Gianni Romano
Permanent Vacation
In L.M.F., Galleria Carbone, Turin, 1999

Laura Viale photographs details of a natural landscape without a trace of a human presence. The subjects of her photographs seem to be flowers, ferns, shrubs, actually, it's not a question of real subjects. The photographs presented at her first solo show at Guido Carbone in 1997 possessed a more accentuated "scenographic" quality (even in the title, Scenic View...), they also seemed to be that which they weren't, personal notes from trips in enchanting places, beaches from dreams, images from a travel agency's brochure. Marcella Beccaria (in her introductory essay in the catalogue) shared in emphasizing this tourist like importance: «Travelling is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, largely connected with the idea of gazing upon landscapes different from the ordinary».

Commenting on the work itself, the artist also helped to confirm this impression by speaking of a "mental vacation", but this condition of permanent vacation is based on an evident visual paradox: the journey "à la Chatwin", the roaming about in search of contemplative experiences, doesn't correspond to the "postcard" image ready-made by our photographer. Actually, from this first series, the artist warns us that it is no longer possible to trust our own eyes. Contemporary art warns us continually that even it is fictitious, constructed, just like the landscapes from postcards at the travel agency. On the other hand, doesn't the tourist (the spectator?) draw pleasure from arriving at and confirming to himself that preexisting vision that he or she already discovered in the magazine or in the advertising pamphlet? The advertisement even tries to convince us that the "do it yourself" isn't worth it, it's better not to risk, elsewhere doesn't exist, and if it does, maybe it's better not to snoop around.

The gap between objective and subjective reality becomes even more evident in the successive series of photographs in which Laura Viale concentrates on a few details of the natural landscape: the voyage is put back into perspective (some of the photographs were taken from the window of her own abode in Turin without the viewer being aware of the urban context), a certain ironic feeling that was displayed in the first series of landscapes is missing. In the new work the "mental vacation" puts aside any possibility of misunderstanding and presents itself as an expansion of perception. Roland Barthes would have had some difficulty finding his punctum in these images because here (as in other examples of contemporary photography) the punctum has already been diffused over the entire surface of the image; indeed, in the photographs of Laura Viale it is even visible. One of the stylistic components most evident of the actual photographs in fact are the consistent color changes that she obtains by illuminating her subjects with colored lights, instead of - as the current tendency would wish - in digital post production.
More or less a year ago I exchanged a couple of letters with the artist. To clarify her relationship to photography, Laura sent to me a passage from The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley in which she had substituted the word "mescaline" with "camera". The passage read «The books, for example, with which my study walls were lined. Like the flowers, they glowed, when I looked at them, with brighter colours, a profounder significance. Red books, like rubies; emerald books; books bound in white jade; books of agate, of aquamarine, of yellow topaz; lapis lazuli books whose colour was so intense, so intrinsically meaningful, that they seemed to be on the point of leaving the shelves to thrust themselves more insistently on my attention». Today it is not a romantic attitude that depicts the vision of things so intrinsically meaningful, but the knowledge that (more than the need to travel) these photos have their source in a precise consciousness of the impossibility of a "normal" observation of the real, and of the actual trust in the hypothetical nature of photography. The chromatic perception of these images declares their own pretence, which also occurs in the installation L. M. F. where in a room in semi-darkness various orchids are carefully laid on the floor. The arrangement of the flowers reproduces in an abstract way a blooming field. Each flower is illuminated by a fiber optic hanging from the ceiling, with a light that changes without interruption from red to yellow, to green, to blue. This installation suggests a three dimensional space, which is fake, because it simulates, by redesigning and simplifying, a natural landscape indoors; at the same time, this same space is real because it exists, it is visitable, one sees it transform itself using the different colors which, alternating fluidly, illuminate it. Laura Viale demonstrates courage treating photography as something extremely serious, for the attempt to redefine the spatial-temporal dimension, to open it to new experiences, suggesting images to which everyone can add their own fantasies and visions, but also reflect on the actual context.

With the closing of the century, on the other hand, the incessant progression of technology in everyday life has completely changed the perception of the natural landscape. The passage from landscape to mediascape has certainly modified our perception of the world but has also engaged a possibility of experience and of communication that until a short time ago were only lived on a theoretical level. Today we find meaning even in virtual environments, in movable and uncertain contexts, from boundaries that are redefined with extreme speed: today it has become essentially utopic to think of a "normal" observation of the real. Jaron Lanier speaks of this new space as an «assault on the passivity of the contemporary subject», a place that compels the spectator to act, to react. There is it, the results of the vacation of Laura Viale give this to us, moments of reflection, a redefinition of the very perceptive ability and the possibility to see (more than go) elsewhere.

Text © Gianni Romano 1999, English translation: Jeanette Lynn Hall

Lotus Flowers, Ponds, Waterlilies photo series page

7 x 4 = 28, L.M.F. page