interview with Ferruccio Ascari
This video takes its cue from a book, and behind the book there is a curious story. Tell me about it.
Years ago I got my hands on a crate of old books that were supposed to be pulped. Among other things, it contained works on natural history and geography in Braille, and some logs carefully annotated by the official responsible for fixing the position of the Vittoria, a motor vessel en route from Italy to India in 1936. The crate remained closed in my studio for quite a while. One day I opened it and started to use the pages of those books and notebooks for a series of drawings and gouaches.
The book on which the video is based has no title, and the title of the video is “Silent Book.” What did you want to say?
The reference to the Mutus Liber, the book of Alchemy published in France in the second half of the 1600s, is not random, but explicit: this book of mine, like that one, is composed only of images and perhaps there are some other affinities, though not so explicit.
What prompted you to use the pages of a geography book for the unsighted and those of a ship’s log, notebooks of astronomical calculations, as the surface for the drawings and gouaches?
Certain processes, though they can be consciously triggered, then proceed in a way that is not fully predictable: every sign imprinted on that writing for the blind or those astronomical calculations, besides violating the order of the discourse on those pages, was in turn clearly influenced by it. The result is a sort of voyage in a voyage, a layering of languages, an accumulation of signs that generate unexpected contradictions and consonances… as the poet says, Al andar se hace el camino…
In a certain sense, every book is a voyage, a voyage in the imaginary, in the mind of the author in the case of literature, and in any case a voyage of knowledge in the case of essays or manuals. Your book is a sort of hypertext: overlaid on the pages printed in Braille or those of the ship’s log a series of human silhouettes appear in different yoga positions, along with botanical organisms with curious forms, groupings of cells in expansion, flocks of birds in flight. You have constructed a complex universe in continuous motion, where every single image links to another in a continuous game of non-explicit, secret connections. What route did you follow, or what type of voyage did you want to offer to those who look through the pages of your book or who watch the video “Libro Muto”?
The route taken by the Vittoria to India in 1936 intrigued me, as a mental voyage… over which the trips I made myself, in reality, were overlaid. For twenty years, every years I have gone to India to study Sāṃkhya and practice Yoga. The plants I drew on those pages were also partly real and partly imaginary, and the same goes for the other figures. I did not ask myself, in any case, what sort of voyage I could offer those who look through the pages, because I conceived of this book as a sort of personal diary.
Each of the images appearing in this book is also the origin of a series of your works, or more precisely true cycles of works: an approach that is typical of your whole artistic path. It is as if every image we find in the book contained the nucleus of an idea, a sort of germinal cell from which those cycles of works have emerged… Do you agree?
Most of my recent videos come from previous works: an environmental installation or a series of photographs, drawings, gouaches. The videos are like the continuation of an idea with other means: the camera is not aimed outward, towards so-called external reality, but inward, inside an earlier work; this gaze becomes the driver of another activation of the same idea the earlier work expressed. Certain force lines that manifested themselves in a certain way find another linguistic field, in the videos, to continue to express whatever it is that they still have to say. In other words: a part of those signs had no intention of remaining relegated to the secrecy of those pages.
What relationship exists between the flow of images in the videos and the soundtrack that accompanies them?
The soundtrack along which the video unfolds comes from another older work of mine. Over thirty years ago I recorded several pieces for a radio program (Fonosfera, RAI, Radio I) that made room for the research of artists working with sound. One of these pieces was Virage, which I used later in Libro Muto. I started with a piano score; I ripped it into many small pieces; each fragment was played in random order; the last phase of the work consisted in “beheading” the notes, erasing the impact of the hammers from the magnetic tape, conserving only the remaining vibrations of the strings. A work that was somehow “unfinished” and resonates, after many years, inside a new work: after all, I think all my works can be said to be “unfinished,” fragment of a whole, and who knows if it will ever find some kind of completion…
It seems possible to say that both the untitled book and the video Libro Muto are basically just two different aspects, almost two “masks,” of a single work in a continual state of metamorphosis, an ongoing game of reflections… I have thought that all this somehow has to do with alchemy. Am I wrong?