THE MAGICAL REALISM OF MONICA SILVA
Essay by Andrea Dusio written for the exhibition at M.A.C. on September 2019 in Milan. Here a short selection of pictures
Essay by Andrea Dusio written for the exhibition at M.A.C. on September 2019 in Milan. Here a short selection of pictures
Living is a dangerous business. Longing too ardently for something good can be in some ways like wishing for something bad.(João Guimarães Rosa, "The Devil to Pay in the Backlands")
The story of Monica Silva is similar to that of a hero taken from one of the great works by Jorge Amado, the novelist of Bahia; "Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon" or "Tereza Batista: Home from the Wars" come to mind. Brave and untamed women forced by man's violence and poverty to lead incredibly hard lives, driven by their desire for redemption and the hope of finding their lucky star. Monica is a Paulist, born and bred in a megalopolis. The Italian neighborhood she grew up in was bigger than any of our largest cities. Ameridian Tupi Guarani blood flows through her veins. You can see it in her cheekbones, the shape of her eyes, her mouth. In the semi-nomadic culture of her people (who transmitted their botanical knowledge to European travelers and conquerors to the point that even today the Guarani language is third in the world, after Greek and Latin when it comes to the etymological origin of scientific names for plants) the religious conviction of the existence of land without evil, called yvy mara'y, is of fundamental importance along with the need for each person to create a large extended family around themselves, a small village in which the risks of endogamic relations are overcome by links to a larger number of people. This type of allegiance and solidarity, which goes beyond the nuclear family, is known as tentquasu. Luckystar, the search for a place where there is no evil, the going beyond the natural family. These are the three guidelines in Monica's life. When I was given the task of curating an exhibition focusing on Monica's work, entitled "Lux et Filum - A contemporary Vision of Caravaggio" I began to take an interest in the way she takes photographs, a way that uses the language of pop art and advertising imagery as a reassuring chromatic/formal devise which pleases even the distracted eye, making her work similar to the exuberance of David LaChapelle. And yet she does so, consciously I believe, to open up some kind of insight into the contemplation of what her shots really contain, most of which is actually invisible to the eye. Monica's language is, in fact, an extremely personal form of magical realism. I think her interest in Caravaggio lies above all in the way he brought the painting to life for the very first time as if the canvas were a high-definition screen. This, of course, is above all a matter of technique, of knowledge, but in that particular moment of European culture in which man and artist, from Shakespeare to Monteverdi, were reinventing, inseparable from magic, as a relationship with the world, a capacity to govern nature, imitate it and represent it. Prospero and Orpheus, as far as Shakespeare and Monteverdi were concerned; Bacchus and Narcissus for Caravaggio. Figures of the artist, alluding to the inimitable relationship that is established with reality, its control, its representation. Pop Art works on the collective imagination and addresses the masses. It contemplates objects of everyday use, isolates them, decontextualizes them, rips them away from their intended fate of being commercial products, and puts them at the center of a discourse that speaks of society and mankind. Monica has absorbed this approach due to a generational factor and made it the bridge between her commercial and her artistic work. It is a style, however, not her language. The expression "magical realism" followed a rather odd trajectory during the twentieth century. It was coined in Europe, in the field of art criticism. Massimo Bontempelli used it to identify a series of painters including Casorati, Funi, Donghi, and Cagnaccio di San Pietro, who all had attention to detail, clear colors, and a suspended atmosphere in common. In their paintings characters and things appear immobile, without relationships and affections, suggesting above all Piero Della Francesca. It is like the zero degrees of De Chirico's Metaphysical painting. Stripped of signs and symbols, the only rarefaction remains, alluding to something inexpressible that lies outside the frame, an abstract order that governs things and at times seems to make them bloodless, diaphanous, animated only by light.In the Post-WWII period, the term was used in literature to identify the poetics of a series of authors, mostly South American, including João Guimarães Rosa, the author of" The Devil to Pay in the Backlands", the novel in which the first attempt was made to transform the regional dialect of Minas Gerais into a literary language. It is the story of a magical world and landscape, a plateau that western readers could not even begin to imagine, where streams, the veredas, sustain giant palm trees, a low steppe, buriti and bushland. Magical realism, leaving Brazil behind for a moment, also permeates the works of Isabel Allende, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Julio Cortázar, the immense and little-known in Europe, Juan Rulfo (the Mexican author of "Pedro Paramo") and the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu. In each of these, I catch a glimpse of the reality that is somehow related to Monica's. Magical realism is the mental structure of South American literature and the same could be said of the visual arts.
