indietro
25 ottobre 2007
Summary of the conference held at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa –
‘AesthEtics of Chaos in the Recesses of Possible Worlds’
Art and Science in Comparison.
Contribution by Philippe Daverio

If you like I can give you an introduction to the question, fundamental from a methodological viewpoint, for it is obvious that we are not going to speak of Renzo Bergamo alone. We are going to try to find approaches that will allow us to gain an insight into, if not to understand, the reasons why it is possible to imagine a new relationship between the world of science and the world of visual representation of art.
To some extent this is the approach we must take, if we want to understand whether a function that can be attributed to the artist carrying out research in that direction has any legitimacy or not in this process.
I think that if we had raised the same question about the possible relationship between art and science in the years of absolute positivism during the 19th century, the only response we’d have got would have been that of some British painters like Wright of Derby, who represented the experiments on the existence of air perfectly by showing us the famous cockatoo that died when air was pumped out of its flask; and above all by showing us not just the cockatoo, but also the pair of lovers looking at the moon, in other words by depicting the whole of an all-embracing Romantic world in which science was a pretext and not the central question tackled. Today it is being raised with criteria that I consider particularly innovative and unexpected with respect to the past; and I’m very happy to have these two professors (G. Giorello and S. Moriggi) with me, as in reality I know very little about it, whereas they know a great deal.
The questions that I will raise are questions that are intended to get me answers; I have not come here to communicate my own ideas but to learn something. Thus Giorello is going to be very useful to me because I want to throw in some questions that those who deal with epistemology have undoubtedly already tackled.
In essence the theme is the following: the artistic period from which we are emerging, the one that is called ‘Modernity’, commenced some 140-150 years ago. Indeed I would say that it was undoubtedly born at the moment when Théophile Gautier decided that the intellectual and the artist would no longer deal with politics as it was no longer worth the effort. One road would be the one taken in France and which was to become American, and it’s the one that’s still imposed on us today by the New York dealers, the road of art for art’s sake, aesthetics as an end in itself, total decoration. This reached its peak in Matisse and Bonnard, in much of Picasso’s world and at highly decorative moments in that beautiful aesthetic production of the New York school which goes perfectly with modern furnishing and chairs made of chrome tubing.
This is a world of art that can be found in almost all the world’s museums, and one that has its own logic, which is that of art for art’s sake. Probably this logic has now run its course. If we look at how much its official consuls have to invest in order to make it still appear plausible, how much they have to dominate the Venice Biennale, how much they have to impose themselves right, left and centre, then we may conclude that so much determination can only correspond to a substantial weakening of the content.

The other road that art has followed in the 19th and 20th centuries is that of believing that art is necessarily action. Much of the visual arts in these centuries would be engaged on the front line in the world of politics; perhaps the Italians, the Germans and some of the British more so than the French, who would continue to follow the line of pure aesthetics.
Then there is a third road that has become specific of modern culture, one that revives the great traditions of the Humanist Renaissance. This is the road that uses visual art to delve into consciousness or to probe what cannot be seen. Let me go back a way. Between the 15th and 16th centuries two hypotheses in visual representation were developed: one of purely Aristotelian derivation (this is very much Giorello’s subject) which believed art should practise mimesis, and as such set out to depict a world that was at least in accordance with parameters which would make that world credible. The other road was to think that art ought to represent the world of ideas, and this is the Neo-Platonic road, in which the representation does not correspond to the real at all, but corresponds to the concept.
From that fundamental road, that is to say the one in which art represents what cannot be seen, came both Renaissance culture in its official guise and to a great extent also the passion for the world of antiquity, for the representation of the gods and even the representation of God and his saints. The representation of the saints in the 17th century and during the Counter Reformation is in reality the representation of a world that cannot be seen. It is a world that lies beyond everyday knowledge. This root is the one that would come out very strongly again in the 20th century, when the whole Surrealist current used visual imagery as a way of going and delving into the great sciences that were being discovered; sciences which are the real ones of the 20th century, essentially the ones linked to psychoanalysis and the ones linked to language.
