Archive for October 10th, 2012

10
Oct
12

Review: ‘Valerio Ciccone: Peripheral Observer’ at Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 8th September – 16th October 2012

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“Whatever medium he chooses, Ciccone’s work reflects a quiet connection with his subject, as well as a delicate poignancy or gentle sense of irony. There is a certain likeness between the peripheral gaze of his subjects and the way in which Ciccone, whilst remaining focused on his work, is able to keep a watchful eye on all that is happening around him. The subjects in Ciccone’s portraits rarely look directly at the viewer. They seem absorbed by action that is taking place off to the side, beyond the picture plane. Yet there is intentness in the expression, the feeling that the peripheral viewer does not miss a trick.”

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Dr Cheryl Daye, “Valerio Ciccone: Peripheral Observer,” Arts Project Australia catalogue, 2012, p.14

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“When his gaze moves out into the world. whilst paradoxically he stays in the same spot, we realise that in the new democracy of images everything is equal and everything is the same. Gary Ablett is next to John Howard who sidles up the Kuwaiti Crown Prince. Cathedrals are as important as the corner of a studio, and lions lie with mice, elephants with koala bears. That expands out to other images too, like that of old standard ‘the nude’ or ‘the model’ from life drawing class. Or fluid instinctual portraits of his studio colleagues. Again, not moving far, finding magic around the corner or across the room.”

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Glenn Barkly. “This is me – some thoughts on the art of Valerio Ciccone,” Arts Project Australia catalogue, 2012, p.8

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This is a beautiful and vibrant exhibition by Arts Project Australia artist Valerio Ciccone. As you can see from the reproductions in the posting the art work is engaging and enveloping. The work makes me happy, it makes me smile. Arts Project Australia does a wonderful job promoting their artists. It must be very difficult for the curators to append a conceptual idea onto an artist’s work without much input from the artist themselves. Such is the case here. Talking with curator of the exhibition Dr Cheryl Daye, she told me that the title of the exhibition was as much about the person Valerio Ciccone as the work itself; how Valerio circles around people before coming up to say hello, before approaching the subject directly. He is always “keeping an eye out” for what is going on around him.

In the top quotation above – the only paragraph in the two catalogue essays that addresses the conceptual idea of the exhibition – the terms peripheral gaze, peripheral viewer and by extension the title of the exhibition (peripheral observer), are conjoined. Personally, I think that there is a distinct difference between each term that caused me some conceptual unease when they are used together as such.

1. The peripheral gaze is a temporary, short state of uncertainty, before and between the active or passive state – perhaps!
In studying social interaction, Michael Watson (1970) found cultural variability in the intensity of gaze. He distinguished between three forms of gaze:

    • sharp: focusing on the other person’s eyes;
    • clear: focusing about the other person’s head and face;
    • peripheral: having the other person within the field of vision, but not focusing on his head or face.1

2. A peripheral viewer is active, recipient and creative; sometimes part of the thing itself. They are able to transform into 3, passive.

3. A peripheral observer can be passive, sometimes unconsciously so, as when someone is watching TV commercials, pictures on a channel that they do not like. Given more choice over control of the channels they become more active and the retain more interest in the program they are watching. The analogy could be that of a flaneur, strolling, looking but not interacting. They are able to transform into 2, active.

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According to Jules Romains, “Seeing, and its spatio-temporal organisation, precede gesture and speech and their co-ordination in knowing, recognising, making known (as images of our thoughts), our thoughts themselves and cognitive functions, which are never passive …”2 and Merleau-Ponty notes in an important formulation that, “Everything I see is in principle within my reach, at least within reach of my sight, marked on the map of the ‘I can’.”3

Marked on the map of ‘I can': active. This is what Valerio does in his artwork, he marks his vision on the map of ‘I can'; not the centre or the periphery (for in postmodernism there is no centre, no periphery for the periphery is the centre!) but an equal balance between what passes before his eyes: background and subject given equal wait / weight within the picture plane where, “in the new democracy of images everything is equal and everything is the same.” This is not a peripheral observer but an artist who actively/passively addresses with equal importance the elements placed before his vision, a passing flow over which he has little control. Sight is decentred and becomes seeing on the field of the other, seeing under the Gaze.

