When Athena instigated Perseus to slay Medusa, she warned him never to look at its hideous face but only at its image reflected in the polished shield she had given him. The effectiveness of this simulacrum device – a screen avant-la-lettre – lies in the sublimation of the reality through its imitation: the reflected image.
But as Baudrillard* pointed out, when it comes to postmodern simulation and simulacra, “it is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real”. Fabio Mauri’s long seria of Schermi (1957 – 2005) is intimately linked to the theory of communication, of which the artist was fully aware, as he provides a paradigmatic model of the media culture.
The recurrence of the screen as a symbolic form in the 60’s can be recognized at a glance. Italo Calvino, one of the most influential writers in Mauri’s intellectual entourage, revisits the concept of screen in the well-known introduction to Cosmicomics: “The cosmic sense was the most natural attitude for primitive man as well as for classical literature. When we, moderns, have to confront great and lofty things, we require a shield, a filter, and this is the function of the comic”. The analogy between shield and screen is not fortuitous at all; in the long tradition of the picture-in-a-picture phenomenon, it becomes a symptomatic tandem in what concerns the relation between representation and reality (hence, its simulation).
Mauri’s monochrome canvases simulate the display of the filmic images; they do not materialize an image, but do prepare the frame in order to contain it, opening the door of our visual perception, intended as a topos of all the possible representations. The screens constitute an autonomous realm of simulations that could essentialize, dissolve or reproduce the image as it is. Mauri articulates a well-defined theoretical position without being iconoclastic, nor iconophile; he explores the screen as a physical surface, as well as a symbolical form (as metonymy for media), in its opacity and transparency. The motif of doubling the frame (the picture one) with another frame (the screen) highlights his painted screens as meta-pictorial issues and switches the rules of the spectatorship: the viewer finds himself not only in front of a double-framed image, but also in front of a mirror. Since the monochrome canvases are mental screens, they let the spectators have their full swing in projecting an intimate reflection on their surface.
Fabio Mauri’s metonymic elements open a new parenthesis in what concerns the status of the self-aware images – as defined by Stoichita – in contemporary art. Moreover, like McLuhan while claiming “the television is watching you”, Mauri tends to anthropomorphize the screen. In this regard, his schermi become not only self-aware images, but deliver us also the painting’s (or film’s) auto-genesis.
* Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations, translated by Sheila Faria Glaser, The University of Michigan Press, 1994.
** Victor I. Stoichita, The Self-Aware Image. An Insight into Early Modern Meta-painting, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
*** Italo Calvino, Le cosmicomiche, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1993.
A selection of Fabio Mauri’s Screens/Schermi is on view at Punta Della Dogana, Venice, as part of the exhibition Accrochage, curated by Caroline Bourgeois, April 17 – November 20 2016.
The complete seria of Screens/Schermi is on view online at http://www.fabiomauri.com/it/schermi/galleria.html