Felice Varini





The Reality of Aesthetic Illusion Felice Varini's "Blickfallen" - Eye Traps

1. An Analysis of Perception

In painting, and more generally in art, the early modern era (the early Renaissance) and late Modernity (in the 1960s and 1970s after the end of abstract painting with its aesthetic idealism) are in remarkable agreement in a shared, scientific (analytical and phenomenological) interest in the functioning of perception: in agreement that the main issue is not the picture itself but the constitution and production of pictoriality - including the mental picture in the beholder"s perception. In one case there was not yet - in the other there was no longer - an aesthetic reality of the picture detached, abstracted or liberated from the perceptual reality of the physical world; aesthetic reality, which (in contrast to the material and transient world of things) was thought of as immaterial and ideal, countering the arbitrariness and opacity of physical bodies with sense, transparence and aesthetic necessity, was only to come to fruition during the course of the Renaissance, and collapsed again in the 60s under suspicion of illusionism, deception and idealism. Instead of a world of pictures it was a world of physical bodies that mattered: the analysis of the optical constitution and comprehension of bodies, the investigation of optical structures of perception, the scientific exploration of the working methods of seeing and its access to the world.

In the Renaissance, through the work done on perspective - a scientific construction to describe seeing - the material world became an object open to research, accessible and subordinated to analytical reason: the transparent, homogenous and continuous space of the perspectival construction (which - in keeping with the theory of the straight, linear dispersion of light - concerns a space defined by optics and beholden to strict optical rules) facilitates, by virtue of its unlimited measurability, the optical apprehension of the world, the production of a true picture of the world. But with this construct (the construction of scientific objecthood) came also the problem of false pictures on the level of sensory truth, the problem of the phantasm, of illusion and deception. Early, very interesting investigations into phantasms - and an immanent critique of the image - were carried out in the form of anamorphosis, known to us now since the High Renaissance.

Scientific research into seeing in the early modern era was taken up again (although clearly at one remove) after the end of painting: in the phenomenology of Minimal Art and its subsequent developments, and in a radicalised Modernism in painting which could be called "materialistic-analytical painting". The art of the Minimalists was no longer about aesthetic phenomena, but about a phenomenology of the situation and of perception: an analysis of the determinants of real, corporeal perception, which takes place in a situation, in a space, in a location and in a body. It was not concerned with the content of the seeing, the picture or the object, but with the form or, as the case may be, the schematism of the seeing (for the Renaissance the form or the schematism of seeing was perspective): it was concerned with the optical and corporeal constitution of the field of vision, the layering and configuration of things in space (including the body of the beholder, as the bearer of the gaze), the frontality and the linearity of the co-ordinates of the line of vision, the sensory reality of the situation.

Even "materialistic-analytical" painting - concurrent with Minimal Art and related to it in certain aspects - was no longer about an autonomous aesthetic realm, but about an analysis of the multifarious, multi-layered visual reality of painting, which provokes different aesthetic, representational and processual modalities of perception. This kind of an investigation of painting - no longer with a pre-expectation of what there is to be seen in a painting - led readily to using subject matter as no more than a pretext and bringing together, in parallel, the perceived image, photography and painting as differing classes of pictures in terms of the logics of perception. Particularly Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke systematically painted and/or copied photographs projected onto the canvas, in order, by this means, to investigate the perplexing, no longer categorically pre-set relationship between perception, media image and painting: the analytic confrontation of different stances and modalities of perception, which are optically (not ontologically) of equal value, equally real and equally problematic. "I was never the slightest interested in confusing reality, but in approaching more closely to it with the help of painting." (Varini)


2. Varini's Works

The underlying principle of Varini's works (which first emerged in 1979 and whose principles were clear by the mid-eighties) involves simultaneously showing two mutually irreconcilable modes of perception or stances which are provoked by the same installation of paintings in the space, or by photographs - setting these against each other and at the same time showing that the two merely are different visual effects, dependent on the viewpoint of the beholder. For the mental and the (consequent) optic switch from one stance to the other is mainly dependent on the viewpoint: from the fixed viewpoint, which is often at an angle or side-on to the axes of the space, the "wall paintings" - located on several different walls (also cutting across corners) or on different surfaces one behind the other (windows, interior fitments, pillars) - shoot together as a geometric form or as a homogenous picture plane, creating utterly convincingly the "pictorial illusion" of a picture plane. The real spatial configuration of planes and their layering seems suddenly to take on, of its own accord, the phantasmic appearance of a picture plane at right angles to the line of vision of the beholder - a homogenous picture plane in terms of colour, whose outer and interior forms are usually simple, strict (generally rectangular or round) geometric forms. Away from this viewpoint (which is in the first instance Felice Varini"s viewpoint, both selected by him in the space and determined by his own physical height, and from where a simple form was projected onto the walls, into the corners or into the space) the beholder only sees optically meaningless distortions and fragments. The pictorial form breaks up into unconnected wall-paintings, linear markings on architectural edges and incomprehensible fragments of painting on pillars, projections, partitions, pipes and other surfaces. These geometric forms, that only come together as an image or picture plane from one viewpoint, are inscribed by means of overhead or sometimes laser projections which Varini then draws in fine pencil onto the walls and other surfaces in the space. In this sense the activity of the hand is quite technical, creating homogenously coloured planes with linear or curved edges. Complex yet strict curves (conic sections) result in the process when the projections fall on curved structures: on pillars, spiral staircases, circular walls, or when circles are projected. But Varini is not explicitly interested in non-Euclidean geometries: these curves are above all interesting because in optical terms, with their radical distortions, they are far removed from the simple geometric form which is visible from the viewpoint.