I sat down one afternoon with Monica, at a table in a patisserie. I didn't want to talk about her work. I wanted her to tell me about her life. For months I had been spending time with her, looking at her photos, reading her interviews. But I couldn't imagine her youth. After our first meeting, I was left thinking of Clarice Lispector, the mysterious, refined Brazilian writer of Ukrainian origin who with "Perto do Coração Selvagem" for the first time gave a voice to the inner story of a young Brazilian woman, to her metropolitan stories, her experiments. But I had not wanted to know anything about Monica's inner voice, fearing it might influence the way I viewed her shots. After all, a critic must observe what he sees. If he listens before studying, his gaze will somehow be conditioned, he will tend to adhere to the narration or even disregard it entirely. At one point, however, Monica told me distinctly about running through the city, an escape that never seemed to end; a witch who had always chased her and from whom this time she had managed to escape, forever, without ever going back, as if she had been protected by a force that had made her the faster of the two and allowed her to evade capture. It made me think of the story Luna told Sailor in "Wild At Heart", the film by David Lynch. A fairy tale, a way of transfiguring reality when the violence exceeds our sensitivity. The irruption of this sense of magic is part of Monica's gaze, and for her, it probably isn't an irruption at all. I think of the device of her photography, in which something visible only to her is translated into the image, in an allusive and elusive form: something which we Europeans call magical realism is nothing more than the acceptance, or at least the questioning, of an unexplainable element, irreducible to logic, yet part of reality. The Brazil in which Monica grew up was still a country of dialects, of a great cultural mix, of folklore, in which this cultural substratum continued to exist despite the mantle of the dictatorship, intent on bringing the country back to a state of subjection similar to that of the colonial era. Coming from a very poor family, she did not get a traditional education but grew up on the street. Her vision of things contemplates the possibility of seeing things others fail to notice. Optical phenomena, auras, magic. This is why I wanted to call the exhibition "Sacred and Profane", imagining that some of the visitors would read this choice as a reference to the dichotomy and complementarity of two divergent attitudes, one attentive to all things mystical and a demystifying, irreverent one, both of which run across the surface of her work. Under this crust, however, the title refers to this intangible dimension which concerns the ability of the retina to record something the lens fails to see and which belongs to a magical, mysterious act, while on the other hand, it refers to the idea that the photograph in some way, in addition to the intention of the photographer, is also a device and a mechanism working as an approximation, skimming the surface of reality in the vain hope of being able to capture it, but then sends back an image that is produced by the camera, a result which is also eminently a matter of technique, knowledge, experience, expertise and which risks being continually confused as such. The fundamental passage in Monica's biography is that long chase which seems to belong to a fairy tale of liberation of her people but is instead the beginning of a life that would take her far away from Brazil. In San Paolo, she took her first steps in the world of television and advertising, as a model. Then in 1986, she decided to go to London to complete her training and it was there that she bought her first professional camera and started taking pictures. London was the city of exile for Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil during the dictatorship, a strong reference point for the whole Tropicália movement. European culture started to get to know Brazil especially thanks to the film by Marcel Camus, "Orfeu Negro", which won the Palme d'Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, inspired by the adaptation that Vinicius de Moraes made of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, setting it in Rio favela during Carnival. The film introduced Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova, giving way to the explorations that Anglo-Saxon jazz musicians, from Charlie Byrd to Stan Getz, made in the following decade, forging collaborations with João Gilberto, Baden Powell, Astrud Gilberto and Nara Leão. The image that bossa nova gives of Brazil is that of a movement rooted in tradition (born in the interval between the two dictatorships) which reflected social and civil conquests, workers' rights, and which had given the best of itself before the 1964 coup d'état. The impact of the Tropicália movement at the end of the 1960s would have been completely different, with the performance of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Os Mutantes, the symbol of the Brazilian psychedelic season. After appearing on TV, the exponents of this trend for the renewal of Brazilian popular culture were arrested and forced into exile. Veloso said he was inspired by the "Anthropophagic Manifesto" by the poet, Oswald