Stephen Knudsen - annalauradiluggo en

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Stephen Knudsen
Professor art &design college Savannah

Darkness is not nothingness. And the darkness in the eyes of all of us is a window in the iris called the pupil. That black hole portals light from the world, light passed through the cornea and the front chamber’s aqueous humor. It sends light on its way in just the right measure by widening or narrowing like an aperture on a camera. The light that passes that black hole penetrates the lens that sits in the back chamber’s vitreous humor. It then invades the back wall of that beautiful chamber to tickle the retina and the rods and cones therein. But still, in all this light, the back wall reads black as we see it through the window of the iris, as we see it through the pupil. Rods and cones reconfigure light into impulses sent to the occipital lobe of the brain, where vision is engendered on a cellular level, subverting the darkness. If any part of that pathway is disrupted, degrees of darkness remain an ever-present reality. But darkness is not nothingness, and that is exactly the point of Annalaura di Luggo’s Blind Vision. The interview component of the Blind Vision exhibition is chronicled in a documentary directed by filmmaker Nanni Zedda. The documentary called by the same title as the exhibition (whose teaser is available on the web), shows Annalaura placing herself face-to-face with each blind person in turn. She sits much closer than Marina Abramović’s face-to-face with subjects in The Artist Is Present. In the Annalaura encounter, the partners sit in an intimate space, perhaps a foot from each other. Like The Artist Is Present, there are moments of tears and sometimes even an embrace. But the magic comes from hearing one another in darkness, rather than eyes gazing into eyes in silence. At times, Annalaura closes her eyes to align her experience with those she interviews. When two people sit this near to one another, fragrance and breath intermingle to communicate something on a molecular level in the interaction between individuals. Both participants wear black, and the room is enveloped in complete darkness. The two heads are the only lit forms and become like the irises that first receive the light before the hidden retina. Together, these illuminated heads float in a dark space—a kind of infinity of dark somethingness—like a pair of irises hovering over the darkness of the retina. These kindred sentients consider each other tenderly—not like strangers, but rather, like mother and child, or intimately close friends, or a pair of loved ones meeting for the first time. The documentary then leads us discreetly into the stories of those who live with varying levels of blindness. In the second phase of the process, using macro lenses, Annalaura photographed the irises of the blind people she interviewed. This is, as Leonardo da Vinci put it, “the window of the soul” beautifully transformed into astonishingly complex colored landscapes, tactile surfaces that seem suitable for a lunar landing and defy the glassy notions we often hold about the iris. These anatomical snapshots, in which the irises are blown up bigger than a basketball, are put on large light boxes, and this is what we see in the exhibition. The light boxes are of different sizes, ranging from one meter to 50 centimeters in diameter. They are located in different parts of the room, which remind one of a cave—a very dark cave. In fact, there is a small ramp that ushers people into the interior of the dark chamber. Initially, the room is in absolute darkness. Music then rises over the silence, made with sounds from the environment of the Istituto Colosimo, which include the sounds of the blind interviewee’s environment and those of the street outside. As part of the script, the light boxes illuminate in turn and speak phrases from the interviews. One turns on and then off and waits until its next opportunity to speak. A story is constructed through the phrases as a conversation in which each of the 20 participants in Blind Vision tells his or her experience of dealing with blindness. This becomes a grand ensemble—awesome, mysterious and inspiring. Such pairings of illuminated images with interviews are ubiquitous in the medical realm. X-rays clipped onto light boxes with physician-to-patient consultations come to mind. And like the very best doctors, Annalaura simultaneously questions and empathizes with her subjects, taking great care, with some interludes coming to tears and a hug. It is clear that Annalaura’s smile is as genuine and deep as her interest. Though we do not see the video interview in the exhibition, one still senses that the words we hear coming from the light boxes are built on, and also imply, a sympathetic listener. The work provides a macro view of each person’s unique experience. Annalaura has photographed people from a wide range of social classes and backgrounds: celebrities and politicians, inmates, the homeless, victims of domestic violence, artists, professionals and immigrants. With each project, she works for many days, sometimes weeks and even months, with the group she selects to develop and study their stories. Blind Vision’s central purpose is to propose an alternative way to view the world via the channels of perception used by blind and visually impaired people. The artist’s purpose is clearly also to return dignity to people who are often dismissed to some degree for their “abnormality” and to endorse their roles in society. Many hold professional positions as attorneys, translators, professors, accountants, writers, journalists and musicians, among other professions. In the gentleness of the documented interview, we learn the details of a life. Most of the profiled subjects are autonomous, and many have raised families. Blind Vision transmits the message that the blind have an alternative way of living and perceiving the world that is not abnormal, but different. As curator Raisa Clavijo told me in a conversation, each interaction generates a kind of X-ray of the individual’s experience, illuminating facets of contemporary society, such as life, politics, religion, leisure and struggle, to name a few. Each interaction gives a different point of view of a life lived with blindness. The work implies that we are more than just complex biological organisms built on billions of cells and cascading chemical and electrical actions looking for homeostasis. Homeostasis is a challenge for everybody—some more than others, such as those who have sustained injuries or are set in motion from birth with a biological imperfection in the cornea, the optic nerve, the retina or somewhere in the occipital lobe. Yet homeostasis can still be attained. BIind Vision attests to this fact, that the human being is more than simply biology. This work speaks to the soul that also seeks homeostasis in a world—a universe— that is sublime, full of other blackness and black holes that crush not only matter, but human imagination, which can extend only so far in explaining how and why we are even here with our beautiful eyes, those windows to that soul. In a way, we are all blind, as Immanuel Kant expressed it. We are blind to a true comprehension of infinities such as the universe, what he called the “mathematical sublime,” and we are blind to true comprehension of the power that set it in motion and keeps it in motion, what he called the “dynamical sublime.1” How could either of these things be, or even not be? For what is nothingness? If we had sensory detectors and biological apparatuses beyond what we have, certainly our imagination would not crash into so many impenetrable theoretical walls. Science, of course, can extend our senses, but it cannot give us new senses. So, naturally, we are all in the dark for the sensory detectors that we as humans have never had. But darkness is not nothingness. Darkness is the medium of sublime regard. Without it there would be no sublime. And that is something. And this takes us back to the windows of the soul, the windows into the other sublime, that of ourselves. We cannot truly comprehend ourselves being or not being. Annalaura’s eye portraits, looming as large and bright as distant celestial bodies, embody this philosophical discourse. Darkness is not nothingness. It is the matrix in the universe and our own minds where we all make hairline trails of existence and comprehension with or without all the human senses and without senses that we cannot even imagine. Surely, darkness is not nothingness.

© Annydi 2020
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