By Victoria Dejaco
Preface: Julia Frank’s solo exhibition FINE CORSA at Galleria Doris Ghetta opens with a large curtain of fabric, an all-seeing singular eye. Through FINE CORSA, Frank addresses the environmental concerns of the warming planet we live on through cosmogony. The exhibition contains an artificial crystal—a large, melting block of contaminated ice filled with microplastics. The crystal causes the viewers to dwell on the power of our actions that taint its very nature. Frank asks us how long our human-made illusion can last if the earth’s ecological imbalances are ignored.
The exhibition is situated in the current Northern Italian Covid-19 hotspot. Regardless of its physical inaccessibility, the following text and visual material provide stimulus and relevance during this difficult time that we all face. The new work is accompanied with a text by Victoria Dejaco, a curator, art historian and her lifetime partner, in the form of a love letter. They are both from the same Northern Italian region but have left the area years ago because of its conservative and homophobic ideology.
Upstairs, the upper floor of the gallery is a curated exhibition by Siggi Hofer which has opened simultaneously. Altogether, even under sad circumstances, it seems historical because for the very first time two gay artists, born in the same area but who moved abroad, decided with united forces to provoke what they have been escaping and fearing for years.
Vienna/Ortisei/Vienna, February/March 2020
Your exhibition opens with an eye printed on a semi-transparent textile installed like a curtain separating us from the exhibition space. Not two eyes. One. Like we use it to look through a looking glass or a microscope. An invitation to look closer? One left and one right eye, a pair of eyes would be a familiar sight. It’s the one, isolated right eye that is unfamiliar. Seeing something unfamiliar influences our perception. Not long ago we had a conversation about how—in order to save energy—our brain constantly categorizes patterns and acts/reacts accordingly. It also means that we as humans are less susceptible to the details and irregularities of the everyday because automated categorizing blanks them out. To look at a pair of eyes is not irregular, and our brain would recognize the pattern as known. However, the single eye is alien enough for us to switch from a process-orientated everyday into a different rhythm—one that prepares us mentally and physically for the exhibition and focuses our attention.
Because our blind spot is approximately 30 cm in front of our noses, metaphorically this begs the question of how many other things we ignore that we have right before our eyes? The simple apology that puts an end to the fight? The heartfelt salutation that would turn the stranger into a friendly neighbor? Even solutions to the big challenges of our times might be similarly simple. A thorough global redistribution that also produces less CO2? Maybe we just cannot see it clearly yet. We don’t have much time left for good solutions and their implementation. In the race against climate change, we are already “in fine corsa,” if not behind schedule.
Possibly, this is the most important outcome of any artistic practice: the invitation to look closer, to dwell on a topic, to decipher a riddle, to engage with an object longer that we are used to from the scrolling on platforms in our everyday hustle under constant and simultaneous impulses. Who will preserve this skill in the future to ponder on a question as long as it takes for the solution to arise? Or to lose oneself in a painting like the one at the beginning of your exhibition?
The time and skills for contemplation are getting scarce. We find “Contemplor” from “contemplare” in the Stohwasser, the Latin dictionary that always quotes the first person singular of every verb: “1. inspect, regard: contemplator (imp.) cum to observe, when V. 2 metaphor. contemplate, consider. E: templum: observation room.” The last remark is relevant for your exhibition. Temples (or cathedral) are rooms of observation. A room, in which we have time for contemplation, for observation. Not too long ago I read in the Swiss newspaper NZZ:
“In the 1980s […] society’s need for clearly defined spaces of art increased. Their closedness was experienced as reassurance, their institutional character is seen as a confirmation of certain values that seemed to disintegrate in a pluralistic, multicultural media society. […] Enhanced by a previously inexistent public interest the museum became the new community building: Incidentally, those new museums were called the new cathedrals.”
With precise mise-en-scène of the lighting, you turn your exhibition into a cathedral, a temple (for observation). Already in medieval Gothic age, the dramaturgy of light was orchestrated for maximum enhancement of contemplation and worship. Cathedrals were built in order to have dim light in the entrance so that the eyes would need to adjust to the somberness and then be blinded by the rising sun through the colored windows of the apsis in the East during morning congregation.