de Andrade, published in 1928. Gil, on the other hand, simply mentioned The Beatles as being one of his influences. But the point is that both of them grafted heterogeneous elements onto the Brazilian culture that looked beyond the confines of their country. It was then that in Brazil, within the Tropicália experience, "Cannibalism" or cultural and musical "anthropophagy" of all societies was theorized as something which intended to be inspired by all kinds of genres, creating something unique. In the background, there was the Haiti question and the denunciation of it made by the "tropicalistas". but what probably bothered the dictatorship most of all was the emancipation of the peripheral and third world vision to which official cultural expressions had to adhere. It was above all an intent to bring about the internationalization which Monica's generation lived and breathed during their very first youth, corroborated by the return of Gil and Veloso in 1972. For many historians of customs, Tropicália lasted only a very short time, maybe just one year. But its impact spread over all Brazilian culture for the following decades. It permeated songs, movies, and books. It was in poems and works of art. It is the desire to leave the country and write one's future elsewhere, to consider the world and not one's homeland as the land of opportunity, to produce Brazilian culture outside Brazil. Anthropophagy was the need to feed on whatever was found inside and outside Brazil, in order not to succumb to external influences and return to the colonial age while at the same time freeing oneself from those who wanted to grab you by the hair and bring you back to a story of infinite poverty, lack of freedom and degradation.
"Fotografei você na minha Rolei-flex" (João Gilberto, "Desafinado")
Monica experienced the changes of her people as a biographical fact rather than a generational one. Her life was steered by the pushes and pulls experienced by Brazil. The forward escapes, the regurgitations of dictatorship. She didn't have canonical schooling which is why she was open to all influences. When she freed herself from the difficulties of her early youth, she immediately found herself facing a completely different reality, starting from her experience in television and fashion shows. She was in the world of pop, media, fashion, and advertising for work, the place where images are made which make up the raw materials of our collective imagination, and somehow she started photographing, seeking both to refine her own skills in commercial work and begin her own research and language. From London, she moved to Italy, first Naples and then Milan. She has been in Italy for 32 years. For many years she has dedicated herself to projects close to the world of music, designing album covers and becoming a much sought-after portrait photographer by artists, actors, top managers, intellectuals and politicians. I decided to bring some of her Portraits to the exhibition, selecting them not in relation to the success they have achieved (some are very famous and have won awards) but rather to document the way she looks at the male and female worlds.
For Monica, man is an ironic distancing from the position she has reached in society. A fully emancipated and conscious figure, who automatically returns her charisma but which is also an attempt to escape from her role through sensuality. The theme of overthrowing the world that pervades carnival has persistence in the way she approaches portraits. The make-up, the backgrounds, the hairstyles, the clothes, the fabrics, the accessories, the symbols scattered in the frame, are the elements in which her study of the person is condensed as a separate part. Our carnival is the mask, a retreat, theirs is a collective parade, a competition, the idea of putting yourself to the test within your social group. Monica is an all-around visual artist, the construction of the set is a kind of reconnaissance of the heart of the story it is about to tell. The backdrop, the color she will choose, has a psychagogic function, liberating interiority which is guided to take full freedom of movement through different emotional patterns.
When she portrays female subjects, another factor comes into play, strictly related to her identity. Make-up, styling, lighting become a device and makes the shoot an informal field of self-analysis. Inside the portrayed woman, Monica rereads her own story. There are great portrait artists whose stature is measured in the absence of reticence, in ruthlessness, in the ability to grasp the inner quality of the character without paying attention to rank, position in the world, the role of a client. Photography can also be a cruel act, but in this cruelty, there is often a disarming sincerity that makes you applaud the shot and at the same time absolve this excess of truth. But this is not the case with Monica. Her Portraits help the subject to bring out something about themselves that they would otherwise be afraid to exhibit. And this is all the more true when the subject is a woman because, through the face and the body, the Brazilian photographer always tells something of her own story, an individual fact that is shared with those who are in front of the lens, something she has caught a glimpse of and feels belongs to all women.
