Memory is defined by dictionaries as the psychic function that allows us to reproduce past experience (images, sensations or notions) in the mind, to recognize it as such and to locate it in space and time. As an extension of this concept, in the 1920s Maurice Halbwachs coined the notion of collective memory, that is, transmitted or constructed by a group or society. The fact of systematizing the past to make it intelligible to us is a need strictly connected to the need to represent ourselves in a coherent and reliable way in a diachronic perspective. This process is one of the indispensable prerequisites for developing our identity, understood as the sense of continuity of one’s being over time in relation to the awareness of the specificities that distance oneself from what is perceived as foreign. This operation takes place in the unsolvable tension between the need for a recording that is as integral and objective as possible and its contextual impossibility of coinciding exactly with what happened, from which it derives the need to select “what really matters”. Even excluding the further complication of the partiality and factionalism of the forces that guide this synthesis, it is an always slippery process in which the maximum of certainty ends up coinciding with the peak of unreliability. The interest in the mechanisms of history formation in connection with those of identity construction are at the center of the research of Daniela Comani, who for her sixth solo exhibition at the Studio G7 gallery in Bologna presents a selection of works, created in span of thirty years, whose synergy arises precisely from this intertwining.
The project was born from an unpublished work conceived for the gallery, namely the environmental installation “Supporto memoria / Memory device” (2023), composed of forty-four photos of technological devices used by the artist which date back to the beginnings of her interest in sound and visual recording. In this conceptual operation, the objects are brought back to a 1:1 scale on a white background in chronological order, avoiding any concession to the emotional sphere of the image, whose layout tries to be as neutral as possible, as if it were a technical catalogue. The ostentatious asepticity of this mosaic of shots presents itself as a proposal for the objectification of the devices which, by highlighting the changes in their design in relation to the expansion of functionality as a consequence of technological progress, summarizes and systematises the transition from the analogue era to the digital starting from the subjective experience of the artist. From this point of view, therefore, the addition aspiring to completeness at the origin of the process ends up being the result of an individual selection, which in turn functions as a multiplier of subjectivity and randomness if we think of the thousands of images she created with those devices, ideally evoked latently in the exposition of their “generator-containers”. The fact that, looking at the shots on display, we are instinctively led to ask ourselves what stories the artist has experienced over the years and what type of memory she wanted to build on the basis of them, shows the reasoning underlying much of Daniela Comani’s production, i.e. the observation that we, as a society, are the outcome of a collective history resulting from the sum of a plurality of partiality.
The intersection between personal and collective dimensions suggested by this work is amplified and clarified by the other two works on display, which are also paradigmatic of the artist’s attitude to question the uniqueness of the concept of structuring historical time and identity through the generation of new archives of stories and narratives triggered by the compromises of one’s autobiography with news and political events (contemporary or already sedimented in the past) which have conditioned its perception. In the Polaroid “Untitled (staging of oneself)”, 1992, made by Daniela Comani while she was still a student at the University of the Arts in Berlin, we see a double image of the artist in her studio reflected by a mirrored surface. Behind her we can recognize one of her works from those years, an enlarged detail of the monumental dome of the Große Halle/Volkshalle, which should have been seventeen times larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, belonging to more detailed research on the models of the architectural projects for Greater Germany made by Hitler together with the regime architect Albert Speer. In this work we already find some key lines of her poetics, such as the tendency to technically and conceptually bring the photographic medium to the limit and that to stratify multiple levels of meaning and time to restore meaning and perspective to historical sources.
The third work exhibited “East Berlin 1990–2020” (2023) reflects again on the dynamics between personal and collective memory through the juxtaposition of two videos, made thirty years apart from each other, which record what you see from the window of a car moving along a route that passes through the eastern districts of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. In the first case these are shots taken with a VHS camera without stabilizer which gives the images an amateur and opaque connotation despite the sunny day, while in the second digital video shot with an iPhone the bright sharpness of the images immediately declares the chronological and technological gap which separates them from the older ones. Observing the differences between these different types of shots invites us to reflect on how the technical evolution of the means we use to build our memory of the world ends up having decisive consequences also for the interpretation that follows, at both a synchronic and diachronic level. Here too, despite the apparent neutrality of the operation, the work is imbued with the artist’s personal history, starting from the fact that both videos, shot on her birthday, arise from her need to appropriate and decipher the city that welcomed her at a very young age and it is now her permanent home. This journey duplicated in time and space then conveys further other doublings, such as that between East and West Berlin, the before and after the fall of the Wall (which the artist experienced and documented firsthand) and the dichotomy between demolition and restoration in relation to the identity of the city.
Daniela Comani. Supporto memoria / Memory device
Galleria Studio G7
Via Val D’Aposa 4A Bologna
Graduated in art history at DAMS in Bologna, city where she continued to live and work, she specialized in Siena with Enrico Crispolti. Curious and attentive to the becoming of the contemporary, she believes in the power of art to make life more interesting and she loves to explore its latest trends through dialogue with artists, curators and gallery owners. She considers writing a form of reasoning and analysis that reconstructs the connection between the artist’s creative path and the surrounding context.