The projection of simple geometric forms on angles and various architectural layers, on rounded walls and pillars leads to the formation on different walls of unpredictable, contingent areas of colours, which are nevertheless (although not easily identifiable) recognisable, perspectivally distorted chance fragments and sections of a particular projected geometric form. These contingent, but strictly formed areas of colour (straight edges, sections of circles and conical sections) are in themselves peculiar: peculiarly strict, yet at the same time incomprehensible, without compositional motivation, above all contrary in their placement. "Thanks to a change in the focus of the gaze, we can, for instance, unite the two significants "concrete demarcation of space" and "abstract geometric surface" in the figures circle, square, and 360° line." (Fibicher) - The opposition of a pictorial stance, whereby the beholder perceives the totality and optical sense of a picture plane, and of a Minimalist or "demarcation" stance, whereby the beholder sees the markings on a carrier (or on several carriers) in real space, has become ever more radical in Felice Varini"s work. They have diverged increasingly, turning into systems of oppositions: real space and picture plane, demarcation stance and pictorial stance, fixed viewpoint and arbitrary movement and shifts in the space, rigid monocular gaze and living two-eyed seeing, fragment and totality, obscure multiplicity and simple form. The two stances, as in the anamorphosis of the Renaissance (or as in the rebus) have been disconnected and separated as far apart from each other as possible: but while traditional anamorphosis detaches and diverts the viewpoints from one another, pushes the second viewpoint right up to or beyond the picture edge and at the same time virtually puts it nearly on the picture surface and parallel to it, in Varini"s works the two modes of seeing are not so much separated spatially as by the fact that they require quite different stances and produce completely distinct percepts: a simple, plausible pictorial figure from the one fixed viewpoint in the space, or a chaos of fragments and distortions, of markings on the walls from all other viewpoints. "I would close with this formula: one viewpoint, a hundred thousand viewpoints." (Varini) In terms of phenomena, Felice Varini"s works are playing with one of the major themes of that strand of painting which - following the end of modern abstract painting, and in conjunction with Minimal Art - investigated the multiplicity of meaning in optical phenomena and effects: Varini"s works are playing with the switch from three into two-dimensionality, from space into planes (and vice versa); a switch that opposes itself to both the painterly illusion of the picture plane and the denial of aesthetic perception in the identifying gaze upon an object, a switch that turns the plane of the painting into a fictive space and real space into a picture plane. Thus Varini"s works are neither two nor three-dimensional, rather they explore the visual parameters of the alternative perceptions of bodies and pictorial planes as well as the switch between the two stances involved. In the late 60s light-objects, wall paintings and photographs by Imi Giese and wall-paintings by Palermo played an important part in investigations into this switch; both of these artists were working with linear markings on real architectural edges and filling in the resulting framed areas with monochrome colour; Imi Giese went yet further and tested out the pictorial, flat linear effects of light-tubes in the dark and the flattening of over and underexposed photographs of architectural edges and corners marked in black. In Varini"s work there is a wide variety of related examples of space switching into planes, of markings becoming an image, of three-dimensionality becoming two-dimensionality (and vice versa); marked edges in the space which turn into a linear drawing; lines running across a number of walls which become a frame for a picture plane or a geometrical figure; areas of colour over a number of walls, which become rectangular or round picture planes; lines on walls which illustrate the hidden lines of a room behind those walls; fragmented lines dispersed across the space which shoot together as a geometric figure; distorted, broken off, fragmented lines which shoot together in a mirror as a simple pictorial form or as a frame; drawings of a situation which double that situation, illustrate it or conceal it; photos of a spatial situation, hung in front of the walls in that same space, doubling, illustrating or concealing it; photos of a spatial situation but taken at other times of year, presenting a doubling picture but with a temporal difference. In Varini"s work, in terms of the logics of perception, there are two different but equally important types of lines which have the same width, density and coherence and which produce a complete picture plane: lines that construct frames in the space, a framework (and thus a fictively delineated plane, an illusionary picture frame) and lines that emphasise architectural edges and are perceived as geometric internal forms within a picture plane (thereby turning the architecture into a flat drawing). The background or optical carriers for these lines are monochrome planes: either the white surfaces of the walls or (usually) intense, homogenous areas of colour, which flatten and unify or unite the space, but which also function as picture planes in their own right. "The use of monochrome colour accentuates the optical unity and facilitates the simultaneous perception of all levels and planes." (Varini) A particularly interesting variant is the visualisation of hidden architectural lines on the wall that is hiding them: the illusionistically flat drawing that has come into being in the space (made up of marked architectural edges) is continued in a real drawing, which fictively draws the next stage of the visible space - a reversal of projection, a dialectic of opening and wall, of space and plane, of drawing and architecture, of fiction and reality: on the one hand an illusionary drawing in the real space, on the other hand fictive space in the real drawing, but engaged in an interchange with each other.

