Moths, those butterflies that have a tendency to get lost, that feel a fatal attraction by light to the point of being burned to death, seem to us disturbing creatures. Their scorched wings remind us of Icarus’ suicidal impulse. On the other hand, perhaps they look to us unsettlingly familiar because we do nothing but flit around blinding electronic lights.
Moths have fascinated writers and poets. The glimmer of light they leave in their wake around a candle served Sebald to delve into the retinal persistence of the illusory images. Another diver in the images of the memory, Didi-Huberman, discovers in the nocturnal beating of wings a fragile perceptive state, a flicker between the illusion and the reality, between the symptom and the symbol.
The “Falenas” (moths) by Josep Tornero are two faces whose features seem to be slowly eroding. In this painting, as in the rest of the works included in the exhibition “The disappearance of the fireflies”, the black and white engage us in the darkness of the self while covering the whole by relating the paintings with the photographic polyptychs and the sculptures.
The title refers us to the symptomatic article that Pasolini wrote a few months before being murdered, originally called “The power void in Italy” (1975). In the Corsairs Writings, the text is titled with that other poetic heading: in “the disappearance of the fireflies” he laments the impoverishment of the culture of the peoples of Italy, the loss of local customs when noting that even the suburban and unsubmissive lumpen was being numbed by television and consumerism.
During the “fascist fascism” the intimate beliefs were held: “the behavior was totally dissociated from the conscience”, writes Pasolini. In the ’70s, the power of consumption achieved what Mussolini would have wanted in vain: usurping consciences.
Didi-Huberman, in his essay Survival of the Fireflies, retrieves a letter that Pasolini wrote in his youth in which he recounted a friend a nighttime encounter: they were a group of students who were inebriated by their own youth while contemplating with certain envy the amorous flights of the fireflies. Barking and intimidating reflectors interrupted the moonless night. The fireflies fled.
The metaphor of the fireflies and those flashlights of the fascist police inspired Didi-Huberman a reversal of terms. Let us remember that Dante condemned the evil counselors (corrupt politicians) to the eighth circle of Hell, whose sins were small flames that burned them inside. Dante compares them to the fireflies (lucciole). On the other hand, a great Light (luce) was the promise of Paradise.
But the inverse takes place in contemporary history, isn’t it? The lucciole are the people or wandering souls with their fragile blinking while the “evil counselors” are illuminated by powerful spotlights.
Josep Tornero is inspired in this reversal of concepts. The Dantesque hell, as interpreted by Botticelli, occupies a central place in a polyptych with iconic images of barbarism. The cinematographic (Juana de Arco being shaved by an executioner) and pictorial sources (José Ribera’s Ixion being tied to a wheel of fire) coexist with war documents, attacks (the Twin Towers) and murders (the macabre signature Healter Skelter (sic) stamped by the Manson Family with blood of the victims).
In the face of these polyptychs, we have on our minds the large panels lined with black on which Aby Warburg displayed the images of his Atlas Mnemosyne, looking for correspondences between them. As the German historian, Tornero understands the image as a carrier of phobic reminiscences, of emotional tensions transmitted from time to time. The most obscure and repressed of a culture is what survives, functioning as an archetype of psychic oscillations.
The paintings that occupy the other walls of the Center del Carme gather ghostly creatures, whose gestures and faces become almost inapprehensible, as they seem to melt due to a kind of panic terror. In these oil paintings, the image acquires the status of a symptom, that is, what can not be fixed as a symbol: the symptom as the only way to approach the unspeakable, the repressed memory.
The fireflies have become moths: there are many leaps of faith (suicides out of obligation, those who jump from burning skyscrapers) and falls (the road to Damascus no longer procures divine revelations to Saul). The identities have been usurped by fanatics of all kinds. In addition to the emptiness of power spoken of by Pasolini there is the identity vacuum: faces distorted by fear, busts camouflaged with gas masks.
Josep Tornero, La desaparición de las luciérnagas
Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània, Valencia
Consorci de Museus de la Comunitat Valenciana, Escletxes
until 19th April 2019