Artist: Francesco Gennari
The exhibition space in transcript recalls an austere interior. Just a few modest objects—a series of coat hooks, a portrait of the inhabitant, a floor sculpture—apparent references to the absent inhabitant. The work of Francesco Gennari, however, is by no means conceived as mere narrative; the orchestrated emptiness is not intended as scenic storytelling. Rather Gennari creates a scenario of semantic transference, where what is viewed can be “transcribed” onto a metaphysical level. Here, the exhibition space functions like a space of aesthetic resonance where iconic and object-based perception of the present comes into contact with the mnemic and projective aspects of seeing. The close coordination of perception and the imbuing and supplementing of potential semantic meaning allows sensual abilities and conceptual thinking/imagining to enter into a relationship of osmotic transfer.
The category of the artist self-portrait is Gennari’s primary theme. The works are a semiotic paradox: the subject is neither directly depicted nor identifiable. Only the information indicating that it is about self-portraiture informs the eye of the viewer, allowing the framework of objects to congeal into “outlines” of the absent person. The artist himself serves as the starting point and implicit theme of the work, however its semantic center is displaced. The “portraits” almost read like non-images and mimetic gaps. In his “self-portraits” Gennari makes use of physical props but also immaterial constituents: moods, the atmospheric, the process-based are as much a part of the repertoire of self-description as the representational or pictorial. References to the absent protagonist remain ever-fleeting and under-resolved. The objects provide barely any more detailed information about the subjective. These self-portraits hardly depict a physical and iconographic subject, but the subject is not absent,, it is represented through it´s mental, even psychological dimension.
Gennari regards exhibitions as a sort of “metaphysical landscape,” constellated from a variety of different types of self-portraits. Here, the term “landscape” is, of course, not topological but of an aesthetic, semiotic variety. The effectiveness of these metaphysical landscapes, defined by ambiguity and polysemy, occurs distinct from their material constituents in the processes of imbuing meaning and mutual semantic transfer, which take place within and between the works.
In Sette Enigmi per il mio Loden (Seven Enigmas for my Loden Coat, 2006) Gennari confronts the viewer with what seems at first glance to be a serial sequence of hook-like objects. Each of the six coat hooks represents a coherent positing of formal language in itself. The morphological manifestations of the individual hooks conjure up art historical allusions to different isms, even contradictory, aesthetic “takes on the world.” Size and “color,” i.e., the gilding of the metal sculptures, are the only unifying aspects. Here, the artist uses neither a unique nor a “personal” design language. The amorphous stands matter-of-factly alongside the minimalist-geometric. However, the hook-like sculptures are not mere objects of consideration that invite the viewer to contemplate and reflect on them as a result of their autonomous, aesthetic appearance. The wall objects—the title implies a possible functional character—can, in an almost inverted Duchampian process, be semantically recoded from art object to everyday object, thus turning them into potential hooks for the artist’s jacket.
The six metal sculptures, called “enigmas” for good reason, each conceal the secret of their composition, their structure. The variously shaped and finally gilded hook objects are made from different metals, such as bronze or brass on nickel, etc. The artist himself forms the seventh “hook” for the jacket. Any “hanging” of the jacket on a hook would produce a unique form, a shape with folds. Gennari thus refers subtly to the act of creation. Genesis becomes a referential blueprint for artistic activity per se. In this manner of interpretation the seven enigmas appear as seven assertions, seven creative moments, even seven “ways of worldmaking.” For Gennari, the shape that the jacket potentially forms on each hook represents a prime example of the most original instance of the concretizing or materializing of an idea. The manifest shape of the gilded sculptures and ephemeral folds thereby yield analogies, both showing in the broadest sense the informing of the material, but also yield antagonisms that can be described with pairs of opposites such as intended/random and manifest/fleeting. Here, Gennari closely coordinates the everyday act with one of the oldest narratives of cultural history, genesis, and attempts to penetrate being with everyday doing and perceiving, even more so to penetrate the universal behind being. In an ambiguous way, Gennari succeeds in contrasting the superlative with the simple, thus subtracting the heaviness from the truly existential questions about the self, the self in the world, about creation and universality.