In 1984/85 Felice Varini started to work with photographs, which - at right angles to the beholder"s line of vision - depict the space behind themselves, making a proportionally correct picture of it; like transparent barriers in the perspectival structure showing the space behind themselves as a picture: a tautological picture, which - apparently identical to the view the beholder would otherwise perceive - replaces that view. Where painting in the Renaissance discovered perspective as a scientific construction, which could be actively applied by the draughtsman, photography demonstrates the functioning of perspective as a principle of monocular, fixed and fixing seeing: seeing as linear contact with an object at a distance away, obeying a dialectic between the gazing eye and light, between a construction according to the line of vision and a projection by means of light. Photography as the documentation of a glance, a past glance captured in a media image, also brings the temporal difference into play: a photograph is always past, a past glance. Felice Varini uses this temporal distance of a past, immobilised moment in the image and the living flow of the present and the self-presence in the perception in the same sense as the spatial distance between the photo and its subject, which is in turn further articulated in the difference between the immobilised, fixed, monocularly seen "space" in the image and the many-faceted, marked space of the living perception, only ever partially-seen and seen with two eyes while moving. With the work Reversible in Paris in 1986, for the first time Felice Varini cross-fertilised a number of his themes: the simultaneous concealment and revelation of a wall or a space by means of a photograph of it hung in front of it; the visualisation of hidden spatial lines of a room behind a wall; the division of the space by means of a partition wall, which is used at the same time as a two-sided surface for pictures (photographs, drawings). "The first recto-verso ... The work had two viewpoints on one diagonal, one outside the "aquarium" and one inside it. From the first you could see a photographic reproduction of the details that were hidden by the partition wall. From the second (inside the aquarium) you could see a painted picture of the architecture, which was also hidden by this partition wall. Two sides of a single work which used different techniques in order to represent similar things." (Varini) - Since the partition wall not only runs diagonally through the room, but also crosses through the glass wall of the room and continues outside it, the dialectic (no longer the opposition) of photograph and drawing, of concealing and revealing is now joined by the dialectic of inside and outside: a dialectic of demonstrative visibility and intangibility, of affective seduction and the endless postponement of fulfilment. This dialectic of the window display, the partition keeping the voyeur out, the glass wall in front of the world and the image as a window or artist"s frame was originally developed by Marcel Duchamp. Varini's optical game with a fixed viewpoint and the perspectival construction of an "illusionary", unified, geometric picture plane or form proved to be open to change and further development. In 1988 he produced a work which does not focus on a single line of vision from one fixed viewpoint but which rotates through 360° and takes in the entire space, subordinating it to the viewpoint - 360° a San Stae at the Venice Biennale : the viewpoint is fixed for all three dimensions, while the angle it takes in is extended to an all-round view, a panorama of the space. The treatment of the space as a homogenous, measurable medium also applies to time: the time of the rotation does not bring living, moving seeing into play but only results in a cumulative mastering of the space in an ideal omniview taking in the entire surroundings. In 1989 this was followed by the first (public) continuous horizontal line encompassing 360° and returning to itself - 360° Rouge No2, Kassel, 1989. "Marking a space with a line that crosses over and through everything was an important experiment. Before this I had treated the space as a sequence of details but now I was addressing it as a whole." (Varini)- The entire space becomes the picture surface yet it is only parts — within the actual angle of vision - that are actualised either as space or as a picture plane. The quasi mechanical determination and definition of the line of vision in the construction of perspective (which obeys the laws of optics and thus, too, also the laws of the linear dispersion of light) was shown particularly clearly by introducing mirrors: while in the "window", as in the photograph, the world lying behind seems to be immediately inscribed and illustrated on the former, mirrors demonstrate the divergence of the purely optical world and the bodily world - even on as basic a level as the crass divergence between the real viewpoint and the fictive viewpoint in the mirror. The mirror generates a deception that is both obvious and irrefutable, an "illusionless illusion". Felice Varini"s use of mirrors thus strengthened the demonstrative oppositions of his method. If the pictorial unity shooting together from the various lines and planes on different walls only comes into being in the mirror, and is not visible at all before this, then the real delimitation of the usually round mirror surface provides (both materially and visually) a frame, thereby also creating the unity of the picture plane: the real outer edge of the mirror and the pictorial framing line reflecting as the edge of the mirror enter into a mutual interchange in which material and visual, that is to say pictorial differences strengthen each other.


