Since the discovery of the technique of wet-drapey in Classical Greece to the arty side of the advertising photo, from Phidias to Erwin Blumenfeld, to veil carnal pleasures has been the best way to enhance them.
Now that everything is so overexposed the veil is a precious asset, a relic of more surprising times, such as those that encouraged the encrypted porn, with gray weaving as curtains in front of coupled bodies. These filters, with its power to stimulate lustful imagination, incited first wanks of 90s teenagers. Twenty years after the art missed these filters shading the crude staged fornications, what testify projects like the fanzine Carnal+.
To suggest instead of exhibit excite the desire, but not just carnal ones. The veil has also been used in art as correlate of a non revealed truth. In Baroque and Rococo sculpture proliferate marble representations of women wrapped in cloths that, apart from the display of virtuosity common in that period, refer to this second sense.
Neapolitan Sansevero Chapel keeps disturbing statuary blanket in which the veil symbolizes wisdom and passage from life to death, from ignorance to revelation. Modesty of Antonio Corradini overwhelmed by his sibylline sensuality. Next to Christ covered by the shroud (Giuseppe Sammartino marble) are the counterpart of anatomical machines preserved in the crypt of the small church, both devised by Raimondo di Sangro mason: anatomies are stripped to the bone, showing organs, veins and arteries in fascinating filigree, while the stone figures hide their secret, are veiled. The skeletons simulate wrought iron, marble fine cloths seem linen; all is transmuted into this alchemical chapel.
As Di Sangro, but two centuries later, Fernand Khnopff was fascinated by the occultism. The veil associated with inaccessible femininity was reiterated concern in portraits he made of his sister. But it is likely that in these obsession represented not so much the inscrutability of women but his own, delving through the recurring androgynous figure their feminine side and difficulty in expressing it.
And because there is some of self-portrait in every portrait also the one Dora Maar made to Nusch Eluard with a cobweb covering her face has that double layer: her own psychic crack overprinted to the vulnerable beauty of her friend, looking both captive of a maze of affections that weave themselves.
The Italian duo known with the artistic name of Santissimi recover the symbolism associated with the desire of transcendence attached to the veiling. Their installations of hyperreal bodies caught in transparent resin boxes or frozen faces in a postmortem rictus although embellished by a frosted patina, remind us to cryopreservation methods. Some of these cameras exhale steam, which guarantees some kind of existence confined in vitreous matter, pending, in trance. Retain some esoteric aura despite surgical asepsis.
These silicone suspended bodies could illustrate the words of Don DeLillo in Zero K, when he reflects on the human as canned, when he imagines it inmersed in a continuum of time inside a cryogenic chamber: how human you are without track of time? Maybe more, or one becomes fetal, as something unborn?
For the Irish Kevin Francis Gray the veil ensured clandestinity for her dissidents girls, guerrilla sculptures that behind schoolgirl miniskirt hided homemade explosives. The curtains of pearls apparently concealed their identity, but of them just left the corpse. Retaking the funeral baroque statuary, these martyrs of the Belfast streets were made with noble materials; the pall as an emblem of anonymous heroism.
Eulalia Valldosera has also used the iconography of the veil to reveal contemporary issues related to power relations, subverting them. As part of a project called Dependencia mutua, she videotaped an Ukrainian charwoman dusting the sculpture of an ephebe in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. In the video, the cleaning cloth gradually becomes ethnic veil, hijab, flag, cloth that crossdresses male body, that eroticizes female ones… and eventually comes to question the roles of submission versus object of devotion.
The veil as that which reveals what society tries to hide reappears in a more recent project of the artist, Velos plásticos (2016), a photographic series of what seem spectral virgins, wrapped in deliquescent cloaks. As a nod to the protective virgins of the sea, those which the sailors erected shrines in ports, those of Valldosera are made of toxic materials. Protection veers in admonishment.
From hellenistic excellence of wet-drapery concretized in the torso of the Victory of Samothrace, allegory of naval triumph that from its coastal sanctuary scanned the ocean, pure power and winged sensuality, we arrive to plastic cloths that only hide their own brutalization.