Josep Tornero is one of the most interesting voices of contemporary painting and, for this reason, he has recently been awarded the XI Premio de Pintura Parlamento de la Rioja. There is currently a very important exhibition, La Desaparición de las Luciérnagas (The Disappearance of Fireflies) at the Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània in Valencia, open until 19 May 2019. I had the opportunity to meet Josep and ask him some questions about the current exhibition and more in general about his artistic practice.
Tell me something about this exhibition. What are the artworks we can find in Valencia? How did the idea of the exhibition come about? Why is it called The disappearance of fireflies?
The works in this exhibition include paintings, documents and sculptures. It is an installation exhibition, that is it has been tried to create a set of installations through different artistic manifestations. In this way, both the paintings, and the archive images and the group of sculptures are grouped in artistic installations based on the theme of the exhibition.
This theme was born from the last article that Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote in Il Corriere della Sera shortly before he was assassinated. An article that contains the strength of the last Pasolini, a disappointed Pasolini who, however, through his analysis becomes a visionary. In this article the author discusses various topics that interest me for a long time: fears, emptiness, concerns about a loss that already then began to manifest itself...
In my work I took some time to search and archive images that somehow reflect these anxieties, but the historian Georges Didi-Huberman allowed me to complete the project. The metaphor of fireflies provided by Pasolini allows Didi-Huberman to put before the powerful lights of modernity the description that Dante made of the heart of Hell where small lights (fireflies) waved in the pit of the "wicked counsellors” of evil souls, far from the great and only light promised in Paradise.
The Disappearance of Fireflies reflects on the texts of these authors, taking up the title that Pasolini himself uses as a metaphor in his article. It is a reflection on the image, in which I try to maintain a dialogue with the images, where I use the idea of mounting in the way that Aby Warburg showed the images of his Atlas Mnemosyne, looking for correspondences between them. In some ways, the image is the bearer of phobic reminiscences, of emotional tensions that are transmitted from time to time.
In the installation of images, Dante’s hell interpreted by Botticelli presides over the polyptych with iconic images of barbarism. There are also cinematographic and pictorial sources, such as Ixion by baroque painter Josep de Ribera. Paintings sink into ghosts, into ghosts as a symptom of primitive emotions. The sculptures, instead, become an iconic representation of the loss of identity, the anti-gas masks do not hide the face, but rather become in some way the face of power.
In the article by Pier Paolo Pasolini The Disappearance of Fireflies, Pasolini makes a sociological analysis of Italy of those years that has lost the ideals (fireflies) and that therefore gropes in the dark, in the void. Have you been resident in Italy for a while, is there a lot of darkness in Italy? And in other countries?
I think that darkness has never disappeared, it has always been latent in our society. Pasolini made a lucid and visionary reflection in 1975, using the Italian sociological context of the era. In my country, on the other hand, democracy comes after the death of the dictator in the same year. Forty years after both these events, European societies have become uniform and fears and emptiness come out simply because they were already there. It is very curious that this artistic project has brought together several voices that have had a close relationship with Italy. Obviously the main voice is that of Pasolini, but Didi-Huberman also lived for some years in the city of Rome, or the same Aby Warburg, which would have been defined as "Jew by birth, Hamburg at heart, Florentine in spirit". Perhaps someone should study and analyse the role that Italy has as a reference point over time. I can sense that, but I still don’t have the courage to argue it.
What is it about darkness that you like so much?
The darkness is in ourselves from early times. It feeds on our deepest and most irrational fears. Nietzsche had already had a face-to-face with it, identifying it with that abyss that provides you with the look with which you try to peer at it. In a certain sense, he has grasped the importance that can give us the emptiness when fears explode. Even Enrico Castelli makes a theoretical reference to the history of art itself, from another point of view, grasping the importance that the abyss or the darkness have for us.
Castelli speaks of the diabolical and uses its Greek etymology to restore its original meaning: dia-bolic is what separates, what dissects. And he evokes again its power of seduction: Abyssus abyssum invocate (the abyss calls the abyss). The darkness is that abyss, that emptiness. For the ancient Greeks, a vital and life-loving culture, living was not like us to breath, but to see. We say "their last breath", but they said "their last glance.” Oedipus dies in life. They created the art as fun, as a celebration of existence. Was that joy and celebration an answer after looking into the darkness? Most likely. We remember the head of the Gorgon (Medusa), that monster that carried death in the eyes, which is reproduced in thousands of paintings and Greek ceramics. For the Greeks, the image was a purification before fear and darkness.
In your works we find colors and images that inspire a bit of fear, anxiety. What is fear for you?
This is perhaps what I was saying before. For me fear, anxiety are emotions that exist in all of us from birth. Emotions that have acted both individually and in our societies. They are the food of darkness, of emptiness. Trying to hide them will not do us any good. For me it is much more important to be able to work with them in terms of image, somehow in my work always it appears a face behind the image, and that face is nothing more than the gorgon.
What are your future projects? What are you working on during this period?
I am currently preparing an exhibition to be held at Centro d’Arte Contemporània in Girona, Catalonia, next September entitled Rooms: The Image and The Ghost. There I try to deepen the movement, the fugitive, as a meaning of image survival. I’m working from that dialogue that allows the interaction between sculpture and painting, to approach the relationship that exists between the image and the ghost, from a context marked by time or memory, or the dissipation of the subject before the story and its journey. You will also see some works produced in Rome and in the last two years. There are other projects, dealing with the Wounded Art, starting from the first exhibition organized in the context of the activities of Archivio Fotografico Storico della Provincia di Treviso, where there are on show the extraordinary images of the plaster sculptures of Canova damaged by the war events of 1917.