This was one of the characteristics of the 20th century.
But our European roads have all been overwhelmed by the predominance of a recent culture, that of the last thirty years, which is essentially a perennial culture of aesthetics. In other words art for art’s sake remains the dominant official line today.
With respect to this world that leaves a vacuum, what does science have to say?
Science produces a series of profound stimuli in a world that is no longer imaginable. The introduction of modern mathematical concepts, the breakdown of Euclidean geometries, the whole present course of physics at the macro and micro scales, lead to a need for reasoning that has no immediate parallel in terms of a possible visual image.
As there is no longer a possible visual image, a response has been made by the artistic world through the go-between of a probable visual image. This probable visual image is one of the basic roots of the other route taken by art, which is today one of the most fundamental, even though it constantly risks confusion with art for art’s sake.
For example, the route taken by Lucio Fontana towards what he did, in his declaration of Spatialism, is a route of profound and intimate mystical research into scientific nature.
He was the first to try to grasp that under the surface lies another world, that this other world has dimensions that cannot be defined, and that these indefinable dimensions are a poetics that comes to us from the discovery of new worlds from an intellectual and scientific point of view.
From that moment on a completely new approach developed. It is as part of this new approach that the route taken by Renzo Bergamo becomes interesting, as he is trying to play around with all the parameters that the new science is providing. He has succeeded in exploring the theme of the aesthetics of chaos, all of recent modern chaos theory, and transforming it into a visual language. He has taken a first step down this road.
This is to some extent the situation in which we are living today and I would like very much to have Giorello’s opinion on this, as his field is precisely that of the evolution of science, and I would like to make one last point: for us the fundamental differences between science, art and philosophy seem to have been established with greater clarity; science is a procedure that attempts to investigate and explain, philosophy a procedure that at least every now and then attempts to theorize about the way things are explained, art a different thing altogether.
Art remains a very bizarre mechanism, one that permits interpretation in different layers: if someone doesn’t understand Kant it’s better for him not to go near him; if someone doesn’t understand Fontana he can still look at his work, it’s not going to bother the artist. ?So there are many keys to interpreting a work of art, while this is not acceptable in the world of philosophy, except in a few cases, because philosophy is alive in so far as it constantly stimulates and tolerates contradiction and doubt.? Nor can it be introduced into the scientific world.
What kind of relationship can science have with the world of art, how can it stimulate it? This is a very serious question and it makes sense to ask it today. This exchange of our views has been very stimulating. Nothing was prepared in advance, and so each of us has been stimulated by what was said before him; talking about these subjects seems a particularly intriguing approach to me. While my two illustrious colleagues were speaking, I couldn’t help making some reflections on what they were saying. The first is this, curious one: that very long period, excuse the way I’m distorting the thing, of thought that we might call positivist and that began with Newton, Galileo and Copernicus, when did it come to an end?
It ended when scientific thought, and mathematical thinking even before applied scientific thinking, began to admit concepts that had no visual equivalent.
That desire to represent nothing short of the concept, that world was shattered definitively and by completely different roads, because Giacomo Balla wasn’t familiar with Kandinsky, Kandinsky didn’t know the lads of Die Brücke, who in turn didn’t know about the first steps taken by the Fauves in France.
Everything was shattered because our Western humanity realized that representation had to go down another road. So I’ll refer back to what I was saying before; just as the work has various degrees of interpretation when the viewer looks at it, the work also has various degrees of awareness and various origins while it is being created in the artist’s head. If you look at the picture by Bergamo behind us and imagine, in comparison with it, one of Kandinsky’s works from 1911-12, for example, or one of those enormous pictures of Matta’s that represent crazy manikins inside the digestive tract of a non-existent, Surrealist psyche, then you will realize that if we were to show the three pictures to someone from China who had never seen anything Western before, he would think they were all by the same artist.