3. Space, Place and Markings

In the 60s Minimal Art denounced all painting as illusion, as a fiction of spatiality - even painted, monochrome colour fields created a pictorial colour-space which, as an idealistic illusion, had to be expunged: only material bodies in a space are real. Artworks, even painting, were no longer to deceive our consciousness by aesthetic illusion but were to reveal and make visible the spatial, situational and sensory reality of the body, of the spaces in which it moves and of the situations where it is located (although "making visible" means "making aware": raising elements of the situation, previously not perceived in their own right, to objects of explicit observation and attention). The beholder"s gaze was to be redirected from the ideal and illusionary world of the picture surface to the existing real space and the sensory parameters of perception in that situation; this redirection of the gaze occurs above all by the marking of the points that are recommended for attention, or by other interventions in the space, alterations to the previously unquestioned, accepted look of the space. Markings demonstrate the circumstances of that space. Above all the marking of architectural edges by black or coloured lines, which turn the walls into framed monochrome planes and irrealise the space as drawing and picture plane, played an important role in Postminimal painting in Europe as practised by Imi Giese and Palermo In that Felice Varini"s works relate to a space as if to a plane seen from a certain viewpoint, at one and the same time they fix one point in the space and emphasise and mark both this point and the space. From this point the space shoots together as an optical plane, with the result that the drawing in the space and the location of the viewpoint become mutual determinants. Whereas elsewhere in painting the viewpoint of a picture is at most just one issue amongst many, here by contrast the painting becomes a function of the space and of the viewpoint. Thus the marking of the space, however - which not only concerns the space but also marks the viewpoint - becomes a scenic demonstration, a staged performance which presents itself as an "eye trap", which itself points to scenic deception - the deception only works from a certain viewpoint, and only comes into being with all its overwhelming evidence through the beholder finding and taking up the right position in the room. But what, in actual fact, is an artwork in Varini"s case? Is it the factually visible space with its wall-paintings? Is it the simple flat figure or picture plane, that makes itself apparent to the eye? Is it the process involved in the production of the work, the projection of a geometrical figure into the space or onto the walls? Is it the painting that the projected lines and planes realise? Is it the concept of the painterly intervention in the space, in order to set up an "eye trap"? Or is it the vacillation of perception between two different viewpoints and stances? Varini himself has given us a pointer: while his works are indeed made for a particular space, they can travel. If a work is to be installed in a new space, the installation has to be realised by Varini or by an assistant working to his instructions. Each installation has a certificate which also lays down the range of the permissible dimensions of the space. "One will always be in the presence of the same work, despite the changes that have arisen in connection with the various given spaces. The certificate functions as a written guide giving the conditions of installation for all situations... The work only exists when it has been realised in concrete terms. The certificate is proof that a work has existed or could exist again." (Varini)

Thus the individual works not only exist as a distinct object but also as complexes with at least three levels of existence: firstly the concept of the "eye trap", which effects a switch in the beholder"s perception of and stance regarding a multiplicity of markings in a space, turning them into a pictorial entity which apparently floats free in the space, dependent on the viewpoint of the beholder. Secondly there is the cerebral and material realisation of this concept, namely the choice of the viewpoint in the space, the choice of the figure to be projected, the choice of the position of the projection on the walls, the projection itself, the tracing of the edges of the projection, the coloured painting of the projected planes and lines on the walls. Thirdly there is the functioning of the "eye traps" for the beholder, who has to move in the space, find the fixed viewpoint for the "painting" and experience the shooting together of the fragments to form one pictorial entity. The complete work is only achieved through the interplay of these three levels of existence, which equally involve concept and construction, idea and realisation (in several steps), process and experimental disposition, producer and beholder.


