<-- Back


Memories from the body

Mirella Tammelleo

Francesca Poto has consistently researched the experimental techniques of engraving all along her career. She has been skilfully using the most diverse tools such as burin, drypoint, aquatint, etching, up to opus mallei, roulette, berceau and embossing in her daily in cavo printing procedures. If the graining of carborundum stems from the need of creating an absolute black, acrylic pastes give the embossing effect, a sort of bas-relief used as a frame for more matrices assembled together. Conversely, golden leaves make the paper more precious adding an even more refined touch to her works.

Five drypoint engravings on PVC dated 2010 mark a turning point in the artist's most recent production. It is not a sign of discontinuity with her previous works but mainly the will of researching new means. This is how she got to the digital printing on Plexiglas, searching a way to mark even more the sign which is at first engraved, then digitalized and finally printed on a plastic material much more transparent than glass, able to add brightness to colours. A marked sign and a chromatic brightness, the dense lines of the drypoint and the transparency of the supporting material result in a surprising lightness and clarity: a feeling of flimsiness, the artist's will to make as delicate as possible what has been reached through the hard work of digging the matrix, the engraver who works like a sculptor using the same tools as scrapers, burins, trundles, drills, milling cutters.

Specific techniques are of the utmost importance for Francesca Poto who loves the direct relationship with the matter in engraving. It is also an ethical choice for her, since it is a procedure which does not allow any trial and errors but a severe strictness in using the drypoint and the burin, in the ways and times of etching.

Her last works investigate the theme of memory, represented by the work Mnemosyne which gives also the title to the exhibition. The Goddess of memory appears like a contemporary woman in the engraving. Her intense face is a synthesis between a fulfilled life plenty of what has been seen and learnt over time and the lightness of the artist's engraving. An attempt of a thoroughly interpretation of these works reveals the memory as the only possible world where it is possible to live after death.

The work Erme deals with this theme with the serial repetition of the same figure: the one in the centre is marked by mainly warm colours like orange, red and purple, while other four mirror figures in couplet are coloured in blue. It reminds of a gravestone, a commemoration monument, so that in the course of time this figure, probably a self-portrait, will stay as a vestige, a memory.

"Undressed Body" gives the feeling of a body which existed once and is no longer there, conversely the absence of that same body lives there shown by the shape and therefore still present. A red dress and a black lock are engraved in this work, the absence of the living one is skilfully designed. This idea is fundamental in the work of one of the most important artists of our times, Christian Boltanski, who tackles the theme of the Shoa working on archives of old pictures, objects, found objects, disused garments which still have the smell of the ones who wore them, saving their existence and therefore their memory. In one of his recent installations made in 2010 at the Grand Palais in Paris titled Personnes, he put hundreds of garments on the floor to represent the bodies of dead people, it is a procession of presence/absence which can be compared only to the work of the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman, who in the installation Shalechet (Fallen Leaves) put thousands of iron discs reproducing in a sketchy way shapes of heads with open wide or screaming mouths on the floor of the Jüdisches Museum in Berlin. All these works highlight the concept of absence. Francesca Poto's red dress without a body recalls the memory of a presence which stays over the years. The philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his analysis of the exterminations carried out during the Second World War underlines the importance of listening not so much to the voice of the witnesses but to the voice with no witnesses, the "presence without a face" which is inside any account. The Undressed Body is there formally and also from the calligraphic point of view, as shown by the black hair lock, it is a sign and a symbol marked by a strong eastern fascination.

A similarly forceful sign is the cross in the engraving titled Soul Dressing (Blue), a constant reference point in history beyond its religious worthiness. It is the same image of man who identifies in the idea of verticality his existential condition and in the one of horizontality the direction of his action. It is also the symbol of how opposites converge: man and woman, rationality and intuition, vertical and horizontal, life and death.

The cycle of works ends with an engraving titled after the artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, one of the most influential personality of contemporary sculpture, Abakan 1969, which reproduces a monumental work in red sisal fabric by the Polish sculptress observed by a hypothetic spectator sketched in an essential way with fast lines. Such a three-dimensional shape slowly appears as a metaphorical presence of feminine anatomy and sexuality. This quotation perfectly fits in the theme of being present/being absent carried on by Francesca Poto. The red drape reminds of the physicality of a woman's body, or of its becoming a dress thinking of the existence of somebody who will wear it just as in Undressed Body. The word "dress" has nevertheless a double meaning: "to dwell" that is to be somewhere, to exist and "garment". Words, therefore, as Artaud stated, but also images have other meanings beyond their "logic meaning", mainly the metaphorical and enchanting ones through their "shapes and sensible expression".

The temptation to go beyond, to know more which, according to Homer, induced sailors to listen to mermaids, guardians of all knowledge, is a theme which has interested Francesca Poto in recent years. Such a temptation still prompts nowadays to go beyond the surface to get to the very essence of things.