Ojos de Agua Luigi Pingitore

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“I do not believe there was ever a
question of being abstract or representational. It’s a
matter of ending the silence and solitude, and
breathing and stretching one’s arms again.”
Mark Rothko

There is an art that gives itself wholly and completely to the eyes.

Lascivious body, it establishes direct contact and is not ashamed to reveal itself upon the first impact.

It is the art that speaks with vibrations, desperate and powerful, while it invades our senses. In cases such as this, we have neither valid excuse nor believable barriers to oppose. Our only aim is to let ourselves go, without thought or useless resistance, at the most, preserving the fear that reality, shortly thereafter, will not be so important.

“To look is not only a perceptive act; it ties in with what has been lived, with history and man’s memory, giving way to a complex experience, where rules do not exist and where seeing means to be constantly surprised by something.”

John Berger insists on this point in almost all of his essays, on the need to take care of the totally physical initial contact that we establish with the artwork. Our body will deliver all of our available vital energy to our eyes. It will even deny itself until it channels itself into our retina in order to amplify its receptive capacity as much as possible.

Berger shows us that it is from the eyes that emotion flows. A look does not know how to lie. If it heats up, if it vibrates, the artwork is speaking to us. The moments in which we can involve the other senses will follow. Slowly, the sense of smell, of hearing, of taste and touch will be affected by the emotion while they restore our physical presence in the place. They will give us the sense of our immanence. But it will be before, in that moment of absolute contact between the artwork and us when satori will be produced.

Classical art was born to satisfy this emotion and make this contact possible. It wants to remove man from the chaotic and disorderly reality, in which the absence of a superior object weakens us. It wants to distance us from the magma of casual days and the pragmatism of the solid life in order to take us to another place.

Classical art does not ask the spectator for his or her approval, but establishes it with the force of an almost supernatural technical mastery, based on a tension with the objective beauty that easily roots itself in our hearts. It is a process of immediate communication that, with the passage of the centuries, will suffer a natural change, transforming into the first signs of the avant-garde at the end of the 19th century.

Actually, in the midst of the Middle Ages, there were those who had begun this process of erosion of the stable subject-object relationship, proposing a revolutionary stylistic and conceptual method. For example, when we look at the vault of the Wedding Chamber in the Palacio Ducal de Mantua, with Andrea Mantegna’s frescos, what exactly do we see? An oculus, in which figures of angels gathered in a circle look down to spy on earth. And in order to look at this detail, we must raise our gaze, crossing it with theirs and feeling as if we ourselves are being spied upon. Only Mantegna, continually subverting the rules of perspective with which we observe the world (His dead Christ is the best example of this transformation) could propose to the docile eyes of the medieval man this visual audacity, in which the observer and the observed thing coexist on the same level.


There are also artworks that recede from the spectator instead of moving toward him. They ask for the subject’s emotional and physical approval, not only a semantic but also an artistic interpretation. Twentieth century art is born from this petition of movement, from this transformation that appears like a real change of direction. One in which the greater the level of the work’s conceptuality, the greater the path of the subject to the object.

Clearly these two categories, by being extremes, are also critically unstable. But they help to approximately define a movement of deviation between subject and object that art history has registered.

Between these two extremes we see Rufo Criado’s work as an intermediary form. It is a form that neither establishes nor avoids contact. With the polychromatic luminosity of the boxes it designs a liquid atmosphere in which the force of gravity that anchors us to the earth disappears, is paralyzed. Criado’s eyes of water are questions directed at our gaze; and the first of these questions that we have to ask ourselves is, what are we looking at?

The light boxes that Rufo Criado has placed in the interior of the church, some hung by a subtle transparent thread, others simply placed on the wall or floor, are bodies. When we cross the threshold, they have their own depth and physicality. But what these bodies say to the eye and the type of communication they establish is not immediately understandable.

First of all, faced with these objects there cannot exist the pretense of an orderly semantic situation. What exactly are they? What real structure presides, beyond their corporeity? Installation? Sculpture? Photography? We feel invaded by a sense of epojé. The lack of coordinates debilitates us, we are at the point of evaporating. It is precisely here, as we will see in a second, where the artist wanted to bring us. His intention was to create rational doubts, but then dissolve them in the emotive plane.

But, as Berger suggested, we must look at the light boxes above all else.

Even as we suspend judgment we cannot avoid to continue to observe.

The continual following and crossing on the polychromatic surface of lights points and segments that break apart and come together again, the both syncretic and harmonious game between nature and geometry, the continual proposal of icons in their embryonic state, transforms the light into an initiation experience of absolute stupor.