And yet one is the product of the crisis in the visual awareness at the beginning of the 20th century; another is the desire to belong to the Surreal world, the investigation of the mind and its contradictions; and the third stems from a new dialogue with the world of the sciences.
So we have established one thing: that the relationship between the represented and its motives, the ones that lead to its content, can no longer pertain to that magical moment of scholastic philosophy when it was believed that form and content were necessarily the same thing, because this was the theological, ideological diktat.
The world of today accepts that things can have different origins and have an analogous formalization, or that they have the same content and different formalizations. The relationship is no longer there.
So what does this painting have in common with other paintings? For instance I’d like to draw an absolutely crazy parallel; one of the most bizarre pictures painted by Guercino, which ended up in 18th-century England, so that we even saw it again this winter as a citation in one of the 18th-century cycles of paintings, is that of the sexual relationship between Jupiter in the form of a cloud and the nymph Io: a picture of an absolute tenderness; there is nothing lewd, just an abstract cloud around a nymph. And yet he, Guercino, was representing in that moment what is called mythology.
He represents the myth completely. He represents what does not exist, that is what one imagines.
What Bergamo is representing is the same thing.
He represents what is, because for him the world of chaos that he is depicting is precisely true, just as mythology was true for the men of the 17th century.
For the men of the 17th century mythology was absolutely not an abstract and remote thing, but concrete, something that was discussed on a daily basis and that was shown to be true in everyday life; and people based their conduct on the stories of mythology. Mythology was as objective for them as the world of the saints could be objective for others, and exactly as the world of microphysics can be for us today.
Viewed in this way we can go back to the concept of science as it was conceived at the beginning of the 17th century.
At the beginning of the 17th century science was Knowledge. It was not the specific capacity to investigate. It was knowledge in its totality. This kind of knowledge began to distinguish itself within knowledge into a truly technological knowledge, which is that of the perpetually plausible, where the reasonable and rational are always in agreement; instead another completely different knowledge, which is that of the actual experience of everyday life, that of culture; and a science that is instead comprehensive understanding of mysteries.
These three roads coexist and all three of them generate the idea of myth. So it is interesting to ask whether this is not a painting of a mythology of today.
If we assign to mythology its etymological meaning, that of knowing the world of myth, then it is a good idea to use visual imagery to represent a world that we sense but that we are unable to describe completely. It means having the courage to invent a new mythology.
And so, starting out from this point it comes naturally to me to refer to a book that means a great deal to me, Hobsbawm’s The Short Twentieth Century. We grew up with a genuine myth: that of believing that ours was the century of modernity, of great scientific discoveries, of great progress.
In reality if the relations between science, philosophy and art are redefined, as we have tried to do in these discussions as well, and if we attribute to science the incredible capacity to intuit what is not yet known and to succeed in demonstrating it, then it becomes possible to distinguish the scientific concept strongly from the technological one.
The route taken by Pasteur, who thought of the microbe before discovering it, is scientific; the route taken by Einstein, who came up with a theory before proving it, is scientific. That of someone who takes a theory and applies it is technological. Thus the history of the evolution of artistic languages is a cycle which starts with a sort of neoclassical revolution at the end of the 18th century and concludes, with almost all the inventions that will be repeated during the 20th century, in 1918.
The break that led toward Abstractionism, the inventions of the Futurists, the early ideas of Surrealism, the whole reworking of a different world by the Suprematists and Piet Mondrian’s first decompositions of the visual in the direction of total abstraction all took place before 1918. From 1918 to the fall of the Berlin Wall there was no particular innovation in the world of the arts. But nor was there any particularly incisive innovation in the world of philosophy, and perhaps not even in the scientific one. On the other hand the journey we have made from 1989 to the present day, over the last 25-30 years, appears to have become once again very attractive, curious and stimulating; it would seem by a sort of worldwide magic to be an attempt to re-examine the world of philosophy, an attempt to give science back a creative and incisive role.