Painting versus Ideology
Paolo Flores d’Arcais


Serena Nono does not produce ideology. Serena Nono paints. She communicates through lines and colors, canvases and brushes. This is news, and not to be underestimated. Today, in fact, what is generally passed off for “art” (or the death of art, or its criticism, dissolution, irony about, deconstruction, etc.) is nothing but a multiform and many-colored heap of ideological merchandise: manu-factures and arte-facts that could just as well (if not better) be simply told, said in the form of ideas, verbally communicated – in short, ideologized, without recourse to a manu or an arte to make them into facts. Any hand could in fact perform this operation of “making” (or, perhaps, installing), so inessential has it become in this “art.”
The occupation and colonization of the territory of artistic doing by ideological saying is, of course, nothing new. But today it is so widespread that it threatens to become omnipervasive (look at, for example – or read, since it amounts to the same thing – the latest Venice Biennale). And what we have here is a totally hegemonic substitution in the criticism/market, in the business/art, to which everyone is submitting, and more all the time. We have a wholly new form of voluntary servitude. (But wasn’t art-making the very last refuge of resistance to homologation and conformity, even at the cost of extremely risky quid pro quos?)
In Italy, where ideology substituting for art is concerned, we had already “seen” and already given, with “arte povera” and “conceptual art,” to name just a few. (But, for that matter, Pop art in the USA was, apart from some very rare exceptions, the equivalent of socialist realism in the USSR: ideology instead of painting. And it is not fortuitous that, today, the market for Stalinist “pompier style” is growing vertiginously, and tomorrow may well command head-spinning prices.)
Ideology instead of art; that is, the physical exhibiting of a bright little idea (which is in fact no more than the shadow of an idea), where, indeed, what counts is the “idea,” not its material transformation. But the “provocation,” today, long after the moustache on the Mona Lisa and other dadaistic outrages, is pathetically ridiculous. The walls of Rome, “wrapped” for their Jubilee face-lifting, make some art lovers cry “Christo!” – meaning Christo the “artist,” of course; but it just goes to show that Christo’s “wrappings” exhibit nothing more than common building restoration does, and therefore owe their quality of “art” exclusively to the ideology pasted onto them, and to the buyer of the relic of the event, who transforms it into currency on the market.
A box with the word “shit” written on it, a disabled person parked in a room, and countless other brilliant little brainstorms that have nothing to do with the “making” of art, speak only as “brainstorms,” as “bright ideas.” Seen or told, it makes no difference, they are the very same thing (or, indeed, if just told they leave room for the full gamut of imagination regarding their possible mise-en-scène). The “shit” has to be “of the artist,” explicitly, since only that saying, that ideologizing, de?nes it. As an object (manu-factured, or made in some other way), it has nothing to say.
Ideology in the place of art is, obviously, the art critic’s good fortune; in this ambit, it is the critics who are the real producers of art. They confer the qualities upon that which otherwise would not be a work but a thing, since the qualities all reside in the “discourse” the critic manages to ascribe to a thing (or installation) that, otherwise, is in-different, devoid of any quality of its own.
Ideology in the place of art is also the good fortune of the art market, constantly in need of fresh “ideas” to feed on, while pretending that these bright little ideas are still scandalous and capable of transgressing something. They are, instead, pure imitation, sometimes a parody of the mechanism that rules in the fashion market, and obey the logic of the stock exchange (corrected by that of the game of chance. Or vice versa): one bets on an artist not because one appreciates her work – no, the bet is on the staying power of the critics and dealers that back her. Today one wants to possess an artwork as one possesses a stock market “future,” no longer as a useful good, to be looked at, but rather as a ?gure in the ?nancial bulletins, to be followed in its variations.
Serena Nono, to the contrary, paints. She communicates with lines and colors. With canvases and brushes. Intensely.
She makes art. Slowly layering. Telling the pain, ?rst of all. As it can be told when one makes art, “sublimating” it. (The word has become taboo, but it is still what the artist does.) Expressing but keeping at a distance. Sym-pathizing but helping to bear, because in a beautiful painting the pain, which remains pain, also becomes beautiful, not only painful but moving. The pain that otherwise would overwhelm, if only thought through to the end (and thought only): just think of how many real people, at this very moment, are being harrowed and tortured to death, worse than Christ on the cross, worse than any passion and cruci?xion. This pain is communicated, lived through together – told, and so made known and, in that sense, made bearable (for those who do not actually have to undergo it). But not exorcized. Not repressed. On the contrary.
But Serena Nono, because she paints only the pain of existence, paints also the possibility of ?ghting against it, the glimmer of joy. Hers is (almost) always sacred painting, even if she has just begun to deal with the theme explicitly, because the sacred is today nothing more than the existence of each one of us. Pietà. Deposition. Without Resurrection, however. If anything, glimmers of solidarity, color that breaks the solitude. The horizon of these paintings is indefeasibly ?nite. Without illusions of salvation, without farces of transcendence. But, for this very reason, laden with the inexhaustible diversity of an existing that is never already written. That infects existence but also things, for things are always nothing more than things of our world, of our existing. The monuments of Venice, for example. The churches (but also the Mulino Stucky). What could be more impossible to paint all over again! Handed down and interpreted in every way possible. Not further “inventible,” one would say. And instead the inexhaustibility of existence can still live through them in absolutely new ways. Serena’s Venetian churches loom unbearably near, while announcing themselves from the farthest depths. More than monuments, they are thick, oppressive echoes. Flickering nightmares in the strati?cation of nights. But nightmares that are also friends. Their familiarity is invented, created each time, not simply apprehended. Presences that weigh heavily upon us, irrevocably, rooted in earth and water, while dissolving in the air and the lights of our living them (of the living of the artist who paints them, and offers this living to others in turn).
Serena Nono paints for those who still have eyes to see.

Paolo Flores d’Arcais, “Painting versus Ideology”, from the catalogue Figure, Lineadombra libri, 2000

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