Thursday, 26 August 2010

Faceless Autobiography.

Milan in all it's near empty glory. I'm here to spend a couple of days with Paola, Paolo and one year old Mario who has now added pointing, singing and running at high speed towards the corner of any table skills to the smiling and crying he was mostly into when I last saw him in January. The world is wonderful and there's much to point at and sing about.

With an August exodus the city feels strangely deserted, but welcoming like an old friend. It's easy to pull up a chair outside a pavement cafe, order an iced coffee and read, write or just watch the world. It could be worse.

I accidently flew business class - someone must have pressed the wrong button when I booked. Everything and everybody designed to make you feel rich and powerful. No queing, doors held open, fast track through passports, a space age lounge filled with play stations, internet access, complimentary newspapers in every language and beautiful - if slightly orange - people who glide silently to restock from the buffet and bar with an air of entitlement. Annoyingly I found myself enjoying it and began mimicing the surroundings. My posture improved, I held my gaze longer, I stopped fidgeting and if I hadn't banged my head on the low hung metal lamp shade I might have got away with initiating a conversation about blue sky out of the box ball parks or moving forward or the need for my people to meet your people.

The service carried on on board. A curtain was drawn so that the economy class passangers couldn't see how nice the food we were being served was and scolding towels, hot enough to melt your face were handed out by a specially trained steward in shiny buttons. No need to call for service he was eerily on it from take off to landing. You can shove Easyjet.

In contrast to the efficent nivarna of arrival I spent my first morning in the Palazza della Ragione looking round an exhibition of Francesca Woodman's troubling photographs. Many, including Paolo, rate her as the greatest self portrait photographer of them all.

Essentially the images are totally inclusive. She's both artist and object, trying to find a way to protect herself from her own vision. I found the level of self-conciousness overbaring and - a bit like when I read a Sarah Kane play - couldn't help but wish she'd found a way to sidestep the layering of constructed mask on constructed mask. There's no escape, no other universe to retreat into, which, no matter how playful the composition makes the experience of reading the work a very serious contemplation.

Woodman's nude in most images, but her face is always hidden, either behind a flow of hair or decapitated by the frame. She often traps herself in corners and painfully tries to cover her body with inadequete screens - a pain of glass, translucent paper etc. Even though she was very young it all seems so obvious, so American, so private made public. Perhaps she was ill, perhaps she was enthrall to despair - either way the images felt restless and cowardly to me.

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