Maria Domenica Rapicavoli was born in Catania (Italy) where she graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts (2001). She then studied at Goldsmith University in London (2005), after which she won a scholarship for the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum (2012) and has lived and worked in New York ever since. Rapicavoli participated in the AIRspace residency program at the Abrons Arts Center in New York (2015), the International Study and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn (2014) and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Swing Space Residency Program in New York (2013). She has won many awards and scholarships and exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States, as can be seen on her website.
What is real? This is the question around which the Sicilian artist’s work revolves, which is imbued with reality. Then there is the present time, the space between, the nature of the void, disembodied dimensions on which Rapicavoli’s artistic production is based, which broaden the horizons of thought. The present is an instantaneous and continuously evolving space-time interstice, it is the only one among the many possible futures that becomes present, squeezed between the past in light and the embryonic future. You don’t have time to think about it as it has already taken refuge in the past, the most solid time where everything is, waiting to be seen, taken up, revealed, interpreted. The space between is instead that void that separates and connects events distinct in time and distant in space which become questions in the work, questions linked by mutual influences of proximity and distance. It is with silences and subtle sounds that the artist works, making the work a reality and about reality with the tools of art, prolonging the duration of the present and events and thus shortening spatial and temporal distances.
Rapicavoli works with immaterial matter, in dense voids, which require the observer to have inter-ligence skills to be appreciated; intelligence in fact comes from inter-legere, that is, the ability to linger on the voids that separate the letters, the words, the lines, in search of the unsaid, a complementary component of the said in saying. The aerial, volatile component returns to its line of research on skies rich in signs with non-visible features that make war present even in times of peace.
The year following her landing in the United States, she returned with her work to the years of the landing in Sicily, searching for and finding the remains of a German plane shot down over Etna in 1943. She exhibited the photos in the Disrupted Accounts exhibition set up in the spaces of the BOCS association (Box Of Contemporary Space) in Catania, together with a sound and video installation on secret American military maneuvers. The exhibition ends with photos of the MUOS (Mobile User Objective System) in Niscemi, the new military radar structure in Sicily, which looks at the airspace and makes us reflect on war, which hovers without descriptions with images of bloody battles.
The artist constructs reality as the historian does, placing emphasis on exemplary facts which he exposes in their complete and crude nakedness but without lingering morbidly. In the same way there is no morbidity in the images of the invisible war that lies hidden in territories and communities of armed peace and works behind the scenes of the scene of the major theaters of war. Here the battle becomes civic and civil, of critical opposition and denunciation of strategic American military interventions that violate habitats, as is the case of MUOS, which can emit very high frequency electromagnetic waves in an environmentally sensitive area such as the Niscemi cork grove.
A Cielo Aperto belongs to this trend, an installation repeated in Italy and the USA since 2014 which presents a series of live wires representing the air flight corridors over Sicily, for the exclusive use of military drones. These threads run over the viewer’s head against the backdrop of a photo of the sky, casting thin, sinister shadows all around. In the time of globality Rapicavoli travels with her critical analytical baggage and builds an invisible bridge between Sicily and the United States, over which both the relationships between the mafias on the two Atlantic shores and those between the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pass in Sicily, where they are synonymous with the military base in Sigonella, with Cruise missiles, with MUOS, and with areas used as shooting ranges. The photographic documentation that captures the moment is combined with installations that remain hanging in space as if suspended, an apnea useful to avoid hastily reaching conclusions. The exhibitions are segments of broader lines of research in which the whole is renounced in favor of a detail that already contains the whole, albeit partially, within itself. We find traces of the Sicilian connection in APNEA, an exhibition underway in Catania at the Brodbeck Foundation.
Spirit and emptiness between absence and lack
APNEA is the title of Maria Domenica Rapicavoli’s exhibition at the Brodbeck Foundation in Catania, which runs until the end of January. Apnea, conceived as a suspended condition of shadow in which to take shelter and gain strength. Apnea as an exception, a pause in the breathing sequence that causes a sense of suffocation to be experienced and thus overcome. The pause presupposes a before and an after: it is the immobile part of a movement that precedes and follows.
The works on display are pieces of a mosaic whose contours can be understood though it is not yet possible to fully focus on the figure. The typical work in progress road sign could be displayed at the entrance, because the works on display are segments of more extensive lines of research which in some ways have a spiritual character, because the common thread seems to unravel around the nature of the void between absence and lack.
A section of the exhibition by the Sicilian artist who lives in New York is dedicated to Corleone, a destination for cinematographic-inspired pilgrimages, a highly symbolic place in which even today the representation is descriptive of a reality that is not the original but is still rooted in present. The artist stayed there in search of the spirit of a place where civil society coexists with the mafia reality, which controls the territory of the state, invades the private sphere of the citizens, and conditions the economy and social life of the community. The first photographic rendering tells us about time, slow, relaxed and extended on the bowling green where the villagers play, a game which with each throw causes various effects on the playing field. The game is also the subject of the shot, a play of light and shadow, an eloquent two-tone expression of Sicily, where the image with the broken net useless for capturing and enclosing anything is just as significant.
