Aeon of Pangaea (everthing that is said is said by an observer), 2015, Spinnerei Halle 14 Leipzig
Installation, wooden tower, camera, 4 entomological boxes with drawings and paintings, video
Sound and video design: Paolo Bottarelli and Michelangelo Mazzari
The GEA hypothesis, formulated for the first time by the English scientist James Lovelock in 1979 in "Gaia. A New Look at Life on Earth ", argues that the entire biosphere is an example of symbiosis on a global and universal level. A super-organism capable of self-regulation to maintain balance at all levels, a homeostatic and autopoietic system. Entropy, isotropy, chaotic systems, systems of complexity are all part of a single self-generating motor, in continuous, alive and perpetual motion in time and space.
The installation presents a Foucault pendulum, the device named after French physicist Jean Bernard Leon Foucault conceived it as an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth through the effect of the Coriolis force. The pendulum is hidden inside a closed wooden tower four meters high: the physical demonstration of the earth's rotation is possible to be observed only through a camera.
A camera, like a third eye of control, films the interior of the tower. Observers cannot perceive the actual oscillation of the pendulum, except through a feedback mechanism that is presenting the oscillation on a screen in the exhibition space. The feedback mechanism is an automatic control mechanism that allows a "machine" with a given goal to self-regulate itself in the course of its operation, correcting the deviations from the program provided by its designer.
In this triad between observer, controller and system to be controlled, the input and output of information is experienced in an unfinished way, suspending the judgment of the public and leading the main statute of cybernetics inevitably to Goedel’s incompleteness: in the act of observation an activity of selection, delimitation and organization of the data is necessarily inherent, which tends to affect the absolute objectivity of what is observed.
Even in front of a truism as the rotation of the Earth, every observer is here free - even for a few moments - of getting carried away by his own truth.
All that is said is said by an observer, and each observer is always different from another.
The Ultimate Capital is The Sun
19 Sep. 2014
NGBK Berlin, Germany
A project curated by Elena Agudio, Dorothee Albrecht,
Bonaventure Ndikung, Matteo Pasquinelli, Eylem Sengezer
The Greek word metabol? meant originally to change and, literally, to throw over. In times of worldwide human-made transformations, climate change and ecological awareness, expanding and exploding the notion of metabolism seems to be crucial to understand present and future politics. The exhibition investigates the understanding of ‘metabolism’ in contemporary art in a dialogue with philosophical and scientific research beyond Eurocentric rationalization.
Biological metabolism is a process that constitutes living beings in their continuous exchange with their environment. Photosynthesis, for instance, struggles to capture and condense solar energy at the basis of the food chain that sustains the whole biosphere. For the parasitic relation of terrestrial life with the outside cosmos, French philosopher Michel Serres in his book The Parasite once defined the sun as our energetic horizon and the very ‘ultimate capital’.
Like many other scientific ideas, as soon as the concept of metabolism emerged in the 19th century chemistry and biology, it generated a contagious fascination in art and politics. Marx himself registered the ‘metabolic rift’ provoked by the industrial revolution and envisioned a ‘social metabolism’ long before environmentalism. However today the human appears to be made also of the non-human, of a heterogeneous stratification of minerals and microorganism, including machines, synthetic materials and immaterial data.
The exhibition The Ultimate Capital is the Sun brings together artists, philosophers, scientists and curators to explore various grounds of metabolism with no desire to establish a centre of gravity.
Savvy Contemporary - The Laborator of form/ideas
Chesscube Project – Mind Rooms
Reaching the last room of the exhibition, the viewer steps into the mind space of
Chesscube Project – Mind Rooms is a representational version of some of his much larger ‘cube’ projects. The intelligent and Kentridge-esque like room, is a room penetrated by the incessant sounds of we-don’t-know-quite-know-what, but that is hard to endure physically being in the space for much longer than to make links and considerations between the tiny photos, diagram – type drawings and the cube like objects displayed.
Curator: Curator: Bonaventure S.B. Ndikung, Lara Merrintong, Gusy Sanna
Kod epohi (Zeitgeist) MOSKOW 2013
The “Kod epohi (Zeitgeist)” festival is an experiment in which contemporary artists,?musicians, choreographers and intellectuals generate new ideas. It is an intrusion into?material world of amazing things, in which the brightest ideas of former epochs are?imprinted. The very notion of epoch is questioned, when the development of ideas is?considered as infinity, where the most important is the pulse marking the points – Now?– Now – Now. Is it possible to understand in this rhythm, what the contemporaneity is.?Objects from the collection of the Museum of Applied and Folk Art coexist here with?objects of contemporary art. This neighbourhood challenges the established notions of?clear borders of historical epochs, doubts the evidence of the very idea of epoch, and?puts a question: who, with what aim and with which consequences is marking the?borders of contemporaneity, mapping the time».
At first glance, it seems obvious that historical time is divided into ages, eras, periods and generations. The categories which designate them, such as "antiquity" and "middle ages", "feudalism" and "capitalism", "classicism" and "romanticism", "60s" and "70s", "ottepel'" and "perestroika" often do not require explanation. Learned back at school, they seem self-evident. It is doubtless that every period has its clear time limits, as well as a set of specific characteristics, through which we can identify it and distinguish from any other. Looking at a thoughtful gargoyle, we understand that it would be a fragment of a Gothic cathedral. Seeing on the wall a portrait of Hemingway in a sweater, we understand that we are in a Soviet apartment from 60's. Certain things are easy to form into a gestalt, and in the mind there appears a guess that some time our age will also get its nickname, and will be immediately answering to it. Guess is replaced by eager curiosity, the curiosity being replaced by desire to collect by ourselves all the keys to the present on one ring, to become Columbuses of our own epoch.
