The mission of the artist is to engender reflection, to call attention through his work to themes, ideas and situations that, due to their mundane nature, could pass by unnoticed. In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky spoke of the role of the artist as a privileged individual, an observer and decoder of his environment, a human being with the ability to identify, visualize and assimilate external stimuli, process them, pass them through the sieve of creativity and return them in the form of works of art. True art does not reproduce reality; rather, it provokes in the viewer the interest in discovering an aspect of that reality that at times is imperceptible at first glance. The work of Annalaura di Luggo is based on recognizing the value of the human being as “unique and unrepeatable,” just as each of us perceives the world in our own unique way. Accordingly, she chooses the eye’s iris as the protagonist of her photographs. The iris is different in each individual because, although DNA determines its color and structure, the grooves, fissures and marks that comprise it occur randomly during fetal development in the maternal womb. Annalaura’s work does not stop with the macrophotography of the iris, which is otherwise strangely beautiful; the main theme of the project Occh-IO/Eye-I is the human perception that is as unique to each individual, as is the iris that the artist captures with a camera she patented, which was manufactured utilizing the technical resources of ophthalmologic science. Kant, in Critique of Pure Reason, spoke of the individual’s active role when perceiving the world. Understanding does not constitute a passive faculty simply limited to gathering data coming from the objects; rather, it is a pure configurative activity. Perception is conditioned by experience, by the way in which the individual captures the stimuli of the outside world, confronts them, processes them and interprets them. The photographing of the iris is just a part of the creative process of this artist; she complements it with the interaction that she provokes when she captures the images. Annalaura establishes an empathetic exchange with the subject, whose iris has been photographed, through an interview that does not follow a set list of questions; instead, in a spontaneous way, she allows the subjects to share their points of view and opinions on diverse topics ranging from intimate life experiences to much more universal topics, like religion, the economy, culture and society. This is a performance reminiscent of an intimate act, of closeness, an act that could initially be considered invasive in a world like ours in which people avoid touching each other, revealing themselves, looking into each other’s eyes, saying tender things, showing their weak sides, their human sides. The unique and unrepeatable photo of the iris remains proof of that interaction, of that moment of complicity and communion between two human beings (the artist and the subject, the owner of the eye), a moment that is also unique and unrepeatable. The interaction is recorded in the interview, in that conversation that appears simple but that starts with an excessively complex question for which almost none of us has a precise answer: What is the meaning of life? Over the years it has taken her to develop Occh-IO/Eye-I, Annalaura di Luggo has had the opportunity to come into contact with individuals from all social levels, races and cultures, including businesspeople, movie and television stars, intellectuals, students, authors, millionaires, the homeless, housewives, artists, scientists, victims of human trafficking, immigrants, inmates and the differently abled. All are welcome before her lens; all are welcome to share their experiences. Blind Vision arises from the artist’s interest in exploring the universe of people who perceive reality with senses other than sight. To achieve this, she made contact with l’Unione Italiana di Ciechi e ipovedenti (Italian Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired) and the Istituto Paolo Colosimo of Naples. Blind Vision constitutes not only a social and artistic investigation of human perception, but it also seeks to reaffirm the value of these individuals as an active part of society. The project began in November 2016 when the artist met with a group of 20 partially or totally blind people of various ages, professions and educational levels to establish a connection and rapport with each. She then photographed their eyes and invited them to share their experiences ofliving with one less sense and relying on other means to perceive reality. The interactions inspired and motivated the documentary Blind Vision, directed by renowned filmmaker Nanni Zedda. These interactions have also built a rich archive of life stories, feelings and reflections on how society perceives the visually impaired. They have been gathered together in the multimedia installation Blind Vision, which introduces viewers to the experience of not seeing. One descends down a ramp to a room, whose architecture is reminiscent of a dark grotto in which 20 light boxes have been placed. Each of them reproduces the form of the iris of each one of the project