Light is always the raw material of all language. In this case, it is something more; it is the primordial alphabet that Rufo Criado uses to photograph his own emotion.

These boxes, similar to wells that emanate light while absorbing it at the same time, seem to perfectly accompany Nietzsche’s idea that “if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you.” We lean over the edge of the well, into the abyss of light and what the light returns is our thoughtful, fragmentary, luminous and suspended image.

If there is an abyss, and how can there not be, it is not there to show a path or a trail on which to lose ourselves. And it does not even propose the comfort of transcendence. The light leaves us in the hands of our subjectivity. We can only look and be observed.

The sensation of being observed is further magnified by the round shapes of the boxes. For some reason the title of the exhibit will allude to this. Criado, taking up some of Octavio Paz’s verses, titles the show “Eyes of Water.” They are really eyes that watch us. While we look, they look at us. While they look at us, the aquatic feeling of the atmosphere submerges us.

When faced with the Mantegna of the Wedding Chamber, that same sense of suggested ambiguity returns. Here again we look into the circular shape to discover that we are the objects being spied upon. That the only depth is on the surface. And everything is already expressed in that skin of colors.

But what exactly are we looking at? Everything is in the light; there is the essence of every drawing to be done. As such, it would not be ridiculous to once again find the same drawing of blue sky and the angel’s faces of Mantegna, but presented in their primitive, ancestral essence, using the pure alphabet of light, a still shapeless light, that precedes the matter and contains the potential of all of its infinite variations.

A step forward. The dissipation of the light and the heaviness of the object coexist in a subtle and enigmatic equilibrium that makes them speak to each other and almost annuls them. In this sense, Criado continues the same aesthetic discourse created by Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana.

As Burri did with the cloth sacks, he wants to expose a hard, three-dimensional material in order to actually denounce its softness, its transparency. Like Fontana who perforates the canvas of his own pieces, real and personal wounds that, in a semantic game loaded with

allusions, he called ‘the waits’, Rufo Criado’s boxes are torn on their plasticity by their luminous surface that is above them. And that light is a wound in the heart of the material, it breaks the depth and physicality of the object, opening up the gaze and forcing it to go beyond.

It acts to destabilize the weight of the boxes, and acts at the same time in us, to destabilize our perception. We return to the epojé. Our judgment gives in to the presence of that light. It is probably the same effect that the church has on its followers. Loss and desire.

The church. The light boxes bring us up to this point, up to the profound likeness that these artworks have with the rose windows of the church. Not just wells of light, not just eyes. We sense that the circular shaped stained glass window is decorated with lights, alludes to just that, the rose windows.

In Romanesque and Gothic buildings the rose windows’ function was to emanate light, diffusing it into the center of the nave. They were the membrane that divided the exterior and interior spaces and their function took place by way of light. They used the set of elements we have already discussed in the works by Rufo Criado.

As such, the decision to construct this show in the interior of a church is not a coincidence. In Santa Eulalia dei Catalani in Palermo and San Biagio Maggiore in Naples, the church becomes the ideal place and space to make these luminous questions available.

It implicitly strengthens the ancient tie between representational work and temple. In the West, art is born under the sign of the sacred and places of worship. With Criado we have the feeling of being in front of artworks that return to that old vocation, creating a subtle and enigmatic dialogue with the place of the church.

Especially in the Naples exhibit, this dialogue full of internal contrasts to the works also extends and conceptualizes in the exterior. In fact, we are in one of the oldest and most chaotic parts of the city, where the streets that cross and superimpose draw a multishaped tapestry of faces, sounds, iconographic allegories (the statues of San Gregorio Armeno’s mangers, the religious images encased in the walls of vapor…). A pagan frenzy ricochets around the church (we are in the ancient outline of the decumano mayor) that exorcises the sense of expiration and death with an explosion of color and tastes.

Even so, this immanent mortality is present everywhere, impossible to destroy. The tapestry of faces and sounds has violent elements, like the tide that threatens to carry away anyone who does not know how to face the wave by catching it at the right moment. The same city closes upon the person at the moment he tries to feel the happiness of a flavor or a smell and perceives it in its absurd perfection.

This is the violence of an unresolved and contradictory place, rich in history but with a future that has never been defined. That proposes uninterrupted and continual catharsis. So there is nothing left to do but shut your eyes, and carry the city within yourself. Or search for a refuge, return to the church. We will discover that this is the perfect way to explore Criado’s exposition. Start in the interior of the church, then leave to submerge yourself in the city, feeling the sudden contrast, until reaching the limit and returning to the church to find the aquatic suspension and the lights from the rose windows in order to once again take up the uninterrupted work of looking into the abyss.

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