Text written by Rebecca Jagoe

To whom does the lamp communicate itself? The mountain? The fox? What if things could speak? What would they tell us?
Or are they speaking already and we just don’t hear them? And who is going to translate them?
Walter Benjamin[1]

1.
Cone/green-yellow, a photograph of an object. It is a strange, beautiful cone with bands of yellow that bleed into vivid green then sea-blue. A chipped-off end seems to float in midair, except that I can just see the thin wire holding it if I look hard enough. There is a potency to the object I cannot quite put my finger on: it is charged with something  that I cannot identify, as though it is vibrating :it is not mute, but it speaks in a language that I cannot fully understand.

Plaster has created the object by casting it in plaster then leaving it to stand in ink: it seeps into the surface, creeping up the object as it absorbs more and more colour. I know this is how they are created, so I see it is a vibrant testament to the porosity of the object and the suggestion of change. Before I learnt of the chemistry behind the work, these were still beautiful, vibrant objects, but – as I say – there was an air of mystery to them, an ‘aura[2]’, dare I say it, that is retained even when their evolution is told to me. Perhaps it is because of this contrast between precise geometry and nebulous surface, testament to a process that allows the materials to interact autonomously without human intervention. Perhaps it is because, with the bands of colour that creep up its form, there is the suggestion that this is an object not in stasis but in change, that what I am seeing is but one moment in its lifetime, yet at the same time I am afforded a glimpse into both its history and its future. Perhaps it is because, even knowing how it is made, it still feels that I cannot fully understand it:

    Yet we must entertain the possibility that what is being said is outside our
comprehension, that it shows up as dumb matter in this exchange.

2.
In the field of geological surveying, a borehole is a cylinder of earth or rock extracted from the ground in order to map the geological history of the terrain. To look at a borehole is to see stratified and condensed layers of time that tell a story of place and how it came to be created: it is a literal cross-section of natural history. I think that to see the world through the eyes of the geological surveyor must be to see the ground not as a fundamental end point, but instead a thin skin of the present sitting atop multiple layers of the past.

I am not a geological surveyor. I see the earth as a solid and impenetrable mass: I have no clue as to how this upper layer, this surface, came to be, and I have no idea what came before it. Perhaps it is conventional to see a work as I see the ground: appreciating the aesthetics of only the upper skin. The practice of producing a piece of art of course falls beyond the structure of a manufacture line. There will be experimentation, there will be process, but these are usually concealed. Yet to look at Valentina Pini’s work is not to look just at the top layer, the final result. The borehole functions as a cross-section of time, and to look at Pini’s work feels too as though I am looking at a cross-section of experimentation and evolution that is manifest in the final work, and, beyond this, the possibility that the work will continue to change and evolve beyond this moment. If I look at a borehole I know that it charts a change, whilst I cannot read it: similarly, to look at Pini’s work is to know that it shows something in transition, a transition that I cannot fully comprehend.

There is of course a basic formal similarity between the geological cylinders and the plaster cylinders or cones that Pini creates, the bands of coloured ink finding assonance with layers of rock and soil. Parallels can be drawn beyond this, though. For while there is a pleasing ambiguity in these objects, still the process of creating the objects and, in addition, the process of creating this image are manifest in the result. And so this flattened image of an object becomes a cross-section of evolution, change and process. Somewhere between chemistry and magic, where the creation is not confessed flagrantly but disclosed subtly.

3.
The video DIY begins with two heavy-duty black rubber gloves appear through two holes in a sheet. They are redolent of the gloves used to conduct experiments in contained environments, allowing the chemist and the chemistry to remain separated either side of the glass. It seems apt, then, that the holes are too big for the gloves, an imperfect seal that affords occasional glimpses of what is happening behind. Another wall becoming permeable. As I watch, the shadow of a rod emerges at crotch-height: clearly not the body part you are thinking of, but the allusion remains. The gloved hands wrap the rod in bands of thread, then dip it in a vat of fluid. I am watching the process of tie-dye, the result an acid-yellow smear across the mid blue sheet. There is a connection to urination, to the waste of bodies, to bodies acting on objects, yet this remains not stated but implied.

While much of Pini’s work remains abstract, certain moments or objects become visual snags of familiarity. Such snags act as reminder that the chemistry that she so celebrates is not isolated to a so-called separate domain of Science, but instead takes place every day in small degrees with or without by intervention. The process of tie-dye is something I recall from early teenage experiments in decorating clothes, but it is, too, a process of transformation that relies on chemical reaction. Separations between art, science, everyday, are not solid walls but permeable membranes. The coffee cup becoming pulp. The madeleines. The drawstring rucksack eroded and eaten into. Tie-dye.

4.
The key-label wrapped around the Diastix jar looks almost like a paint chart from a tasteful decorating company. Diastix are plastic rods with pads infused with chemicals. When dipped in urine, it seeps into the pads, they change colour, and –depending on the colour, and the type of stick used – can be used for a number of diagnostic differentials. The label tells you what each colour indicates: kidney disease, diabetes melllitus, haemolytic disorders. The teststrip for ketone levels turns a particularly lovely couplet of turquoise and ochre. Really, it is quite beautiful as a colour combination, a bit like the yellow stain on blue in DIY, and I feel a slight snag as I throw it away.

Rebecca Jagoe


[1] ‘On Language as Such and the Language of Man’, in Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913-1926, ed. Marcus Bullock & Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2004)

[2] ‘Exclusive focus on aura as remaindered or otherwise by technological change overlooks another sense of aura in Benjamin: aura as an aspect of experience in general’ TC McCormack, Martin J. Gent & Esther Leslie Dumb Fixity: The Impossible Question (London: Artwords Press, 2010)

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