Barbara Duran

White

White Duran Project | Exhibition | Rome 2021

by Barbara Duran

White absorbs grief and regenerates it in a single cry

My WHITE project was born on a winter evening, in my countryside study, nearly five years ago. The first work realized was La grande mére, she who gives life to all creatures, symbol of strength and fertility, in its broadest and deepest sense. The paramount ancestral archetype and among the most represented figures in the history of art and humanity.
Then the other three, all large canvases: a technically difficult work, because it relates to modern iconography, but necessary to bridge different historical moments in a unitary, circular and continuous time. Constant language of the first White cycle. The events, the histories, the tragedies, the crimes, the possibilities of redemption, the actuality of human nature that repeats, despite following waving and mutating paths, in different and distant times having their influence on the possibilities to evolve that each individual possesses, although less than what we can see at first glance. Thus, this is precisely the through line: we try to reverse time, to manipulate the iconography that represents the straight path, and we superimpose entities not according to a historical time but following atemporality, which puts everyone on an equal level and strips every reference, except for the story of the individual, solely for what they are and what they have lived through. A multitude of events, stories: intimate, collective, political, biographical tales which simply express with absolute purity a unitary, circular world, that does nothing but repeat the same stories, the same mistakes, the same revenges, the same possibilities of redemption (in a secular sense), LIFE itself, though in the UNIQUENESS of each individual.
Because of this, it has also been an emotionally demanding and strenuous work.
The time of art is by its nature the time of revolution. The work interrupts chronological time and puts a sudden otherness to meaning, as an igniting of the everyday, and establishes a diachronic reading of time: the circular time without time where iconographies and stories emerge and renovate themselves in a non-anachronistic way; for it is the non-progressive motive of history which imposes itself suddenly. Manifests once more. In this way the work of the artist disassembles the structure of present time and creates a new dynamic, a syncope in the rhythm/life of what is known and predictable. A blow to the heart that forces to rethink time as contraction and immobility, almost as the retreat of the divine that allows for the creation of the world.

White is tied to an idea of secular sacredness, that strongly relates in its development to classical and modern iconography, expressed through images that repeat in time the same stories and the same gazes that leave their mark on the epidermis of the world.
Next to memory, strong is also the feeling of pain, which is born from a reflection on violence and the abuses typical of authoritarian regimes, typical of wars, where all human dignity is erased. In this context the female figure is returned to its salvific role, as a maker of collective saving, she who can welcome and generate, that defends and protects herself and the other. Always, even when this means succumbing to those who are stronger, those who are blind.

The six great canvasses are thus the result of a tight relationship of space-time between the classical, renaissance, baroque, modern and contemporary image in an éclat, an explosion that produces light, strong enough to turn each color to white. A white noise, dull sound that expresses pain, where there is no more space between what is visible and what is invisible.
The female figure: the great mother/stepmother, Eva/Lilith, and then the Deposition: the Christlike figure that encompasses too many dramatic and contemporary depositions. Such as Artemis/Artemisia in the meeting between those that, in different moments in historical time, have endured violence and defend their dignity with strength; the untamed spirit attributed to the women which contain within them the archetype of Artemis. The sleep of reason produces monsters, a work with many layers where the cry of the Angel intuits time as the space for the theatre of destruction, the theater of catastrophe of which the ruins are allegorized, and which offers the possibility of redemption through the awakening of conscience. The Angel/Pasolini (to whom the work is dedicated), observes the catastrophe from its resting place, in the middle, the meeting place between men and the divine, to then being annihilated. White/Antigone contains in itself the founding concepts of the project’s journey and reflects the deafening and dramatic white in which we can perceive through space/time, in which different iconographies coexist; a pietas with the aim to guarantee the respect of the other even after death. Antigone is an authentic political agent in so far as she can recognize in the bond with the other not only their familial identity, but also their sense of belonging to a community whose wellbeing – as Aristotle teaches us – is founded on friendship and love which contains justice within itself.
Astratto con ricordi (Angelus Novus) has a tight bond with the first work on this cycle: La grande mére, she who generates and protects the fragility of childhood which lives through the trauma of loss, unnatural and violent. Gazes which in this contemporary time (where everything is repeated, without respite from the past, from which nothing is learned) leave us astonished. The gaze of a little girl that seeks what she has lost, appears only for an instant, sudden and brief – a flash – that erupts in the apparently normal every day. Only the memory and the awareness of a personal garden of wonder will allow to survive the void which can never be filled.

