Alessandro Calabrese

A Failed Entertainment


Something to do with loneliness and something to do with setting up a conversation between human beings.” In a 1996 radio interview David Foster Wallace explained his understanding of art and writing in relation to Infinite Jest, his complex, dystopian novel that has inspired Alessandro Calabrese’s recent photobook A Failed Entertainment. HD screen-sized with a glossy, laminated cover, Calabrese’s work opens an unsettling dialogue with its audience, grappling with binaries of digital/analogue, proliferation/reduction, representation/abstraction, automation/control, in an exploration of photography, authorship and the Internet.

Twenty-one images formed of multiple digital photographs, overlaid and centrally aligned so that each composite recedes to black. Like window upon window of a desktop in overdrive, the frames pulse centrifugally on bright white pages so that it is hard for the eye to find a resting point. What legible data there is is so varied it seems arbitrary and, like redacted documents, the crux of the matter is obscured. Colours blend between layers to lurid effect. Visual information hits in a barrage (there are at least two figures pointing guns). Faces are anonymous – masked, concealed or obliterated entirely. Marble busts meld with the head of a primate in one particularly sinister amalgam.

Two short texts expose the workings of Calabrese’s project: the artist uploaded analogue photographs taken on the industrial outskirts of Milan to Google’s ‘Search by image’ service. From the results he used an algorithm to make a random selection of twenty-one files, which he printed on individual acetate sheets, arranged in layers and scanned back into the computer.

Calabrese’s original film prints are reproduced in the second part of the book, effecting a stark inversion. These quiet, searching portraits of his home town emanate from matte black paper with a vivid luminosity. If his digital compounds are tangled, noisy, abstruse these pictures are understated, subtle, direct. To compare the two sets is to become startlingly aware of their polarity, and so of our excessive, faceless consumption of imagery on the Web. Here is the longing and loneliness of the Information Age that Wallace sensed so presciently twenty-one years ago.

Michaela Nettell

All images courtesy of Skinnerboox. © Alessandro Calabrese

Gusmão + Paiva

Teoria Extraterrestre

Mousse Publishing

Inscribed in old serif type with a Diderot quote on scepticism as its epigraph, Gusmão + Paiva’s latest exhibition catalogue-cum-pataphysical treatise is a nod to the philosopher’s original Encyclopédie. But replacing the frontispiece engraving of Truth parting the clouds with her radiance is one of the city of Lisbon falling under tumultuous skies into the abyss of the Great earthquake of 1755.

It is a dizzying descent indeed through the Portuguese duo’s Teoria Extraterrestre (that’s not so much out of this world as orbiting it endlessly) by way of critical texts, citations from a vast sweep of philosophical and literary works including Goethe, Zhuang Zhou and Shakespeare, as well as circuitous anecdotes, comic pen-and-ink sketches and absurdist puns. These all serve as possible – though equally likely improbable – explication of the artists’ 16 and 35mm films, represented here as sumptuous colour scans that amplify the materiality of the celluloid.

Ultimately, Gusmão + Paiva’s project celebrates the analogue – the sheer substance of Teoria… matches that of the nineteen whirring projectors in Papagaio, their recent Camden Arts Centre show – through a process of analogy that is as beguiling as it is beautiful. Frying eggs are either galactic or cellular depending on the glasses you’re wearing, lifting a hat from a bald head lays the mind bare, a suspended ostrich egg is an eye and a lunar eclipse, a turtle extending and retracting its neck a grotesque birth, a candle-dipping machine spaghetti and driving rain and thrusting phallus, and so on.

Until – “it seems the text has finished just like it started”, the artists quip in their typically self-deprecating ‘micro-epilogue’, following which the epilogue-proper ends on an excerpt from Walter Benjamin’s Protocols, recalling his attempts to order a meal while on hashish in Marseille. There is a sense, as when emerging from the darkness of Papagaio, that this has all been a mind-altering dream. Or, like the magician’s classic tablecloth trick, Gusmão + Paiva shake the foundations of what we think we know of the world, while somehow leaving everything in its place.

–Michaela Nettell

All images courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. © Gusmão + Paiva