Text for Adriano Altamira's exhibition "La Tresse" , Angelina Art Contemporain Bruxelles, 2021.
Braiding images as an artistic process
"Ultimately, art is always the simulacrum of something that has been lost" I read as I scroll through Adriano Altamira’s website, looking for visual references of works we had discussed during my visit to the Flux Gallery last July, just before the preparation of his exhibition with Jacques Charlier entitled “Une chose en entraîne une autre” (One thing leads to another).
Our conversation had begun with the question of the braid as a symbol, in what seemed at first to be an artistic game. Soon, however, as Adriano continued browsing through his works’ photos and catalogues, it became evident that this idea of braiding was much richer in subtlety and started unfolding as a rather continuous process seeking to weave those usually imperceptible links that run through the vast domain of our visual culture in multiple ways.
Following the evolution of Altamira’s work, it feels as if I’m looking into the visual collections of a rather atypical art historian. These photographic collections that draw from art history seem like a compilation of material for a theorist's reflections, a kind of atlas that strongly evokes Aby Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas, though its perspective is different. For, if a historian delves into the universe of images searching for a system, Altamira’s quiet, yet methodologically directed, critical gaze navigates deep inside this chaotic visual sea, weaving singular associations as he places one image next to the other in his photographic series. In this way, Altamira’s endeavour evolves liberated from definitions: his associations surge as images complement one another in terms of some visual element used to attach his photographic material in long visual “braids”. These associations evoke unconscious thought processes, and it is no wonder that surrealism and dream are also part of his artistic vocabulary.
His quest for meaning resembles some form of divination, flirting with the theory and history of art, collecting an impressive amount of details about works and artists, yet it escapes towards an ambitious and fleeting goal. Altamira approaches meaning as a process, as his photographic series evolve through time. These series sometimes are rearranged into new associations, and new links occur, illuminating alternative paths of visual reflection. Walter Benjamin’s dialectical image comes to mind as I see Adriano Altamira’s work unfolding. As if, throughout his career, the artist tries to put together tesserae in search of a general scene that remains elusive. And there lies the beauty of his endeavour.
Time is a thought vehicle that shapes our views as much as our lives. And Altamira’s work seems to be mindful of time’s fermenting process, which is repeatedly evoked in his photographs. How to think of meaning as something static, as some kind of ideal, when everything in life is in constant motion? One would rather say that meaning flows along, like the symbol of the braid, which survives and transforms itself through cultures, yet it remains present to remind us of the unconscious process of resurgence.