Oltre il ritratto
Annamaria Orsini


Sei tu mitologema per tradizione del domani
elemento stregonesco; angelo che reca doni invadenti…

It was an afternoon, during high summer, perhaps, because the sun was swallowing everything with its greedy light, a motionless light like that of a sultry southern afternoon, when I entered Serena Nono’s studio for the first time.The small canvasses representing faces were placed on easels, on tables or were lying on the floor.
A gallery of portraits, a universe of countenances. Recognizable, identifyable physiognomies, yet entities; paradigmas of humanity; beyond and within.
Mostly women; actually “the woman”; the female gender, matured by legends, investigated in many of its variations, in some of its possibilities; and among them, Serena again (or perhaps they are all Serena?).
To be a woman, to be a child, to be a man. To portray means to fix a countenance; with the desire to save it from the ineluctability of mutation, through an act of love. Every brushstroke is knowledge, every brushstroke, feeling: a thermography that freezes the features, revealing submerged throbs, whispered emotions, screams, sounds, silences.

“Non recidere, forbice, quel volto…”

And if it is true that Serena Nono’s figures, which guard the secret of a kiss, and that of a scream, seem to stretch out into the impregnable space which has generated them, to grasp it for an instant, and in that very instant “exist”, finally “exist” and…come to rest, or else withdraw, or sometimes curl up and actually delight in the kiss and the scream; then it is true that the faces, generated through autogenesis from earth, water and salt, cherish the secret of wait.
The secret, in Heidegger’s words, is what “preserves the human being in his/her authenticity”, and the secrets of these faces are just hinted at, barely told, never totally revealed. It is a reserved secrecy, an impalpable aphasia, an inconstant lightness of being, but also a way of “staying”, staying boldly in life and in history.
There is a suspension in these faces, something is lacking, which makes them suddenly a part of us, part of our destiny as monads peering in to one another in order to know and to recognize one another.
They have autonomy, essentiality that qualify them; intentions of being are presences that don’t need a “body” in order to exist.
“Questo lento giro d’occhi che ormai sanno vedere”

Closed eyes, half closed eyes, open eyes: the gallerist Gillian Adam looking down; a girl from London who devours us with her liquid eyes, the colour of the lagoon; the sharp and mocking look in Hanif Kureishi’s eyes; the spellbound look on a child’s face, stopped in flight, against a petroleum background; the penetrating stare of the burnt eyes of Serena herself, that dissolves in an incredible, Tiepolesque pink glaze; the impenetrable repose of a girl with hair reddened by vermilion fumes; the motionless sleep of a face with an african smile.

“Potessero le mie mani
sfogliare la luna!”

Joined hands, clasped hands, intertwined hands; hands like claws clutching books; hands that hold or generate faces; delicate hands, like Pietro’s, which are drawing nimbly; hands grazing shoulders or playing them like harps, whilst a dark haired Antigone offers us her shoulder which is like an immaculate blackboard on which to write or with which to conceal a sin,
or to hide oneself.
The hinted intimacy, thus more vulnerable, eludes, it withdraws beyond, beyond the breath of secrecy to create a shelter where the time of the Ego and the unseamed stitches of existence hide and condense.

“Tendono alla chiarità le cose oscure,
si esauriscono i corpi in un fluire
di tinte: queste in musiche. Svanire
è dunque la ventura delle venture ?”



A Serena ANNAMARIA ORSINI September 2002
From the catalogue Ritratti di Serena Nono, galleria Traghetto, Venice

Serena Nono