Corleone houses the only complete copy of the maxi trial of the mafia conducted by Falcone and Borsellino (1986-1992), which still today sees the world record for the quantity of documentation and quality of results, such as to have led to mafia massacres, and still unsurpassed. It is not a depository (a space crammed without voids) but an archive, which in the empty space has an essential component to allow consultation and not just conservation. The artist extrapolates a handful of folders from the hundreds of documents and shows them as building blocks of the truth. We encounter a plastic representation of the void in the relationship between the citizens and the mafiosi, in that dynamic void that moves between proximity and distance, in a space full of tension and subject to contrasting forces of attraction and repulsion. In the same way, the folders are isolated in the space that surrounds them after having been extrapolated from the archive, which can be glimpsed blurred in the background, almost implying that the maxi-trial is in itself a work of (forensic) art in which single loose sheets link distinct and distant events in a network with many nodes. The folders are islands, with a continent of words, deeds and documentation behind them.
Then there are photos of the tombs of the nameless, but not unknown. The subject here is still the plural void that lies between the lack of loved ones and the absence of a name and word for the unnamable ghosts condemned to oblivion. The fresh cut flowers bear witness to thoughtful visits to interrupted lives, victims of the mafia considered infamous, and therefore to be ignored and erased. On the other hand, as the artist clarified in her speech at the opening of the exhibition, it is a simple, simple equation: with the name they are also deprived of their identity, which is like saying they never existed, therefore they cannot be dead, ergo… the mafia didn’t kill them, that is, the mafia doesn’t exist. It is precisely for this reason that the location of the maxi-trial archive in Corleone, in the wolf’s den, is disruptive.
Then there is a single photo that stands alone in which you see an empty bed with crumpled sheets, taken inside a convent which occasionally welcomes external guests who are not members of the clergy. The void here is not an absence, or even lack; it is an invisible and intangible presence, reminiscent of the Catania dish of pasta with sea sardines, where there is only a distant echo of the fish in the tasty aroma of the sea.
The second section of the exhibition is dedicated to other subtractions, with an aerial installation of pendulums made with fluorescent strings and construction leads reproduced in wood, to form the outlines of scale tactical military zones, delimited in special confidential maps that are updated every six months. It is another form of work in progress – these areas do not have to be identified, so they are not canceled but also move continuously, nomadic areas of air void, with precise invisible and inviolable borders to protect the secrecy of the military areas. The perimeter of some of these areas is reproduced with a series of pendulums, made with reproduced wooden leads and construction line, a tool for measuring the exception, the out of plumb, for what is crooked. These works are like time: suspended. The heights are different as is the morphology of the places, which have the nature of Peter Pan’s Neverland in the 1902 novel “The Little White Bird” by James Matthew Barrie. The protagonist in this section too is the void.
APNEA is suspension of breathing which causes hunger for air and a sense of suffocation, but the relaxation of time is also an opportunity for absorption and metabolization, as taught in prānāyāma, the rhythmic control of yogic breathing, with breathing that relaxes and lengthens in three phases: acting as an interlude between inhalation (puraka) and exhalation (rechaka) there is a pause, the first with retention of breath with full lungs (antara or puraka kumbhaka), the second with empty lungs (bahya or rechaka kumbhaka). They are two moments of apnea that prolong breathing and allow one to go beyond the lack of air until reaching a suspension that has the characteristics of absence. The pauses, the interstitial spaces that are “between”, are fertile moments when we do not nullify them by filling them with useless distractions, they are the empty imprint left by what has been, an anticipation of what will soon be, leaving other traces. In breathing, pauses are phases that are crucial for the absorption of oxygen and the metabolization of prāṇa, the universal vital energy that enters us on the wings of breath.
Suspended in the empty space in the center of the room, surrounded by the photos of the folders, is a sculpture which is an open-heart representation of a tense diaphragm, in apnea. It seems to speak to the visitor, who little by little puts together the photographic clues and focuses on the order of the speech. He remains speechless, with his mouth open, and with bated breath he recomposes these first pieces of the puzzle, waiting to see (hopefully soon) the picture of it all together with the portraits of all the folders, each with their own physiognomy, and the features of experienced faces to build the body of a trial which is a watershed in the fight against the mafia. There is a before and an after, but it is not over; we must not lower our guard by underestimating the regenerative, chameleon-like and adaptive qualities of the mafia.
The pause usefully distances action and reaction, as happened in the panic flight of the nymphs chased in the woods by the God Pan, as James Hillman recounts in An Essay on Pan, or as taught by the saying calati juncu ca pass’a china (bend rush and let pass the flood) which holds a wise praise of flexibility and resilience, of avoiding trying to oppose a force greater than your strength, which would end up breaking you. This essentially means; welcome the circumstances that overwhelm your will, momentarily indulge their flow to conserve your strength while waiting to regain control, and then get back up. There is no giving up in this, but rather wise waiting for the right moment, the introduction of a middle time in which it is necessary to wait and in which it is possible to reflect.
The hope is that the apnea documented here will serve to gather strength to continue the aesthetic/ethical battle for a better world.
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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