Writing Art History Since 2002

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Marco Cianfanelli I Gallery MOMO I Johannesburg

The best known of Walter Benjamin’s three theses on the philosophy of history is his metaphor of the angel. The metaphor of the angel of history has as its genesis Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus (1920). Bought by Benjamin in 1921, the work shows an angel looking backward as though desperately trying to escape from a captivating spectacle. His face, turned towards the past, sees history as one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage, hurling it in front of his feet, and rapidly growing skyward at the same time. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been broken. But a storm is blowing from paradise sweeping the angel off his feet and propelling him into the future towards which his back is turned. This storm is what Benjamin calls progress.With Marco Cianfanelli’s latest show, entitled Projected Development, one has to manoeuvre a similar past/ future cusp: sculls and bodies from the past are being excavated, dissected, no, sliced with laser precision, and reassembled topographically for further inspection and/ or study. Cianfanelli, however, seems more interested in the representation of a new, futuristic body, than in archaeological processes of retrieval, missing the potential “archaeology of knowledge”, to quote Michel Foucault. His is more a practice about art and science than art and history.According to Edward Lucie-Smith, writing in Art Tomorrow (2002), the visual arts have always had a long and intermittent relationship with science, Leonardo daVinci’s inventions probably the best known. This relationship was resuscitated in the eighteenth century with George Stubbs’s studies of equine anatomy and Joseph Wright of Derby’s depictions of scientific experiments, such as in his painting Experiment on a Bird with the Air Pump (1768).In the twentieth century Kasimir Malevich was influenced by his knowledge of the new physics of Max Planck, the originator of quantum theory. It resulted in artists taking a world that had previously seemed to consist of solid material and verifiable objects, and render it as something completely conceptual, a void to be filled with invisible energies. Malevich was subsequently to write: “… the modern artist is a scientist. The artist scientist develops his activity quite consciously, and he orients his artistic effect in accordance with a definite plan; he reveals the innermost motives of a phenomenon and for its reflex action; he endeavours to move from one phenomenon to another consciously and according to plan; his system is a legitimate course of his effective force.”Cianfanelli’s system on this exhibition is that of measurement. Measurement has become a key instrument for him and he uses computer-aided design to measure the world and its histories. Cianfanelli ascertains that the digital realm is merely an evolution – a projected development, to invoke the title of the exhibition – of the first moment when humans started to measure the world around them. For him digitally designed and precision laser cut form is no longer an end product but potentially a starting point to configuring new work.Steel has become the most preferred and visible medium for Cianfanelli to digitally manipulate. Human bodies and sculls are sliced up on the axis and reassembled to form paradoxical concave and convex topographies. His is a precision art, a clinical process. There is nothing of the flesh and blood so apparent in German professor Gunther von Hagens’ recent and infamous displays of thinly sliced up sheets of real human bodies – exhibited under the title Body Worlds. It is a pity: Cianfanelli’s work lacks the same visceral impact.

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