Carlo Cossignani, “Speak to me in a floating way”, Installation view, 2023

ph Sarah Indriolo

Carlo Cossignani, Details, ph Sarah Indriolo

Carlo Cossignani, Details, Ph Sarah Indriolo

Carlo Cossignani, Details, “Speak to me in a Floating way”, 2023, ph Sarah Indriolo

Carlo Cossignani, Installation view, “Speak to me in a Floating way”, 2023, ph Sarah Indriolo

Carlo Cossignani, Installation view, “Speak to me in a Floating way”, 2023, ph Sarah Indriolo

Carlo Cossignani, Details, “Speak to me in a Floating way”, 2023, ph Sarah Indriolo

Critic Text

Speak to me in a floating way

Carlo Cossignani’s work conveys a sense of fragility. Not because the pieces are precariously put together, on the contrary—the paintings and sculptures are meticulously crafted. The fragility is a fundamental one, which has to do with the nature of our perception and, perhaps, with the nature of our world. Take his watercolors, for example. They are gentle, and the forms meander, while the outer edges contrast the white of the paper sharply. Inwards, the shapes feather into a maze of soft gradients; purple, or a dark, inky blue, yellow, and others red or lime-green. There is a narrative, sure, but only in the most abstract sense. It doesn’t impose itself. And although the shapes are not anthropomorphic, they recall dance and the motions of ecstatic, fluid bodies suspended in time. 

“Beauty will be convulsive, or it will not be at all,” writes André Breton in his novel Nadia, as if he was laying out a future ideal for art where the old rules of form and composition don’t apply, an art that provokes a visceral, intense reaction. In Cossignani’s watercolors, similarly, the rules of form are not so clear. In fact, perhaps even the term form is a little misleading. His pieces on paper avoid a centered composition, and it seems like ornament ceased to be decorative and has risen up in opposition to pictorial hierarchy. 

Throughout art history, ornament has had a bad reputation. It has been seen as excess and an attack against clarity, content, narrative, and hierarchy. When ornament spills over into the picture, it is as if the frame takes over the image. While lavish mannerisms supposedly overwhelm the viewer, Cossignani’s practice appears curiously balanced; it invites contemplation. The paintings are attached to spacers with magnets, which affix them at a distance from the walls. The works hinge on the illusion of being suspended in time and space, and they transport a fundamental lightness, as if the slightest breeze could make them sway. 

There is, however, another way these pieces deal with lightness. With the works on paper, it takes a moment to realize why. The captions mention empty space among the media used, which is the case with all things spatial—but it is often overlooked. When looking at the images, it becomes clear why it matters. The paintings recall sculptures. Parts of them are cut out, as if the void generates the image. 

An installation, shown at Palazzo Hercolani Bonora in Bologna, consisted of eight pieces, four on the floor and four suspended from the ceiling, right above them, like bases and capitals of columns, except, whatever is in between is not visible. Likewise, the sculptures in this show generate a strange effect. The pieces create a space, almost like an architectural interior; alien to their surroundings because they are kite-like objects executed in polished steel. The artist’s earlier pieces riffed on forms from the classical canon, and his pieces deform and soften the rigidity of the classical. Still, there is a very specific relation to architecture in these works: architecture functions as shorthand for the structure of all things.

The emptiness becomes visible, the absence turns into a palpable presence. The void, similar to the open space around Cossignani’s works on paper, figures as a constituent part of the installation. The invisible becomes the counterpoint of the visible, and the sculpture straddles the line between the here and the not-there.

The balance between visible and invisible makes an image. The eye is able to trace contours with very little information, and the ways in which these cognitive processes work are subject of experimental psychology and aesthetics alike. Chiaroscuro in painting can similarly be described as an interplay between the empty darkness and the light—the viewer perceives a dramatic image. This riddle of illusion and perception ties into philosophical questions about the relation of constituting things and entities constituted, or more specifically of matter and form—just remember that Cossignani lists empty space as a medium. Thinking about the void and its other, however, is not necessarily confined to metaphysics and art history. Quantum physics found out that the quantum vacuum state, while containing no physical particles, is not empty at all. It holds electromagnetic waves and particles that enter and leave the quantum field.

After working with video and performance, Cossignani came back to painting and sculpture, where he started engaging with the void. At first with light brass objects, that seemed to hover in space, then long, winding brass ribbons, later oil paintings on cut-out linen. In his latest pieces, the emptiness powers what’s there, like an invisible motor. Perhaps Cossignani’s work reveals something that is inherent to images and, ultimately, to the architecture of our world. It serves as a way to decipher the hidden scaffolding of the cosmos.

Philipp Hindahl