4. Perspective used to Stage a Space

It was not until the Renaissance that space - hitherto perceived as non-homogenous, topologically and qualitatively disparate - took on a homogenous and quantifiable three-dimensional quality, a generalised perceptual form. It was only the homogenous, quantitative parameters of space that allowed it to be constructed for the beholder in geometric terms: as scientific perspective. The break with Classical and medieval notions of space changed perception; for since the earliest days of language and society there had been no natural perception. All perceptions exists interdependently with linguistically structured "modalities of things" or modalities of perception. All seeing is already a matter of constructing, that is to say, of optical thinking, the production of a percept according to the rules of the beholder"s modality of perception - but this "thinking" is unconscious, it is a mechanism which interprets and connects sensory data, coming to a "perceptual judgement". Percepts do not pre-exist perception but are constructed by it. "Seeing is not the metamorphosis of things into their being seen, their double belonging to the greater world and a small, private world. It is a thinking which strictly deciphers the signs given in the body. Likeness is the result of perception, not its means." (Merleau-Ponty). The construction of seeing in the Renaissance linked perceptual, physiological constants of living perception with a new historic modality of things, in which the perceivers became subjects and the things became objects as opposed to the subjects. The technological and scientific rationale of modern times is founded on the notion that the gaze is set against an object, that the seeing subject and the seen object are thought of and constructed as being in opposition to each other, as the active master and passive material of seeing. "Perspective is muchmore than a secret technique for imitating a reality given as such to all men. It is the invention of a world which is dominated and possessed through and through in an instantaneous synthesis which is at best roughed out by our glance when it vainly tries to hold together all these things seeking individually to monopolize it." (Merleau-Ponty) - The modern age introduced a specific construction of looking, which is different from "naive", unreflected seeing, but which itself generates a secondary "naturalness" since it is linked to the organisation of the subject of the gaze in accordance with the object of the gaze: both the gaze and its objects were determined by the new scientific image of the world. The perspectival construction of the homogenous space of the gaze and of the objects gazed upon postulates a gaze which is concordant with itself in space and time: which does not move, which - like a camera with a focus, that is to say, one-eyed - maintains one viewpoint and angle as it fixes and captures the space and the bodies in it. Through this immobilising of the gaze the process of perception with all its various movements of the eye, the body, its adaptation plus the seen connection of perceptions and objects are mortified; they petrify into motionlessness, which deadens things into objects and seeing into a rigidifying gaze. The massive constraint on the rigidifying eye - and with it the body - setting its sights on the object as though lining up some weapon is illustrated with total clarity by Albrecht Dürer in his Underweysung der Messung (1525 and 1538): in "Der Zeichner des sitzenden Mannes" (Artist Drawing a Seated Man), "Der Zeichner der Laute" [Artist Drawing a Lute), "Der Zeichner der Kanne" (Artist Drawing a Pitcher) and "Der Zeichner des liegenden Weibes" (Artist Drawing a Recumbent Woman) the head of the artist is held immobile or at least steady in a number of different ways. For it is only this rigid immobility that produces stable, measurable distances in the field of vision; it only thus that the space can be measured - rendered as a construction - it is only thus that seeing can be subjected to the laws of geometry. "... classical perspective is only one of the ways that man has invented for projecting the perceived world before him, and not the copy of that world. The classical perspective is an optional interpretation of spontaneous vision, not because the perceived world contradicts the laws of classical perspective and imposes others, but rather because it does not insist upon any one and is not of the order of laws. In free perception, objects spread out in depth do not have any definite "apparent size."" (Merleau-Ponty)- It is only through the projective construction of the field of vision that depth becomes a dimension analogous to the other two: for depth is not seen, but constructed from measurements and comparison of sizes. The identification of the seen space, which unfolds before the eye from a particular viewpoint, and the identification of the homogenous space of the geometry with its three equally important dimensions is only achieved through the perspectival construction of depth. This projective construction may be rendered on paper or on canvas as linear perspective, but it is already present in all seeing that knows depth as a measurable dimension: the mental perceptual image of the modern age, with the opposition of seeing subject and seen object corresponds to a perspectival drawing and not to living looking, whereby the eye takes in different objects one after the other and moves around in the space, without quantifying the multiplicity of its perceptions, without compensating one with the other and synthesising them in a homogenous space. "What I transfer to paper is not this coexistence of perceived things as rivals in my field of vision. I find the means of arbitrating their conflict, which makes depth. I decide to make them co-possible on the same plane, and I succeed by coagulating a series of local and monocular sights, no one of which may be superimposed upon the elements of the living perceptual field. Once things disputed for my glance; and, anchored in one of them, I felt in it the solicitation of the others which made them coexist with the first — the demands of a horizon and its claim to exist. Now I construct a representation in which each thing ceases to call the whole of vision to itself, makes concessions to the other things, and no longer occupies on the paper any more than the space which they leave to it. Then my glance, running freely over depth, height and width, was not subjected to any point of view, because it adopted them and rejected them in turn. Now I renounce that ubiquity and agree to let only that which could be seen from a certain reference point by an immobile eye fixed on a certain "vanishing point" of a certain "vanishing line" figure in my drawing."" (Merleau-Ponty) - "The painting is a flat object which artificially gives us what we would see in the presence of things "variously distinguished" because in accordance with height and size it gives us adequate diacritical signs of the dimension which is missing. Depth is a third dimension derived from the other two. Let us pause at this point, it is worth our while. There is something paradoxical about it: I see objects hiding each other, and which I therefore do not see, because they are behind each other. I see it and it is not visible, because it is measured by our distance to things, but we are attached to it... This mystery is a false mystery, for I do not truly see it, or if I see it, it is a different size. On the line that joins my eyes to the horizon, the foreground forever hides the other grounds, and if I think I see from the side objects staggered behind each other, it is because they do not entirely conceal each other: I therefore see them, one outside of the other, according to a size measured differently. One is always on one or the other side of depth. Things never are one behind the other." (Merleau-Ponty) Perspective installs the world as a stage, a theatrical stage. The theatre of perspective is a theater of representation - that is to say of images: things are all directed towards a central viewpoint, they only have one right side, they recede as layers into the depths, and complement or conceal each other like props or stage sets. Every sideways shift of the viewpoint away from the centre sets them in motion: as though on rollers they glide across and apart from each other, they merge as a plane or separate and thus open up a depth which can be concluded but not "seen". This theatre of props, or of images, seems to be self-activating, seems to possess an autonomous optical capacity: with the shift of the viewpoint towards the centre the decorations once again close up as a "stage set", irrefutably creating the illusion "image". The constructual conclusion of depth in space and the visual irrefutability of the illusion "picture plane" are linked in the beholder"s perception. The way that the space where Varini performs itself becomes a stage through his pictorial intervention has a number of levels of meaning: yet this is not spatial stage-management (as in Michael Fried"s reproach to Minimal Art for its "theatricality") - , for there are neither sets nor props, no illusionary wings are installed (which also may be said of the interventions by those such as Asher or Buren), and it is not only that markings draw the beholder"s gaze to particular points in the space which are normally hardly seen (which also applies to markings made by Asher and Buren); but the space itself, as it is, becomes a stage, a theatrical mise en scène, in that it is inscribed or imprinted with a lateral gaze, a lateral perspective, which goes against the grain of the spatial-perspectival order of the space. "In my work there is a Putting in Place, a certain Putting in Scene. I don"t think the term scenography is appropriate because I don't alter or shift anything." (Varini) - The space becomes a spectacle through the alteration of the angle of vision; while Varini"s painting creates a shooting together of marking (or just not meaningfully marking, but unmotivated, contingent) wall-paintings seen from a particular viewpoint, it only comes into view in conjunction with the space: space and painting render each other visible, bring each other to light. Although, in a certain sense, Varini"s painting does bring the architecture to the fore, this also involves distorting and undermining it, in that it also appears as an optic form that contradicts the architecture. The appearance of the architecture and the appearance of the painting fundamentally determine and contradict each other: the battle of their mutual effacement which makes them mutually visible is the root of the drama of Varini's stage. "The architecture is an a priori that allows me to paint." (Varini) The theatricality of a stage with layered wings, flatly standing one behind the other and creating perspectival deception and the illusion of a pictorial entity, is strengthened by Varini in that he uses intense, monochrome colours. "There is nothing except broken lines of colour painted in an architectonic space. It is my eye which puts the work together, lends meaning to the lines that have united as a figure, and in retrospect, lends meaning to each part of the figure. The main key which makes it possible for them to be put together is colour. And above all it is the primary colours (along with black and white) that make it possible for the different fragments to be linked to each other; the course of the broken or distorted lines may tend towards a specific figure but this is of secondary importance." (Fibicher) Above all, however, the strong, monochrome colours have an inherent tendency to transcend their own materiality - and with that their carriers and the material reality of the latter; it is precisely this capacity of colour to dematerialise itself optically - deployed by Yves Klein, Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt as its most important capacity - which serves Varini in his aim to create an explicit spatial illusion: the colour floats in the space, detaches itself from individual carriers and creates the effect of one entity or totality - which was understood by the sublime proponents of colour in painting as an essentially aesthetic reality. In Varini"s work, however, this effect does not release some autonomous aesthetic reality but a multiplicity of visually real, irrefutable perceptual modes and stances.


