Director Biography – Michele Manzini (IN THE HOUSE OF MANTEGNA)

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Born on 1967. Lives and work in Verona, (Italy). For many years his art has been concentrated on the definition of figures that can suggest instability and conflict as unresolved elements. His work develops through the use of a wide variety of media, among which video, photography, installations, writing, and performances. He has exhibited his works in numerous shows and venues in Italy and abroad, among them the Italian Institute of Culture, Prague, 2009; MAXXI, Rome, 2009; SUPEC, Shanghai during the 2010 Expo; and the Venice Biennale in 2011 and 2013. His videos have been selected for important international festivals and have been screened at the Saitama Arts Theater in 2015; the Perez Art Museum Miami, 2016; the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, 2016; the ZKM in Karlsruhe, 2017; the Nevada Museum of Art, 2017 and the Whitechapel Gallery London, 2017. He has published various essays and texts, among which “Il paesaggio e il suo mito” Editions de la Villette, Paris, 2002, and “Mescolanze” Edizioni Kn-Studio, 2011. In 2009 he was awarded the Terna prize for contemporary art.

Director Statement

1.

First of all, before the struggle was formally declared, two kinds of knowledge and two languages found themselves opposed with regard to their reciprocal and exclusive relationship with the truth: tragic knowledge, the language of myths and stories, and philosophical knowledge.
We are in the fifth century BC and the field of the dispute is Greece.
Tragedy proposes the cognitive experience of dissent, disruption, precariousness, and the impermanence of existence.
Against this idea was a powerful adversary: Plato and his philosophical knowledge; he managed to blacken and undermine his antagonist. Plato’s victory was the foundation of philosophy and the negation of knowledge being found in poetic and narrative fiction.

2.

It was Nietzsche who later re-proposed the terms of that battle by stating that it was necessary to go back thousands of years, to the struggle by Heraclitus and Empedocles against the philosopher Plato, in order to discover a form of thought similar to that which he was trying to define by suggesting appearance as the thing in itself.
Plato won the dispute. However he left it to the future to define the precise terms of the struggle, terms which were to turn up with uncertain results at various times and in various places in the history of thought. It be found, for example, in Vico’s proposal of a “poetic logic”, one able to guarantee the “truth of fiction”.
It was seen again in Hölderlin’s Empedocles, permeated with the feeling that in the relationship between man and nature there was no solution or reconciliation.
It flared up again in The Castle by one of the great protagonists of our century: Kafka. In fact Kafka is the “man of the struggle”, the person who leads a battle against the invisible logic of the Castle in the name of the reasons of life, of a truth that is not closed and immutable but receptive of what is possible.

3.

Today, one of the aspects of the crisis of modernity is the ending of dialectic; Bodei saw this as the end of a philosophical thought that was still able to organize both polemos and logos. This ending has generated conciliating philosophies such as hermeneutics, which resolve the dialogic conflict; deconstructionism, which pulverizes the conflict; or weak thought, which makes it evanescent. This ending has also led to philosophies which have emphasized the conflict, but have deprived it of all reason, as in Foucault’s thought.
In a word: logos without polemos or polemos without logos.

4.

The suppression of conflict and otherness lowers the future’s outlook and anticipations.
So the future presents itself, not as an enigma, but as something immutable which delivers us back to the present.
Man today is a man who lives only in the present.

5.

I know that we can, all the same, build houses, places, and breeding grounds, and that we can plan a landscape. But in all those places where the horizon is analogous to that of inert things, then we can have no other enthusiasm unless that of possession or of a conciliating vision.
The realm is that of the “delicate monster” of boredom, of that boundless apathy that I could call melancholy. Here Dürer’s angel has her wings folded. She cannot rise in flight because, if it is true that a being unfettered by things is lightness, it is also true that this lightness is literally unbearable.
The gesture of a hand caught forever in a ray of light in an interior by Vermeer where nothing can ever happen, or Hamlet’s eternal mourning as he refuses to confront the death of his father in a positive manner, deny any possibility of movement for a thought that is formed through an infinity of forms which are also dissonant with each other.

