THIS IS MY ITALY: A RADIANT, ABANDONED GREEN LAND

by Edgar Honetschläger and Rosanna Albertini

Conversation between an Austrian wanderer from Vienna and an Italian native who lives in Los Angeles

PHOTOS OF ITALY by Edgar Honetschläger

IMG_7966

IMG_7956

EH      This is my Italy. You might see it like a dream world, but this is the Italy my eyes see. Japan was dreamland too for me: Tokyo, or the breathtaking countryside, never appeared real to me. Ghosts and spirits everywhere, and people who believed in them. I guess the two cultures are strong enough to allow it.

The beauty I encountered was almost unfathomable: the intact landscape, the colors. Flowers blooming all over, butterflies, birds everywhere. At Bolsena lake the water played all the blues of the scale, then the rain came and the isola Bisentina vanished within minutes. For a while the lake looked like the sea, with no end to it.

IMG_7950

RA      Not the usual images of Italy. They are thick and secret, a texture of vegetable history intertwined with ruins, fountains, grottos that are for ghosts, figments of our mind. Impenetrable walls of plants: one can play with them in a reversed metamorphosis: unraveling our body through branches and leaves that are as hungry as the three-headed dog the Romans called Cerberus. Lost in Central Italy’s greenness, I was never able to separate mythological images, or the Etruscan smile, from valleys looking as if time hadn’t passed and ancient eyes could look at me from open caves pierced into the mountains.
But, it’s real landscape, not a dream.

IMG_7926

IMG_7927

IMG_7932

EH      To me it is a dreamland: I’ve always seen Italy exactly as in these photos since 1999; I went down to Italy regularly. I guess I make it that way as I do not like reality. I am simply not willing to live in a purely empiric, rational, only driven-by-science world. That’s my privilege as an artist. I embrace all things that cannot be seen: the birds that twitter their hearts out, the spirits in trees, the ANIMA, the animistic that is only to be felt, the alchemia of a seemingly untouched landscape that mankind has formed over milleniums with respect for all creatures so desperately needed to keep a natural equilibrum.

People I met there are outstanding individuals, the landscapes pure and virgin like churches and medieval houses positioned as if Leonardo da Vinci was looking at them, no change.  People more courteous than in most European countries: for me Italy is the last refuge in Europe, Italians are simply more humane.
Therefore your reaction shows me that one only gets to see and experience what one wants to see…

RA      I’m so distant from you: old stones and medieval churches are paradoxical sites to me: elegant, calm and harmonious, often shiny with gold and painted decorations. I’m only grateful that the rain of time washed away all the blood spread by centuries of violence. Italy has been invaded more than any country in the world. Clearly, I try to justify our misfortunes. That’s why we are kind, but with sparkles under the ashes. Your images, therefore, are true to the place more than you believe. They are the wild, secret face of Italy. My Italy for sure.
My dear friend, this is morning rumbling of my brain. Tell me please: how do you think in German language? Is it visual thinking?
See, when I think in Italian, Americans say it’s poetic language, and I laugh, for I do know we think and speak in a strange Italian way: animistic, metaphors are instinctive, idiomatic. It’s a primitive manner to feel like an ant among ants, a tree among trees, human animals among all the animals of the world. Think of Francesco’s Cantico delle creature, sister moon and the stars, brother wind and the air. And, if you can, follow me through idiomatic expressions in which I see the deep irony of an agricultural country forgotten and abandoned in these days. Yet, it is stuck in our words and sculpted in our minds.

Piove sul bagnato
Ha mangiato la foglia!
Che cosa aspetta / Forse di candire?
Ci resto di sasso
Ammazzo il tempo
Cercando il pelo nell’uovo

It rains on the wet
She ate the leaf!
What is she waiting for / To dry up like a candy?
I react like a stone
And I kill time
Looking for a hair in the egg

IMG_7951

IMG_7961

IMG_7953

IMG_7952

EH      Oh, German is a philosophical language and a very political one. No other language I know can pin down a fact so well.
Japanese is fuzzy, it is like the food. There is no center in Asian food many small dishes, no climax, like their stories: you have space to think and make up your mind.
German language is not very visual.
There is quite a difference whether you grew up with HÄNSCHEN KLEIN or HUMPTY DUMPTY, the surreal element is missing. I grew up with the latter.
For German speakers Italy is the land of dreams: Goethe [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe] gave us something to look for: while doing research in Sicily for my movie Il mare e la torta, [The Sea and the Cake] I realized that Goethe had visited Taormina and had painted the Greek theater in a watercolor (the same theater is in one of Woody Allen’s movies). Looking into tourism catalogues from the German speaking world, it’s impossible not to notice that the photos taken are exactly the same angle —more or less replicas of Goethe.
In other cultures, promotion about Taormina looks different. Leoluca Orlando [ Mayor of Palermo] once told me: “Goethe did good and bad for us at the same time; he brings us tourists still today, but they come with a preconception.”