ENTERING THE MIND'S I (I) Beijing, CHINA, 2011
China National Convention Center during the meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM)
Entering the Mind’s I: Some reflections on the Chinese notion of Self
The concept of the individual as outlined by Western philosophy finds its most successful and most immediate conceptual and visual transposition in the work The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo, the portrait of an individual who dominates the space around him with his body. The space surrounding him becomes a mere backdrop that requires a human presence to be activated. The individual becomes the measure of the entire cosmos, the signifier and signified of an existential dimension whose ultimate meaning stresses the importance of self-assertion as a point of departure and arrival for the entire human experience. No iconographic representation could be more antithetical to the concept of the individual characterized by the entirety of Chinese philosophy and culture than the Vitruvian image. In Chinese culture, the individual is deeply bound to the context in which he operates. Confucian canons stress that, for an individual to be fully considered an individual and endowed with a sense of humanity, he must engage in a process of genuine interaction with and participation in the other in order to create his own ontological value. As a result, a symbiotic process between the Self and the world is necessary; their perfect harmony reaches its peak in the concept of tian ren he yi (nature and man as one). This phrase literally means “the union between the sky (nature, universe) and man,” which implies the full contiguity of the sphere of the individual with that of the cosmos, whose precepts govern the life of each individual. The individual is considered an individual because he is part of a totality that transcends him and completes him. According to Chinese philosophy, the link between man and cosmos, as well as man and society is represented by an individual’s heart, in Chinese xin which means both heart and mind. Therefore, for the Chinese the locus of the mind is the heart. The overlapping of heart and mind and their coexistence in the concept of xin stresses the adherence and unity of reason and emotion: the heart is the tool the individual relies on not just to approach the world but also to know it, conveying both affective and cognitive implications. The heart xin has the capacity for logical reasoning, rational understanding, but also moral will and imagination: it acts as a holistic structure, not subject to any binary logic, in which all human structures are integrated and are unified. Xin reflects the blending of thought and feeling, ideas and emotions, and therefore acts as the site of infinite potential.(M.Lietti)
Featuring the works of Paolo Bottarelli, Li Yongbin, Luan Xiao, Shubigi Rao, Nathalie Regard, Chris Sharp, Jeremy Shaw
Entering the Mind’s I is a project realized with the support of Daniel Margulies, Cameron Craddock, Sepideh Sadaghiani, Nathalie Regard.
ENTERING THE MIND'S I (II)
Organized by the Association of Neuroesthetics (AON) and the NeuroBureau for the OHBM, July 13-14 th. 2012, Theran, IRAN
HIPNEROTOMACHIA UNIVERSALIS Berlin, GERMANY, 2012
Hypnerotomachia Universalis is a new project by Paolo Bottarelli, inspired on the paradoxes of the universe and of the infinite.
Recalling the title of the allegorical romance "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili"by Francesco Colonna published in Venice at the end of the XV century with the notable and sophisticated xylographies by Aldo Manuzio, the artist has elaborated a series of old prints in a wall installation as a mental circuit and an oneiric travel towards a possible and personal "event horizon".(P.B.)
CHESSCUBE PROJECT MIND ROOMS
The project schedules the realization of 64 unique units, or ChessCubes.
These “cubes” are a 3D projection of a chess-square, and will be realized in pair, one black and one white.
Bottarelli refers to these 64 heterotopic units as “mind rooms” or monads, the term used by Leibniz to indicate the basic unit of perceptual reality. Monads are here considered centres of force, pure energy, in contrast with the Cartesian idea of extended substance or res extensa.
Inside each monad the artist creates a mental state.
In the 32 white cubes the mental states are represented with positive properties, in the other 32 with negative ones. The monads have no doors and no windows, as Leibniz explained: hence they will be hermetically closed and the only way to have access to them will be through intuition and intuitive apperception.
Each cube will be catalogued with the use of three different media: it will be photographed, filmed and painted by the artist; once the cube will be closed the photograph, the video and the painting will be showing the intern of the cube.
All the installations in the cubes will be geometrically organized and mathematically calculated.
Each cube will have a different acoustic tone, realized with ultrasounds and binaural beat frequency.
The ChessCube project is a game the artist is playing against himself, a challenge between his two cerebral hemispheres, between the drive towards the irrational and the inclination to the rational.
VIDEO - SOUND DESIGN: NOTES ON THE „CHESS CUBE PROJECT mind rooms“
The principles used in composing the soundtrack to the video in this
installation are based on ideas of dichotomy, auto-poietic synthesis
and fluctuation. Through a process of self-cancellation and
self-regeneration, in a semantic dialogue between the various
morphological and spatial forms, the sound event is focused on
diegetic reasoning that emphasizes the space, rendering it a kind of
In the composition "White Square", one hears a binaural beat located
around the key E (330Hz), with a fluctuation of 11Hz that in resonance
stimulates the cerebral electromagnetic waves, bringing them to a
frequency typical of a lucid dream and the REM phase of deep sleep.
