Mariateresa Sartori – Imprints of Time
Mariateresa Sartori goes to the beach on the Venice Lido; she sits on her little stool and listens to the sea. She spends hours taking notes on sheets of paper on which she makes a pentagram of the variations of the sound of the waves breaking on the beach. She transforms herself into a seismograph, marking and tracing with a charcoal pencil and in varying degrees of intensity the pattern of the heights of the sound of the waves breaking on the shore: “I look for the perfect synchrony between hand and sound, its duration, its volume, its power, its rhythm, its descendent or ascendant charge, its abating and its strengthening”. Pages and pages are thus created marked with more or less pronounced, transparent, irregular, uniform, continuous and vaguely undulating black lines.
In the installation exhibited here, the sheets of paper – individual particles of a wider totality – are recomposed on the wall in a single continuous series. The artist is anxious to underline that “the principle of variation (there are no two sound waves that are the same) always becomes clearer only as it increases”. This is why the installation on the wall has to be big enough in order to express the principle of the uniqueness of the event, which is repeated and is always the same but always different. This is how she traces the space of the “small perceptions”, which you manage to perceive because together they form a single unit. Singularity produces everything; the detail and the fragment attain visibility even before acquiring a certain perceptive relevance: Leibniz wrote about this in his New Essays on Human Understanding at the beginning of the eighteenth century. One day in her studio, Mariateresa reads a passage from the book:
“And to judge still better of the minute perceptions which we cannot distinguish in the crowd, I am wont to make use of the example of the roar or noise of the sea which impresses itself on us when we are standing on the shore. To hear this noise as we do, we must hear the parts which make up this whole…”.
Surprising. “You know that one of the simplest ways to notice the passing of time is by listening to sound?” I had never thought of that. “Yes, a sound that starts and finishes”. Mariateresa’s work, which translates the sound of the sea waves into a visual form, represents her attempt to listen to the passing of time. In our long and intense sessions in the studio, the artist explains how in order to transform herself into a sensitive tool and allow the rhythm of the sea to pass through her, she has to make space and literally become the single variations: “I have to make a spatial emptiness which allows the flow of the variations to enter and make themselves felt… at the moment in which you manage to correspond completely to the flow that you perceive through the single parts then you also manage to feel the flow”.
It is a fully-fledged act of “meditation” which requires a powerful physical resistance. One hour corresponds to twenty sheets of paper. The result is an immense musical score which codifies the sonorous and temporal flow.
With a simple black cardboard box, held together with sticking tape to make a pinhole camera Mariateresa Sartori goes around gathering instances of the sensitive world, almost like evidence “that reality exists”.
The technique of pinhole photography is simple: light passes through the hole in the box, imprinting an image of the photosensitive paper inside it. In her experiments the artist has produced a magnificent series dedicated to the shapes of clouds, simple herbs and small details of ancient painting.
Once again, in this case the artist has chosen “a mechanical process on which the possibility of intervention is highly limited: the variables it is impossible to have control of are innumerable and contribute to the final result, which is the sum of everything that has happened during the lengthy exposure times”. Once again it is a question of recording a given fact, which produces a mechanical imprint: imprints which become “witnesses” to life, verifiable proof of existence.
Mariateresa collects fragments of reality in her box as if she had actually physically “taken” that leaf or flower, instead of limiting herself to merely “taking” the image. She collects moments of life. In this way she manages to give us access to an intimate dimension, which is configured as the sowing of her existence. Memories remain harnessed in time. A substance at times precise and indelible, at others opaque, tenuous and confused. Memories are set in our minds like diamonds or they disappear quickly, leaving us without time.
The verifiable proof of the real has to pass through this artist via an unsophisticated technique. This is not due to snobbery but is in order to have more awareness and experience of the “real”. This is why, even if she avails herself of the advice of specialists and technicians each time – biologists, scientists, town planners, actors, linguists – each model that she constructs has to pass through her sensitivity. Pinhole photography is interesting for her because it is a “primitive” tool which allows her to almost transform herself into a camera. On the other hand, the pinhole process is similar to human physiology: the box is the head, the hole is the eye and the photosensitive paper is the retina. Once again it is the concept of the imprint that is central. The artist is primarily interested in attesting to the trace of what has existed and is no longer here. Didi Huberman wrote about this articulately, highlighting how the imprint “tells us both about contact (the foot that sinks into the sand) and loss (the person walking is no longer present)”, and raising the question of the relationship between memory and the present. We find ourselves in the huge possibility that art possesses of transporting the transience of existence into a metaphysical and eternal dimension. What also comes to mind is the series of clouds and the artist’s attempt to harness a changeable and mobile event in a photographic image: the proof of existence of an ephemeral event. Mariateresa entrusts art with the task of fixing what passes and happens, of protecting it in a magical space, which saves it from its fate of disappearing.
Something essential lies on the border of differences and it is precisely in that variance that a new possibility of communication and invention begins. Mariateresa Sartori understands the fissure which opens between subject and objective reality. It is everything: a sort of faith in the capacity to modify a context starting from minimal, measured, precise and necessary interventions has led this artist to almost always make use of what already exists above and below the surface of things; above all, it has led her to search for new codes, starting from things that exist but which cannot be seen and that act underground.
(words partly taken from the text Mariateresa Sartori – The illusion of certainty published in Telling the Time. Mariateresa Sartori, Gli Ori, Prato 2019)