Emilio Vavarella (Monfalcone, 1989) artistically arrived at the creative and semantic exploration of genetics in 2019 through the Italian Council call, which allowed him to matarialize an idea that has been the subject of his research for years at Harvard University, where he is currently pursuing a PhD in Film, Visual Studies and Critical Media Practice. The starting inspiration of this excursus still in progress, that is to experiment with the possible visual and material translations of an individual’s genetic code, resulted in 2021 in the rs548049170_1_69869_TT (The Other Shapes of Me) exhibition at GALLLERIAPIÙ and in 2022 in The other shape of things (AAS47692 / Picea Abies) at Casa Zegna. In the first case it was a textile translation of its own DNA, used as input to program a jacquard weaving machine and an electronic loom, while in the second the source code that became handcrafted embroidery, tapestry and fabric printing was that of Picea Abies, in homage to the founder of the Ermenegildo Zegna fashion house who at the beginning of the century planted thousands of spruces in the company oasis, transforming a barren territory into a luxuriant forest. The basic question on which this complex project insists is: what does it mean to understand the human being as a code? Can the correspondence of an analogue to the original go so deep into the essence of a living being as to become a matrix to recreate it from scratch, but with infinitely different appearances? What is the boundary between representation and reproduction? Is the distinction between reality and fiction still important?
In The Other Shapes of Me exhibition, the genetic code, understood as the ineluctable destiny in which the uniqueness of the person resides, was interpreted with the metaphor of weaving in assonance with the Greek myth of the Moires, daughters of the Night, charged by the gods to weave the thread of every man’s fate to then unwind it and, finally, cut it, decreeing its death. Four years later, the artist returns to GALLLERIAPIÙ with Re/presentation, a further semantic transformation of the presuppositions of the previous work and starts again from the transposition of his DNA into digital impulses, this time aimed at obtaining its visualization in the form of sequences of colors and patterns. The result of the software reprocessing of the genetic data obtained in a specialized laboratory from the analysis of a saliva sample is an immense catalog of abstract motifs which, despite being exactly identical in origin, take on a different appearance depending on the size and of the shapes of the pixels through which they are transformed into an image. The first paradox to which this hypothesis of total portrait gives rise lies in the fact that the moment in which the genetic essence of a person is captured in its entirety, this is no longer visible since the completeness, as given in the direct representation, is returned as a dispersion, as an unintelligible nothingness but at the same time predisposed to generate other DNA clones, if one assumes to operate the process backwards.
And again, where we have seen that the maximum offer implies an equally absolute subtraction, even the most total dematerialization of the subject comes to coincide with a potentially unlimited extension of its image, when measurable dimensions are attributed to it. If everything that in DNA refers to a person’s genetic uniqueness is translated perceptually, is a relationship on a 1:1 scale between identity and representation really possible while denying the latter in terms of likelihood? The different treatment to which the data is subjected by different algorithms selected by the artist here assumes the role of a choice of expressive language, which highlights the working affinity between the material, the virtual and the logical plane, if one thinks of all of them as derived from a code which, as such, is always translatable into further signifying systems. In this vertiginous increase of translations Emilio Vavarella continues to plumb his intuition of the existence of a basic architecture of things, pushing reasoning and techniques to the limit of the breaking point with poetic and even subtly ironic results, as it is constant in his work, but without ever losing control of the multiplicity of effects that follow.
The new project underway at GALLLERIAPIÙ is conceived as a laboratory which, marking the stages of this unusual process of developing the visual identity, allows the viewer to enter the artist’s creative forge. At the entrance we are welcomed by a “technical” anteroom in which two explanatory panels, a QR code and a sequence of hieroglyphics on the floor (designed by Gabriele Colia like all the other aspects inherent in the design of the exhibition) guide the visit and summarize the six changes of state (Being human?; sampling; DNA; code; representation; portrait) on which Vavarella’s proposal is based. In the same environment we then find two sublimation prints on aluminum from The Other shape of you series (2021), the first two portraits with this technique commissioned from him by a couple of private collectors. The criterion used here to define the visual pattern is to print the maximum number of colors to return all the genetic information of the people portrayed in the minimum possible space. The challenge is to compress the information as much as possible with respect to the medium, experimenting how much it is possible to squeeze the pixel without breaking it in the printing phase, and to combine this scientific intention of resolution with the inscrutability underlying the notion of portrait. Acting on this double track, scientific and creative, Vavarella manipulates chromatic combinations and patterns to field a passionate reflection on one of the most popular artistic genres from the art history, elaborating his personal concept through the absolute flatness of digital backgrounds of depth.
If the protagonists of the first room are the two side-by-side portraits of collectors, which we could hyperbolically consider a reinterpretation with contemporary materials and techniques of one of the icons of Renaissance portraiture such as the famous diptych by Piero della Francesca depicting Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza, the second room in which the exhibition itinerary is structured is configured as a company showroom set up to welcome the clients. Here the scan of the artist’s DNA is used to obtain a catalog of possible reworkings applicable to that of any other individual, which is offered for consultation to potential buyers as a starting point for designing their own personal genetic effigy, personalizing it. As a demonstration, on the wall we find Genetic Self – Portrait (Fragments), 2023, a new type of portrait divided into luminous HD-printed aluminum modules which, reproducing one of the possibilities exhibited in the catalogue, is placed in an ambiguous position between the sample the limited edition. The collision of these suggestions in an imaginary showroom, which is actually a gallery, ultimately seems to extend the controversial concept of uniqueness conveyed by Emilio Vavarella’s manipulations on the graphic and material representations of DNA to the idea of contemporary artistic production, in a further development of the semantic generation potential inherent in his method.
Emilio Vavarella. Re/presentation
21/01/2023 – 18/03/2023
Via del Porto 48 a/b, 40122 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.