“In the same way, when I see, what I see is formed by paths or networks laid down in advance of my seeing. It may be the case that I feel myself to inhabit some kind of center in my speech, but what decentres me is the network of language. It may be similarly be that I always feel myself to live at the center of my vision – somewhere (where?) behind my eyes; but, again, that vision is decentred by the networks of signifiers that come to me from the social milieu …

Lacan’s analysis of vision unfolds in the same terms: the viewing subject does not stand at the center of the perceptual horizon, and cannot command the chains and series of signifiers passing across the visual domain. Vision unfolds to the side of, in tangent to, the field of the other. And to that form of seeing Lacan gives a name: seeing on the field of the other, seeing under the Gaze.”4

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For me Valerio’s work is a result of a direct looking from a tangental position, not the other way around. His subjects and backgrounds are frontal to the viewer, his figures only rarely looking off to the side. The viewing subject, the artist in this case, stands not at the centre of the perceptual horizon and he cannot command what he sees, when he sees it. But what Valerio so brilliantly and sympathetically does is capture the visions that unfold in front of him with a wonderful joy of life that is breathtaking in its tangental difference, in its recognition of Otherness.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the artist and Arts Project Australia for allowing me to publish the reproductions of the art in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled (After Holbein)
1991
Pastel on paper
50 x 66cm
Courtesy of MADMusee, Belgium

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled
1991
Pastel on paper
56 x 76.5cm
Arts Project Australia Permanent Collection

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled
1991
Pastel on paper
76 x 57cm
Arts Project Australia Permanent Collection

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled (Gary Ablett)
1998
Pastel on paper
66 x 50cm
Arts Project Australia Permanent Collection

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“Spanning a career of almost thirty years, Valerio Ciccone is an artist of complexity and subtly and this major survey exhibition is a testament to the varied terrain he has covered on his rich artistic journey. Valerio Ciccone: Peripheral Observer is a major survey exhibition that has been curated by Dr Cheryl Daye and will be officially opened by Glenn Barkley, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia on Saturday 8 September 2012.

Ciccone’s work reflects his fascination with the world around him. With drawing as his primary mode of expression, Ciccone also effectively employs ceramics and animation to create whimsical figures and narratives. Since commencing at Arts Project Australia in 1984, Ciccone’s work has undergone a series of changes: from his earliest watercolours through the powerful text-based monochromatic pastel portraits, to his colourful recreation of scenes from AFL and his enduring repertoire of animals, still life and pop culture icons, he continues to delight with his gentle insights.

Although warm and gregarious, Ciccone likes to place himself as a peripheral observer in relation to his subjects, quietly transforming what he sees into unique visual statements. Curator Dr Cheryl Daye first meet Ciccone in 1984 and says, “Ciccone is a man of few words…  He cannot tell you about his artwork, what it means, how he made it or why. He cannot tell you about the subjects or why he chose them, but the deliberation of each mark made speaks of that which is important to him, his interpretation of the world and desire to share his experience of it.”

Accompanying this exhibition is the Leonard Joel Series catalogue Valerio Ciccone: Peripheral Observer, which is the second publication proudly supported by Leonard Joel.”

Press release from the Arts Project Australia website

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled (life model)
1990
Ink on paper
76 x 57cm
Arts Project Australia Permanent Collection

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled (Notre Dame)
1990
Acrylic on paper
66 x 50cm
Arts Project Australia Permanent Collection

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled
1987
Pastel and felt pen on paper
66 x 50cm

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled (still life)
1990
Pastel on paper
66 x 50cm

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled (seated figure)
1997
Pastel on paper
66 x 50cm

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Valerio Ciccone
Not titled (life drawing)
1996
Pastel on paper
66 x 50cm

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1. Watson, Michael. Proxemic Behavior: A Cross-Cultural Study. The Hague: Mouton, 1970 quoted in Chandler, Daniel “Notes on “The Gaze”” on the Aberystwyth University website [Online] Cited 05/10/2012

2. Romains, Jules. La Vision extra-rétinienne et le sens paroptique. Paris: Gallimard, 1964 quoted in Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p.7.

3. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind” (trans. Carleton Dallery) in The Primacy of Perception: And Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology. Northwest University Press, 1964, p.162.

4. Foster, Hal (ed.,). Vision and Visuality. Bay Press, Seattle: Dia Art Foundation Discussions in Contemporary Culture, Number 2, 1988, p.94.

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Arts Project Australia
24 High Street
Northcote Victoria 3070
T: + 61 3 9482 4484

Gallery Hours:
Monday to Friday
 9am – 5pm
Saturday 
10am – 1pm

Arts Project Australia website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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