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  • Technologies of BlacknessAldo Tambellini, Psychedelia, Widescreen, Media
  • Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece (bio)


Until his death, in November 2020, the multimedia artist Aldo Tambellini was devoted to and consumed by the color black. Informed by technology, nihilism, the sensorium, civil rights, and fascism, this multidecade obsession filtered into every medium at his disposal: film, painting, sculpture, poetry, and electromedia. In 1967, Tambellini attempted to explain his fixation:

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Figure 1.

Aldo Tambellini in 1964, photograph by Seymour Linden (creator: Seymour Linden).

Black to me is like a beginning. … Black is actually the beginning of everything, which the art concept is not. Black gets rid of the historical [End Page 59] definition. Black is a state of being blind and more aware. Black is a oneness with birth. Black is within totality, the oneness of all. Black is the expansion of consciousness in all directions. … I'm a strong believer that the word "black power" is a powerful message, for it destroys the old notion of western man, and by destroying that notion it also destroys the tradition of the art concept.

(Broomer et al., 5)

Blackness is the great generative nothing: the ending that is the beginning. And blackness's void means that different thought paradigms acquire a space in which they might disperse and grow. In this sense, Tambellini's blackness operates in a register distinct from the regulatory modernist impulse that Noam Elcott defines as "artificial darkness." For Elcott, artists and filmmakers of the first-wave avant-garde like Oskar Schlemmer along with physiologists and photographers like Étienne-Jules Marey contributed to the development of dispositifs of darkness that shaped not only artistic form but twentieth-century spectatorship. From Étienne-Gaspard Robertson's phantasmagoria to Richard Wagner's inky mystiche abgrund to Georges Méliès's homme orchestra, artificial darkness demonstrated bodily submission to and mastery over a circumscribed version of formerly negative space.

Like much avant-garde art of the 1950s and 1960s, Tambellini's blackness is in part born of this modernist impulse. Yet its sensorial and environmental power links it to a multitude of cultural companions. In what follows, I identify its resonances with the two major categories of psychedelic art and widescreen experimentation. For Tambellini's blackness is not only a mode of display but a totalizing spatial force to which spectators give themselves over. Its power is akin to what Sarah Keller has described as "anxious cinephilia": that profound affective something at once desired and frightening. It is centripetal compared to the centrifuge of artificial darkness; it brings the spectator inside its energetic movement and requests a kind of synesthetic dominion. At the same moment, it is a force that lays bare the technological structures on which midcentury immersive mechanisms depend. And it is also a concept that embraces what Michael Gillespie calls "the idea of black film": a part of the vastness beyond authenticity and representation that vibrates with significant and intertwined aesthetic, cultural, and political meanings. By evacuating the vertiginous spectra on which widescreen and psychedelia both hinge, Tambellini's blackness both immerses and critiques, both points to the [End Page 60] insidious power of the technological and harnesses it for its own stridently political ends. This blackness is deeply concerned with the integration of spectator, senses, technology, and space in ways that at once echo and dismantle psychedelic and screen cultures of the 1950s and 1960s.

For Tambellini, the technological innovations that characterized much midcentury popular and avant-garde culture were at once useful and sinister, tools of communication and tools of violence. Such technophilia crossed with technophobia stems, in large part, from the murky haze of fascism that shadowed the bright vistas of his childhood and the bombs that rained down from both the Axis and its American enemies. Life under authoritarianism proved to be seminal for Tambellini's biography and his perspectives on artistry, aesthetics, justice, and ideology. And along with intense suffering, Tambellini experienced the overwhelming force of technology for destruction, for liberation, and for imagery as horrifying as it was marvelous. While growing up in Mussolini's Italy in the 1930s, Tambellini sought refuge in art...


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pp. 59-92
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