What I discovered wasn’t only a love story, not only only the birth of a couple who lived together for more than fifty years, but a sort of cosmogony, of ur-story, a sort of mirror where everyone would like to see themselves: the desire to be born of love. Translated from Lydia Flem, Lettres d’amour en heritage, Editions du Seuil, Paris 2006
We want to be born in a warm nest of love; the image, though never really made explicit out of cowardice with ourselves and correct consciousness of reality, nevertheless accompanies the childhood vision of our parents’ union. We look for tangible proof; we shout to the world that we were born with and of love.
The first example of our parents and the affective education that arrives through gestures and habits go on to define the outlines of our loving behaviour. The so-often acute convulsions, anxieties, enthusiasms and sufferings of first falling in love will be awoken again in each successive infatuation, like spectres of the past rekindled by the flame of the present.
But falling in love seems simply to be the spark that ignites. Love is something else – love, then, is perhaps just what children glimpse in the strange relations of adults. Love is built up over the years; love for oneself, for the other, for everything.
And if just this kind of love has been taken from us?
Or is it that we don’t want to accept it? Scared as we are by the quicksands of habit, by that ordinary which frightens, by that ‘emotional security’ which in many peers or in ourselves we’ve seen transform into total negation of the self, into self-denial, into dependency, into the simple fear of being alone, not so much for the condition of solitude as for solitude in a consumeristic world where it seems hard to even conceive of food shopping for one.
And so, here, a generational change has come into play. We really are squaring accounts with the conquests that the individual has made since the nineteen sixties, together with all the rest, all that happened after that time, which is almost unnameable. And so mightn’t it be that we have almost too much time to think about it? Mightn’t it be that our parents, who couldn’t permit themselves certain juvenile infatuations, deep down, experienced their feelings better? Perhaps in a more peaceful, more linear way.
Yet it was in 1977 that Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments was brought out by Éditions du Seuil, in which the semiologist divides the lover’s discourse into 80 entries and orders them alphabetically. And his ‘lover’s motifs’ are timeless, among them: Anxiety; Clouds; Contact; Crying; Demons; Dependency; Embrace; Exile; Fulfillment; Induction; Languor; Mad; Objects; Pigeonholed; Ravishment; Remembrance; Signs; Silence; Tenderness; Truth; Union; Waiting; Waking; Wandering; Ways Out; Why.
We have all experienced the unreality – or, according to Barthes, the dereality – of this condition, and it is legitimate to long for it and fear it at the same time.
And art has always fed on love, on the passions, on life and on death. Art as song and catharsis, art as light, as the projection of the self into the world, as liberating and exploratory ritual.
It is our passions that draft our books, and the calm between one passion and another that writes them. *
Moira Ricci – class of 1977 – had the courage to steal the title of her solo show – Till Death Do Us Part – from a letter that her father wrote her mother, then his fiancée, in 1970. This promise becomes grim, however, in the moment that it surrounds – as on a stamp – a skull and crossbones, a footnote to the lover’s declaration. Ricci’s mother died tragically in 2004, breaking that union, tearing the family apart.
Then the artist opens her photo album of memories, and tries to speak to her mother in the noted photo series 20.12.53-10.08.04.
What’s happening now? Why speak of the love of those two kids in the seventies? Certainly this is part of an elaboration of mourning but it comes out of the need to throw light on a subject, dear to Ricci and to her generation because it is the seed of much contemporary personal and social behaviour.
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The exhibition opens a series of shows that Ricci intends to dedicate to the theme, and she looks at it starting from the model of her own family, trying in the most painful manner to reconstruct that love which she didn’t experience, like Alina Marazzi with her wardrobe full of her grandfather’s home videos, like Lydia Flem with her parents’ letters found after their death. Ricci reads the letters of the two lovers, looks at their photos of that time; then she cuts, enlarges, matches writing to photograph giving meaning to unlived experience, or giving another – her – meaning to history. In this first section the language is of courtship, the impossibility of seeing each other before the engagement, love promises, common passions that are his band I Disperati and her passion for dancing; in fact they first met at a dance hall.
After this first step into a history in which the artist has postproduced (as Nicolas Bourriaud would say) materials already in existence, we move on to the afterwards, to what happened following the forced separation.
From here on Ricci trains her spotlights on her father, observing him in his domestic solitude and projecting her vision of the widow, thinking continually of his lost love. This isn’t only Ricci’s contention, given that in the exhibition there is the life-size reproduction of a fetish that her father has in the bedroom and that the artist calls, not unfittingly, a totem: on a mirror is the collage made up of a pencil drawing by her father of his beloved’s face, and a black-and-white screen print of a naked woman.
Split up into many little familiar gods, Albertine lived a long time in the flame of the candle, in the handle of the door, in the back of a chair and in other more immaterial domains.
Set in association with the fetish-object is a double-screen video in which the man plays and sings various love songs, at home, alone. The artist recorded a huge number of these ‘sessions’, chose some sections of 14 pieces, and edited them together. The video, lasting about 17 minutes, can be watched in its entirety or in part, from the beginning or from the middle, it doesn’t matter. What remains is that incredible sense of nostalgia it conveys and if we read the lyrics that scroll below the singing, we’re left disarmed by the simplicity of some phrases, taken from famous songs and made timeless, among them: I fooled myself that I’d forgotten and instead here I am remembering, remembering you; Where are you? Where are you? Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?; you’re in the wrong heaven; I know, I know you won’t come back; with you taking it away, with you my life. An ode to absence. A projection of the daughter towards the father, of the daughter who doesn’t want her father to forget.
Time passes. We need to act.
The will comes to our aid with action, while intelligence and sensibility wander.
Because to “remember” a being is, in reality, to forget it.
Ricci closes the exhibition then with a video filmed in one of the many dance halls she accompanied her father to, observing him together with other men and women – prevalently widowed or divorced – behave as if he were living a second adolescence (or maybe the first, since there were certain luxuries they couldn’t permit themselves).
The man dances happily with other women, in a place where inevitably each time he seems to see a thousand Lorianas, as his wife was called, dazed by the Barthesian dereality.
* The quotations in italics, separate from the text, are taken from various volumes of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.