5. The Torsion of Perspective, the Doubling of the Gaze

A perspectival image is always ambiguous: on the one hand it seems to capture reality, to guarantee a means of grasping it in terms of form and optics, to make it possible to faithfully depict it; in was only through the construction of spatial objects and of images alike that the world could be dominated by science and technology. On the other hand, a perspectival image is not the thing itself, but only aspects of it and superficial effects, which could just as easily be untrue, deceptive or false: then the image becomes a phantom or a phantasm, a confusing and ghostly revenant of perception.

Already during the Renaissance there were the first investigations into pictorial phantoms: in anamorphosis. However, the main point of anamorphosis is not simply that it (and in this respect it is closely related to Varini"s work) demonstrates to the beholder how - from a particular, extreme angle - elements of a surface (which previously seemed nonsensical or incomprehensible or were hidden in another perceived figure or in another subject) may suddenly shoot together as an image, and that thus there are two disparate pictures on the visible surface, and that these are dependent on very different viewpoints and angles; the main point is rather that this doubling of the image and of the line of vision makes the picture plane itself visible as a real surface and as a projective construction. From the naive view of the image, the first viewpoint of the anamorphosis, whose visual axis stands vertically and centrally to the picture plane, the image is an impenetrable illusion, because it seems to be (is seemingly) a transparent illusion; from the second viewpoint of the anamorphosis, however, which lies either directly at the edge of the picture plane or even beyond it, brushing along the plane, the image becomes visible as a construction and as a material surface, the picture plane is shown to be producing visual effects. Thus the apparent immediacy of the image as a transparent projection of real perception is exploded and it becomes obvious that the gaze has always had a place in the image: the anamorphotic image defines two points from which it may be observed, it lays down two viewpoints and, with that, two different perceptions. But in doing so the anamorphosis only betrays the constitution of images as such: there are always two gazes sunk into an image: the gaze which constructed the image and is inscribed into it, and the gaze which is directed at the image (plus the gaze inscribed into it). But the gaze at the gaze is contradictory: the gaze may not be seen, only the one gazing and the image. Thus only the ambiguous functioning of the picture surface may be observed. Whereas in a normal picture these two gazes (the gaze of the draughtsman or the photographer and the gaze of the beholder) apparently coincide (only separated by an almost imperceptible temporal difference), in the anamorphosis the gazes, and the two viewpoints, also separate spatially: this doubling allows the one to cast a sideways glance at the construction of the other. The basic model for this is the sideways gaze at the construction of the perspectival gaze (as in Dürer"s four drawings, which not only depict a subject but also the construction of a field of vision). The gaze behind the gaze, the gaze at a gaze, thus becomes the explicit, reflexive subject of the gaze. The doubling of the gaze in the sideways gaze or in the reflexive gaze at the gaze is a central theme in the work of Marcel Duchamp; the gaze at an object - if it is directed towards a clear partition, a window, a shop window or an image, becomes a gaze at a gaze or a reflection of the gaze on itself: through the literal reflection of the gaze in the pane, which the clear partition itself sees, as a screen between the one who is seeing and the object that is seen, or through a lateral gaze which sees the pane plus its outer surface as an object, or through the separation of the optical and the physical world (the material object is demonstratively visible, but intangible).


