Sodoma & Gomorra

Critical essay by Agnieszka Anna (in inglese)

The postmodern aesthetic is what describes Allesandro Bavari’s series of photograph-paintings titled Sodom and Gomorrah. The deeply dark and abyssal images of a lost world of the legendary cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are staged in front of us, as if returned to life from ashes. Philosophically and technically the photographs are emblems of postmodern art and I would like to point to these two aspects respectively.

The idea of postmodernism is seen in a few faucets. First of all, the imagery is very subjective.
But unlike the modern ‘stream of consciousness’, subjectivity gives freedom to various, infinite interpretations. This very aspect is closely connected to the technical creation of postmodern art. The break up of structures and their chaotic, almost arbitrary placement within the structure or the picture plane as in the case of the photograph Birsha’s Symposium is what generates infinite analyses. The photograph is a random-seeming collage of various materials, erratically dispersed and bearing no meaning overall. In this case, the haphazard mix up of table utensils, greenery, fruit and vegetable, birds and cut body limbs invites cultural and historical readings as well as startling connotations brought out from the unconscious realms of the mind. Historically, what we know about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is the hedonistic lifestyle of its inhabitants and the antiquity as the time setting. The leftovers from a possible one of many feasts may symbolize gluttony of which Gomorrah’s citizens were famous for in biblical terms. The limbs are connotative of antique marble statues produced by artists in the classical period and so the sculptures indicate time itself. Second association are the fallen statues or/and killed, dismembered people during the great catastrophe which destroyed the cities. Throughout the imagery, there are similes connotative of antiquity like pyramidal- like structures in The Hall of Coprophilia. At the same time, unsettling is the juxtaposition with modern structures of skyscrapers in The City of Gomorrah and The City of Sodoma. It is also a postmodern characteristic to mix not only time indicatives, which results in the loss of private temporality in the imaginative world where time is lost. Further, the space in the photographs is filled with darkness which reinforces the ambiguity of time and space. In Portrait of Birsa, King of Gomorrah, while looking at his own destiny, elements seem to be hovering in vacuum and trees growing from underground and in The City of Gomorrah and The City of Sodom people seem to be living in underground holes. The darkness and no sense of space, the pastiche of antiquity elements clashing with symbols of modernity decenter the ideas of time and space.

Fragmentation is another aspect visible in Bavari’s series of photographs. There are ideas existing in binary oppositions which clash with each other and thus bar any continuity of narrative. Time is infinite, embracing Antiquity, Modernity as well as the age of dinosaurs (the plants in The City of Gomorrah are reminiscent of Jurassic flora) or frozen in the moment of the volcanic eruption which consummated the depicted cultures. The visual quality of the photographs like the scratches on the surface are indicative of webs engulfing the dead land or the splashes of paint (in Lot’s wife becomes a pillar of salt) are connotative of the outburst of the volcano and the moment of destruction.

The fragmentation of ideas, setting them opposite each other produces a non-narrative effect. The narrative throughout the imagery is discontinuous only hinting at plots and possible events. Each of the photographs is a small curious glimpse of the cultures’ lives. Portrait of nymphomaniacs in the depths of Gomorrah gives the viewer a chance to look closer at the social life of Sodom and Gomorrah citizens. Three peepers, along with its title, psychologically make the viewer interested and puzzled what hides underneath the ground. Only a random close up in The new progenies: portrait of a girl in front of a mirror may be the answer to the enigma. Despite the inquisitive close-up, the images of action are intertwined with static, frozen as if scapes where no activity takes place, that is not extended to other images. No linkage is provided to tell a story or to make a point.

The above perceptions are arguments for the constructedness of the images. The technical side of the artworks also points to postmodern art. The fusion of mediums, in this case of photography and painting reinforces the structural quality of the artwork. The constructed reality, seeming provisional, fragmented, discontinued, incoherent, does not try to make a point that is to extract a meaning out of the world. Postmodern art does not authorize reality by giving statements and so Bavari does not judge or criticize the world by creating a doomed, disaster-prone reality. The gaze of the artist is involved and inquisitive, celebrating the non-sense. Bavari creates an artificial, virtual simulacrum where there is no original for the world of legendary Sodom and Gomorrah that might have not existed at all. The photograph-paintings are not an attempt to recreate the iconographic history of the cities and realistically depict biblical stories. The particular insights into the ancient legendary world simulate the idea of Sodom and Gomorrah that exists in cultural common subconsciousness. The simulation operates not only on the visual level but providing us with fragmentation of imagery, interprets the reality on almost linguistic level, leaving it to us to make sense out of the linguistic-visual puzzle.


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