The key E, recognised by Leonid Sebaneev as the “white” key, finds
autopoiesis in the white noise, which represents the sum of all
frequencies, a whole from which the binaural beat stands out. The
kinetic value of the video's frames is stressed through the revealing
of the binaural beat against the white noise background.
In “Black Square” instead, a full set of all frequencies - expressed
by a type of complex sound wave called brown noise - is filtered
through a LowPass Filter 24db, at a rate of 70Hz. This frequency
corresponds to D flat, a tonality typical of nocturnal and dreamlike
dimensions that composers like Chopin, Beethoven, Wagner favored, but
which was also a founding tonality of much of the music from India.
The fluctuation of "White Square" is in contrast to the relative
“frequency lull” that "Black Square" obtains with it's subtracted
White begins, or Bottarelli experiments
Media criticism, conceptual art, visual turn: for decades the sophisticated visual concepts in the realm of art have been struggling with gender issues and social inequalities. The white cube of the museum is blinded by the play of references, while in the blackened video space anything goes. In this moment of media excess, the fleeting performance of a game of chess can bring clarity and insight. In the later part of his life, Marcel Duchamp chose chess as his sole form of artistic expression. More so than other games, which owe their meaning and structure to chance, chess follows an ordering principle that demands both mental agility and a great capacity for abstraction. The beauty of a chess game is measured solely on the basis of the player’s intellectual acuity. Even when played in the presence of an audience, or illustrated as drawings in magazines and books, a chess game seems hermetically sealed, isolated in a world that is determined by rules of its own and only includes the chessboard and the players. As a result, the milieu of chess players remains limited. For many, this insularity makes the game seem like an intellectual realm of purity. “The milieu of chess players is far more sympathetic than that of artists,” Marcel Duchamp once said. “These people are completely cloudy, wearing blinkers. Madmen of a certain quality, the way the artist is supposed to be, and isn’t, in general.”
The game has been an established reference in modern art ever since Dada and surrealism at the beginning of the twentieth century. Both art movements used playful elements or quite directly used party games to dissolve the limits of traditional art production and to integrate experimental components in their work. Yet a decisive aspect distinguishes art from the game in general. While the latter always consists in an action that begins in the same place, the former has the finished work as a goal. Even Duchamp, with the typical perfectionism of the spoilsport, was not satisfied with brilliant strategies. Alongside his chess playing, which he stylized demonstratively as merely a way of passing the time, he not only crafted several utensils for the game, like pocket chess sets and boards, but also made chess a central motif of his work.
Like Duchamp, Paolo Bottarelli has established himself not only as an artist, but also as a rather good chess player. In fact, playing chess has come to encompass almost all realms of his life. The ChessCube project, which is materialized for the first time in the two Oslo cubes, is not the artist’s only work related to chess. But with a total of 64 cubes planned, each the size of a room, it is by far the largest. It emerged as a game he played against himself as a challenge of the rational ego to the irrational. It is planned to have these three dimensional extensions to chessboards appear in pairs during the years to come: in each case a black one, symbolizing chaos, and a white one, representing order. The content of these cubes will exclusively be communicated by way of images that are placed next to the closed boxes. The installation is completed by bi-aural recordings of ultrasonic sounds.
Over the last ten years, Bottarelli has not only engaged obsessively (and highly successfully) with chess, but at the same time has dedicated his attention to mathematics, music, and the neurosciences: this explains the mixing of many game categories from chess with the patterns of scientific experiments that characterize his installations. Against this backdrop, his paintings seem like intuitive strokes of genius. Their relationship reveals the central role of the game in the artist’s universe. Finally, art operates in a field that, like the fictional space of chess, follows its own rules and regulations. It ultimately reveals the Janus-faced quality of aesthetic autonomy. The price for this critical distance has always been a vulnerability to the accusation of a lack of relevance, for the game and art are considered self-reflexive realms that lack any relevance for the real world.
In fact, Paolo Bottarelli’s ChessCubes stage themselves in an oscillating blur, referring back to themselves and to other things. They are, as it were, a structure of possibility in the framework of experimental arrangements, or, in Duchamp’s sense, pseudo-experiments that mix the latest results of neuro-anatomy with older philosophical concepts. Bottarelli himself calls his three-dimensional chess squares heterotopic units, or, using a term from Leibniz, “monads”. In this sense, they are conceived as mirrors of the universe. Strictly speaking, monads have no particles and no extension. But they possess a matter that Leibniz later characterized as ether, or light matter. This strives toward infinite extension, but itself has no dimensions. Basically, the Leibnizian monad is a mediating substance that streams between body and soul without actual openings towards an outside of whatever kind.
Bottarelli’s parings of cubes are also hermetically sealed. Their complementary colors and heterogeneous design do not stand solely for the metaphysical dilemma of physical and mental harmony. They equally symbolize the ancient concept of chaos and cosmos as well as the only recently discovered division of human processes of perception in the left and right sides of the brain. This lateralization of the brain, also called ‘hemispherical symmetry’, postulates that while the halves of the brain are constructed in an identical fashion, in hominids the two hemispheres undertake different tasks. Generally, the left half of the brain contains arithmetical and linguistic, conceptual functions, while the right half includes spatial imagination and musical talent (on occasion, symmetrically reversed, but always separate). Incidentally, it has until now not been possible to identify any single area of the brain as the site of self-consciousness.