6. Screen and Aesthetic Perception

In the reflection the image appears as an effect of the clear partition, as a phantom which inscribes itself into an "immaterial" carrier, into a screen. And indeed, in Varini"s works images and pictorial forms do come into being through the projection of a plane into the space, through the projection of a drawing with the help of light: the space itself - or the different walls of that space — becomes a screen. The very walls become "carriers" of the image, are the same as the screen. By painting a tracing of the projection Varini is in some senses creating a print of a slide. Reversing illusionary projection (a plane is projected into the space and not vice versa), however, does not create an illusion: Varini does not display some imaginary space, which was the aim of trompe-l'oeil in Baroque architecture, for instance, but he reverses the trompe-l"oeil, renders it recognisable as a complex effect, in that in his works a space or different wall-paintings generate the unity and totality of one image. "There is no imaginary space in what I present to the beholder. / In contrast to old or modern anamorphotic paintings I hide nothing." (Varini) - Varini disappoints the eye, he does not deceive it, he only shows real - not imaginary - space. All there is to be seen is the architecture of the space as a stage and at the same time as a perception essentially real - immaterial and strangely floating in the space, but perceptible as such. The Greek and Roman atomists (Democritus, Lucretius) developed a theory of perception which already had an early form of screen: tiny quasi immaterial pellicles or small images (eidola) detach themselves from the body and enter the eye. The tricky transition from the materiality of the body into the immateriality of mental images is thus solved in a manner which does not yet require the categoric opposition of gaze and the object of that gaze: but these pellicles are already screens. By means of light the image inscribes itself into the screen and the image is then imprinted on the screen for the gaze. The screen is the place where energised traces are inscribed into a translucent (or reflecting) carrier and the place where the materiality of the carrier transforms into the immateriality of the image. Energetic inscription can also be undertaken by hand, but in a more radical, media-technological sense it occurs through light: the exposure of a film in photography and film, electronic impulses on a video or computer screen. The screen is the place where visibility originates: photos and films - as images taken from a body — are the pellicles of Democritus. Thus the image is the deceptive effect of a screen: as long as the beholder believes in the image as a depiction, the eye seems to grasp the visible world and to project it onto screens as mental images - onto the screen of the inner eye or imagination, onto the screen of the canvas or paper. In this sense perspectival perception is also a projection (as Merleau-Ponty says). The model for this screen, however, is a transparent surface, a window or a mirror, that is to say an invisible carrier for the image - even the surface of photographic film is a transparent surface of this kind, although it does objectively retain the traces of the energised inscription. However, with the emergence of photography, as soon as the causality of inscription reversed itself - now it was no longer the consciousness or the gaze that was the activator of the projection and of the genesis of the image, but on the contrary the visible world itself was using light to project the image onto a screen (the retina or some other receptive, translucent, but not transparent, layer) - then the dominance of the gaze over space and objects was open to question. For things are no longer grasped by the gaze, now they inscribe energised emanations into screens and thus present things to be seen - they do not present themselves, for they cannot be seen : only the energy emitting from them as waves or as light. Given that in his works Felice Varini stages the real space so that, without producing a spatial illusion he nevertheless creates a picture plane floating in space, then this method radicalises the Minimalist theme of painting as illusion and takes it a stage further. In painting influenced by the analytical approach of Minimal Art the materiality of the painting is no longer inferior to the picture itself, it is no longer lost in the aesthetic stance and is no longer invisible: the painting thus seems to become a double phenomenon — it seems to consist of two levels, a material level with three dimensions (any two of which form an outer surface) and a purely visual, that is to say, aesthetic level. This dense, spatially non-locatable level is produced by the material level, it detaches itself from the latter like a purely optical pellicle (or is projected or emanated by the material level). Felice Varini, however, very clearly separates the material level in his works from the optical skin, tears them apart from each other in the space. The material level consists of areas of colour dispersed across a number of carriers in the space, whereas the optical level, the pictorial illusion, seems to float in the space as one entity, an intangible visual entity, not at any measurable distance from the beholder or the walls. The film of the visible lies not only on and over the materiality of the bodies, but detaches itself from these and draws together as an optical figure, which comes towards the eye as a visual plane. A painting is also always a visual reality beyond the material reality; aesthetic perception does not oppose the two-dimensional perception of the surfaces to a three-dimensional perception of bodies, rather two and three-dimensionality are constituent parts of the functional stance regarding objects (bodies and surfaces), while aesthetic perception has no dimensions: it only knows the density and the many-layeredness of the picture plane. These different modes of perception can, to a certain extent, be applied to different circumstances of seeing. Normally the field of vision is variously qualified: in the focus - in the area of fixing on an object - the field of vision is sharp and definitive, while in the surroundings it is sooner blurred and cursory. Each of these two modes can be generalised as one approach: the perspectival construction of a drawing treats the world as though the whole field of vision were in sharp focus, as though all the visible elements of the drawing were fixed at one and the same time; the aesthetic totality, on the other hand, which in the strict sense of the words has no location (as exploited by Abstract Expressionist painters) and knows no such "fixing" does not concentrate on individual objects but flits across one extended whole. The perspectival picture and its construction is thus a kind of generalisation of the focused and the fixing gaze, while the aesthetic plane, the picture plane, is a generalisation of the non-fixed, "objectless" (constructing no bodies) field of vision outwith the focus.

