1995 - Rocco Ronchi

Rocco Ronchi, Per Enrico Lombardi, Milan 1995

In front of certain pictures you can’t escape a sense of disquiet. You understand, indeed, the cathartic function that contemporary art criticism has assumed with its meager, but functional categories: by preventing us from seeing, and therefore from thinking, it in fact offers shelter and support to a weak eye, repairing in advance any laceration of the gaze. Yet there are works that continue to be thresholds, “perilous” thresholds behind which, as one of the rare friends of true painting, Yves Bonnefoy, has written, something “Pounds / Pounds forever.” But if criticism seems now to have the institutional function of softening the blow—any blow—in the mud of its own empty formulations, thinking has to have courage. And the courage of thinking has always been the courage of the unaccustomed. It is a question of exposing yourself to the shock of the real, of making a problem out of the obvious, not out of a love of argument, but precisely because the obvious, the world-of-life around us, appears at a certain moment, as in Lombardi’s pictures, absolutely disquieting. The Germans have a good word for it, fragwürdig, “worthy of being questioned.” It is not in fact the marvelous that generates wonder and prompts questions—the marvelous is after all an emotional compensation for a life that is already taken for granted in its premises— but reality itself: what “is there,” these walls and these houses you have gone past a thousand times, these places whose “habitability” has always been assumed to be indisputable. But to the estranged and estranging gaze of thought, the idea that the world is made for humanity, that human beings live in it “with simplicity” like a prince in his palace or a gear in its machine, all this appears “doubtful,” built on shaky foundations. Suddenly the world is perceived in its extraneousness. Like childhood for the grown-up, it is now given to thought as an object of endless meditation at the moment in which it has been lost forever: we are no longer the world, and so we “have” it as an enigma of knowledge and as incurable nostalgia. In order to think thought has to constantly fake this trembling of the ground under its feet. Whence its gratitude to those artists who know how to paint life “on the sixth day of creation: when God and the world were alone together, without man” (R. Musil); i.e. to those who with their images of a world not made to measure for man, meticulously “out of proportion,” offer reason its specific sensorium. To make clear the nature of the disquiet conveyed to us by these images, we have to turn to the richest vocabulary available to our humanity. The Greek word stasis signifies at once immobility, the absence of movement, and, in an apparently contradictory manner, what was an absolute scourge for the well-educated Greek: sedition, civil war. A semantic ambiguity that begins to make sense if immobility is seen as that moment of great tension in which opposing forces are perfectly balanced on the battlefield, or if one thinks of the terrifying implications that the dead calm of the winds, the stasis anemon of which Alcaeus speaks, has for the sailor. This is a moment of metaphysical suspension in which Balthus found the very essence of eros and of expectation, to the point of becoming obsessed with it; coming face-to-face with the most exorbitant otherness, the darkest and most visionary moment, therefore, when the tension has not yet been dissolved, discharged and forgotten in the animal heat of the embrace or the fight to the death. Thus painting the stasis of the world as Lombardi does signifies carrying out a genuine phenomenological epoché, a “suspension of judgment,” and thereby putting the image on a collision course with the principle that invigorates human culture. If this in fact “works” to remove from the world its extraneousness, to render it habitable and proportionate to a purely human need (mirror in which the human being can recognize and delight in him or herself), the image shows us instead the place of our earthly sojourn (this is the original meaning of the word ethos) in a demonic light. Stasis is sedition, conspiracy or plot against the very principle of civilization—and this is the profoundly anarchic and anti-platonic sense of Lombardi’s painting. But it is a conjuration sacrée because, by delivering the place back to the power of the extraneous, to the “diabolical mystery of painted life” (R. Musil), Lombardi makes his painting the conscious heir of that lofty tradition which found in the image a threshold, an opening onto the invisible. And he does it with the delicacy and modesty of someone who is well aware that iconoclastic modernity is still waiting for a revelation that will be equal to its disillusionment. The angel-devil that may appear at this threshold will in fact have “neither ashen wing nor wear of ore,” nor stars that follow it (Wallace Stevens). And yet it will be “the necessary angel,” the messenger not of a reconciliation of humanity with the place in which it lives, since this is precisely the eschatological promise against which the work anarchically conspires, but of a possible definitive abandonment: an abandonment by humanity of its own precarious and violent identity, an abandonment to the extraneous and in the extraneous. Finally, “care” of its own entirely mortal nature, constantly exposed as it is to that unbearable—truly inhuman and alien—light which is the awareness of its own insuperable finitude: “Yet I am the necessary angel of earth, / Since, in my sight, you see the earth again, / Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set” (Wallace Stevens).