For us to place individual phenomena in a meaningful context, it is usually important to assign them a location and a specific temporal structure. Equally, the intensity and quality of colors, volume, and light play an influence on the quality of our perception. Normally, our brain can absorb these stimuli simultaneously, regardless of which of our senses is being addressed, whether it is hearing, sight, taste or touch. In Bottarelli’s cubes, everything is focused on the dis-integration of perception. The image is separated from the object, the sound from the image, and the time in the image is different from what takes place inside the isolation boxes, never mind in the film. The brain is thus much more strained, even if the video of the inside of the cube, for example, corresponds to the cursory scanning that we use to relieve our brains in repeating situations. This works because perception is based to a large portion on experience. If this were not the case and we could not complete things already known, our cerebral system would be severely overtaxed. It would most likely implode. Seen in this light, Bottarelli’s cubes are workshops of imagination that want to evoke the avant-garde dream of the unity of image and world. This results in the separation between things in themselves and their appearance, or, in the words of Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, but not without referring reflexively to itself again and again in its individual parts by integrating images, objects and film in the riddle of a long series of references.
The matter is yet more encrypted still. The mathematical superstructure, which dominates Bottarelli’s installation to the smallest detail, clearly comes from much older sources. Parallels to Bottarelli’s ideas and methods can be found in the hermetic philosophical systems from the Renaissance in particular. The possibility of combining art and memory was already explained in Giordano Bruno’s unfinished treatise Lampas triginta statuarum. Bruno develops neo-Platonic hermeticism in a highly complex image of the universe that by way of pictures and imagos not only can be memorized but also re-cognized (in the sense of cognition, Erkennen) in encyclopedic breadth. One influential mediator between the late hermetic ideas of a Giordano Bruno and the implementation of universal systems into actual buildings was the English philosopher Robert Fludd, who introduced the notion of the so-called round and square arts, which, unified into a memory system was to be placed in actual spaces. This system and others like it were maintained particularly by clandestine associations, like the Rosicrucians or Freemasons, who under the influence of the ingenious English mathematician John Dee believed that numbers were the key to all things. Here, we return to the chess game, which can be considered an intersection between mathematical calculation and a universal metaphor for life. This dual perspective ultimately lies at the basis of the epistemological necessity of various correlating modes of consideration: one with a worldview based in the natural sciences and one with a worldview rooted in philosophy.
The cubes—neatly divided into black and white, that is, the worlds of chaos and order—try to get a grasp on this paradoxical structure by simultaneously revealing and concealing objects and the representation of these objects. The world as representation separates in the moment of immersion from the world as will. Now it is no longer the will that is definitive, taking possession and incorporating, but pure representation. The world seen as mere representation corresponds to its becoming an object in the subject. Schopenhauer describes the conditions for this drive towards cognition as follows: “If we are to grasp the true essence of a thing we cannot have the least interest in the thing, that is, it must stand in no relation of any kind to our will.” In a handwritten note, he continues: “The contemplated object must be torn from the currents of world events, its where and its when must be forgotten, according to the base of being: the contemplating individual must forget himself, not knowing who the viewer is, not being aware of the moment in which he and the viewed object find themselves: only in this way will its consideration be freed of the ultimate and most adhering shaping of the statement of the basis, of time.” How better to describe the hermetic wonder chambers of the chess cube project?
At the same time—and this reveals a lasting and fundamental dilemma—Schopenhauer claims that no contemplation is possible when thought is dominated by logic and we ask for the why and to what purpose. Science—whose subject is the description of the material world and whose end is to gain knowledge about regularities between phenomena—does not go far enough, just as the individual intellect can never truly comprehend ideas. This is reserved for the genius, who in turn acts concretely, not abstractly, and is closer to the realm of art than that of mathematics. What Schopenhauer asserts here continues in art today as the latent cult of genius, which attributes to the work or the creator a difference that cannot be captured in language. Bottarelli counters this mythical je ne sais quoi with his hermetic cubes, whose monochromatic walls reject the desiring gaze. (S. Prinz)
The Museum of The Innocent Mind (and it’s visitors)
„Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés“ - Stéphane Mallarmé
Let’s take a tour: Imagine an eccentric being which undertakes it to create a complete collection of all the paintings of all the museums of the world (for a new museum yet to build, let’s say). Painters are employed in order to portrait these collections on single paintings to manage the pictorial and material abundance, which then will be part of this encyclopedic enterprise. Imagine this as distant real-world-echo of Warburg’s Bildatlas project. This raises the question, if this new collection should contain a painting of itself and if this painting should then contain an image of itself, and consequently, if this image then should contain an image of itself...ad infinitum. Despite the pitfalls that such a mise en abyme may mean for the artist’s skills, the construed reflexivity of this fictional metamuseum bears no paradox as in the case of famous Russell’s paradox: Does the set of all sets, that are not members of itself, contain itself? If it doesn’t, it is a set, which doesn’t contain itself and should thereby be an element of itself by definition, which is a contradiction.
So what? One might take the conjectured interior of Bottarellis Chess Cubes as an reduced version of this fictional metacollection, which looks like the stylish-minimalism-of-a-gallery-for-contemporary-art-version of a late renaissance Wunderkammer, where the possible inventory of art has collapsed into it’s metaphysical essentials. And one might think here of Paul Valéry’s illuminating hint, that a principle ‘problem of the museum’ is it’s visual overflow through the synchronicity of all the presented probes of different genres, styles and (true?) mastery: Beauty doesn’t deserve distraction, but attention and focus. The ethics of the mind has to consider it’s limited capacity of awareness.
This thought might well be the source of the metaphorical significance of chess, a game where the players are moving around in a mental space of pure possibilities determined by a set of simple rules when they try to anticipate the strategic reactions of their opponent. This may be taken to evocate the artistic quest of pure focus and the conditions of an ‘innocence of the mind’. But where does the mind appear?
There is a direct line leading from Leibniz’ idea of visiting the brain scaled to the size of a fabric where nobody can see a thought, over the chess automaton called ‘The Turk’, who fascinated the European public of the Enlightenment (and was essentially a fake), to the thought experiment from physics known as ‘Wigner’s friend’ , trying to show how the mind/body-dualism could solve the measurement problem of quantum mechanics by taking the Cartesian dualism very seriously. In Wigner’s scenario an observer (the friend!) finds himself together with Schrödinger’s Cat encapsuled in a box. A deadly mechanism, governed by the laws of quantum mechanics only, may eventually cause the dead of the cat or not. As far as the theory tells us, without measurement the cat has to be described as a superposition state of being alive and dead at the same time, for a second observer outside the box. What should his friend inside tell him? As long as they do not communicate, the outside observer has to describe his friend as evenly being in a state of superposition, but it seems absurd, that someone could live in an entangled state of mind! But with information from the interior the state of the system should ‘collapse’ to a definite state.
Maybe we have simply to drop the dualism of essence and appearance here already and one might wonder whether one cannot read Bottarelli’s work as the inversion of the platonic allegory of the cave, turned inside out. By no means one can tell what this cubes really do contain and if the three outer images refer to their possible content or not. And maybe they just create their content in the mind of the beholder as invisible mental images. They are (to borrow an expression from Nelson Goodman) ‘ways of worldmaking’. The interior of the cubes then doesn’t only show a kind of metaphysical economy of art. Rather the relation between the outer representations and the ‘dark side’ of the cubes goes the other way round as well: what one sees are main forms of pictorial representation: painting, photography and video. They exhibit art as appearance, but as one already knows, there is no ‘innocence of the eye’(Ruskin).
When the question of self-conscious representations is metaphysically highlighted, one should have in mind their first philosophical elaboration in Leibniz ‘Monadology’, the system of ‘spirited atoms’. According to it, the monad is a self containing metaphysical point “without window”, since it is conceptually designed as having no causal contact with one another monad, but constituted by inner representations of all other monads, so that it can only identified by the it’s inner qualities (and other intrinsic properties) capacity of a monad of having inconsistent ‘phenomenological’ content makes it a “center of change” and thereby a basis to form what Leibniz called “possible worlds”. It was ‘one of Leibniz favorite metaphors’(Nicholas Rescher) to say, that these substances of a possible world “‘mirror’ one another their mutual accommodation”: Communication without communication.
Putting Ruskins formula into question on a higher level, Botarelli’s project can be conceived as forming a tradition with Magrittes ‘La reproduction interdite’ and Marc Tansey’s ‘The Innocent Eye Test’, which one could call modal realism, a term associated with the analytic philosopher David Lewis, who (also inspired by Leibniz) defended the idea, that all possible worlds are indeed actual in the same way our world is, but aren’t something (according to Saul Kripke’s lapidary remark) “that we can view through a telescope”. The perception of possible worlds requires different faculties.
In Bottarelli monadic metainstallation the ‘outer museum’ of the cubes interior is part of the exposition itself, and the eccentric position of the beholder as a homo spectator then reflects it’s proper paradoxical condition. He might then be in good company with other possible visitors, like Musil’s Man Without Qualities with his sense of possibility or Calvino’s Mr. Palomar, who (more likely a whole observatory than a Kripkean telescope) is confronted with the following question (in a chapter titled ‘The World Watches the World’):“But how can you look at something and set your own ego aside? Whose eyes are doing the looking? As a rule, you think of the ego as one who is peering out of your own eyes as if leaning on a windowsill, looking at the world stretching out before him in all its immensity. So, then: a window looks out on the world. The world is out there; and in here, what do we have? The world still--what else could there be?”How is it possible for the artist (and everyone else of course) to be abstemious of himself via his own works and actions? I consider this as one of Bottarelli’s crucial questions embodied in his experimental work: How to become an innocent mind? Maybe one might consider the following thought of Mr. Palomar’s ancestor, Valéry’s Monsieur Teste as good advice on his way: „Il faut entrer en soi-même armé jusqu’aux dents.“ (D. Kirchhoff)
AUTOPOIESIS Italian Embassy Berlin, GERMANY, 2010
A game of chess against oneself
Autopoiesi is the performance-installation presented on October 8th 2010 at the Italienische Botschaft in Berlin: a sculpture including a halved chessboard, a mirror and 16 vertically bisected pawns, composing a single line-up of white and black pieces. The image of the chessboard and pawns is doubled in its true yet paradoxical mirror. During the performance, Paolo Bottarelli played a simultaneous game against eight NOTP artists, and the sculpture will become the ninth chessboard: the battlefield for the artist’s conceptual struggle against himself.
At nightfall, in a mansion just in front of a dense patch of wood, wanderers and characters from an impervious literary trip often find shelter. Knights, dames and players interweaving their fates in an only seemingly aleatory combinatorial game. “The Night of the Pawn” generates potential poetic incipits. Chess players, pawns about to be moved, tobacco, a somewhat chivalrous Stimmung. Then comes the realization that many artists hide among the players: Euclidean narrators of pictorial visions, conceptual coolers of ever-becoming images, failed experimenters of domotic utopias. The story develops through chapters. The stage becomes livelier, guests start pouring in and the players take their seats. A halved chessboard lies alone, the guests are intrigued and avoid looking at it. Chapter two: the game starts, on each chessboard the pawns face gaping, abyssal mazes. The players’ minds are lost in sophisticated combinatorial calculations. Time twirls around itself. Third moment: every battle gets a winner, every winner gets a scalp. Holed up in the victory, the artist hides behind the king. The latter decides to start the game anew. The contestants once more face the challenge. The halved chessboard comes into play.
“The game now doesn’t exist except in its reflection, within time as a merciless doubler of metaphysical struggles, deceiver of whatever superfluous still keeps its balance. The impassable mirror, the inquisitioner’s nightmare, is still keeping a balance as well, by its nature doomed to play a game that’s dead at its birth, consumed within itself, imposed by too loud a solitude to hush it with a final, totalitarian, absolute checkmate”¹
The night is now full, the scene starts blurring.
“When the players have departed, and
When time has consumed them utterly,
The ritual will not have ended”²
¹ Paolo Bottarelli, 2010
² Jorge Luis Borges, Ajedrez, a sonnet from “Dreamtigers”, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1964
MIRROR PAINTINGS Spinnerei LEIPZIG 2010
L-R: Couples at work
When it is question of the origin of a human practice, it is well known that mythology rather than history should better be interrogated in order to obtain some crucial elements, able to illuminate not only the first archaic steps of the practice itself, but also the subsequent and even late ones, those which are performed in our contemporary world. Leon Battista Alberti, the first modern theorist of visual arts, recalls the ancient legend of Narcissus (narrated, among others, by Ovid in his Metamorphoses III, 339-510) when he wants to explain the very essence of painting: «I say among my friends that Narcissus who was changed into a flower, according to the poets, was the inventor of panting. Since painting is already the flower of every art, the story of Narcissus is most to the point. What else can you call painting but a similar embracing with art of what is presented on the surface of the water in the fountain?» (On painting, II, 26).
The mirror-image offered by the aquatic surface teaches the visual artist the essential nature of the pictorial image: this image is and at the same time is not the object or subject it reflects. Such an ambiguous status – both from a perceptual and from an ontological point of view – had been already recognized by the ancient Greek thought, and paradigmatically by Plato, who in his Sophist (239d-240c) had explicitly gathered together under one and the same theoretical issue “image” different objects such as «the images in water and in mirrors, and those in paintings, too, and sculptures, and all the other things of the same sort». For all of them, he remarked a strange intertwining of being and not being: images that are “like” the things they represent (the things they are “images-of”), although not being exactly the thing itself. «What we call a likeness – Plato asks –, though not really existing, really does exist?». And he finally argues: «Not-being does seem to have got into some such entanglement with being, and it is very absurd».
Many centuries later, the story re-begins (isn’t art history in itself a story of re-beginnings?) in Paolo Bottarelli’s artistic practice. He is evidently fascinated by the world of mirror-images, and this aspect of his art shows him as a contemporary node in the timeless development of the specular figures. But there is more. Paolo Bottarelli is a contemporary artist, meaning with “contemporary” not only the fact that he is perfectly alive and kicking, but also the fact that he is interested in reflection. Again, meaning with “reflection” not only the physical process of light deviated by a reflecting surface, but also the mental process of the meditating pause preceding deep comprehension of a phenomenon. His works are not only images of which one could try and determine their more or less adequate “likeness” to the real object they depict (their more or less perfect mirror-nature): they are two images that stand each other in a mirror-relation. Facing my mirror-image when shaving early in the morning, I can reasonably ask which side of the mirror reality (the original model) is, which other side imagery (the derived figure) is. Looking at two of his works, this separation of real and iconic sphere is no longer possible, and I am caught in a mutual cross-reference witch switches off the safe anchorage to reality and spellbinds the spectator within the autoreferential iconic bubble.
The simple decision of redoubling the mirror-image transforms Paolo Bottarelli’s paintings in meta-paintings that oblige us to examine the ultimate nature of the mirroring itself, maturing our full awareness of the status and of the potentialities of the mirror-image. In doing so, Paolo Bottarelli decides to join a very prestigious and rich tradition of artists, philosophers and scientists who have found in the mirror-image an inexhaustible source for their research and work. Among the many artists, beside Alberti, we should mention a great master of mirrors like Leonardo, and all those Old Masters (like Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens) who experienced the mirror-inversion of their works because of the transposition from the original drawing or painting to the etching or xylography or tapestry. Or those artists, in whose works the main distance marked by the pupil in opposition to the master was exactly the mirror-inversion of the image (like in Agostino Carracci’s and Domenichino’s Last Communion of Saint Jerome). Or, again, those artists and theorists, like Kandinsky in his Point and Line to Plane, who stressed the major metamorphosis of an image when mirror-inversed.
