Martina Corgnati

Listening to Form

“Music”, wrote Wassily Kandinsky in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, “with few exceptions, has been for some centuries the art which has devoted itself not to the reproduction of natural phenomena, but rather to the expression of the artist’s soul, in musical sound.” Kandinsky was convinced that this is art’s ultimate, supreme end: to subtract itself from the more atavistic, mimetic approach to nature and dedicate itself to the expression of an interior need, arisen on the threshold, the frontier between the artist’s subjectivity, the Zeitgeist, and the evolutionary, spiritual need that invariably lives in people of every era. Music – free of any references, immaterial, and imbued with immense power (indeed, “musical sound speaks directly to the soul”, as another passage reads) – is the most efficient, the most direct, the purest of all artistic languages; it is therefore also the most capable and well-adapted for realizing this important goal. Because of this, visual arts should take music as an example along the route to spiritual perfection, and allow themselves to be guided by the pervasive subtlety of music in order to elevate themselves, and leave behind the realm of limiting, materialistic influences without abdicating their specific language. This is possible! It is possible because there is “an affinity between the arts, music and painting in particular. This singular affinity was certainly the source of Goethe’s idea that painting must have its own ‘continuous bass’: a prophetic affirmation that presages the situation of painting today. We are at the beginning of a trajectory that will lead art, solely with its own strengths, to become abstract, and finally realize a purely pictorial composition”, continues Kandinsky. And the first fruit of this concentrated gaze towards music was abstract art – indeed, Kandinsky’s own art: the Impressions, the Improvisations and the Compositions. His was an act of conscious, responsible freedom that opened one of the most important paths of artistic research in the twentieth century. It is true that, along this path, things certainly didn’t remain the same: art has changed drastically – music has, too. Successive attempts to retrace those steps, and re-establish the old connections, which in the days of the Blaue Reiter movement were almost like blood relations, have brought forth largely unforeseen, even disconcerting results: the works of Fluxus, John Cage’s radio music or Stockhausen’s helicopter string quartets. But that’s not exactly how it all is: someone, somewhere, in the protective shade of his/her own discretion, perhaps recalls and continues to refer to those ancient affinities, and brings to life works that still speak of friendship, of the intimacies between art, painting, sculpture and music. Regazzoni is among these rare figures. Perhaps it couldn’t have beenany other way for her, as she has spent her entire existence immersed in music and the artisanal knowledge of her father, a major violin-maker. As a non-musician, Domenica has seen, come to understand and cultivated an extraordinary intimacy with music, its sanctuaries and its instruments. Her works are born of – and grow to maturity in – an environment steeped in music, conscious of its tyrannical laws, its moods, its ecstasies and its various seasons. Nevertheless, her works are still full of silence. It was no coincidence that Medardo Rosso said (and hence quoted by Regazzoni in one of her catalogues) that “music brings you to the silence of the image”. Somewhere within, insistently, it invites you to contemplate, to be more attentive, to appreciate the small, subtle, impalpable things and circumstances. The work seems to approach the viewer through the risky, uncertain mode of variations on a limited theme: wood, often in the form of a panel whose surface holds the work but is also a part of the work itself; and a violin, or the memory of a violin; and colour, paper, and sometimes the work’s natural surroundings. Consider, for example, the extraordinary nest and tree stump that Regazzoni transformed into an impossible instrument, precisely by nesting the scroll of a cello and casting it all in bronze, creating an almost Surrealist effect that would have captivated both Breton and Man Ray. She doesn’t exclude incursions into such Unheimlich, uncanny terrain, all the while imbuing them, preferentially, with a nuance of irony, tenderness. This is the polar opposite of the attitude most prevalent today among her “colleagues”, who are more attentive to the communications-related, even publicity-oriented aspects of their work than to its consistency and substance; Regazzoni dedicates almost maniacal care to every detail of her work – details that could never be entrusted to third parties – and cultivates her manual skill and craftsman-like mastery, the first and sole guarantee of success. For example, her knowledge of various woods – their characteristics and resistance – is striking; it makes a most favourable impression, even more at a time like ours (a time in which the world’s most highly-paid artists haven’t the slightest idea of how to realize their own works, and have even said that taste is something for gelato makers). In fact, Regazzoni always makes note of the essence of the wood employed in each work: spruce, for example, is rougher and consistent; maple is smoother, silkier and softer. Each wood offers the artist an initial, fundamental theme, a chromatic and tactile point of departure with which to coordinate forms and images; this sensibility, and keen sensitivity, likely comes from her father, a violin-maker who deeply understands the resonances and vibrations of wood, its resistance and ductility. Without this ancient, indispensable familiarity with materials, Domenica Regazzoni’s work wouldn’t make any sense, and wouldn’t even be possible; in her artistic practice, even the most minimal variable plays an important role, and can decide the success or absolute failure of any given piece. In her small watercolours, for example, a single extra brushstroke, a single overly intense nuance can destroy a delicate, impalpable balance – a balance that can be altered (or completed) only in the following work. The next work acts like a musical note that, after a pause, completes and resolves the note before it, resulting in a meaningful, melodic concatenation. Indeed, melodic form is an apt metaphor for understanding this procedure: just as one note derives, to a certain degree, from the next, while nevertheless remaining autonomous and free, an image can draw its own raison d’être from another image – and its deepest, most intimate needs can be found in an image that, already self-defined, could not otherwise have been resolved. Finished works in and of themselves, yet also parts of an “open” whole, a work in the process of becoming whole, they are complete and resolved, but can also be read as passages in a melodic development, in a concatenation of small-scale, intense visual events. Small: Domenica Regazzoni privileges scales and formats that allow for a certain intimacy, a reserved, personal approach, an almost tactile contact that, with rare exceptions, are the same as those in her assemblages and sculptures. The violin is a small instrument, yet its intense and pervasive sound can reach unimaginably great distances. That is a bit like the effect Regazzoni aims to achieve: her objects must be sufficiently concentrated in order to produce the right resonances, even in an associative sense: a white, silent violin, she once said, recalls a snow-covered landscape; a pale pink or blue imperceptibly seeping into grey perhaps echoes a Japanese sensibility, much like the haiku that accompanied the work in one of her past visual voyages. It was Gillo Dorfles who first clarified – with his usual precision and efficacy – the special qualities of this sensibility, a sensibility “that is aesthetic; not only sculptural, but also alive, ornamental, and acoustic”. This sensibility also translates into rigour, an uncontrollable need for perfection, continually renewed with each viewing. From this seriousness stems Regazzoni’s solid relationship to tradition (the tradition of the artistic avantgarde, but also the artisanal tradition of the violin-makers), as well as her noteworthy originality, and her patiently proactive, constructive and open approach to the future. And in this moment of radical, even unwitting nihilism, we can be grateful to her for reminding us that all of this is still possible.

Catalogo Skira