IMG_7990

RA      But Goethe*, humane as he was, understood the modern world in its early beginnings and still enlarges our perception of it. Look at this, he could have joined John Cage: (please forgive my lack of chronological faith, I learned it in the eighteenth century.)
“We find that in observing objects our attention takes on a definite direction, that scattered data can be learned and retained more easily by comparison, and that in art we can in the end rival nature only when we have learned, at least in part, her method of procedure in the creation of her works.”
John Cage used to call it “her manner of operation.” And his own manner was not far at all from some of Goethe’s wishes:
“Everything is subject to constant change, and when things cannot coexist, they thrust each other aside. The same goes for knowledge, for practical training, for modes of representation and for precepts. Man’s objectives always remain very much the same; men still wish, as they always did, to be good artists and good poets. But the means by which these objectives are to be attained are not apparent at all, and there is no denying that nothing could be more agreeable than achieving something important without really trying.”
Isn’t it what you did with your photos?

IMG_0450
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Introduction to the Propyläen, 1798 in Goethe on Art, edited by John Gage, University of California Press, 1980

IMG_7974

OUT OF THE RIGHT PLACE

WHERE THE RIGHT PLACE IS AN ILLUSION:

LOS FELIZ
an art/film by Edgar Honetschläger, 2001-2016

by Rosanna Albertini

LOS FELIZ. The scroll has become a film, a Babel of spoken and visual stories sometimes shed like tears in the form of raindrops; images struck by sounds or submerged in silence, dragging fears and fights for control along with a deep sense of how meaningless they are. And yet LOS FELIZ is an art piece gnawed at its heart by desire. An art piece longing for a space in which BEAUTY escapes the torture of being used to seduce the public, and becomes lively and lovable in a pot of grass.

Los Feliz1

The visual stream built by the artist stretches and transforms reminiscences of Edgar’s journey between three faraway pots of civilization: his personal experiences in Rome, Los Angeles and Tokyo. His own displacement in the back of his mind, he fills the screen with an undefined space of waiting, searching for and letting go, as if the few persons involved in the fictional trip were figures wrapped around an inner empty hole, measuring the distance that keeps them far from their own lives. Symbols, only looking like humans.

Los Feliz1-1

Los Feliz1-13

Los Feliz1-3

I travel, instead, through the remains, I would say the ruins of his spiritual and intellectual digging for thirteen years into the solid ground of places and people, until he resets and expands in the now their visual presence through a different story, in a rarefied as well as imaginary world. The question: “Does what we see or understand have anything to do with things as they really are?” wears certainties away. I better avoid truth as a word. I can’t avoid seeing the display of episodes in and out the blue car like parts of a long painting, mostly gray: the remains of a feast on a long table, they make me think of André Derain’s late still lives.

Los Feliz1-2

The image of the three ridiculous cardinals each standing on each other’s shoulders while turning the wheel of the entire story, shifting gears while not much happens in the characters’ inner journey, throws humor over the process. Guns and violence look as absurd as the false teeth of the prelate blocking the gears of a possible new story. Nonetheless, although feelings are vanished from the thread of the story, images and sounds hold on them, strongly.

(Looking at the next image try to imagine an orchestra of insects in summertime:)

Los Feliz1-7

 

Los Feliz1-4

Los Feliz1-10

 

 

 

 

 

Writing itself, unfortunately, has driven the aforesaid paragraphs into the film logic. I don’t regret it because in LOS FELIZ the artist has embraced the film format in the first place, 102 minutes of a hybrid creature. As God is generated by it’s own name, a bunch of letters makes an absence. My head has been cut off, Edmond Jabès lent me his words for a short while. The world is sound, sound like a head. “Drive,” he says.
Emptiness is your face
Emptiness is your trip
You must carry the film as a sin.
He is talking to Edgar, and to me if I don’t stop writing about the film.
As if it were only a film. It’s also a piece of theater, using the backdrop of ‘miles’ of Edgar Honetschläger’s black and white drawings: the spare profile of the land of freedom as lonely as the universe. It’s a river of music and singing birds and silence and water merging into each other. Almost floating in time, a sequence of accidents in and out the blue car pretending to move from one station to another – the strongest illusion in LOS FELIZ – gives rise to a development that doesn’t go anywhere, very much like in Pat O’Neill’s experimental films. Since the beginning, the idea of a story (Deus ex machina) hovers over the blue little car like a flying stork holding a baby who won’t become an adult. Why the grass? “Oh, it’s NECESSARY,” says Edgar’s shinto goddess. “The necessary angel,” Wallace Stevens would say, and he corrects my Italian vision of angels with wings sitting on clouds. Life is a disturbing storm around, but the artist “merely enjoys existence.”

“The way we live and the way we work alike casts us out of reality.”

“I am the truth, since I am part of what is real, but neither more nor less than those around me. And I am imagination, in a leaden time and in a world that does not move for the weight of its own heaviness.”

Wallace Stevens spoke these words in 1943. Honetschläger’s feeling of flatness is the equivalent, today, of Stevens’ feeling of heaviness. In his art piece in motion LOVE, FAME, FATE become mirages. The more humans rush toward them, the farther away they move. After all, they are nothing but words.

Los Feliz1-9

Los Feliz1-8

Los Feliz1-11

La vie est plus belle que les idées. Life is more beautiful than ideas. Music and sounds are stronger than words: they convey the infinite vibrations, sudden changes, weaknesses and pitches of living things; they adhere to the artist’s body like a second skin made by past and present others: beauty is sharing. As for images, beauty pervades them when they become flat bodies of a moment, sparkles of time asking our senses to embrace them and let them go, in a river of emptiness.

Los Feliz1-5