The two light sculptures are oriented towards the poles. One towards the North, the other towards the South. Shining bright, albeit their ephemeral presence. Besides the wall text, they are the only source of light.
Light is also the guidance for the viewer through the exhibition: leading from the first sculpture in the South, along with the text work and the second sculpture in the North to the last installation, that closes the apocalyptic atmosphere of the exhibition with a symbol of hope.
The first wall work on the blue membrane on the left wall after passing the eye-“curtain” is part of a series of works in a technique you developed a few years back. The surface of the insulating material with layers of microplastics has as many familiar associations as unfamiliar ones. The newest work is the smallest one yet with a diameter of 150 cm. The works can’t be much smaller by nature because you are 170 cm tall and the synthetic layers applied under gas pressure are pressed together in the folds of the material under the weight of your agile and muscular body, pressed into one another and partly detached from the surface again. The viewer is looking at the backside of the layer of “paint” because the frontside was collapsed to become the middle or bottom layer.
To question things and to think outside the box is second nature to you. In general, sculptures are three-dimensional and have more than one obverse. Pictures, on the other hand, even abstract ones, from an art-historical point of view, traditionally don’t show the viewer their backside. However, we experience the layers of color in your works mainly through their backsides. A very sculptural approach to “painting.” Fittingly, their making is rather a performance than a work process. I am hardly surprised, that you succeeded in transferring the vehemence of stone carving (which you already mastered prize-winningly as a teenager) to the practice of painting. Who else? 80% of your artistic output was done without a studio to work in. Artistic production is like breathing to you; intrinsically interwoven in your actions and thoughts.
The rectangular versions of the membrane work have a cartographic character. Now you have turned the form into a circle and immediately it resembles a distant planet.
Or the iris of an eye? The single “components” of the surface are multi-faceted in their form, individual like configurations of clouds and as co-incidental. The clods seem as fragile as eggshells. Or moss lichen. Or corals. A piece of untouched nature. Or, on the contrary, like the garbage patches of plastic trash floating in our oceans trapping sea animals.
After all, the surface is made of microplastic particles undulating on the blue insulating membrane, like the residues of plastic that regularly get retrieved from the insides of dead sea animals. Every year a million birds and 100,000 ocean mammals die around the planet from ingesting plastic or being caught in it. Also, we humans apparently consume the weight of a credit card in plastic every week. Plastic sediments in the bodies of mammals similarly as on the whole of our planet: in clods and layers. Future civilizations will be able to tell the period between 1970 and 2030 AD from the sedimentation of plastic in our geological strata.
Also, the layers of your wall work function like strata of sediment of colored plastic particles. Residues of this sediment can be found in the ice blocks that form the main body of the sculptures, that melt in front of our eyes, while we decipher your signs in the dimmed light.
Your exhibition is plunged into darkness. Another contribution to sharpening our senses. Light only plays a role as part of three artworks and one wall installation. Implicitly you are showing us that light>enlightenment> (in-)sight comes from the works of art. Both sculptures are composed of a grid on which the ice blocks are resting, a frame, and a rotation motor, that moves a tube light up and down. It looks like a scanning process. In intervals of a few minutes, the wet lights are moving down and up the ice blocks, then switch off again. The first sculpture has a red light. Despite the light source being a cold light, the red color brings a feeling of warmth, a fire that melts the ice. We might think of spring, the sun that melts the ice and awakens nature since the exhibition takes place only a couple of weeks before the official start of spring. But the ice is melting with the room temperature that changes depending on the visitors in the exhibition space. The more visitors in the room, the warmer it gets and the faster the ice will melt. The more people there are on the planet, the more our planet is “sweating…”
Coincidentally, this exhibition takes place under a frightening global state of emergency. Nothing like humanity has ever experienced before. Due to the global pandemic spread of Covid-19 whose European epicenter became Lombardy towards the end of February, the Italian government banned meetings of more than 100 people in the week before Saturday 7 March, the date of the exhibition opening. Initial partial and local restrictions in Lombardy soon applied to the whole of Northern Italy. 48 hours after your unofficial opening, the whole country goes in lockdown. All cultural institutions have to close. 72 hours later, we are both back in our apartment in Vienna when all boarders to Austria shut down and everyone passing the boarders on Brennero, Sillian, and Passo di Resia by train, highway, or state road gets fever checked. In the following weeks, governments [from] all across Europe and most Western countries take up similar measures to curb the spread and “flatten the curve” of exponentially growing infections. International flights are reduced to a minimum. No international conferences are held. The Olympics are postponed for the first time in history. No festivals. No concerts. The CO2 values drop world-wide in the following days. After four weeks under lockdown, in Wuhan, where the virus first broke out emissions are reduced to the point of a blue sky showing behind the lifted smog.Natural light reaches the citizens again.