Gennari’s artistic form of self-reflection does not reference an ingenious-like subject that forms the authorial center of the work. The self-portraits are instead self-inquiries that are conceptually developed and articulated. Gennari is not interested in the personal and the private, but in being, in the conditions and constants of being beyond the individual. Gennari turns his experience of reality into the medium in order to “speak” about the universal. He is both creator and observer at the same time, always with a certain distance to his own experience and perception. In a focused way, he uses abstract ideas to forge links to material things and is constantly striving to achieve that degree of ambiguity that his works never make entirely deducible—even for him as well. Gennari “transcribes” the everyday into a semantically encrypted object-narrative in order to ultimately get at the meta-subjective and the universal.
Gennari’s work is characterized by conceptual coherence and consistency, but at the same time by an “incoherence” and diversity/difference of formal language. The artist makes use of a repertoire of different, almost “contradictory” materials that he selects not for their autonomous outward appearance, but for their materially inherent characteristics and their abilities to generate the work’s referential character, thus allowing them to condense into scenarios whose meanings can be re-imbued semantically. Manifest forms in glass, bronze, and brass are contrasted with process-based occurrences such as change, decay, and disappearance, generating antagonistic forces within the work. On a superficial level, references to Minimum Art are evident in terms of formal vocabulary, but rather than affirming industrial manufacturing and de-subjectifying the design, in Gennari’s work there are references to the semantically vague and irrational. While “biological” materials (e.g. soil, insects) were still evident in his works through 2006, in later works, such as Autoritratto su menta (con camicia bianca) (Self-portrait on Mint [with White Shirt], 2009) Gennari used odd substances like mint syrup as a semantic support for indeterminacy, transience and the intangible/incomprehensible.
Gennari complements and contrasts the sculptural structure of Sette Enigmi per il mio Loden with a vivid, photographic work. Passingly observed, Autoritratto su menta (con camicia bianca) shows a blurry, indeterminate self-portrait. But the blurriness here is not the product of photographic blurriness, e.g. focusing incorrectly on the sitter. Instead, Gennari directed his camera toward a flat container filled with mint syrup, whose surface reflects back the visage of the artist. In Autoritratto su menta (con camicia bianca) Gennari activates a “medium" for optical distancing between image subject and lens. The blur is not presented here as a pictorial shortcoming. The likeness, or in other words the self, is pulled away long before the moment of the attempted photographic capturing. The variable “mirror,” the liquid surface, always reproduces only a rudimentary, distorted and variable image. The artist does not present a blurred photographic image, but captures the impossibility of reproducing the self per se photographically and accurately. In this he refers to a thought that reoccurs perpetually in his work, namely that direct representation of the self is impossible, or, more specifically, that he deems impossible the ability to convey himself to the viewer in any picture.
Tre colori per presentarmi al mondo, la mattina (Three Colors to Introduce Myself to the World in the Morning, 2013) complements the interior-like structure of works with a floor sculpture, a triangular-geometric structure of three variously colored Murano glass bars. Here, rather than external appearances (like with Autoritratto su menta) or habitual routines (like with Sette Enigmi per il mio Loden), a highly personal, almost intimate moment serves as the starting and reference point of the self-portrait. A specific mood of the artist in the morning provides the basis for selecting the three colors of the glass bars. If color is understood as a reflection of concrete states, but ones that cannot be described more closely in rational terms, then the color selection here is also a deeply intuitive moment that is only “explainable” for the artist. Here, the immateriality of color is conveyed (transcribed) in solid a mass and “preserved” over time. Damned to eternity in manifest form, as it were, they attest to that situational, ephemeral atmospheric moment, albeit still removed. By referencing the past, the colored glass bars become evidence of the inherent transience of aesthetic experience and even more so of being itself.
Gennari references here a highly individual moment—a morning mood—but not because he attaches greater importance to this subjective event in itself. Precisely because such moments are familiar to every viewer, he views the framework of reduced forms, absences, and references as transferable. Thus, the artist moves out of the purely subjective sphere, opening up a field of imagination and the hypothetical. The imagination functions here as an instrument of “knowledge” located outside the purely individual.
Gennari creates an ambivalent aesthetic of metaphysical referential power; his work attempts to transcend in a discreet yet highly focused fashion the illusion of material-based objectivity. His works are ontological access points that allow the viewer to penetrate the constellations of objects without these disintegrating or “being solved” in the manner of a deconstruction. In this sense Gennari’s works are subtly balanced, yet semantically unsettled and “inconclusive,” defying easy categorization. The form of polysemy he creates does not simply open up hypothetical, imaginary spaces but attests to a metaphysical realm not only beyond the material world but the sensual one as well.
Text: David Komary
Translation: Erik Smith