Barbara Duran

Benedetta D'Ettorre

White Duran Project | Exhibition | Rome 2021

This text has been inspired by the encounter with the artist, who has been my guide to discover WHITE and led me to embark on the journey that this final series of work represents. To return the favour, I will accompany you in this experience, narrating images and sensations and recollecting reflections, words and ideas. IS land is a journey, a material journey, a conceptual journey, an emotional journey. It is a journey, but it is also all journeys.
Approaching the IS land series means confronting the power of colour. The canvases, the papers, the pieces of found wood, the pigments and the brushstrokes merge like a tornado that wraps the eye, sucks it in and teleports it into another dimension, where time is suspended. One canvas is enough to realise the complexity of this work but who will have the chance to meet them all, will also be able to enter in this suspended journey, step by step.
Laying eyes on the first canvas, we find ourselves in the middle of the sea. It is here that our journey begins. Here we are: sailors, captains, helmsmen, navigators embarked on the ship of our existence. Travellers. For how much longer?
Who knows,
if we have arrived.
We are enveloped in a dense, obscure fog. Meanwhile, the infinite liquid that surrounds us becomes dense, full-bodied.
We have been travelling for who knows how many days, perhaps a lifetime. It is now impossible to discern time.
Is it the mantle of the night that begins to cover everything, or perhaps, is it the rising sun that starts liquefy matter? At times the colour becomes dense, corporeal but, at the next glance, it acquires absolute lightness. Colours become ambiguous: at a certain time, a powerful yellow, the blood-red, the impenetrable blue and a more subtle light blue become water, sky or earth. Brown, grey, white and black simultaneously outline and obscure everything.
Is it form? Could it be substance?
Just a second has passed, a moment, maybe two years.
“So my mind sinks in this immensity:
and foundering is sweet in such a sea.” (Leopardi)
Here it is, at last, I see it. A figure, a shadow? An island, perhaps?
No, a passing sail. Other people.
In this sea, while experiencing the paintings, we are alone – the totality of our experience is always individual.
Yet, in this heterotopic experience, we can all find ourselves: we are immersed in what could be as much an illusion, a mirage, as it could be a reality.
Is that a dome? A city. Perhaps Venice,
“A hundred deep solitudes form together the city of Venice – this is its enchantment. An image for the men of the future.” (Nietzsche)
perhaps the longed-for Ithaca.
Our boat is fragile, made of our limitations. But it is strong, after all, it has been able to face the worst storms, navigating on a sea of troubles.
Are we moving, or are the canvases flowing before our eyes? Where can the gaze hold on to find a point of reference?
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” (John Donne)

