everything has a border doesn’t it? / the edge where the light cannot get in/ until joy knows the original wound.
which is why the earth is feminine,/ and the body, not the soul, cries out in heaven–
March Dawn, Brenda Hillman
I have only seen Lucía Pizzani’s work live on one occasion: her solo show Mariposario at Oficina #1 (2013). Since then, I am fascinated by her output and I try to stay up to date with it, so I was glad to learn she made the book The Body of Nature available for free in her website. This publication compiles images of her works, curatorial texts, and reviews of her shows from 2008 to 2015. This article proposes an approximation to Pizzani’s work based on a reading of the book, as I have not been able to see so many of her exhibitions in person.
Pizzani (Caracas, 1975) studied Mass Communications, Fine Arts, and holds a Certificate in Conservational Biology. She employs photography, performance, sculpture, installation, and video to explore issues of gender, nature, and corporality – The Body of Nature, therefore, is a perfect summary. Her work is delicate and precise, and could also be considered “feminine,” due to the association of certain practices, like ceramics (and dance, which is also present in her work), with activities developed traditionally by women. In general terms, Pizzani’s work is thematically luminous and dark, serene and turbulent; it constantly confounds and challenges the spectator to unravel what appears to be a formally “beautiful” piece and discover its intrinsic narrative.
Without much previous knowledge about her research, my first encounter with Lucía’s work stirred up profound questions related to my self-image, my image as projected onto the collective, and the image that the collective returns to me –all of this associated, of course, with my female (straight, white, Latin American) condition. It is from this perspective that I wish to delve into two notions that I felt very present during my reading of The Body of Nature: the anonymous and the animal.
First, Pizzani claims to take stories and artistic references from Europe and South America and different periods, combining aesthetic, cultural and historical figures. This leads to the creation of hybrid and anonymous figures –without specific origin, without time- that inhabit her imaginary, particularly in Las Cáscaras, a piece from of El Adorador de la Imagen. Pizzani also frequently employs her own body, but it is presented in contexts that displace or complicate its identity: in the Vessel series and her body drawings, the body is a tool to generate a trace, and El Adorador de la Imagen Pizzani’s image is displayed performing a dance choreographed by the American Loie Fuller (1862-1928).
In a review of her solo show Vessel (Galería Fernando Zubillaga, 2009) published in El Nacional, curator and art critic Lorena González argues that this body of work, developed as culmination of Pizzani’s MFA at Chelsea College of Fine Arts, is the expression of a “fragmented corporeality, torn between physical confinement and today’s illusions of escape.” This is the result of an investigation that evinces “the vicissitudes of a body ebclosed by the anguish of our contemporary world.”
Vessel (2009) (live action at Chelsea College) © Lucía Pizzani
The room is the enclosed environment that distresses the body. It is through the impression of movement on the plaster walls that the body expresses its desire to escape. Pizzani’s body can only face enclosure through fragmentation, and can only be fragmented symbolically by generating its own traces. Once the action is completed only marks and grooves remain, which have the possibility of identity but are, in themselves, anonymous.
Philosopher and professor Megan M. Burke argues that, from a phenomenological perspective, anonymity is “the place prior to which my body and self are noticeably different than that of an other,” such that ” anonymity is a pure shared existence”. In the case of Vessels, if the traces on the wall are non- preceded by the performative action, they could be said to belong to anyone: Lucía’s footprints are everyone’s.
This understanding of anonymity is problematic from a feminist perspective, because that “everyone” involves the imposition of a single universal referent (the self) denying , therefore, difference (this is the main criticism that Burke directs towards Merleau-Ponty). On the other hand, the notion of indifferentiation is closely linked to the objectification of the body for commercial or sexual purposes. By introducing undifferentiated bodies in her work, Pizzani might seek to replicate in aesthetic terms the experience of social anonymity to which female bodies are subject.
Indifferentiation is addressed more directly in The unknown of the Seine and other Ophelias, winner of the Eugenio Mendoza Prize in 2013. This work refers to the story of “The Unknown,” an anonymous young woman who drowned in the Seine River in the late 1800s (her death was pronounced a suicide, though no evidence of it existed). The coroner was so captivated by the mysterious expression of serenity on the corpse’s face that he commissioned a death mask; later, in the twentieth century, that face became an object of fascination among the Surrealists and other artists and writers.
The death mask of the Unknown at Sala Mendoza © Lucía Pizzani
Ophelia by John Everett Millais
Pizzani was inspired by the fascination caused by the mask of The Unknown and made it the leitmotif of her exhibition, also replicating it in ink drawings. Thus, she created a collection of “other Ophelias.” She also incorporated press clippings about four female suicides in rivers. The Unknown of the Seine was a dialog between fictional and real women who, in the shared space of “the Ophelias,” partook of the same identity and the same fate, their individualities dissolved in the legend of the death of Ophelia –which is not just any death, but a poetic death, practically devoid of violence, as described by queen Gertrude in the fourth act of Hamlet:
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