Federica Francesconi at Saito Private Art Collection

Artist: Federica Francesconi

Exhibition title: : The conceptual implications on the relationship between what we see and the world

Venue: Saito Private Art Collection, Tokyo, Japan

Date: September 17 – December 5, 2021

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Saito Private Art Collection


When discovering Federica Francesconi’s work, the last thing one usually thinks of is neuroscience, general relativity or quantum physics. Her shaded style plays with the aesthetics of shadow, transparency, the relationship between emptiness and matter or the evocative power of the indefinite and the infinite. And yet, to explain her works, the Italian artist uses texts by Carlo Rovelli or Wolfgang Pauli. And perhaps this is not so surprising after all. Because in the end painting has always been about investigating our way of perceiving or relating to the outside world, what the artist calls “other”: an other “that can also be called reality, society, world, etc.”. It is not an exaggeration then to use terms such as uncertainty, indeterminacy or undefinability to qualify her paintings, all of them adjectives that give name to some quantum physics’ theorems. It is not an exaggeration either to think of the famous Schrodinger’s cat, the one that taught us that there is no stable and material reality that we simply accept, but that our gaze also determines the real.

I have always thought that avant-garde was born in some way as a response to this epistemological paradigm’s shift, that the fissure that Godelian incompleteness established in our possibility of knowing was also established in our possibility of representing. Perhaps the best example is Honoré de Balzac’s short story The Unknown Masterpiece. It narrates the impossible attempt of the painter Frenhofer to finish his masterpiece. From so much wanting to encompass perfection, the viewer ends up seeing ‘nothing’. Only the end of a bare foot among “the chaos of color, half-tints and vague shadows that made up a dim, formless fog”. From so much searching for the absolute, one discovers that there is no such thing as a stable, deterministic and defined Platonic world, but rather a “certainty of the impossibility of representing the world” as Francesconi’s says.

All these (and many more) are The conceptual implications on the relationship between what we see and the world, of which the title speaks, using a vocabulary as cold and abstract as suggestive and subtle are Francesconi’s paintings, lines and evocations presented here by the Italian painter at Sait0 private collection. Her abstract forms and enigmatic incarnation open up the field of the possible while playing with space, reflecting on the way we face it, inhabit it or create it. Her impressive big scale paintings resemble incomprehensible monoliths that seem to open up the matter that welcomes them in a curious gesture of integration and rejection. A minimal variation in color and texture reminiscent of a kind of transcendent portal, an entrance to parallel worlds, unconscious visions or realities that never existed or that we cannot reach. The cold and mammoth geometry of the room is cracked (almost) imperceptibly by these appearances, in the same way that the artist subtly draws lines transform the representation of space in the two prints that we can see in the exhibition.

The contrasts of light and darkness and the intangibles dégradée also refer to all those pre-conscious structures, those “symbolic images”, whether individual or collective, that influence our way of observing the environment. There is a halo of memories, desires, regrets in the blurred uncertainty of her line, something similar to the imaginative and ghostly function that skies or veils have exercised for so long in the history of Art. But with a more serious tonality that adds a certain disenchanted transcendence to the lightness of its result. There appear, in some way -we return to physics-, all those things that escape the narrable or the representable, beyond the limit of the merely visible. An attempt (perhaps an impossible one) to indicate, to “show” (zeigt sich as Wittgenstein would say) all those diffuse and secret realities that make us see things differently from ‘what they are’.

Georges Didi-Huberman qualifies these magical glimpses as aperçues -in his eponymous book-: a phenomenology made up of occasions, wounds, survivals and desires. I see that in Francesconi’s work, that movements “between the visible world that passes before the eyes and the energy of the gaze itself”, this desire “suddenly, to no longer seek to recognize, to fix, but to surrender more freely to the fluidity of forms” as Didi-Huberman puts it.

Somewhere in his corpus, Giorgio Agamben speaks about the messianic time as the same exact world we’re in but slightly different. An imperceptible change. An infinitesimal difference. I thought about that after reading Carlo Rovelli’s explaining that the vision is in fact this discrepancy “between what the brain expects and the light reaching the eyes”. This small adaptation is the definition of our visual system. I like this idea of an almost the same but slightly different reality. Something like these three stools with steel legs and blue fabric presented in the exhibition. They seem similar but are located slightly differently. As if something had happened (or could happen) that we cannot see but perceive.

Something that we hope can finally clarifies that relationship between what we see and the world.