Heiligenschein is a German word for an optical phenomenon otherwise known as hotspot. Its literal meaning is “holy splendour” and that which surrounds with a bright halo, quite literally, is the viewer’s doppelgänger, for it appears around the shadow of the viewer’s head when casted on a dewy surface.
Riccardo Sala’s first solo show lingers on the heiligenschein of representation with the aim of exacerbating its uncanny quality. Through a new series of lithographs and a site-specific installation, the show brings together the artist’s fascination for and research on archetypes, cultural visual tropes, and the mythic value of image-making; while it probes the psychological warfare that shapes the (more or less visible) interactions between automated desires and products, between realisms and their alternatives.
Stone Tape Memories is a series of lithographs that allegorically appropriates a visual lexicon entangled with capitalocene, libidinal economies, behavioural sciences, and technology. Appearing strangely familiar, these images are enlarged versions of those assembly instructions which can be found inside the plastic shell of a Kinder Surprise egg. From policemen patrolling the streets on Segways, to people dressed with protective suits having a chat in the street, they bring with them feelings of aspiration and prescient anxiety. Through the lithographic process, Sala re-prints these images to challenge the alluring power of their lusciously coloured and industrialised cuteness with their dramatically sinister, murky, and textured version. At the same time, the seriality of these images instigate a reflection about what kind of world these instructions suggest to assemble, becoming a wicked ritual for the reproduction of the mechanisms that produced them in the first place, from pervasive surveillance to climate catastrophe, from extractive politics to global supply chains.
The title alludes to the namesake theory popularised by Nigel Kneale’s film The Stone Tape (1972), which maintains that rocks and stones can store events and energies; not unlikely tape recordings that later can be replayed by our nervous systems, projecting back the original data in the form of ghastly images. If in The Stone Tape a group of ancient monoliths is discovered operating “as fatalistic engines, drawing characters into deadly compulsions,” (1) Sala’s lithographs retain the eerie agency which imbues those stones but look like artefacts from psychological operations devoted to the production and consumption of desires through habit-forming products.
Viral Network (View) is a site-specific window installed in the window bars of the exhibition space, which taps into the symbolic order of linear perspective. Perspective is one of those Western technical objects that for a long time has formed the knowledge and consolidated the memory of anthropocentrism and white supremacy. As a form of social memory which organises reality, it still haunts us. Borrowing Franco Bifo Berardi’s analysis of Gestalt, it “allows us to see, while simultaneously preventing the vision of anything that does not comply with the Gestalt.” Sala subverts the realism of such cognitive frame through a poetic estrangement, thus exceeding its pre-emptive interpretation of perceptions. (2) In this sense, once converging from and towards the viewer’s eye, now the geometric lines used to construct an anthropocentric image of the world are recombined into a web which captures and re-directs the viewer’s gaze in multiple directions. Once transparent and invisible, the material plane of representation is mis-used to add space and time to this view, that is to make it historically contingent, and tangible, thus neutralising its pretences of timeless universality.
If the traumatic strangeness of the Covid-19 pandemic we are experiencing has most recently reinforced the instability of reality, it also invites us to imagine an exit. In this sense, “Heiligenschein” aims at articulating a reflection on the imaginary pre-desired by dominant ideologies and the structural inequalities that support them, whether social, economic, or environmental.
1. Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie (London: Repeater Books, 2017)
2. Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility (London/New York: Verso, 2019)