The painter and the fish. A poem by Raymond Carver, a work by Carlo Dalcielo

004. What Raymond Made, What Carlo Made

What Raymond Made, What Carlo Made
By Gabriele Dadati and Stefano Fugazza
Translated by Elizabeth Harris Behling

“The work, then, the real work, might it be the conversation to come?”
Carlo Dalcielo, Trentadue propositi (Thirty-two subjects)

The book you’re holding is Carlo Dalcielo’s very strange reading of Raymond Carver’s The Painter and the Fish, which comes after Dalcielo’s Diario dei sogni (Dream Diary) *. In this earlier work, the young artist from Emilia-Romagna collected some eighty-odd drawings, all done by artists, art critics, gallery directors, and writers, of the impression left in their pillow just after they woke up. For Carlo, these fleeting impressions mark the station where we change from sleeping to waking, that is to say, the place where two independent lives, existing in the same body, pass the baton, a threshold, like body heat still trapped inside the clothes you’ve just removed. In this new book, Carlo has taken on the entire job himself, breaking down the lines of Carver’s poem, tearing out the imagery, establishing a sequence according to his own artistic sensibility, responding to each with a painting, a photograph, a video, a work in some other medium. The poem, among other things, includes a protagonist who’s a painter, and he’s just finished working “like a locomotive” when he experiences an emotional trauma, then takes a curative walk, and in the end, goes back to painting-and he’ll keep painting, “onto another canvas, if he [has] to.”

Of course Carlo can’t actually tell us anything about this project. We can’t join Carlo for a coffee at some coffee bar or take a walk together. Carlo Dalcielo, born in Bagnolo in Piano (Reggio Emilia) in 1980, is one of twelve young artists created by the painter Bruno Lorini and the writer Giulio Mozzi; Carlo exists only in his own work, getting his start in a small exhibit, Storie di cronaca (Newspaper Stories), in Padua, 1998, with the 50×70 cm photograph, La gran quiete del giardino (The Great Quiet of the Garden), that shows a grasshopper and lizard clutching each other in death. Carlo has no actual physical substance. We don’t mean that he doesn’t exist, but that he exists only in “records” of his work, in shows and catalogues-and in this book. And so as a result, the team Lorini-Mozzi will occasionally draw on some human artistic “resources,” on some of the “existence-challenged” (as compared to Carlo), and assign a precise task which does leave room, however, for personal style: a rigid, inflexible production that hinges on its individual contributors, like gears in a well oiled machine, and yet taken as a whole, constitutes the single work of Carlo Dalcielo. On this occasion, then, we find more than fifty artists (and not just Italian artists), all with their own poetics and technique (in other words, all very different), all limited to a project that none of them started, a project that asks for their personal touch without any input on the whole. And of course their first real sense of the entire project only comes after the game is up.

But why all this effort? Do we understand the Carver text any better from what Dalcielo’s put together? Here’s a possible answer: when you were young, if you read an illustrated edition of a good novel, from Verne to Mölnar, and the pictures helped you follow the plot, then maybe these images work this way, too. If pictures didn’t work this way for you, then never mind-not that it really matters, anyway-it’s not the point here, not even a secondary concern. Because what’s really happening here is that the individual work is transcended; it joins with the others, returning the narrativity that we found in the lines of Carver’s poem, almost a second rendering of the same idea. Not that this is something new: consider the Stations of the Cross, a text broken down to its major scenes that are then translated into a series of images, especially paintings. What’s new here is that these images cover the entire text, every passage, lending a certain dignity to details we wouldn’t have paid much attention to otherwise; it’s as if we’re standing in front of an 8 mm film, watching it, frame by frame; what’s also new here is that we have a team of artists, all with equal authority, even if it’s Carlo Dalcielo who signs off at the end. In a Renaissance workshop, Carlo, at the top of hierarchy, would step in and finish the figures his pupils started; here, instead, he only steps in with his name; he won’t try to alter the individual works in the slightest, so they wind up very much tied to the subject matter but also very free in their renditions. Paradox after paradox-for now, the works reproduced here will have to stay that way. And clearly there’s the possibility that they’ll either wind up stored someplace by the Lorini-Mozzi duo or hung in a gallery. In the second case, they make up a show. But a solo or group show? If a solo show means Carlo Dalcielo has to be at the opening, then that’s a problem, but it’s no group show, either, since the artists involved have pretty much given up their identity (and artists are such egomaniacs!), not to mention their own project. What we have, then, is a show about a text’s narrativity, a show about Carver’s story in verse that we’re now reading in images.

The project falls into the category of conceptual art, but it’s not overly cerebral or theoretical. And while the project reflects on the process of making art, this doesn’t take away from the physical work or how much we enjoy it. Finding a sense of order, a continuous logic, these seem to be at play here. It’s as if the artwork wants to reappropriate the story, an everyday story with its protagonist who may be anonymous, but we identify with him all the same, because we can see what he’s going through. When it comes down to it, we like this painter, and the individual pieces here (paintings, photographs, videos, etc.) don’t blot out his character; they let us see him, over and over.

Somewhere between art catalogue and graphic novel, illustrated book and photonovel, this book fits into some unnamed category all its own. And it’s also entirely different from its predecessor, Diario dei sogni, which had no storyline. And we can’t be sure what offspring are yet to come. The truth is, we’re not even sure what to do with this book. Do you read it? Flip through it? Study it image by image? Compare the images with the lines of the poem? Look up the works of the participating artists? Complain about that weirdo, Carlo Dalcielo? Picture Lorini-Mozzi putting this together, snickering the entire time?
Anyway, whatever you make of the following pages, we also hope you enjoy them.

* Carlo Dalcielo, Diario dei sogni, Padua, il prato, 2003.


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