relationship with someone whose emotions are carefully shielded, held back, deflected, deferred, untouched. It evokes the taglia between Self and Other.

Much of Anish Kapoor’s work has been concerned with il buco—sculptures, such as Adam, have interiors so dark that they suck in the light and leave us without any sense of place and dimension. It is an art of endarkenment. But there are also his complementary works—white surfaces and highly polished mirrors that have a similar effect of defying placement. One tries to ‘see’ the mirror, or the concave disk of highly polished granite, yet all one sees is one’s own reflection, or other objects in the room. In our discussions together, Kapoor has often asked ‘Where is the art? Where is the matter?’ And so in this work there is a sort of reverse of the black hole, the opposite of endarkenment. It is the ‘voice of light’ that banishes the darkness.

Luciano Fabro’s lovely lady has a new umbilicus, a white ball. The umbilicus is also a memory of that time when we were united to the mother. It evokes Freud’s thanatos, the death wish, that desire to return to our oceanic beginning. It is lady whose marks of sexual identity are swathed in black, whose arms evoke availability, yet whose punto of unity with the oceanic has been canceled.

Alighiero Boetti writes to the Pio Monti Gallery, his communication and then punched with holes in the envelope to spell out I VEDENTI.  Is this perhaps Braille for those who can see…or a guide for those who cannot? Holes in this case spell out a presence of information, rather than its absence.

Luca Vitone works with memory and with landscape. Here a collage of two images has been imposed as two holes in a photograph showing a wood of young trees. One image is that of Christopher Columbus meeting the inhabitants of North America; the other is a diagram of a well. The biologist René Dubois suggests that there is a ‘spirit of place,’ or ‘god of the landscape’ that enters into the people who live there. Here we see the encounter between the original ‘keepers of the land’ and the new arrivals from Europe. What well of memory of the ‘first people’ remains in north America today? How have the new inhabitants transformed the landscape and the ‘spirit of place’?  And what hole or gap exists between the New World and the Old?

Steven Parrino presents us with an elegantly simple hole. A circle of transparent paper on a background of carta the appearance of the full moon during daytime.

Marcel Duchamp painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa and called it L.H.O.O.Q., which when pronounced in French refers to her culo. Paola Pivi gives us the culo, but carefully shields it with a device for sitting on. It looks like one of those, probably very uncomfortable, chairs created by a designer. And, to return to science for a moment, how to identify a chair as a chair is one of those puzzles that Artificial Intelligence is still grappling with—after all how do we know that this object is for sitting on? Maybe Ludwig Wittgenstein could give us a clue? One thing is for sure. It is certainly not a fountain by R. Mutt (Duchamp).