by Rosanna Albertini


a film by JUDY FISKIN, 2016

It’s a film because images move, but after months of simmering this art piece in my mind, now I see it as visual music, very much as John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes: simple as dripping water, unassuming textures of reverence for a life we cover as a mysterious distance.

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How not to be elusive about death? How to be personal and elusive, personal and intuitive, wearing a dress of courtesy, some hints of humor. Judy’s film is a visual score. Lines of people moving horizontally and of cars rolling on the freeway. Notes are replaced by stories in a natural flow from which rough edges are smoothed out.
One funeral at the beginning, two funerals in the end, and stories of physical care in the middle: the statues’ maintenance.

That’s Fiskin’s quite unique art: to keep courtesy in the face of death. To clean the artwork of most intellectual rules, making art like a veil lifted from life, tied around her face often laughing at modernist obsessions, maybe at any kind of mental constructions. How long do they last? Is there knowing or believing?

Time is the body of films and music. Images and sounds are surfers in a pond of time, they exist as a savor, a perfume. We can only “integrate that savor into the fabric of our own identity.” George Steiner*

Once we have arrived to a certain life degree, by experiencing and understanding other humans, every relationship, even with our wisest or lovely friends, is only valuable in the atmosphere soaking them completely; and conversations, profound as they can be, have lost the power to give us intellectual happiness; they rather work in us like musical melodies.” Arthur Schnitzler**


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In the film, the sculptures by Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, Arturo Martini and others artists of the modern era (only with the exception of Charlie Ray), scattered in the gardens of the Getty Center, are washed and dried as if the Getty Museum conservators’ hands engaged in a caress because they must. There is no love, just periodic maintenance. The sculptures are rigid and heavy forms from day one, corpses. Don’t be mistaken. Judy Fiskin presents them as a trickster would: shiny, perfect, wonderful images that vanish through time. Death is the cord that ties them all, one more string of the music. I remember Homer: shoulders and muscles described as the pride of the living hero, seen at once like future shadows, lifeless, as if Achilles and the other warriors were already dead. This was then, in the ancient times, but now? Art history is a strange museum by itself, calling for veneration, offering exceptional and surprising specimens… do we really care?


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In the countryside house where I was born there was a bronze, the head of Jesus sculpted by a local artist, maybe Celeste was his name but I’m not sure. Jesus was sad. When grandfather died, I was seven, the family put a pillow embroidered by me under his head and the bronze on his grave. It is still my favorite sculpture. Facing death, Jesus was hiding his deep feelings, had a quiet expression. I can still see that face as I think, my eyes open. Grandfather used to say that life is so marvelous, something must continue after the threshold is passed. It was faith in a non religious artist.

Judy Fiskin lights a dim lamp at her window. People and words and images are a simple parade of acts and speeches we modulate without thinking in our daily journey. Common senses, platitudes. I’m not the first naming the aesthetic of courtesy, George Steiner is the master, but as far as I know very few artists of our time place this secret, inner feeling at the core of their work as Judy does. I love it because it’s not only about her, it unravels with grace the way she addresses the viewers, all of us. We are in her she can be in us. Platitude is not flatness, it is life as it is, true and fake, modest and grandiose, a little scary, mostly impossible to fish by words. Not without values.
Civility, courtesy and kindness in these days more reliable than truth.

JUDY FISKIN,Three Funerals and Some Acts of Preservation, Film, 2016 (excerpt)

*George Steiner, Real Presences, The University of Chicago Press, 1989
** Arthur Schnitzler, Relations et Solitudes, Aphorisms (Original title: Beziehungen und Einsamkeiten, 1967) Editions Rivages, translation from German by Pierre Deshusses, Paris,1988. Translation from French of this quote by R.A.



— About and around a drawing and a panting by Steve Galloway —


STEVE GALLOWAY, Big Plume, 2010  11" x 14" Charcoal on paper Courtesy of the artist

STEVE GALLOWAY, Big Plume, 2010,  11″ x 14″ Charcoal on paper
Courtesy of the artist

Think if the earth could open her eyes and look at us. Or breath out a plume of smoke that fills the air with a gigantic human shape. Which one is the language of god? Words or figures? The figments of imagination or the texture of grammatical meanings? I’m playing, not joking. There is mystery in both, in both we question what does it mean to be human, today.