To better explain what I am trying to say, I selected a shot from 2017, entitled "Cat Woman". It is a vision of the DC Comics heroine that reminds me of Mapplethorpe's sensuality, that way of representing bodies and faces as if they were plants and flowers. Somehow I consider it the closest Monica has got to do a self-portrait. This girl with Creole or Caribbean resemblance may make you think of a disguise designed for a party or a refined erotic game. But the soft treatment of the lights, the nuances, give it an aura of truthfulness. She really is Cat Woman, because the world she measures herself against is Gotham, regardless of her story or why she has chosen this costume. Next to this photo, as if to immediately draw the aesthetic perimeter of the exhibition, I have placed "Look Over" (2013). What the two images have in common is a reference to the visual culture of the early Eighties, the years preceding the return to pop art, but this is not what binds them together. The model in the portrait is holding a magnifying glass between her eye and the lens. Through the photograph, we know more about how we look at things. It is not a matter of augmented reality, the precision of the mechanical instrument, the number of pixels. That gesture has a magical property, it shows things beyond our perception and the meaning of the photograph is to reveal them.
A recurring theme in Monica Silva's work is that of youth. It is an important part of her work on Caravaggio, but it has also been the focus of previous projects. I decided to document it through two images, which are also to be considered guidelines for reading all the works on display at the exhibition. "Candy Girl" is a shot from 2017. The girl with the tech ruff stands out against a background of a softened orange to match both the glittered lips and complexion. The white shirt is, as the title suggests, a symbol of candor, the make-up is a woman's, but the face indicates sexuality which is still adolescent. The thought that Caetano Veloso gave to "Billie Jean", Michael Jackson's 1983 hit. The lyrics are about a woman who constantly says that the singer is the father of her new born son, something he firmly denies. Years later, Caetano interpreted it with a totally acoustic arrangement, intertwining it with the anthem of "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles. A lyric on the assumption of responsibility mixed with one on metropolitan solitude. I wanted to proposed she make a shot inspired by that cover version which has always intrigued me for Caetano's ability to take over an American pop product and make it his own, the same procedure applied by Monica in many of her shots. then I realized that the perfect shot was already there and it was "Candy Girl". The more I know Monica, the more I am convinced that those lyrics suggest something about the story of her youth and Caetano's reinterpretation suggests something about her work. Similarly, "Age of Awareness" (2017) refers to a moment of transition. The girl appears to turn towards the lens, in a pose that in the language of bourgeois pictorial portrait could allude to a moment of farewell to adolescence. but the familiarity we have with advertising images leads us to think that Monica, by subtraction, has taken away from this shot everything hinting at commercial, leaving us a story of her awareness, the moment when she decided to leave her family and build her own fortune. Curiously, the two photos have complementary colors, as if they were destined to meet in a diptych in which the two girls look at each other at a time in their lives that is putting a distance between them. Candy stays on the last bastion of adolescence, while the other turns and walks away.
The four male portraits that I have selected from Monica's work constitute a triptych creating a complete narrative moment to which a 'bridge' image is added, positioned as an introduction to the heart of the exhibition. The editorials or "Sette Corriere Della Sera" dedicated to Oscar-winner, Paolo Sorrentino is compared to the shots taken in Rome in 2013 of Toni Servillo, while he was staging "The voices of inside ”by Eduardo De Filippo, and his brother Peppe, frontman of the Piccola Orchestra Avion Travel. I thought of going back to Sorrentino's first film, "One Man Up", starring Servillo, which tells the story of Antonio and Tony Pisapia, in a reconnaissance of the Doppelgänger theme coinciding in a reflection on destiny and possible lives that each of us finds ourselves embodying. The Servillos are in fact in their own way single blood and a story of affirmation that makes them so precisely distinct, more than the visible clues. The portrait records this difference, born within the life in which bodies are transformed, becoming different narratives also for the beholder. It is a way of narrating, by paraphrase, a project that represented a turning point in Monica's journey and that for eminently chronological reasons, rather than of space, remains outside this sort of retrospective, even though it constitutes its logical premise, like off-screen voices. In 2009 the Brazilian photographer exhibited at the Stefano Forni Gallery in Bologna, "Live Above All", a series of shots inspired by the characters of "Spoon River Anthology" by Edgar Lee Masters. "Monica Silva has put poetry into a pose, dressing it in color, she has created settings with the complicity of shadows cast over time, sentences engraved on stones scattered in a small graveyard. Here, condensed in a single shot is a story as long as a river. Here are the characters of Spoon River, shadows that form processions of silent silhouettes, a load of memories, voices that come out of the marble and that say so many things from the tomb. Monica Silva has turned these shadows into a film of emotions, a painting surrounded by a fantasy capable of leading her to the conquest of her own symbolic space ", wrote Franco Basile of that exhibition. "The atmospheres of the photographs are at the limit of decadence, as in those still-lifes defined as vanitas which in the seventeenth century were packed with symbols alluding to the transience of life. A skull, a misted mirror, an ancient book or a silent violin and a musical score ", Barbara Silbe noted, identifying one of the recurring elements of Monica's sets, the inclusion of objects that can be mistaken for codes, responding to a closed symbolic system, and that instead are timely extensions of the story, related to the contemporary and the need to enrich the iconography of her shots with anecdotal, allusive elements which materialize in a territory suspended between memory, dream, and evocation.
