Pietro Roccasalva’s Just Married Machine
The synthesis of accelerating complexity and symmetrical resolution at the heart of Pietro Roccasalva’s style enables him to find an equivalent for the great stage in the installation, paintings and tableau vivant performance presented here. Roccasalva creates a situazione d’opera, carefully crafting the same sort of precise harmony as a Mozart composing his masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro. The frame, overloaded as it is with archival data, is termed a “microchip” by the artist. From one work to the next, the pathways of information processing and association grow. Yet, the threads that bind them never snap.
Parergon and ergon: frame and the art within. As Kant suggested, beholding art requires ambivalence, a possessive desire for exclusive ownership or a vicarious sensual satisfaction achieved via viewing; experience functions as an obstacle to vision. The extrinsic, historical, sociological, and stylistic aspects of the work—so important to a historian—are irrelevant for the intrinsic, unbounded aesthetic experience, a term first used by the 18th-century philosopher Alexander Baumgarten taken from the Greek aisthetikos. He enwraps the viewer in a self-referential, self-reflexive world.
Consider the painting, Il Traviatore (Fisheye) (2011), which depicts the figure of a restaurant waiter raising the cover of a silver serving dish to reveal a lemon juicer. Their shiny surfaces reflect a church cupola, so that the two-domed objects nestled together conflate church architecture with kitchen implements. In another painting, Study for Just Married Machine (2011), a still life of unleavened and leavened bread stands as a metaphor for conception and the accomplished conceivable. The works appear in a subdued reality; the elements push others into an abyss in a mill that grinds time into oblivion.
The installation Just Married Machine #1 (2011) derives from the standardized elements of the pictorial nature morte, loosely based on the opening shot of Pasolini’s short film, La Ricotta (1963). Here, though, Roccasalva has transformed objects depicted in Pasolini’s nature morte into fully realized, larger-than-life- sized objects. Accordingly, a basket turns into the carriage of a crashing hot-air balloon, and a shallow tray becomes a mandolin-shaped boat. Heads of garlic are translated into sculptures that resemble toilet crowns. The eggs, a symbol of reproduction, have realized their potential and appear transfigured as a motionless chicken dressed in the style of Vatican guards.
To complete the scale shift, Roccasalva enfolds his work within Goethe’s narrative of love lost and found in the novel, Elective Affinities (1809). On the exhibition’s opening night, a newlywed couple poses amid these various items, thus serving as a living embodiment of the picture world and conjoining the nature morte with the tableau vivant. The bride and groom stare into the void, acting as objects. The groom holds a wooden stick typically used by balloon venders. Attached are purple balloons that imagine the grapes from the La Ricotta still. In turn, the still’s bottle is reinterpreted as a woman. In the bride’s hand, a dreamcatcher filters through nightmares that disappear into the light of day. Perched above the mise en scène of Roccasalva’s creation, the guard-cum-chicken protects the Apostelic Palace of Roccasalva’s making.
Sharply alternating between intimations of tragic loss and comic fulfillment and staging the role of chance in the historical evolution of art, Just Married Machine allows one to ponder the distinction between objective chance as represented by the Surrealist trouvaille (found object) and the manufactured chance of Duchamp’s readymades as in the obvious reference to Fountain (1917). Positioning his work as a direct descendant of that of his revolutionary predecessor rather than allowing its filtration through a century’s lineage, Roccasalva attempts to salvage what is lost in commodity culture in what ultimately amounts to a romantic gesture. Staging a tragic comedy about achievable potentials as represented by the virginal bride as Duchamp did in The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (a.k.a., The Large Glass, 1923), Roccasalva goes straight to the source that fundamentally shaped how we currently view objects as art as well as art as objects in an endless feedback loop of exchanged signification.
In an indefinite equivalence to the philosophy of contemporary Italian thinker Giorgio Agamben, Roccasalva does not reject the dichotomies of subject/object and potentiality/actuality outright but rather inverts them. Then, via the creative process, he achieves the innate potential of that zone of indistinguishability—thereby accomplishing humanity’s impossible political task of transforming the lacunae between these poles into fertile ground.