Ghost in the Machine

By Ali Soltani

In the thick of opalescence, as if we are suddenly brought in to witness the posthumous findings of an autopsy, a group of things: some lexical, some material, carefully arranged, some fixed, some indeterminate; intentioned, spontaneously, coincidentally, in a rare consortium of words and image, evidently, audibly, mutely, point, form, charge, discharge a dimmed sparsed re-collection that blurts out in various curious sound forms: The Cenacolo or, The Last Supper; in some inflected form it has the sound and shape of La Cène; a less quaint one sounds something like, Shom-eh Akhar.
But what is it doing here?!

First a few words on The Last Super: Roughly 480x880 cm, the picture was painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1495 and 1498 for the refectory of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan. Like the central figure it depicts, the painting is chronologically flanked by a long list of works that predate it and those done in its aftermath. As early as 1517, that is less than 20 years after its completion, evident cracks and flakes appear on its surface. In 1568, the Italian architect/painter, Giorgio Vasari lamented that: “there remains nothing but a blurred stain”. In 1584 Gian Paolo Lomazzo in his Trattoria Dell’arte della Pittura, Scoultura et Archittetura, declared that “the painting is in a state of total ruin”. Interestingly Lomazzo had gone blind seven years before breaking the news so his account must have either relied on his earlier recollections or by way of word through friends and colleagues.
What is extraordinary, the irreversible truth is that this most talked about of all paintings in which the slightest gesture has sent all in a frenzy in feverish pursuit of its subject stirring dispute amongst the artists, writers, poets, historians, the moral police and the scientist; the painting that in spite of itself has served as the evidence par excellence of so many findings, the famous Cenacolo, had long ago quietly departed the frozen uproar of its devoted narrators, virtually non existent when they erupted.

The observer who is finally let in after long queue might be unprepared, unaware that if allowed to see the work in its authentic present state stripped bare of the mascara of its restorers, the thing the blessed gaze would encounter is likely to be a nebula of pigments powdered across a seemingly immeasurable void, with no discernible protagonist, no apostles, no sign of annunciation, no sacrament; and where is the genius in that? The semblance must do, it is more plausible, more aligned with our inherited memory. All is needed is a little boost of authenticity issued by the proper authorities for the right price of course, a good waiting in line and 15 minutes of allotted time with the Maestro’s masterpiece; the observer is rejuvenated. In all irony, the truly genuine depiction of the inherently commodified and kitsch aspect of The Last Supper has been made evident in none other but Andy Warhol’s tour de force exhibit at the Palazzo Stellino directly across the street from the church where the departed Cenacolo was first painted.

To speak in such terms however is to render the work strictly visual, an attribute of which we only have an after image, whereas the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie for which the work was tailored, made its outward extrusion and the sole survivor that bears upon it the trace of the maestro’s touch, has hosted, confided and spawned the thoughts of generations of spectators, from the monks who joined the supper and shared their bread, the chained prisoner when at the dusk of the 18th century the refectory was turned to a prison for a brief period, the expert with the scalpel and the rejuvenated observer.

510 years later in New York, for her third solo Francine LeClercq presents a scenario, a kind of machine-ry in which disparate disjointed parts conjointly ignite a certain thing, a certain readability that might or might not sum to a meaning but nonetheless point to the condition of its existence. This dichotomy between existence and meaning, the relation and oppositions between some thing and what it signifies, the subject and its decalogue or the artificial collection of rules and codes that frames, validates and crops its possibility à la Paul Valery is at the same time the contrasting schism that prevents the formation of an image into a single whole; the work of Francine leClercq is never complete, its fragmentary nature only temporal contingent upon the presence and biases of a single viewer; conjoined with another, our collective notion of the work would resemble the molecular state in liquids, loosely held, flowing to find its final form within the confines of its vessel whether that be a single stretcher or the space where its placed. However, where in the former the tentative contingency of the work was warranted by a seemingly wet and viscid state of acrylic and the resulting peekaboo of the incidental appearance of the viewer on a reflective puddle-like surface; In the latter, this reciprocity is charted along the moving path of the viewer, in other words, the viscous element is the spectator itself leaving its wet trace as if by some capillary attraction guided by an unforeseen itinerary of a vagrant gaze. Hence the selection of an icon as a widely recognized and accepted something seems to be nothing short than a coup against the scholastic practice that rigidifies and wraps the work under a single one size fits all ideogram.
It couldn’t be more false however to think that the work is geared to battle all past meditations, Goethe himself! Good God! Rather, the impulse is similar to a curious child who having dismantled an object to understand its construct but faced with the difficulty of re- assembling it awaits the patronage of an instructor, whether that be the present grown up in the room or the tricksy hoodoo of the ghost of Christmas past. In other words what we have are the remains of a once intact body, catalogued, laid bare, de-authorized seeming to say; “taketh,… you who shall re-assembleth me in any shape or form have understoodeth the art-of living.”