An exhibition by Vittorio Santoro at Rosascape

From June 10th to July 29th 2011.

What we consider to be language's enigma — tied to its plurivocity, its allusiveness and vagueness, with misunderstanding and misinterpretation as typical examples — does not stem from some kind of inherent hermetic nature it would be endowed with, but from its tremendous complexity, its proliferation of information, its excess of possible meanings. Paradoxically, its potent polysemousness very often produces the opposite effect by impoverishing, reducing and distorting what we say to other people or what we understand or 'get' from the other. At least this is how it is generally conceived, as meaning is never (sufficiently) transparent for the subject who seeks to be heard or recognised by their interlocutor or reader. But as linguists are very aware, language signs concretely need to be relatively opaque to enable us to speak and act within the meaning of things and beings. Very often you need to go through the imprecision and vagueness of language about things, and follow the twists and turns to begin to perceive what all this means. It is because nothing is ever given, once and for all, in a clear, distinct, precise and explicit manner that we have, quite simply, a taste for life and that we like to construct discourses, sentences, enunciative situations to state our attachment to language, and, crucially, to express our desire for the language of others.

Artists working with the language medium play on its ambivalent character, somewhere between a plastic (acoustic, typographic, visual) material and a vehicle for meaning, mainly attending to its signifying opacity, to what it states without stating or shows without exposing, which is something quite different from the unsayable — that is if such a thing indeed exists, because to account for it you must always and ever signify. Using written or verbal statements, neither contextualised nor referenced, and which tend to be quaint to say the least, Vittorio Santoro immediately plunges the receiver into the heart of the fundamental question about language: what does it mean and what is the intention? Indeed, what is meant by a statement such as "Silence destroys consequences" or "Everybody lives as if no one 'knew'", or, further, the sentences from the performance Visionaries & Voyeurs II. An act for a voice and a projector, twice? All this is worthy of the Pythia of the Oracle at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, of the god of the arts who spoke through her and was given the epithet Loxias, "the Oblique One", due to the ambiguous nature of his proclamations.

When Vittorio Santoro chooses a statement which he places under the generic rubric "time-based text works"— statements often borrowed from writers or philosophers, or from anonymous and more elusive sources — they are then written up daily over a period which never exceeds six months, the repetition of composition thus throwing into sharp relief that act, so mundane we tend to overlook it, which is that every day we speak, we say, we make utterances. The various psychophysical ways of constructing statements inscribe us — in the literal sense of a personal signature — de facto in the world. In turn, a thoughtful consideration of Santoro's texts is evidence of this: the world, the social world, and other people all state themselves through us. This may seem obvious, at least as long as language remains an instrument of transparency to the extent that we no longer conceive of it as such; a statement only needs to be in some way hermetic, abstruse, to spark my curiosity once again. These kind of pieces are akin to performance work insofar as they say what they are doing and perform what they say, which locates them precisely within the well-known linguistic territory of the 'performative' statement: statements which "do things with words".

In his 12 Months Project Planner Piece (Silence Destroys Consequences), each time the artist uttered the sentence "Silence destroys consequences", in a more or less random fashion in some similarly undetermined site, he took a photograph of the place he was located in, as if things and their image authenticated his speech acts but also his act of vision: I see you, and I state, I concretely pronounce, that I see you. Which is, from the simplest of things (as is the case here) to the most complex, a profound and ever unresolved philosophical question: can you perceive without language? This becomes more complex as soon as you link the sentence to the photographs, whose seemingly stable meaning ultimately alters depending on whether you are standing before the tomb of Samuel Beckett or a cardboard box abandoned on the street.

If, as Adorno claims, art is the ultimate space in which mute things, damaged life and subjects whose speech has been stifled can find expression, then silence is without a doubt part of this expression. Silence, be it negative or positive, is de facto claimed by Vittorio Santoro as perfectly imbricated within the work, for instance in his sound installation Man Leaving Harbour on a Ship (in a Room), where it truly makes itself heard. And this could no doubt be extended to all Santoro's works, for written or verbal language presupposes a lack, a pause, an empty period, a period without, to stay alive. A reverse interpretation of the 12 Months formula would help us understand that refusing to hear the silence contained in all instances of language constitutes one of the most brutal attacks directed on language. Sadly, not a day goes by without such attacks.

One of the crucial points in Vittorio Santoro's approach is that the written, uttered or recorded texts, and even those tinkered with and made up by other people collaborating on such or such project, constitute an action. They are not only an artistic performance but, first and foremost, a praxis, an act, in other words a meaning which performs actions and/or makes others perform actions — which is eminently the case with Letters to People (Silence Destroys Consequences) or Everybody lives as if no one 'knew'. Addressing the other, or, further, what you could refer to as a 'dialogic principle', is not very widespread in art, nor is it the case, contrary to what you might spontaneously think, with language, which is conceived and effected in a monologic fashion. While the myriad technologies massively overwhelm us with verbi-voco-visual forms and meanings, you can note that the relationship to the other is not particularly reinforced by it. Once you get past the initial perplexity of it all, you understand that ultimately what Vittorio Santoro's works deal with is the only viable kind of speech and discourse around, that of intersubjectivity.

Jacinto Lageira
(Translated from the French by Anna Preger)

Read the text about the exhibition written by Theodora Domenech
Listen the interview with Vittorio Santoro