protagonists and is outfitted with computerized chips for light and sound, which are activated via a timer. Following a script carefully created by the artist and sound designer Paky Di Maio, each light box lights up for a few moments and narrates in the voice of the given protagonist a fragment of a life story, the experience of confronting a limitation that far from defeating that individual has led the discovery of a rich potential for strength and hope and alternative paths toward living with optimism and making dreams come true. The background sound created by Di Maio was based on the ambient sound that characterized the interactions and the daily sounds of the Istituto Colosimo and neighboring Neapolitan streets. A dark room next to the multimedia installation displays the sculpture Essenza, created by Annalaura to be perceived by the visually impaired. It is a piece with a disconcerting poetic charge. The sculpture was created utilizing as a model one of the photographed eyes that is missing a pupil. The artist devises a semantic game between the Italian word “essenza” (“essence”) and a very similar-sounding
phrase with an opposite meaning, “e senza” (“without”). In this work, the absence is charged with presence, with meaning. It proclaims loudly that the essential is not in the material, but in the spiritual, in feelings, in the energy that moves the heart and bodies of people who do not need to see in order to achieve their ends. A third project that arose as a result of the magic of these encounters is the exhibition “A Journey of Light.” It contains a collection of scene photos taken by the Neapolitan photographer Sergio Siano of the moments of interaction between the artist and each of the project participants. Annalaura describes this journey as the entrance into a new and unexpected universe of abilities. “I was afraid of finding a hopeless darkness, and yet it was a journey of light that enriched my soul,” she says. Each encounter, each conversation was a life lesson for the artist as it will likewise be for visitors to the exhibition, that these visually impaired people, whom society often ignores, have much to share and teach. This selection of photos assembles scenes in which project participants and the artist dance, embrace, hold hands and share a caress while the participants teach Annalaura how to give a massage and read in Braille. In one of the interactions, participant Roberta Cotronei says: “Quite often, the rest of you don’t see, because images crowd your mind, and there are so many that you end up losing track of something much more important.” It’s true; most of use have sight, but we don’t always have vision. Upon reviewing these photos, I recalled an idea that Zygmunt Bauman points to in The Art of Life. The philosopher said that the problem with contemporary men and women is that they almost always seek happiness in places where they cannot find it. Happiness is not in the accumulation of objects, knowledge, merits or material stability, but rather in the richness of human interactions and the extent to which we learn to recognize that what is truly important is often in front of our very noses, although it may pass us by unnoticed. The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition not only assembles photos of the works and critiques relative to the career and creative strategy of the artist, but it also includes a section she calls “Protagonists.” This gathers together biographical sketches of each of the 20 participants in this project, each biographical sketch recounted in the subject’s own words and accompanied by images of his daily life. When I began curating this project, I was particularly drawn to something Mario Mirabile, one of the participants, had said: “The world of the blind is invisible to most people.” This phrase, Annalaura told me later, was the trigger that led her to explore the experiential universe of these people in order to make it known to the public. “Protagonists” offers 20 windows into lives similar to those of any other human being, evidence of the contribution of each one of these individuals to society. Foucault asked himself: If a lamp or a house can be a work of art, why can a human life not be one? (Rabinow, 1984). Blind Vision is a project of live art in which the works of art are not only materialized in videos, sculptures and photographs. The main part is the interaction of the artist with the participants and the traces of life that have remained from those encounters, which will survive into the future. It is an interaction that does not end the moment the performance ends, but instead remains recorded, immortalized to be perceived by untold numbers of viewers. Its effects extend in time and continue not only reproducing themselves, but also changing, mutating and adapting themselves as long as the participants remain alive. In today’s world, which promotes competition for space, opportunities and to get ahead, as well as pretense, showiness, judgment, exclusion and separation, Blind Vision proposes instead the concepts of empathy, unity, inclusion, listening, understanding and accepting. As Descartes cautioned in his analysis of human optics, it is the soul that sees, not the eye.