The hundred icons/worlds (pag.46-57) that in an autonomous manner relate themselves to the six great canvases innervated by modern iconography, small portable tablets (like the portable icons that the wanderer had with them on the initiatory path, like the images of their loved ones, of their land that the migrant takes with them, or that those who are fleeing war keep to preserve their identity, where they come from, their origin), portable tablets and fragments of the history of the world, where joy, pain and life always overcome war, hatred, violence and oppression.
The faces introduce the bigger works and reveal one of the keys for the comprehension of the present. Because of this images that derive from iconographies belonging to art history and our visual culture are joined by images that underline the experience of the present, as an instrument of multiple sensitivities of the contemporary moment and in this way, they become signs of the imploded time, of the present: that which seemed to belong to the far-away past, because we could not recognize the vitality, reveals itself to be fully current.
A diachronic rupture in time happens, that is juxtaposed to the acedia of our gaze as women and men of the XXI century, such that, what could seem to us as defined and circumscribed in the history of art manuals, finally appears similar and familiar.
Nevertheless, the conceptual operation does not have the coldness of the research done with scalpels in history and in the tragedy of history. Each face, as an icon of the splendor of a single gaze, speaks to us and interrogates us, asking us to open our heart to a totally secular and civil pietas.
There is no transcendence in the gaze of the Virgin Mary of Piero della Francesca, but innocence and mischief; the deposed Christ catches our eye every day.
For if we join the desire to learn with empathetic caring, we discover that it is possible to reorganize a quality of the relationship with the work of art which, manifestly, its valence as currency has obscured.
The meaning here is not to give back an aura to the work or a shamanic function to the artist: the political purpose of this project is not to add image-meaning to the contemporary, which is filled with images to the point of losing meaning and iconic strength; thus, not making more noise in search of an ephemeral visibility. On the contrary, White is a work of subtraction, in the sensory and structural layers that today muddy the image, the door through which the white noise of pain can open perception to empathy.
White wants to bring forward an understanding that joy and pain collide in the existence of humanity which can join in essence to the absence of empathetic perception of the other, which is other from us only insofar as we willfully ignore that it our own being exists only in relation to the other, in the present time, in the understanding of the difference that it is necessary to oppose to barbarism: contemporary icons of the world.

In Appearing through invisible, a polyptych of six cards realized in silver tip, the diaphanous, white, ectoplasmic figure of a woman dancing returns to a new way of perceiving reality where the image in movement – salvific and light – without weight, part of the air that crosses to exorcise the contradiction that mark the earth, leaving traces.


She dances and appears, disappears, tracing patterns, like Epiphany: an archetype of Artemis which challenges the known order.

The White video, recorded on the island – and here its full evocative power first appeared – is inspired by the beautiful photograms by Emma Goldman and is strongly connected to the short film La Danza realized as part of the Arianna/Aracne project in which the composition and iconographic structure of the image aimed at subtending a fragmented space: a broken line, cut and evanescent as the laceration of a dichotomy of the female myth: one is abandoned, the other transformed. Both salvific figures, like the dancing figure in the two videos: first a figure of a girl-child who protects and through a child-like movement brings forth dignity and strength. Then, an adult woman who also dances and appears, as Epiphany, salvific (and suffering), awaits, defends, remembers and protects like the archaic divinities, an Artemis of our time facing a beautiful and hostile Mediterranean, ancient and contemporary. A dedicated dance. Through their bodies, women live very close to the Life/ Death/Life nature. When women are in their right instinctual minds, their ideas and impulses to love, to create, to believe, to desire are born, have their time, fade and die, and are reborn again. (C.P. Estés, Women who run with wolves, Ballantine Books, 1996)

Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot
And some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say it is what you love […] I would rather see her lovely step and the motion of light on her face than chariots of Lydians or ranks of footsoldiers in arms (Sappho, If not, Winter, trans. by Anne Carson, Random House, 2002)