The unnatural red light of your first sculpture reminds us of infrared light rather than sunlight. Infrared light is also associated with layers in art history since infrared reflectography is used to reveal underlying layers of a painting or sketches in a non-destructive manner because different pigments of color absorb the light differently. It hence references the synthetic layers of your membrane work too. But it is associated with a second function that relates to your work: The infrared spectroscopy is used in waste management to detect and filter plastic in waste separation processes.
The light bar installed prominently at the far end of the room combines two different practices of yours for the first time to my knowledge. The installation unites the text works that until now have appeared on paper, as photographs, on mirrors, or in shop windows with your sculptural practice. The text, in this case, is applied to a light bar. It connects the wall installation with the freestanding sculptures. It is mounted on the same height as one of the objects too and the residues are frozen into the ice block connect the sculpture with the wall work on the blue membrane. You give the viewer clear signals that for you nothing exists independently, that everything is connected. If this concept of interconnectivity would be clear to humanity, we might stand a chance…
The wall text reads: “You are my last breath. Tell me you care for me. You are the first and the last thing on my mind. We probably risk too much. Is this part of our destiny? You give us all we have, but it’s not enough and your patience has run out, we let it happen. The time is now. All eyes are on the clock (but) the time takes too much… Do we end our waiting? The atmosphere is charged. In you I trust. And I feel no fear as I do as I must. Seduced by the fear… I will not hesitate. The time is now, and I can’t wait. I am empty already too long. Tempted by fate. And I won’t hesitate. The time is now, the time has come.”
Each sentence opens doors to multiple interpretations. The text could be read as a prayer. The worship of planet Earth. Seeing it as an equal partner, to not take the planet and its resources for granted as the basis of our livelihood. No fear of the grand gestures that are necessary for course correction. To shift the metaphor of the Earth as “Mother” to the Earth as “Lover” creates a more emphatic, equal relationship between humanity and the natural world. “You give us all we have, but it’s not enough and your patience has run out.”
The second sculpture is illuminated repeatedly by clear cold-white light shining through the melting, impure ice. This ice block contains the residues of the layers of plastic from the performative membrane works. The lettering on the wall that picked us up in the South at the first ice block, lead the viewer in the North, where a second block is melting away before our eyes. You found a poetic expression, but your message is clear: the poles are melting.
Also, outside around your exhibition during these first warm days of March, huge ice sculptures are melting. In the winter in Ortisei, Val Gardena, the valley where your exhibition takes place, up to 30-meter high ice sculptures are traditionally created along the river and in prominent places. They are created by a sprinkler system with a huge tree-shaped scaffolding underneath. It sprinkles the structure with water during the cold winter days that freezes into a big white-blue weeping-willow-resembling frozen waterfall. At night they are illuminated from inside. A bright glow comes from inside the frozen sculpture. They give the landscape the semblance of a magical world. The light behind your second block of ice has a rather disenchanting effect. It shines a clear light on the impurities of plastic scatterings inside the ice.