The artist’s ongoing journey takes form in the IS land series, which shows a distinctive character in the strength and impetus of the colours. The colours and shapes recall the landscapes, the stays and journeys, encountered during the artist’s autobiographical journey, anchoring this series to the Mediterranean coasts. The works do not show a precise chronology: at sea it is easy to lose track, footprints do not leave traces. Similarly, the artworks surround the viewer, without any apparent space/time consequence. Rather than a figurative succession, these works propose impressions of places and emotions, tending towards the abstract with an imaginative force. It is as if someone, after returning from a journey, could show us photographs of the sensations and emotions felt at different moments and in different places, but without giving us precise coordinates; those who approach these canvases follow a similar journey without a determined order. Eventually, an order of things not significant but, rather, we need to pay attention to the power of the image. Here, we find that technique and colours open up to the personal use of the artist, which manages to catalyse the changing energies of the journey on the canvas.
The perspective is ambiguous, playing dialectically with pre-established dichotomies – blurring the boundaries between land, sea and sky – to the point of eroding the rigid separation between those who see the sea from the land, and those who see the land from the sea. The disorientation is also amplified by the use of media, deliberately employed to confuse the narrative between autobiographical and non-autobiographical aspects. At times, they are used to expose the personal journey, and at other times, through “ a subtle and skilful work of plagiarism”, the artists follows the veins of a beached wood as traces to tell its story:”everything loses its original meaning and is used to its own advantage, used according to media designed to confuse, subdue and condition”.
Observing the works one by one, we move in a multiform way between perspectives, entering a liminal space, a transitory space between two places: the pier of departure and that of the landing. The human journey is existential, always in the condition of becoming. It is a steady-state, a situation in which all variables keep changing while remaining constant.
Although each iteration of the project is defined and separate, WHITE is a reflection of a mature artistic practice where many themes intersect and are addressed in different ways. In this sense, IS land ends an ambitious project and becomes an invitation to delve into the complexity of WHITE. Thus, in this latest series, we find the development, through “a worl of subtraction in the sensory and structural superimpositions that cloud the image today”, of all the themes touched upon in the WHITE project.
Human bodies, which we first found solid and with clear shapes, became more and more ethereal, blurring between the canvas, the stroke and the colour until, in this last series, the colour itself becomes a body, raising to its own corporeity through the materiality of pigments. The energy of the female body has transcended form to become matter. The strength, determination, pain and suffering faced in WHITE have transfigured the saving figure of the woman into an island, a self-supporting pillar in the middle of the sea, alone in the face of storms, fragile but strong as a port of refuge, a fertile land, a safe harbour. The image acquires strength as a monad in its individuality while becoming an icon of a universal experience.
From the beginning of WHITE, we see how the artist has set out on a quest for meaning, wandering for years and travelling to new shores. Portraying faces, memories, myths and traces of stories, the artist has fulfilled the original function of the storyteller in a total way, to the point of becoming a journey herself. Observing the progressive mutation of the signs used in the works, it is possible to perceive the artist’s existential condition in the making where, although the signifiers change, the profound meanings remain constant. If, at first, the works are the personal re-elaboration of external images that channel the exogenous energies of the places and people encountered; in IS land, the works are the transposition through images of an inner journey.
By transmitting the endogenous energy coming from a self-analytical reflection, the art gives us vicarious access to the subjectivity of the artist. The energy gradually builds up in the strokes, characterised by slow passages, veils and repetitions, that sometimes appear as a light, gentle coat. The research becomes obsessive, generating more than sixty works. Sometimes, the brushstrokes channel the built-up energy by concentrating it in the matter, making the colour dense and the strokes challenging and scratchy. Yet, while this series seems to be defined by an overall visionary and obsessive project, the works are the result of an open approach. Although they have a defined framework, the process of creation is plastic and shaped by the intensity of the experience of physical work, which starts from the construction of the canvas itself until the possibility of the last brushstroke. The technique becomes conjunction and conjugation between signifier and signified and, more precisely, between the materials and the substance of the artistic process.
Thus, the island takes on multiple meanings, becoming τέλος, the final destination of an odyssey that is as much individual as shared: the returning home par excellence, the νόστος to find oneself again. On the other hand, the images suggest different perspectives, those who are still on a journey and see their destination from distance, and those who are already on the island, or perhaps have never left it, and look at the horizon. From both points of view, two feelings are juxtaposed: the need for infinity, which pushes us to search for freedom, and sometimes gives us some, and its impossibility, which makes this need for infinity an existential, oppressive cage.
The island, then, becomes a type of nostalgia, blurred as the impossibility of defining being: what is the point of arrival and what is the point of departure? The interminable search for oneself, a return steeped in suffering.
Still, a return…
In IS land, it is also possible to find echoes of the thoughts of characters encountered in other parts of WHITE:
“[…] and we will go towards the sea, not towards the sky: the latter asks us to arrive at the end of a story, from cause to effect, until the redemption and condemnation of our vice, of ourselves: arriving at our self-suppression. While the sea invites us to return to the beginning of a story, that is, not only to be always, blissfully, indifferently, ourselves but also to be what we have been, from effect to cause, therefore, in the full, continuous warmth of life…” (Pasolini)
The production of IS land seems to have followed Pasolini’s invitation to the sea, leading us to embrace the warmth of life and pay homage to it. This is how we come across the political aspect of the work, which is expressed in two main elements: the water and the island. The energy accumulated in the artist’s journey is poured onto the canvases, inspired by the irrepressible force of natural elements such as water, earth and sky. In particular, we see the effort to represent the simplicity of water, which is at the basis of the natural world, and its intrinsic vital power that call forth other types of force: the inner strength of those who are oppressed but resist, the courage of those who seek and fight for their freedom, the dignity and tenacity of the most vulnerable who shake our social order.
While, on the one hand, we glimpse outlines of islands enveloped in the maternal embrace of water, on the other, the island is used as a metaphor for mankind to focus our attention on the intrinsic value, and respect, of life itself. John Donne uses the island to explicate the human experience as a collective: ‘No man is an island’, but, by definition, an island is isolated. Nevertheless, looking at men and women as islands adds meaning: Simone Weil reminds us that “A man left alone in the universe would have no rights whatever, but would have obligations”. According to Weil, a right is subordinate to the recognition of rights by others, but towards every human being there is an obligation: “for the sole reason that he or she is a human being, without any other condition requiring to be fulfilled, and even without any recognition of such obligation on the part of the individual concerned”. Every human being is considered for their own value, as an end and never as a means. For this reason, even when deprived of all rights, every human being maintains the obligation of respect towards himself and his fundamental material and moral needs such as freedom, security and equality. In the same way, the island in Duran’s work assumes the function of a reminder of the respect we owe to every individual and the value of life in all circumstances, whatever their journeys.
In conclusion, the journey proposed by IS land is located in a liminal space between what was and what could be, whether the land is in sight or left behind. Similar to Duran’s artistic practice, with her open planning, the artworks are open images. They shape visions of land and sky, outlining sinuous contours of islands in sight that could be a reality, a mirage or a memory. In this sense, the ship we boarded at the beginning becomes heterotopia…
“the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is self-enclosed and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from bank to bank, from brothel to brothel, goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why, from the sixteenth century until the present, the boat has been for our civilisation, not only the greatest instrument of economic development but also the greatest reservoir of imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage replaces adventure, and the police the pirates.” (Foucault)
Urging us to find the strength to finally exclaim: Terra… Is land!

Benedetta D’Ettorre


Leopardi, G. (2010). Canti. Translated by Jonathan Galassi. Penguin Classics.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Aurora e scelta di frammenti postumi (1879–81), fragment form spring 1880, in Opere, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, trans. F. Masini and Mazzino Montinari, vol. 5, tome 1 (Milan: Adelphi, 1964), p. 296. Quoted in Manfredo Tafuri, Venice and the Renaissance, trans. Jessica Levine (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1989), p. xi.
Donne, John. The Works of John Donne. vol III. Henry Alford, ed. London: John W. Parker, 1839. 574-5.
P. P. Pasolini, Frammenti per un romanzo del Mare, in P. P. Pasolini, Romanzi e Racconti. Volume primo 1946-1961, Mondadori, Milano 1998, p. 393.). (Mia traduzione)
Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind. Routledge Classics. 2002
Focault, “Des Espace Autres,” Journal Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité, October, 1984, Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec.