CHESSCUBEMIND ROOMS PROJECT the degrees of freedom

2010/2049 [ongoing]

The ChessCube Project Mind Rooms is a game the artist is playing against himself and his dynamic mental states; a challenge between his two cerebral hemispheres, between the drive towards the irrational and the inclination to the rational.
The project schedules the realization of 64 installations, ChessCubes, mind rooms, unique units, over the time of 29 years. Each “cube” is a 3D projection of a chess-square,
(cm. 220x220x220) and will be realized in pair, one black and one white.
Paolo Bottarelli refers to these 64 heterotopic units as “mind rooms”.
The cube are here considered centers of force, issuer of pure energy. Within each cube the artist is creating a mental state. Entrance is interdict: hence Bottarelli’s cubes will be hermetically closed and the only way to have access to them will be through intuition and intuitive apperception.
Each ChessCube before being closed is catalogued and documented by the artist through the use of different media like photography, video, painting (soon also music, writing, storytelling etc.), all trying to evoke and represent what is installed inside the cube. The photo is shot in non-objective and disturbed conditions. The painting is realized after the closing of the cube, painted by the artist using his visual memory. The video records the different acoustic tone of each cube, realized with ultrasounds and binaural beat frequencies.
Once the cube is being closed, the pictures and representations created by the artist stand as the only traces of a reality not anymore accessible, triggering the viewer to imagine his/her own, subjective, mental image.

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.