To close the sequence of portraits there is an image of the pianist Stefano Bollani. It is to some extent an extrapolation because this shot does in fact belong to the already mentioned "Lux et filum" series on Caravaggio which lies at the heart of the exhibition, its central section. The hair of the jazz player is reminiscent of the head of snakes depicted on the shield by Caravaggio, commissioned by Cardinal del Monte who then gave it to Ferdinando I de Medici. It is perhaps the photograph by Monica which is closest in style to Renaissance portraiture. However, the background is of the same color as the shield that so impressed Caravaggio's contemporaries. The three-quarter profile, the deep shadow under the left side of the face may suggest the evocation of one of those portraits of Bergamo or Parma nobles, leaving us Lorenzo Lotto or Parmigianino, in which classicism is slightly rippled by Mannerism. The figurative sources are therefore fully explained, but there is more. Bollani is a passionate, sensitive visitor to Brazilian culture, and is, therefore, a figure of connection and transit between the two levels of the story that intertwine in the exhibition, the roots returning to the contamination between magical realism and western iconographic tradition on the one hand and the ability to cannibalize the shapes and colors of pop art to produces strongly symbolist poetry, saturated with objectual and sensual allusions on the other.
Caravaggio, Lux et filum O retrato do artist quando moço Não é promissora, cândida pintura( Chico Buarque, “Foto da Capa”)
The reinterpretations of Caravaggio's works are probably Monica's most organic attempt to translate Italian figurative culture into her own language. They were exhibited in 2014/2015 by the Italian Cultural Institute of San Paolo and had an extraordinary impact on the public and the community of photography enthusiasts and lovers of Brazilian visual arts. A few months later they were one of the highlights at the 2015 Mia Fair in Milan. They are directly inspired by some of Caravaggio's most famous works, largely preserving the composition and layout, the cut and the format, but radically renewing the representation, thus escaping the cliché followed slavishly by photographers when measuring themselves against the realist paintings of the Lombard artist. It is to this that we can somehow ascribe, if not the invention of photography, at least its precognition within the visual arts system. Not having any academic drawing knowledge, he was unable to realize the so-called "history painting", the great biblical scenes taken from scripture, which represented (at least until the end of the seventeenth century) most commissions related to public works. He lacked the ability to lay out figures in apparent continuity of movement. Men of that time did not know cinema and fixed images had to constitute, with the help of a feeling of dynamism given by the instability of candlelight, the maximum form of kinematics possible. To create a scene in apparent movement, it was of no use to put models in a pose. And so history painting was a genre of pure abstraction, which started from sketches, studies, and drawings which would then compose the different points of the scene in a drawing that would later be transferred to canvas. Caravaggio on the other hand, used real models, posing, for days on end, pinning the structural elements of the composition on the canvas with engravings made on the preparation layer, which allowed him to find, sitting after sitting, the original position of the characters represented in front of his easel. To avoid producing in the viewer a sensation of static nature in the scene, he immersed the figures in the dark, illuminating them with bursts of light resembling the flash of a photographer. Some critics, interpreting what ancient biographers have said, imagine that he built himself a real darkroom, drawing the scene by following the image of what he wanted to represent projected on a surface that would enhance the details. In this way the lighting created a sense of suspended action, which photographers today tend to reread giving rise to tableaux vivants, sometimes of a superficial formal elegance that aims to reproduce Caravaggio's meticulous way of painting, emphasizing it in a hyper-realistic key. The same applies to painting, where, however, this operation retains at least some part of the meaning, because those results can certainly be pushed even further in the direction of reproducing the truth, with the effect of augmented reality, high definition. Photography, on the other hand, is hyper-realistic in itself, based on an absolute fidelity of reality due to its mechanical nature. The only way to visit Caravaggio while remaining on the side of authentic art production and not of its low imitation is therefore to use his paintings as if they were standards on which to radically innovate, just like Monica does.
