Garden of metaphor

The great modern metaphor has its origin in the very heart of the Baroque. It represents the possibility of narration without paying tribute to any reality other than the inescapable and hermetic reality of life and death, “sisters” that take the stage through eros and are expressed in the contrast of black and white, the mottled convergence of space-polluting reds, the gold that dies in sunsets and silver mortified by blues and greys. The actor in Calderón’s great theatre come onto the stage through the entrance of a “cradle” and exits through the “grave” of an arch suspended in darkness, taking his leave after acting out the eternal conflict of life and its dream, love and its defeat, while beauty is a melancholy ghost that withstands the sentence of time.

But if Baroque beauty survives the forming and unravelling of matter, it is because the magical ethical and moral principles that strengthened the “flowery” Gothic resurface in it. Beauty or elegance? Both together, both capable of representing and transmitting virtue, wisdom, humanitas and richness of sentiment; in other words, of giving a positive and social sense to the luxury, to the gold, silver and cobalt blue, to the graces that were such because of their ability to communicate the virtue, rhythm and vitality interwoven in lines that were curved and embroidered or angular and darting, like flight that impudently defies the wall of wind.

Marialuisa Tadei has always worked along these pathways steeped in magic, metaphor and dreams that turn into reality. And vice versa, as though the former and the latter both evaporated immediately on setting, taking shape and at once taking flight in a beating of wings, a ripple of light, a deceptive mirage that thrills and astonishes the gaze. The artist fully understands that the Baroque spirit overflows any historical period in which such an attitude takes the form of poetics in the strict sense. In this sense, she cannot but agree with Gilles Deleuze’s assertion in Le Pli – Leibniz et le Baroque (1988), that the Baroque is not simply a historical “style” but rather a trans-historical sensibility that belongs both to the Gothic and to Surrealism, both to Klee and to Dubuffet, and so on. It is no coincidence, for example, that she shares with Lucio Fontana the Baroque feeling for space cherished by Leibniz, which distinguishes her creative trajectory as a whole.

Tadei’s sense of space is so contradictory as to engender the feeling of giddiness peculiar to the loftiest results of the metaphorical developments mentioned above. The result is there, tangible and at the same time as evanescent as a sorcery of the gaze: the sphere and cotton-wool of Il giardino dell’Eden (The Garden of Eden, 2004) floating in silver like water lashed by the full moon; the sphere and the feather in the sky of Il giardino su Marte (Garden on Mars, 2004). Another example is Passaggio alla luce (Transition to Light, 2009), the work presented at the 53rd Venice Biennale and placed on a wide area,where spherical and semi-spherical shapes, symbols of wisdom and its alternating fortunes, undergo the obstinate and precarious experience of real space like newly-blown bubbles on a lawn of some 300 square meters. The ecstasy of the senses is embedded in matter that evaporates on evocation. This is as paradoxical as a short circuit in a space devoid of polarization. It is, however, precisely this contradicted logic that represents the essential spirit of Tadei’s work. As Gérard Genette asks in Figures (1966), how can we admit the possibility of the “deep truth” being revealed in a figure that only discloses its properties by transposing or alienating them? How indeed, other than by underscoring the irrational and disorienting nature of the metaphorical narration?

Marialuisa Tadei is an artist who knows how to hit the target of the emotion linked to being and its becoming. Her navigation through metaphor ― the way she tells its story ― does not manifest itself in linear fashion like a thought flowing from the source to the outlet, from the premise to the conclusion. The very principles of identification and the spark of distance and difference manifest themselves at the same time along the path connecting similarities and differences, things that are and things to which allusions are made. Her art therefore neither wishes to be nor can be “conceptual” and tautological. There is nothing referential about its forms. And as for the rest, namely the “similarity” between the forms and those that exist in reality, it should be pointed that the metaphorical nature of her thinking leads her to emphasize not so much what resembles as what resists resemblance and remains irreducible to processes of identity.

Let us think for a moment of Marcel Proust, of his sketch of Venice and his masterly and intimate evocation of Combray, where the essence of the former takes shape in its resistance to the suggested likeness. Proust writes of “impressions similar to those once experienced so often in Combray but transposed into a wholly different and richer key.” While Venice is obviously another Combray, it is still more obviously an “other” Combray ― shamelessly present and “transgressive” with respect to the Combray of memory and yet once again so evanescent in its aquatic eastern preciousness. Tadei is aware that nothing is more irreducible to reality than reality itself. She therefore shatters the rational processes and ― like few other artists on the contemporary scene ― leaves space for the lyricism of the mind, for discarded elements and contaminations, for rich materials that seem humble and vice versa. Hers are therefore avowed mirages or reflections held in space, nearly always more physically present than the objects from which they seem to derive.

From this plane of sudden shifts towards the real and equally unexpected ascents towards the virtual, Marialuisa Tadei permits herself today not to proceed “face down” – now something that belongs to the last century and that may indeed not be all that elevating ― but instead to hold her head high and soar through the events of history and the poetry of artistic vocabularies: from the skill of Lorenzetti to the mastery of Piero della Francesca and Ghirlandaio. I see no principles of “justifiable” association in this but rather the poetic sleepwalking that has been the hallmark of her art for some time now: so delicate and yet so forthright in asserting the visionary clairvoyance of the spirit.