“Callas” by Antonella Cinelli.
“Reading” a work of art that one has seen only in a low-resolution, two-dimensional, tiny rendering is both hard and rash. Still, I quite like “Callas” by the Bolognese artist Antonella Cinelli.
It is part of the exhibit “ARTipicità” at the Teatro Filodrammatici in Milan, which runs through 30 November. (“ARTipicità” combines the Italian words for “art” and “atypicalness.”) Apparently the exhibit coincides with the publication of the latest book by an Italian “image guru.” (O tempora! O mores!) Repubblica offers a slideshow of images from the exhibit.
Cinelli’s current show is a cycle called “Doll.” According to her gallery,
the duality between being and appearing probed by the artist in these works is tied to the concept of dress as a social instrument for the communication of one’s own personality.
The idea of creating little dresses, sparkling and metallic… derives from an unusual concept of dress that takes on ambivalent and conflicting meanings. In becoming a rigid and transparent iron structure, the dress is deprived of its practical uses as an object created to cover the body and allow it to move comfortably. It takes on new meanings, as if it were armor in which a woman feels at once constrained and protected.
The absence of a body beneath this unusual dress points to the disappearance of individual identity and the desire to represent a genre, the woman-doll, as a creature both real and unnatural.
First thoughts: that baby-doll dress, suggesting abject helplessness (no arms, no legs) is incongruous in the extreme paired with Callas’s intense gaze and strongly willed self-presentation (the kohl eyes and stylized brows; the Hepburn-esque hair evoking the dramatically slimmed body that is not seen but implied). That said, the portrait (a famous publicity still), is rendered in colors that suggest flesh, whereas we usually see that image in severe black and white. And from what I can see in the .jpg, Cinelli has in some respects toned down the contrasts and exaggerations in the “original” photo.
At the same time, those fleshy colors applied by an artist to a pre-existing artifact are supremely factitious, giving something fake, composed, reproduced and reproducible ad infinitum the illusion of human skin. The frame around the Callas portrait seems to float or have dimensionality; at the same time, it crushes and traps her.
And what to make of the blackness from which Callas emerges? In the publicity still, she is set against a white background. Is the blackness engulfing Callas? Or could her own blackness (the lined eyes, arched brows, artfully artless hair), bleeding into the background, suggest nothingness and insubstantiality?