6.

The enjoyment of an image is an important passage in experiencing reality, but its partiality can be overcome within the conflicting dimension of a figure.
The figure is the process of “another thought” with respect to that of classical philosophy, a thought that passes through literary “images” and concepts and that holds together two “half truths”: the greatest abstraction of the concepts and the great strength of myths, unreasoning, analogies, and images.
As Musil has said, the figure dwells between these two worlds.

7.

I create figures.
Figures are an attempt at making a form and which I contrast with the fascination of images which, even though laden with truth, shine and then vanish without becoming knowledge.
My figures contain polemos in themselves, in the sense that they contain in themselves instability, conflict and otherness without dissolving or resolving it.
This logos advances laden with unresolved tensions. Its horizon is populated by many, even infinite, possible forms; it is receptive in the same way as the destiny of tragic heroes in the face of the “many forms taken on by the divine”, forms which are the terrible yet stupendous richness offered to modern people.

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Short Film: IN THE HOUSE OF MANTEGNA, 6min., Italy, Dance

First scene: Conflicts

In her Notebooks, Simone Weil wrote that “Each true statement is an error if its opposite is not thought of at the same time, and it cannot be thought of at the same time”. The mediation of contradictions is only an altered image of the irreconcilable polarities that, instead, make up reality. But thinking about the unthinkable leads us to a place that reason has never managed to penetrate. To be exact, it leads us to atopy, to “that absence of a place” that offers us a different measurement of the world. A trajectory towards overcoming the idea of harmony that, even before Weil, had been undertaken by Dostoyevsky in all its highest metaphysical tension. A reality that always reveals itself as a contradiction, dismemberment, a place in which contraries coexist and interweave in an arabesque where everything is present and nothing is excluded. From the fragment by Heraclitus where “War is the father and king of all” to Plato’s Socratic drama where we are challenged to think like “Knights on an open field” and to Nietzsche’s precept to “Do philosophy with a hammer” or Heidegger’s Kampf. Like an underground river, the line of belligerence crosses the whole of Western thought. This is because the thing itself is fundamentally polemical, as well as the truth that is referred to: the conflict existed before the participators in it.

Second scene: A Border

A limit, a boundary.
A prison, an earthy and opaque shell. This is the body Plato talks about in Phaedo, inaugurating philosophy as an act that ought to put the body itself to death by blocking the “barbaric mud” of the passions enclosed in it.
But do there exist borders that are not, as Melville said, porous or frayed? Does there exist a final border that we cannot cross? In an essay dating from 1935 and titled De l’évasion, Emmanuel Lévinas reminds us how contemporary literature too has tried to evade the imperative of this cumbersome presence. There then appear to us the images of Kafka’s bodies that collide and torment; of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s orgies as an attempt to raise ourselves above the limits of the body; of Georges Battaille’s lacerated bodies. The protagonist of Abraham Yehoshua’s The Return from India is, with surgical passion, the destroyer of borders. His obsession is with the endless body of the Mother, the opposite of the body politic, of her hierarchy and her primacy as a parent, which is the image and metaphor for the State and its organization about which Foucault was to argue at length. But the checkmate on that body happens at its borders. Once it has established a boundary this, rather than excluding, generates mixtures: a boundary is the place where there converge, beat, and swash the waves from outside and inside. In his essay Die Verneinung Freud wrote, “this is the outside and I want to incorporate it; this is the inside and I want to spit it out”. But, with a stroke of genius, it was to be Friedrich Nietzsche who found an opening, the beginning of a possible path, by defining the body as a plurality with a single sense: “… a war and peace; a flock and a shepherd”. A gap where the body and its reasons are both a limit and an overflow, a boundary and indefiniteness.

