The Art of Tearing
by Achille Bonito Oliva
Photography is, by definition, the practice of tearing, tearing off a strip of reality’s skin, an intentional reduction of the three-dimensional world of the real into the two-dimensional world of the photograph. But this subtraction is not a loss of depth, it can instead result in an expansion of the conceptual and mental intensity of the work of art..
Such tearing can thus act as a reflective amplification of the image of art through the photographic image. The camera becomes the means of transferral from one language to another, the progressive shift from a sensitive state of the matter of art to that of a dazzling superficialism that affirms and halts the inherent processuality of many recent works of art.
But for this to occur, it is necessary for the photographic eye to be able to record intensity, the determinant quality of art which is also the foundation of its value. Because there exists an intelligence of the work, an evidence made manifest, internal to the artist’s image, which must be revealed, conveyed and transferred into the visual field of the photograph. The iintentionality of art is the ability of the work to speak its own meaning, embodied in the various materials it dons as its disguises. For this reason, photography cannot employ a static and neutral eye, but must instead besiege the work to convey its internal raison d’être, so as to bring to the glossy surface of the two-dimensional image what is lurking and fermenting inside the tissues of the fabric of art.
Photography, as compared to the traditional arts of painting and sculpture, has always adopted a frontal point of view, a stationary stand from which it confronted the art of the easel. The art produced in the last few years, however, does not allow the visual vicissitudes of the photographer to stay at a standstill, but presses him into an active and penetrating mobility. Howtan employs this dynamic approach to grasp the internal dynamics of works linked to the value of an open and ceaseless processuality, the living time of the body.
To the formalization of a world frozen in its production functions, art replies with the sense of a fluidity that unfreezes the materials from their initial position, to insert them in the dynamic fabric of the work, effected at the cross-point of many references to cinema, advertising, the performative set of the theatre of cruelty, furnished from time to time with small crystals.
From Body Art to Viennese actionism, from cartoons to pornography, from fashion to erotic films, from sado-masochism to voyeurism Howtan, with inspired kleptomania, recaptures linguistic stimula from a family of artists who are not linked to each other by bonds of kinship: Artaud, Kubric, Serrano, Golden, Araki, Abramovich, La Chapelle, Kern. Howtan is thus able to take his stand before the new situation with a focus that fosters the work and mentality of his times, and to transfer to the photographic image the tempora¬liy that governs art, the excellent movement that aggregates and simultaneously disarranges the various components of the work.
Photography thus becomes a dynamic mirror that can somehow make a move towards life. In fact Howtan’s work goes right in, penetrating the temporal and spatial interstices of the scene produced and documenting its transitions. The result is always an image intent on conveying also the ethical nature of art as doing, a new form of the way artists take their stand towards creation. This explains the photographer’s interest in physical position even in its operative moments, in the manner of facing the work in its formation, growth and development. But the perspective is never psychological, always reaching out instead towards the possibility of expanding the meaning of the work by attempting to photograph the process, the artist at work, captured in the very moment of his manual and concrete endeavour.
Because Howtan’s art founds in processuality and rapidity of aggregation the value of use of materials natural or artificial, solid or impalpable, but always able to evoke a sensorial response and to produce it. Each work requires many takes, many shifts in range and mental sensitivity.
Howtan has produced sequences of images that present themselves as a visual perusal of the body, in the intent not only to faithfully report its sense of life, but also to grasp its sense of form. Indeed his photography never immobilizes the work in a standardized perspective but instead employs a gaze that is nomadic and dynamic or slowed and static depending on the internal rhythm and different connotation given by the artist to his esthetic situation.
This demonstrates that the art of recent years never gives preference to a single point of view as it never gives preference to a creativity closed in a single obsession or poetic mode. The disparity of materials, the diversity of its places of production show how it aims to stimulate and intensify moments of reality that lie horizontally around the operativity of art: rather than on the outer skin of things, it want to act on the biological substance underlying them.
To keep the work of art open to the flows of temporality means attempting to recreate a lost totality. It means reuniting the fracture that marks off and separates the world from art. The processuality internal to the esthetic experience finds in the works of this and other artists its affirmation and concretization. Physical and mental energies are released by works that refuse the closed condensation of a static form. They seek an outlet in the dynamics of processes that activate visible and invisible forces, fluids and subterranean magnetisms.
The majority of these works also tend towards the physical occupation of space, breaking the bonds of the picture-frame to enter into a direct and immediate contact with phenomenal reality. When kept within a frame, it is there solely to increase the mental concentration of the work, through introjection into the esthetic field of the material and mental, biological and cultural existing outside art. To produce art entails provoking magnetic waves above and below its system.
Howtan’s art has gone through many trials, also in relation to phenomena linked and pertaining to identity, participating in the development of a different and alternative mentality. His relationship with nature and culture have found in photographic work the possibility of articulated deployment following new ways of thinking, seeing and feeling. The desire for destructuration which presides over its transformations is clearly present in the most recent works.
As always, art steps over the present and rides the future. The microcosm of the work of art refers to the macrocosm of the world and seeks to found a place of intense totality, whee it is possible to connect physical, mental and social forces in the processual unity of art. Art. in any case keeps relations open and in movement, mobile as the world itself; the bodies are assembled but not welded into a too-close nexus. This freedom also entails an operative dynamic, a fluidity that Howtan has managed to capture in his photographs. The fixity of the image still retains the memory of a mobility typical of the art in question and also of the socially conflictual climate of these last few years.
Because art, being movement par excellence, never stops, always ready to leap forwards, no less than to step back to take what it needs. Now the experimental approach of recent years is witnessing the presence a different mentality, more linked to the intense emotions of individuality and of a photography that finds and founds its value within its own processes.
The sensitivity of art now tends to place the work of art once more outside the confines of any international form of homologation in favour of an individual, not collective quest. However, Howtan’s photography strongly posits its centrality in relation to a confining reality, ready to extend its influence and at the same time to focus on its own intensity.