The South Tyrolean landscape, UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dolomites, is a multifaceted and fascinating region in the Italian Alps. Mediterranean and alpine. International and vernacular. Bilingual. A transit country and yet largely untouched and undiluted, for example in terms of language development (so many dialects!). Harald Pechlaner talks about a prominent facet of South Tyrol, tourism, in an audio piece that is set on a porphyry “seat.” You asked Harald, with whom you have already travelled half across Europe exploring the non-places along the most frequented routes, to take on the roles of tourist, resident, and critic around the topic of tourism and to alternate between those perspectives. You present this audio piece with headphones on a rock. The stone has a sprawling shape adapting to ones, hips, and thighs, inviting to linger. To observe, to rest, to contemplate. Listening on headphones, we know, creates an intimate space where one loses awareness of the noise level of the outside world. You give the listener the opportunity to dive into the globally omnipresent problem of the familiar abroad and the foreign at home.
The surface of the stone is replicated on the wall of your last installation. A cave wall with cracks in it makes the viewer approach in curiosity to discover what is hidden behind. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, the true forms are behind the viewers, who are satisfied with shadows on the wall. In your narrative truth, purity, hope all hide behind the wall. As it happens, when you intensively engage with space over a longer period of time, you have intervened in the architecture of the gallery and used the space between the exhibition architecture and the building itself. In a custom-made display, different spotlighted gems nestle behind openings that look as if they were cracks in our dimension and the entrance to another. Hidden behind the wall are four rock crystals which are gems of pure quartz and amethyst, a variant of quartz. The rock crystal is generally assigned to the month of April, the month you were born in.
The Earth is made of 65% of silicon a mineral that derives from the rock crystal. In the Classical world, it was thought to be petrified ice. “Crystal” comes from the Greek “krystallos” which means “ice.” We come full circle: At the end of your Parcours the crystals represent symbolically the rock strata of the planet, the sediments. Layers of history and the history of our planet before it was ours before the Anthropocene began to erode it. Before we added plastic to its historic geological strata.
Around the world, various cultures attribute healing powers to the quartz and in particular to the rock crystal, who can be found almost everywhere on the planet. Among the ancient Egyptians and the Romans, the Aztecs, Mayans, Celts, Tibetan Buddhists, Aborigines, Native American and African tribes, it is a supporting tool in diagnosing diseases. Hildegard von Bingen described its effect on the eyes, against ulcers, heart problems, and stomach troubles.
The rock crystal is a symbol of hope and renewal. We encounter here the hope for healing. Originally you probably related the metaphor of healing to the climate disaster. Now, in an awful coincidence, simultaneously we are hoping for the healing of the over 500.000 infected followed by the healing of the economy. The hope, that this disaster won’t be forgotten and give us a chance to find better methods of developing as a collective species. The last message of your exhibition is hence one of hope. A glimmer of light, the only thing we need, to see, to realize. We turn to leave the exhibition towards the entrance and look at the single left eye staring at us—the mirror image of our first impression when entering the exhibition.
 Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, first edition 1969, new edition 2008/2017, Lars Müller Publishers, Zurich.
 Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, 23.09.2016, https://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/kunst_architektur/museen-sind-die-kathedralen-von-heute-unterhaltung-und-erkenntnis-ld.118166 (Last accessed: 17.03.2020) (translated by the author)
 CNN Health. “You could be swallowing a credit card’s weight in microplastics each week.” June 17, 2019. (Last accessed 17.03. 2020) https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/11/health/microplastics-ingestion-wwf-study-scn-intl/index.html
 https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/coronavirus-china-luftverschmutzung-101.html (last accessed 17.03.2020)
 “We treat the Earth with kindness, respect, and affection. […] We will stop the rape, abuse and poisoning of the Earth” from the Ecosex Manifesto, (http://sexecology.org/research-writing/ecosex-manifesto/) (last accessed: 17.03.2020)
 South Tyrol accommodates many industry leaders of international relevance: Microgate (https://www.stol.it/artikel/wirtschaft/suedtiroler-teleskop-spiegel-fuer-die-nasa-und-co), Durst, Leitner (last accessed 17.03.2020)
 The Number of infections globally still rising. 476.000 on the morning of March 26th, 2020. 523.000 on the evening of March 26th, 2020 when I finished translating the text from German. 9 Yuval Noah Harari, The world after Coronavirus. (https://www.ft.com/content/19d90308-6858-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75) (last accessed: 25.03.2020)