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Boudoir - La messinscena dell'o-sceno

The mise-en-scène of the ob-scene
by Emanuele Beluffi

In an art exhibition what is commonly emphasised are the dynamics of perception between the works displayed, the space in which they are displayed and the observer. More often than not, however, this discovery amounts to no more than a meaningless truism; it is obvious, in fact, that a work of art arouses some kind of sentiment (any kind, even total indifference on the part of the observer and a sense of total alienation from the setting). The recognition of the existence of these relationships is very often (not always, but usually) an interpretational surplus - it is redundant, it says too much, more even than the arrangement of the exhibition itself.

In this exhibition of Aqua Aura, however, the space, the works and the observer act as a triad, in which each element has meaning in that it is intrinsically related to the others. This leads to the recognition of a precise exhibitional project: Aqua Aura does not allow the observer to follow the exhibition in a random manner and interpret the works according to their subjective understanding. In fact, like a brilliant filmmaker, Aqua Aura makes us see exactly what he wants, but without any pre-set guidelines – simply by displaying (indeed, flaunting, and later we will see why) the work of art according to one single rule: that of the observing eye.

There are two types of subject in the exhibition: portraits and landscapes. The former jump out at you; the latter have to be looked for. There are no hierarchical levels, both types are equally important, and there are no visual codes to decipher - the works are here and they are these. Yet, as Alessandro Trabucco writes, they create a “visual short-circuit”, an impasse that develops from two factors:

  1. the irreducibly proteiform aspect of the visual research of Aqua Aura, giving the impression that there are two authors
  2. the ob-scene character (à la Carmelo Bene, in the sense of being completely off-scene, off-stage) of one series (the landscapes) and the ostension of the other (the portraits)

The key concepts in this exhibition are seeing and non-seeing, relating to which the ob-scene and the mise-en-scène are ‘short-circuited’ complements: the ob-scene becomes mise-en-scène. First of all, the ob-scene is exhibited in the sense that it is flaunted. The pure meaning of the word ‘ostension’, in fact, does not have the second-rate acceptation that common use associates with it. The public exhibition of the Holy Shroud of Turin, for example, is known as an ‘ostension’. Therefore, the ob-scene of Aqua Aura is exhibited in the sense that it is presented, exposed, mise-en-scène, flaunted, in the clear light of visibility. On the other hand, the non-ob-scene (the non off-scene, a double negative that becomes a positive) is not mise-en-scène, but placed behind the scenes; to see it, we must look for it.

The subjects of these ob-scenities and these visible things are, respectively, ravaged faces and extra-phenomenal landscapes. The former are flaunted; the latter hidden. The portraits, which ought to be kept secret (segregated) like so many ‘elephant men’, represent obscenity (without the hyphen) mise-en-scène. The landscapes, on the other hand, are the hidden visible – we have to go and look for them by drawing aside the curtains in red lamé thread that conceal them. This is the cinematographer’s touch with which Aqua Aura makes us see exactly what he wants us to see.

Forgive me if I refer to myself, but two years ago I curated a ‘Collettiva1’ collective exhibition on the voyeuristic paradigm of the observed/observer relationship (in this case, work of art/user, with the works on show having, naturally, the underlying theme of the body).

Surprisingly, in this Aqua Aura personal exhibition curated by AlessandroTrabucco the relationship of visibility between the observer and the observed is reversed, and expressed in a completely new form. Here looking takes the form of a voyeuristic act from the opposite point of view: the obscene (without the hyphen) enters the scene, while the visible is ob-scene (off-scene - to see it we have to be voyeurs). This is no mere whim of the stratosphere of Aqua Aura’s imagination – this shifting of relationships is entirely functional to the aim of the artistic project, which consists in flaunting that which seeks to be hidden and hiding that which seeks to be shown.

As we have said, there are two types of subject on show, and both types feature photographic images that have been reworked in the post-production stage: portraits (Portraits Survivants) and landscapes (Frozen Frames). Portraits Survivants consists in a series of pose study shots of models whose identity is hidden by a mask that deforms, ravages and aberrates the features with an almost ghastly effect. These represent the mise-en-scène of the ob-scene, the visual imposition of the unsightly. The exhibition, in fact, is arranged in such a way that this series is immediately accessible to the observing eye, creating an impact like a shower of light on a carpet of crystal. By contrast, Frozen Frames features a series of mental images, landscapes that are unnatural in that they do not really exist in the outside world, visual likenesses of frozen spaces in an extra-phenomenic sur-reality.

Boudoir. This is the name of the exhibition by Aqua Aura. By professional deformation I am reminded of the book Philosophy in the Bedroom, by the ‘Divine Marquis’ Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, author of the sort of book “that one reads with one hand”, as Baudelaire said. Unseemly things, to be eyed furtively. Things that are viewed with a racing heart in the excitement of the forbidden. Obscene things, things that should not be seen. In the case of this project by Aqua Aura, prudishness and ob-scenities are not naturally one and the same, but the forward thrust of the observing eye is. Aqua Aura forces us to look at what we would perhaps rather not see, and to search for what we would like to see, but either way the curiosity of the voyeur comes out a winner. At the heart of the operation is, I believe, a redefinition of the concept of the arrangement of an exhibition, which goes hand in hand with an invitation to reflect on the declensions of a word that has been so used and abused that it has lost all semantic connotation: beauty. The grotesque, deformed and ravaged faces of the Portraits Survivants series look straight at us, eye to eye, and we cannot help but look at them. They are there, in front of us, constantly putting ourselves on the line, and if we feel the need for a rest we are obliged to draw back the curtains in red thread that have been hung in the exhibition area, behind which we see the true ob-scene that is off-scene, the sidereal images of the Frozen Frames series, mental landscapes that are no less real than the Portraits Survivants. Here, in fact, in the irreducible diversity of the two series on show, we see the whole of Aqua Aura. A metatheoretical approach would be misleading, since it is not so much the aesthetic arrangements that are called into play as the dynamics of perception between the observer and the work of art, which exist only through an ineliminable spatial component, without which the whole would not stand. Aqua Aura succeeds in his undertaking to give a sensitive form to an idea without making conceptual art, and for this reason it is not necessary to dwell excessively on a description of what there is to see in the exhibition. You will do that yourselves; Aqua Aura will make sure of it.

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