Ludovica Carbotta at Bombon Projects

Artist: Ludovica Carbotta

Exhibition title: Paphos

Venue: Bombon Projects, Barcelona, Spain

Date: May 4 – June 17, 2021

Photography: All images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Bombon Projects, Barcelona

At the beginning the self stands at the centre of reality, unaware of its own limits, blending with the external world. Thus in the early stages a sculpture grows, inseparable from elements of the surrounding, to the point of not being able to set itself apart from the tools used for its forging and objects found nearby in the studio space. In these initial phases a sculpture does not even distinguish itself from the sculptor, but is the sculptor fully able to identify this divide? The two are seamlessly merged with no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins.

Over time the clay keeps growing or changing or drying or shrinking. Development unfolds through phases that incorporate encounters with sculptures in the city — physical encounters or desired ones. Images of others thus become parts of the self, mirroring others as  the only remaining tangible evidence of their existence. Just like mirror neurons that are active when doing something but also when observing others doing that same thing. Let’s say both when smiling and also when observing someone else smile. Their mysterious function contributes to the understanding of the emotions, the intentions and the actions of others. Resonating internally with the other to create a theory of mind, a presumption of what another thinks or feels. A mirroring that is the basis for empathy.

Proximity to others can then transform a sculpture that grows learning over time. Talking to the young mathematician Theaetetus in the homonymous platonic dialogue, Socrates states: “Can man learn one thing after another? Please assume, then, for the sake of argument, that there is in our souls a block of wax, in one case larger, in another smaller, in one case the wax is purer, in another more impure and harder, in some cases softer, and in some of proper quality. Let us, then, say that this is the gift of Mnemosyne, Titan goddess of Memory, mother of the Muses, and that whenever we wish to remember anything we see or hear or think, we hold this wax under the perceptions and thoughts and imprint them upon it, just as we make impressions from seal rings; and whatever is imprinted we remember and know as long as its image lasts, but whatever is rubbed out or cannot be imprinted we forget and do not know”[1]

Moulds and reproductions hence can shape memory . The structure changes during growth and begins to form the characteristic folds that designate different regions, based on encounters and layers of experience. Yet regressive events refine the abundance, removing inefficient connections like pruning trees, cutting feeble branches to promote a more vigorous growth. Memories that are not useful are thus carved out and fragments no longer visible are left aside. Like an old gargoyle, encountered once and never met again. Through these pruning mechanisms brains increase their efficiency, and plasticity dictates what we learn or we forget. Yet, all attempts to construct artificial intelligence systems that learn by pruning, face the problem that each time they learn something new, they forget everything they had learnt before. For every stage of growth the clay covers previous layers, and what was once visible it is no more.

Perhaps “puppet strings, as a rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers, which form another puppet in other  dimensions connected to the first.”[2] . Hence what is no longer visible is still present in the artist’s mind and in sketched details of other sculptures as well as serial clay recordings of moments past. Yet development is not linear and growth proceeds by progressive approximations through the illusion of time, where “even the distinction between present, past and future becomes fluctuating, indeterminate.”[3] Hence several moments of growth are simultaneously visible and coexist.

But behaviour is shaped by the presence of others in multiple ways. For example, individuals modify their behaviour in response to the awareness of being observed. This remarkable effect was discovered during experiments conducted at the Hawthorn Western Electric plant[4], in Cicero, Illinois, observing that the common underlying force driving the change in the workers’ behaviour was the fact itself of being subject to the tests. In the solitude of the crate the sculpture can then loosen its composure, a restful reconfiguration temporarily away from the audience’s gaze. Yet its natural place is under the spotlight, and the audience periodically returns. This oscillation of the subjective experience can generate a tension between the exactitude of the real and representation. A recurrent gesture entrusted to chance with unpredictable consequences.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Cypriot sculptor Pygmalion carved a woman out of ivory and loved the statue so deeply that he wished she came to life. Aphrodite granted his wish and Pygmalion married the sculpture turned human. Together they had a daughter called Paphos but whether she was sculpted or human it is not known. Yet this may not even be the point of the matter. “ If humans define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”[5] after all.

[1] Plato –  Theaetetus (circa 369 BCE)

[2]  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980)

[3] Carlo Rovelli – The order of time (2017)

[4] The Hawthorn power plant turned out to be fictional

[5]  William Isaac Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas – Thomas theorem (1928)