Aesthetic perception, taken in its widest sense (widened above all by photography and Minimal Art, which have both resulted in the seeing of forms within the world of bodies) consists of three levels or steps, which are distinct from each other both in the objects they perceive and in their stances. The simplest level of aesthetic perception is an extended perception of forms: a unifying, cursory seeing which sees a homogenous, formal entity, an extended form or even a continuous plane — this is the most important level in Varini"s works, it creates a synthesis of spatial elements as one unified, flat configuration. This approach - which is formally "aesthetic" in the sense of Minimal Art - is not opposed to the functional stance towards bodies, but rather presupposes this: it sees bodies as having formal qualities. The second level of aesthetic perception is pictorial seeing, which perceives a construction of the visible, a visual articulation of the space or of the bodies in the plane - this level is used above all by Varini in his tautological photo-installations. This pictorial stance is concerned with a picture plane that is framed through its clear separation from its surroundings, and it is opposed to the functional stance. The third level of aesthetic seeing is aesthetic perception in the strict sense, the pictorial seeing that - with respect to a painting or an image - lays bare the visual arrangement of autonomous planes, the system of pictorial elements, the questioning of our modalities of perception, perceives and reflects these as a game - aesthetic perception in this sense is perceptually reflexive, is a reflection of perception itself. The pictorial stance reflects its own constitution in terms of the logics of perception, and is thus not opposed to the functional stance, but also reflects the latter in its relationship to other stances. Most important on this level in Varini's pictorial spatial installations is the picture or "form" that so irrefutably comes into being in the beholder's perception, that "forms" if seen from a particular viewpoint although it does not exist anywhere as a material entity ; while its evident reality in terms of the beholder"s perception does admittedly leave it open to denunciation as an illusion or deception, at the same time this overwhelming "deception" has the capacity to shake one's trust in seeing, in one's unquestioning faith in our optical grasp on the world, and thus shows that the constitution of the realness of reality - of what we have seen with our own eyes - is a problem.

Johannes Meinhardt

Translated by Fiona Elliott

Felice Varini, Entretien avec Zia Mirabdolbaghi, Château de Villeneuve, Fondation Emile Hugues, Vence 1995, unpaginated - Bernhard Fibicher, "Perspectives particulières et lieux communs", in: Felice Varini, Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, ARC, Paris 1993, unpaginated - See François Lyotard, Discours, Figure, Paris 1971, section : "Le travail du rêve ne pense pas", Vence 1995, unpaginated - Juliette Boussand : Felice Varini, Art Présence No 8, Paris, January-February 1994 - Felice Varini. 46 und 12 Werke, Lars Müller, Baden (CH) 1993, p. 42 - Baden 1993, p. 72 - Baden 1993, p. 83 - Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L'oeil et l'Esprit (transl.), Paris 1964, p. 41 - Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence", in : Signs, transl. by Richard C. McCleary, Northwestern University Press: USA 1964, p. 50 - "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence", pp. 48–49 - "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence", pp. 49–50 - L'oeil et l'Esprit (transl.), pp. 44–46 - See Michael Fried, "Art and Objecthood" in: Artforum, vol. 5, no. 10, Summer 1967, pp. 12–23 - Felice Varini, "Entretien avec Françoise-Claire Proudhon", Vie des arts, Montréal, No 128, September 1987, p. 51 - Baden 1993 - Paris 1993 - Statements by Felice Varini from: "Entretien avec Jean Brolly", in : Valses nobles et sentimentales, Galerie de l'Ancienne Douane, Strasbourg 1991, p. 51 and from: Vence 1995, unpaginated, quoted in Felice Varini in : Temporale, Lugano, N°. 36–37, 1995, p. 34