PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 25.1 (2003) 79-85
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The Iconic Bodies of Michele Zaza
Michele Zaza, Apparizione Assoluta, Ugo Ferranti Art Gallery, Rome, December 14, 2001-January 31, 2002.
The face is a field of powers where the vital functions of daily experience are put into play. It is the center from which external perception radiates and the screen upon which perception is projected and sensations sustained. Fixed in a liminal state, between internal and external, and as the conjunction between the two extremes, we do not have complete consciousness of our face: it sublimates itself into a gift for the Other, perhaps for God. Christianity is the religion of faces: every glorious face carries the signs of sufferance, piety, and the anguish imposed by sacrifice. Generally, in painting, the face emphasizes the very essence of artistic mimesis, embodying the impossibility and the necessity of representation. "Mimesis," notes Derrida, "does not refer simply to imitation: mimeisthai is a theatrical term and defines the relationship of the mask, the wearing of a mask by the actor." 1 This leads us to an origin where the covered face is hidden in the suspicion of pretense.
Through representation the face is portrayed. This portrayal reflects the oxymoronic challenge of bringing the face out of its aspect, an instance in which the artistic figuration demonstrates the substantial partiality of our daily experience. After the mirror, the camera has become the witness, in these conditions, an ally able to give, through its compactness and uniformity of signs, a cast-iron alibi. As the resource and the mold, the face and the photographic image are the front and back sides between which an interstitial ontologic emptiness of definitions, interpretations, cultural, and anthropologic signs from the absolute to the daily—between vision and testimony of existence—insinuate themselves. Michele Zaza 2 considers photography his elected form of expression, although through the years he has worked also with drawings and video. But these other forms of expression are generally an extension of his privileged field and underline various general aspects that belong to photography: the drawing can be a way of designing space, the video an evolution of the incarnation of movement that photography stills. In his works, the "face" represents the primary key to the complete body of his work. Every narrative and internal diegetic hypothesis [End Page 79] begins there, from the face, through which the work in its entirety takes on the dimensions of an epic stripping of flesh composed by the faces of parents, places and contexts of private life, fragments of memory, and territories of the imagination. His first pictures tell an artist's story that begins in Molfetta (near Bari, in the southeastern part of Italy), the town where he was born in 1948, and has lived with his parents till he decided to leave for Milan (where he attended the Academy of Arts and lived from 1968 to 1978), and then moved to Rome, where he settled down with his family.
Zaza's pictures live in an artistic and cultural context that is full of affinities with contemporary art phenomena. In his work we find traces of the use of photography that has been done by conceptual artists in the sixties and seventies (Robert Cumming, Gilbert & George, Jean Le Gac, William Wegman), but also of the body artists and performers who delegated their actions to photography, such as the Viennese Actionists Günter Brus and Rudolf Schwarzkögler. Moreover, Zaza has in some ways anticipated the anonymous and mysterious faces that we find in Christian Boltanski and the iconic and representational meanings of the human body that in the eigthies and nineties has found expression in the work of Andres Serrano, Nan Goldin, and many other younger artists. However, unlike these artists, his iconism begins by investigating the face and the implications within it as a field of power which obscures a strong symbolic and metaphysical connotation, a metaphysics of the ordinary. 3
A reading of Zaza's work then is possible...