Everything changes in an image, if everything remains the same but the relationship “right-left”: syntax, semantics, symbolism, and pragmatics, all these levels are deeply affected by the reversal of laterality. Space is isotropic only in the abstract constructions of geometry and physics, but it immediately becomes highly anisotropic and dishomogeneous when we enter the world of real life. Philosophers like Kant and Cassirer knew it very well, and taught us the fundamental role played by left hand and right hand as conditions of possibility of orientation in the living body. Since Robert Hertz’s studies, cultural anthropology has been examining the infinite nuances assumed by the opposition right-left in the rituals and customs of the different cultures. And since Mac Dax’s and Paul Broca’s experiments, neurology has been investigating the fascinating world of different functions managed by the left and right cerebral hemispheres. A visionary talent like the chemist Louis Pasteur had imagined in 1848 a kind of anti-world, in which all the molecules are exactly the same like in our world, except for the fact that they are mirror-images of ours: L-molecules, becoming R-molecules (and vice versa) are structurally the same, but their different orientation implies different effects and properties of the substances they constitute. The world of Art is not exempted from such a scenario: inviting his works in a mirror-dialogue, Paolo Bottarelli offers us a stimulating occasion to grasp visually one of the most powerful couples of the universe directly at work. (A.Pinotti)
ENTANGLEMENT Istanbul, TURKEY, 2009
Entanglemet - The process of mirror paintings -
The research of Paolo Bottarelli since two years is focused on the dilemma of the existing relationship between an original painting and its copy. His dare is the one to create an image and to translate it in an identical mirrored copy. The attempt to reproduce a primal icon is a challenge to recreate an aura that for definition is essential only to the original. His concern is the irreproducibility of the icon and his incapability to give birth to an identical image. Harking back to quantum entanglement, a real unsolved mystery of physics, the couple of identical and mirror paintings, opposite spin are the two particles entangled in the universe, being them linked even if distant thousands light years. The mirrored images become also a metaphor of the intrinsic dualism of western culture and the portrayal of the dichotomy of the two cerebral hemispheres of human brain. As in a chess match between the artist’s drive to the irrational and his inclination to the rational, Paolo Bottarelli is giving life to a chess board of possibilities, a combination of moves that foster an holistic solution to the detachment.
Entanglement is an “installation” composed by three canvases painted with oil and acrylic.
The destruction of a dualistic reality is here overcome by the epiphany of a third entity, a platform recalling the medieval “predella”. In later medieval and Renaissance altarpieces, where the main panel consisted of a scene with large static figures, it was normal to include a predella below with a number of small-scale narrative paintings depicting incidents from the life of the dedicatee. In Entanglement this third canvas is appearing above two separated and mirrored “icons”, losing its illustrative function to become a tool to unify the two mirror images and to give the birth to a new icon.
The cube of diplophobia
One can speak of the good mental health of Van Gogh who, in his whole adult life, cooked only one of his hands and did nothing else except once to cut off his left ear,? in a world in which every day one eats vagina cooked in green sauce or penis of newborn child whipped and beaten to a pulp,? just as it is when plucked from the sex of its mother.? And this is not an image, but a fact abundantly and daily repeated and cultivated throughout the world.? And this, however delirious this statement may seem, is how modern life maintains its old atmosphere of debauchery, anarchy, disorder, delirium, derangement, chronic insanity, bourgeois inertia, psychic anomaly (for it is not man but the world which has become abnormal), deliberate dishonesty and notorious hypocrisy, stingy contempt for everything that shows breeding.? insistence on an entire order based on the fulfillment of a primitive injustice, in short, of organized crime.? Things are going badly because sick consciousness has a vested interest right now in not recovering from its sickness. This is why a tainted society has invented psychiatry to defend itself against the investigations of certain superior intellects whose faculties of divination would be troublesome.
These are the words that Antonin Artaud wrote in 1947. Here, this quotation does not want to sound as an open blame to the world of medical mental studies and therapies. Artaud’s anger, father of the theatre of cruelty, should just be taken and understood because of the terribile biography of this genius. Arrested and put in a straitjacket in 1937, he had been kept in an insane asylum for more than 9 years and subjected to more than 50 electroshocks. Psicology and psychiatry at that time were very different from the ones of nowadays, newly intertwined and open to the most different disciplines. The researches on mind, brain and human behaviuor more in the vanguard – the ones done from psicology to the neurosciences, from neuropsichiatry to psycoanalysis – are so advanced that they can really give us the wish to reach a deeper insight on the conditio humana. New perspective are given, now that we arrived to understand that human brain actively interact in the creation of the world, and that is not, as we believed, a passive chronicler of reality. Being aware of these chance today and of the range of goals to reach in the near future is fundamental. But, at the same time, we should never forget inflexible words as the ones of Artaud. The dangers in dealing with such a fragile and vulnerable complexity never need to be underestimated. Not only in the world of empirical neurosciences, but as well in the more speculative one of the researches on mind and consciousness.
The risk to agree with The anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari is always waiting in ambush.
In calling the artist to give a statement about the theme of human mind and brain, the message could not be other than the one of openess and altenative. The experiment of mixing the scientific point of view with a different – and sometimes dangerous – perspective as the one of art, who is never afraid to suspend any judgement, is a great challenge.