When Ignazio Venafro proposed to me the realization of an exhibition dedicated to SERVAE. Liquid Icons lodged on the Tyrrhenian, in the castle of Santa Severa watching it, my works have appeared (in the true sense of the word) as the Icons each realized in a single day on a long stele of rice paper, at the same time fragile yet robust foundation. A pantheon of female divinities – a sisterhood, quoting Maria Zambrano – which shaped with their invocations the sacred area of Pyrgi, chthonic figures, syncretic cults: Artemis, Aphrodite, Eileithyia, Eos, Astarte, Persephone, Kore, Demeter and first of all Leucothea: the white sea goddess invoked by sailors and castaways – the goddess who floats on sea foam – ancient cults celebrated right in the place where later the castle of Santa Severa would be built. In the custom of different legends, the contact of the mortal body with the sea transforms the protagonist in a goddess; such a tale tells of Ino transformed into Leucothea by the will of the gods. I was struck by the aesthetic and symbolic affinity between Leucothea and the white female figure in my White video, realized two years before: both figures dance on seafoam in an ancient, contemporary time; circular and diachronic: both are salvific figures. In the Odyssey, Homer writes that Leucothea emerged from the sea and gifted a veil to Odysseus, almost castaway and in the grip of the winds. (Homer, Odyssey V).


Antigone is part of the female pantheon and the archetype at play is always the one of the displaced woman, foreign or deranged, because estranged from the rhetoric and the binary logic of conflict. Calls forth philia as that which more than anything qualifies the female identity. It is not my nature to join in hatred, but in love. Antigone is friend, daughter, citizen, that sees the other as a being gifted with their own wellbeing, not simply as extension or belonging and that wishes the wellbeing of the other with respect to this separate being.

Giving justice to the other from oneself, is putting oneself back in one’s place. Because it is admitting one’s existence as person, and not as thing. (S. Well, Chantier de Marseille, Hiver 1941-1942)


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IS Land

The island is soil.
It was only at a later moment that man, discovering its own death, came to realize the immortality of the mountains, of the waters and beginning to fear the power that had generated the, had imagined a way to coax their favor. (J. Clair, Brief Treaty of Sensations, 2008)

The mountains and the forces of nature became divinities, mostly female, ancient cults to be performed. The contemporary cult of the money-God has made us blind and deaf, producing the contemporary crime of which the dramatic consequences have long begun to manifest themselves, unheard.

The traces in the sand / sedimented steps. Crystals of time. Time / superimposed / catapulted / measure of the path / constant and undefeated / seeking new light / life. An infinite thread / trace / of the world / the wind hides its edges / and the rain erases / each time / it is a new path / as if it was the first.

IS land (pg. began on the island of Naxos, in the Cyclades, a project illuminated by the blazing light of Greece and by the blue of the Aegean sea, cradle of many circular times, of spaces still belonging to myth, despite it all. Space where dramatic contemporary contradictions also cohabit. Opera Prima was an important beginning, like the watercolor on rice paper, then the rest of the numerous works that obsessively reproduce the island, a symbolic temple which allows for an ascent towards the sky to leave behind the human world, entering the sacred. A world which will allow to find oneself as well as the other, but only after leaving everything behind. IS land has been, perhaps, the most fluid and light, most natural cycle of works, point of landing of the complex White project, a possibility of multiple shapes and multiple colors.The mountain in art and religion is considered a symbol. 

The word symbol derives from the Greek σύμβολον (‘joining together’). The mountain, in fact, joins the sky and the earth and creates a relation between two realities: the human and the divine.

The first divinities were the natural elements: the sun, water, earth, air, fire. The force of nature, so powerful in the island, has been the primary source which allowed me to have the right instruments to begin this new cycle, which lasted about three years. A cycle in which each apparition is memory and intimate remembrance, although it also followed a rhythm and a superimposed, circular, and waving time. Here beloved masters have conversed with me, although I was unaware of their presence – if not after having finished and left the work to rest – result of collective visions and unique interior sparks. An alchemy which foresees and generates a possibility through freewill, a variable, a spark capable of breaking a closed circuit and traverse a space, seeking a lost paradise.

[…] Something white / light arrived from the sea / leaves / as it came / steadfast.
J.Risset, Les Instants, Farrago, Tours 2010