Third scene: Extremes

Perhaps it was Novalis who first thought of an atopic knowledge, of a knowledge that does not dwell in any defined place. Due to this he had to hypothesise a limit that was not a boundary between the things of the world but was inside the things themselves: “… to fluctuate between extremes that it is necessary to unite and divide. From this point of view, every situation is sparked off by this fluctuation…”. For him, everything is contained in it: both object and subject. When translating Sophocles’ Antigone he was to identify himself with the internal tensions of tragic thought, where he was to discover that “… there are many boundless things, but nothing is more boundless than mankind…”. Tragedy is excess, tragedy is the dissolution of boundaries. For tragic thought male and female, the divine and the human, eros and thanatos are all elements of an antinomy in which being and non-being are opposed. But it is the very dissolution of those boundaries that opens an endless horizon within things, thus transforming every possibility into reality: of the self and the other which never are but that can become. Hölderlin wrote that possibilities can come about in the place of reality’s greatest instability: “reality everywhere”.

Fourth scene: Vertigo

Man is the being who knows about his own death. He carries it within himself like a bud or like a vice. Eros, Thanatos, and the body. Perhaps this is the vertiginous odour that the embraced bodies feel in the depths of their respiration. Bodies waiting for the end, as though the present were a limit that has in itself the pestilential topicality of death. This is, as Simmel has written, the “power of the formal fascination of boundaries”; this is the intoxication of the modern “impatient time” that assailed Aragon on his journey to Paris. The fascination of a boundary is the fascination “of a beginning that is at the same time an end; the fascination of novelty and, at the same time, of fragility”. At the boundary every form is the same thing and, at the same time, the cessation of each thing. This is also the place where life intersects with death. The space in which the fragment by Heraclitus flashes, resounding within ancient tragedy, and that has once again begun to launch tenuous rays from the words of Rilke and Proust. But it is also the place where, perhaps, it is possible to overcome the inexpressibility of the body which, according to Heidegger, checkmated his own philosophy, the inexpressibility of the body which, as Lévinas has written, has checkmated all Western philosophy.

Fifth scene: Silences

Appearance does not hide the essence but reveals it in its very finiteness. A face chooses a mask, not to hide itself, but to reveal itself. At a certain point the truth of a mask meets the truth of the face over which it is placed, over the nakedness that the face could not bear. It is on that mask that my silent gaze rests, and the other at once becomes an object of my universe. The body’s being is paradoxical because it is the obstacle that I have to overcome in order to be in the world, but at the same time it is the tool for overcoming this obstacle. It is through this very paradox that I can recognise that I exist as a being known by others as an example of the body, and what defines me is that continuous “outside” my “inside”.

Sixth scene: Nudity

Albrecht Dürer, in a 1505 drawing, revealed absolute nudity: only a light hat keeps his hair above his wide-open eyes in this excessive vision without precedents. Rembrandt exposed his opaque face on which is reflected only the shadow of death. Egon Schiele pushed himself to a nudity that borders on flaying, almost as though only the lacerated body could have a meaningful relationship with the world. However, not all nudity is shameful and the bringer of scandal. It is so when in it there is an ostentation of our being, of our final intimacy.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness was to go far further. Shame emerges when our intimacy, our self, becomes the object of someone else’s gaze, a gaze that is also revealed in the presence of the objects that surround us, in the sound of a door opening, in the echo of steps that are coming near. In that moment I am not the one who possesses the world through the gaze I project on it. I am looked at, I am possessed by another gaze that reaches me, my intimacy, my being myself, through my inexorably exposed body. But it was to be Charles Baudelaire who defined a cognitive possibility linked to shame and nudity in My Heart Laid Bare. There not even a loving relationship can open up communications with the other, there, where not even complicity can arrive, a resolution can be arrived at with the display of oneself. This is my naked body, this is my denuded heart. On my flesh can be read the wounds and scars that contact with the world, of which I cannot talk, has inscribed on me, like the needles of the monstrous machine in Kafka’s In the Penal Colony.