And at the same time the privilege to express a vision in such an important context and in front of such a specialistic public is an important attempt for the artists themselves.
Paolo Bottarelli, a young italian artist, Reynold Reynolds, an established artist born in Alaska and José Rufino, an active brasilian artist, have tried to play the game.
The result is a poignant exhibition. Mind the Brain! An experimental exhibition is an invitation to reflection.
This is why Bottarelli is presenting a personal remark on his Diplophobia, on human psicological pressure in front of the western dualistic system’s impossibility to cross the threshold of the “middle way”.
And Reynolds is showing his Secret Machine, a film installation where a woman is submitted to diverse medical experiments and treated as a mere object of study, but where the observer cannot avoid to partecipate and to feel the empaty with her human being.
Rufino, instead, is showing an installation of ink blots with the title Rorschach mind test for barbaric subversion N.0, where hundreds of brasilian bureaucratic plate, the same ones recording the political purges and the misdeeds of dictatorship, are stained with tempera ink designing diffent shapes of the projective Rorschach test.
If Wittgenstein in his Notebooks explained the human love for the unspeakable as a frustration of the possibilities of the knowledge:
Our impulse to the mistique comes from the incapability of science to realize the satisfaction of our desires nowadays, that our scientif horizons are getting wider and wider, art cannot do anything else than open a dialogue with the scientific community. (E. Agudio)
In Diplophobia all that sets the interconnection between mind and the world, reveals itself to be a sort of a never-ending spiral where everything circles back to the self. A soothing room, where meditation is a cathartic and heroic introspection on one’s own mortal caducity. It is the space where circumstances are only what the mind sees in the loop of its incessant self-definition. Here, in the cube of the autopoiesis, a mental environment is recreated. To be perceived, the mental environment needs a self-defining temporal and spatial movement which never rests. As in a never ending party, we are constantly asked to introduce ourselves to ourselves, always changing from our previous presentation and rediscovering in every step, the inevitable double. The match between mind and world, in this room of phobias, appears as a perpetual tension leading towards a horizon always increasing knowledge and in front of an increasing set of decisions. But there seem to be no more crossroads, no way out in front of the numerical incommensurability of the unspeakable aut-aut. Here, therefore, the tight teeth of the sculpture, pressed by the infinite possibilities of choice of the mind, impose their gnashing as a mute sound to observe, emotionless and defenceless. But this is not the only way out. There is still another possibility -- playing chess in the room of thoughts. It is then that the observers become pawns and empathetically move the mechanisms and create the synergy. There is a certain unarmed paralysis, in the monadic room, that as in a paradoxical game, places us in front of the annihilation of the two icons in the moment when they face each other. The two paintings, one in front of the other, destroy each other, recalling the murdering will of going beyond, what Jorge Luis Borges called the “illusion of the mirror and the copula”. The fragments of time, eternally reassembled, are saved. The world and the mind live again below the same roof. (P.B.)
MIND DIFFERENT BRAIN Pisa, ITALY, 2009
Mind different Brain is a site-specific installation by the young italian artist Paolo Bottarelli, conceived with Giani and Bellantoni. A brain that leans on the universe is projected as far as the eye can see in the reflections of mirrors engraved with the first thousand numbers of ?, combined with iridescent melted plexiglass sculptures which are inscribed with the most recent mathematical formulas describing infinity. The artist, Bottarelli, works towards creating a dialogue between art and science. Following a solo exhibition Mathematical Epiphanies in the “Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio” of Milan last February, he presents here in Berlin a personal reflection on the mental faculties and the limits of the human brain. After watching a brain operation in the department of neurosurgery at Charité Hospital, and scrupulously investigating contemporary concepts, as well as the highest achievements of the mind, Bottarelli creates in 91 mQ his personal reflections in the from of a material stream of consciousness.
One day he took his brain and observed it. The fleshy sheath of his consciousness became a labyrinth from which he was sure to escape. He visually inspected the brain, he scientifically explored it, and he began to question it. What is the nature of my essence?.
Is my mind just a function of this tangle of flesh and nerves?.
Are perception, memory and imagination simply descending from cerebral processes?.
The issue, unfathomable, seemed to him not beyond the possibility of a solution.
Since the birth of consciousness in ancient times, the answers appeared to be near to a final theory: if for Plato mind has an autonomous existence, for Aristotle it is only a phenomenon of the brain, and if for the Darwinism of Huxley, mind is nothing more than cerebral consciousness, for the psychoanalysts and the philosophers of the XX century the reduction of mind to brain was impossible.
He put his brain on a pedestal. It was starting to give him pain. He took a certain distance from it, and he concentrated.
The atlas of anatomy helped him to map the different areas and to understand more precisely the limits of its cartography.
But he was still feeling a headache; the obsession of finding a solution could not leave him.
Acupuncture, somebody had told him, normalizes the fluxus of “qi”, the vital energy of our body.
His brain was analyzed by himself as an external body in that moment, and the “qi” immediately became the “IQ”.
The needles gave an illuminating shake to his patient upon a pedestal.
“The universe is an auto-interlaced circuit, and observation feeds its genesis”.
This was the answer that came into his mind. The transparency of his thoughts became a projection of reflections. The pain stopped. And his brain ceased to exist. (E.Agudio)