Note the representation of "Concert of Youths". Originally it should have been a group portrait of the artists who lived at Cardinal Del Monte's residence. In an essay written a few years ago, I defined that environment as a sort of ante litteram Andy Warhol's Factory. That condition of artistry, light-heartedness, beauty, even in its own right, is perfectly reproduced by the photo. It could be four models holding musical instruments and sheet music on a set, surrounded by bottles of alcohol. They appear fragile, youthful, and ephebic, exactly like the first characters that appear in Caravaggio's canvases, his bohemian companions. The girl is focused on her smartphone. Everything is in today time, and yet it is perfectly identical to that time. Or the"San Gerolamo", for which the Brazilian photographer chose a young squatter, of bristly beauty, a hieratic appearance with a gaze lost in the contemplation of his own thoughts, in a similar way to the translator of the Vulgate. He could be a tattoo artist in his own studio. The symbols of the "Memento Mori" and the allusions to a life of meditation and prayer in the desert are combined with pacifist posters while the original painting is reproduced on a cloth lying over the table. A guy who lives on the street, barefoot, dreadlocks, bracelets, and headphones. Can we say with confidence that he is not an ascetic, despite having drained a bottle of booze? Her "Bacchus" looks like Prince, and next to the chaise longue on which he lies, he keeps an ice bucket with a bottle of wine, perhaps champagne. On his wrist, he has a large watch and he wears a white tailored shirt. He is smoking and has already drunk a couple of glasses. "Bacchus, tobacco, venus", OK, but the thing that stands out the most is this image of a jeunesse dorée, where you can hurt yourself, a little for inedia and a little for the uselessness of your beauty. And "Narcissus" indeed takes care not to contemplate his own image in the pool. Much more attractive in the eye of the camera. In the myth, the boy was attracted by his own beauty, made scarcely recognizable by the movement of the waters. Narcissus does not distinguish himself from the world. Today the confusion is between identity and image, and the androgynous model is posing inside a structure that looks like a camera, but we recognize the dominant green color representing nature. The relationship of mimesis to which the artist aspired is broken: reality is included in the mechanical gaze, in a representation that could allude to a selfie. The extraordinary, enigmatic "Supper in Emmaus" has men sitting at the same table who seem to belong to different religions, and Christ shows himself in the guise of a beautiful girl, perhaps a priestess. In Emmaus, didn't the disciples recognize the Lord because he was a woman? After answering this question, however, viewers are invited to explore, centimeter by centimeter, the thousand things that Monica has scattered in the scene. The whole Caravaggio series is a concentrate of ineffable symbolisms, a tour de force of the eye that is called upon to exercise curiosity, to detect the presence of objects that seem to be accumulated on the scene by a finder passionate about puzzles, and which instead constitute a non-compressible part of Silva's visual poetics. I decided to also exhibit a shot that belongs to the same sitting session. The model is now sitting in one of the Savonarola chairs that Monica philologically wanted on the set. On the table are those golden fruits that also appear in the "Cena in Emmaus", and which from now on introduces the third section of the exhibition, the one dedicated to the establishment of a new relationship between still life and pop art. I imagined for a moment that Narcissus could be freed from contemplating himself, subdued by the eyes - the same color as his - and the laughter of this girl. And I realized that the love dynamic of this work is all in the look. And next to a very personal reinterpretation of the "Basket of Fruit", a real exercise in formal abstraction within the perimeter of pop, I wanted to commission Monica with a new image inspired by Caravaggio, based on the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt", the silhouette of the angel who plays the lullaby to the Baby Jesus on the violin. She has transformed that idea into a very sensual figure of a violinist, who really competes this time with David LaChapelle and puts him against the ropes with her extraordinary chromatic skill, between greens, pinks, and blues, which puts this angel in close dialogue with Italian Renaissance painting. We are in and out of the Caravaggio series. The lights are warmer, the treatment of their effect on the skin more sensual, and in many ways we have a photo-hinge once again, which concludes the most coherent and compact part of thee exhibition, to open to the most unstructured, colored camp, playful and experimental one.
Make war not (pop) art Alguma coisaEstá fora da ordemFora da nova ordemMundial ...(Caetano Veloso, "Fora da ordem")
The model that took the place of the angel in the "Reston the Flight into Egypt "is the same photographed in the image that opens the "Coca Cola Series Pop Art": a game about the icon and the brand that undermines the division between the sections of the exhibition. But the dialogue between the parties continues: as a title for these works I have in fact chosen to paraphrase the slogan derived from a photo taken in the Caravaggio series, “Make war not art ". And if Marilyn here is pretending to sing using a bottle as a microphone, the sequence of shots plays to saturate the product, the brand, and even the violent criticism of the company's behavior. In fact, these are compositional and thematic variations that are sheltered from the de-contextualization of the product on which the historicized reflection of Pop Art is based on. Color combinations count as much as political lunges. In her still lifes, Monica uses recurring elements: mannequins, plastic objects, informing them of a sign language that suggests the parodies of Bruno Munari's mimicry but also the ostentation of the artificial, programmatic character of the image. Thus, if the"Santa Cola Series" is essentially a divertissement that combines a Marian representation with that of the drink, stressing the correlation between image and icon, between communication and consent, and then playing to dampen it and confuse it with subtly perturbing symbols, in the "Sexy Pop Fruit Series" the iconographic references that include the whole history of the still life, from Caravaggio to Warhol, are a mere starting point for a paradoxical desecration brought about by painting the fruits with gold, with a powerful allusion to the sexual metaphor that has belonged to genre painting since antiquity. Once again, if photography often wearily insists on a pleonastic exercise in hyperrealism that is inherent to the medium, Monica practices a sort of hyper-anti-naturalism. Her fruits are, above all, thoughts, provocations, and impudent icons, to the point that in the process of working on the exhibition the idea of making t-shirts with these images came up several times, to attest to the state of grace of these displays of artifice. It is a transversal aspect of her work: the construction of the image is a process that precedes the shot rather than following it. In an era in which post-production has taken over, and rampant pictorialism is fueled by the maniac practice of digital reworking, to a point where it constitutes a real photoshop-era, in which the photographer spends almost all of his time in front of a computer with the actual shot reduced almost to a preliminary, Monica instead brings into her own artistic production the professional practice of styling, which allows her to move the quota of artifice existing in her work to a moment in which the lens has not yet come into play. "Banana Golden Pop Art - Tribute to Andy Warhol" is a kind of declaration of intent: the image that stood out on the cover of the first Velvet Underground album is evoked chromatically within a series of chromatic possibilities. The object that Andy chose as a symbol of the decadent poetics of the New York band is recovered, taken from contextualization, and proposed in a study of light and chromatic combinations that make it an independent icon. The pure immersion in the color of the "Flower Power SeriesPop Art "allows you to linger with lenticular attention on the foundational idea of Monica's photography, which is the arrangement of the set that contains nature, contemplates it, and sublimates it. In the "Sexy Pop Fruit Series," the reflection takes on more minimal forms and hints of art poor, playing on the misunderstanding between didactic and educational, to speak then of the unknowability and the mystery that surrounds sexuality, of its irreducibility to mechanics, signs, indications, education. I wanted to end the exhibition with Vanitas Khalo (2019), a beautiful pop image that is an invitation to incorporate also the memento mori in the persistent allusion to beauty and eros that is life. At the end of the day it is basically the meaning of Monica's work, the revelation of the magical-mystery power of the woman, her ability to preserve and stimulate the forces, simultaneously celestial and earthly, even underground and chthonic, of life.