Installation view, Elisa Sighicelli at MOT, London.
The pieces displayed in Elisa Sighicelli’s first exhibition at MOT International look deceptively simple. Three of the four gallery walls are occupied with works from an untitled series in which photographs of fabrics are nailed and gaffer taped to the walls. Both the tape and the nails are real, but also reproduced in the photographs, visible underneath, creating a subtle destabilisation of one’s perception – a topsy-turvy trompe l’oeil in which the suggested objects are actually there. The other untitled series, displayed across the long fourth gallery wall, comprises eighteen round photographs of crystal objects framed in convex glass. The glass device renders the images even more slippery and porous, allowing them to subsume and reflect the external elements, such as the viewers and gallery lights. In both series Sighicelli plays with the idea of doubling or mirroring, and teases out the messy barriers between reality and representation, between presence and absence and, crucially, between image and object.
Although the exhibition comprises serialised and rather homogenised iterations of two main conceits, a few works stand out. Untitled (1632) (2014), for example, is a photograph of a silver piece of silky fabric pending from two (real) nails and inspired by the legend of the veil of Saint Veronica. According to it, Veronica encountered Jesus Christ as he carried his cross to the Calvary, and offered him her veil to wipe his blood and sweat, leaving an imprint of his face on it. For Sighicelli the story is highly suggestive not from a strictly religious point of view, but because the veil – a recurrent motif in many Renaissance paintings – is an early manifestation of an ‘image within an image’ or, as the artist herself told me, “the first Polaroid in history”. The legend seems to encompass a set of concerns central to Sighicelli’s practice: on the one hand, her long held interest in Renaissance aesthetics and, on the other, her fascination with artefacts and artworks that simultaneously feature both reality and its indexical mark.
Untitled (1632), Pigment print on archival paper mounted on aluminium, 2 nails, 110.5 x 110.5 cm, 2014
Untitled (1632) (detail)
Across the room, the photographs Untitled (1517), Untitled (1577) – both 2014 – and Untitled Silk (2013), are both fixed and connected by long stripes of gaffer tape criss-crossing the wall. Again, the images feature elegantly coloured fabrics, pinched and ruffled by pieces of tape, both in the reality and temporality of the gallery and of the studio, when the photographs were taken. The geometrical lines created by the tape are extremely simple and yet, in conjunction with the lush fabrics, they manage to create a texturised sculptural space that sits halfway between the collage and the installation, recalling the mesmerising, abstract photographic arrangements made by Barbara Kasten in the 1980s.
Untitled (Silk), Pigment print on archival paper, gaffer tape, 56.6 x 71.6cm, 2013.
The new works gathered in this exhibition are a point of departure for Turin-based Sighicelli. Her previous projects focused mostly on interiors, architectural details and even Renaissance paintings, exploring the poetics of space and light in photographs that shared the understated and serene universe of Uta Barth and Luisa Lambri. Displaying them in partially backlit boxes, though, Sighicelli was already producing images-as-objects. But whereas her conceptual crux then seemed to be the representation and materialisation of light, her most recent output seems to have shifted towards the unsolvable riddle of representation itself, which results in a playful exploration of the trickeries of perception.
Untitled pigment prints on polyester white film mounted on plexiglas, convex glass, 36.5 cm, 2014
With the use of real elements to complete the photographic prints, pinning them, literally, on the plane of real physicality, the artist is also re-claiming a material stake for a medium that has become relentlessly dematerialised since the advent of digital technologies. Yet, despite the emphasis on materiality, this is Sighicelli’s first series to be shot with digital cameras. Committed to analogue photography until very recently, embracing digital technology has meant for the artist “a liberation, providing me with a newly found freedom to experiment and play in the studio”.
This development creates an even more convoluted interplay of the indexical, that type of image-making that bears the physical traces of the photographed objects with its digital, disembodied counterpart. A beguiling loop between reality and its representation, from which I am still trying to find a way out.
All images © The artist and MOT International. Elisa Sighicelli ran at MOT International, London, between 23 May – 28 June 2014.