A Los Angeles artist, a son of the desert (see Importance of Being Perplexed, in this blog), has expressed the letter as well as the mystery of our juxtaposed states of mind; he made them beauty. In these days, beauty has often become intolerable. Is it maybe for the connection she makes to life itself? The tangible thing soft like the green buds on a branch hatching under pressure, leaves and flowers that want to grow out of the brown skin, to bloom and change and push toward their seasonal death.

Steve Galloway is welcome! He can see the eclipse of a human arrogance disconnected from natural and artificial cathedrals, or climbing towers of books from which texts have vanished. Survivors are absent minded, sweet people of dreams. Some irony in his smile, the artist loves them. He knows they don’t give up searching and jumping into the hole of memory. Nor do they stop looking into the eyes of the earth as if their body could translate unheard signs better than the brain.

STEVE GALLOWAY,  Stack, 2012, 50" x 40"  Oil on canvas Courtesy of the artist

STEVE GALLOWAY, Stack, 2012, 50″ x 40″ Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist

Condensing a thought by George Steiner, I see numb humans deafened by the common nonsense of the news and the theories, confused by “political barbarism and technocratic servitude,” evicted by the core of humanity if they don’t try to experience, again and again, the living voice coming from texts, music, visual arts. A few of us believe that poems, music, paintings, sculptures, speak an essential idiom: the beauty of survival. What we have become, doesn’t matter.

Pressing the face on the ground we might better decipher — the idea of sculptor, Giuseppe Penone — earthly magic and art stories.


fino a quando la terra è piu fredda della faccia premuta

nel suolo si capisce in dettaglio la forma del volto,

della pelle, dei peli, … ma man mano che si scalda

la terra, nel pensiero diventa piu chiaro che il cervello è

la terra.” (GIUSEPPE PENONE)

when the ground is still cooler than the face pressed

into the soil one can grab in detail the shape of the face,

of the skin, of the hair, … but as soon as the ground warms up,

more and more the thinking is clear that the brain is


A perfect tense

Rosanna Albertini about Judy Fiskin’s 

I’LL REMEMBER MAMA      2014, Video:10′

JUDY FISKIN, I'll Remember Mama, still from video, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

JUDY FISKIN, I’ll Remember Mama, still from video, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Present, past, future at once. It’s a memorial, and yet nobody has died. Judy calls it a “pre-memorial.” At this point it’s a mystery novel, a story immersed in taste, courtesy and good manners. They are not junk. Mother and daughter are both strong, passionate women, with the occasional tart tongue. Between them, despite the normal lack of seeing who’s who that is maybe a natural, evolutionary condition for humans of the same family, there is

the issue of civility – a charged word whose former strength has largely left us – towards the inward savor of things. What means have we to integrate that savor into the fabric of our own identity? We need … a courtesy or tact of heart, a tact of sensibility and of intellection which are conjoined at their several roots.*

Think of painted flowers woven in a tablecloth: that’s life. Willing or not, we are one of the threads of the fabric and we will bear visible and hidden features of the family texture while our body is around. Even broken, the thread tickles the brain, wraps the curtain of feelings. It never extinguishes, it’s irritating.

Time and tenses don’t really exist in real life, they are just grammar, and this video is free from measurements or directions. Seeing and not seeing, looking through the dark, the artist’s eye comes to a stop in front of specimens of a living space. Already they have lost their meaning, many frames are empty. Little by little the sense of distance deepens, and the house becomes a doll house, which it was from the beginning but we didn’t know it. Big fingers touch the miniature furniture, les meubles, rococo curly objects made to be moved, constantly, from the winter palace to the summer castle and back. Had they tongues they would speak their own mystery story, the real life of Cecile so carefully hidden by the order of things around her. But these same things, only apparently irrelevant, also protected her. Despite the historical distance, and showing the distance between the two women, the artist shares with us the touching part of the story, she reveals her “taste,” as the eighteenth century people defined it:

Taste is nothing but the art of knowing ourselves in little things and this is very true, but since it is through a texture of little things that life becomes pleasurable, these kind of concerns are very far from being uninteresting; they are the way we learn to fill life with goods that our hands can reach, for all the truth we are able to grasp in them.**

*George Steiner, Real Presences, 1991 ** Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762






Los Angeles, at the Hammer Museum Biennial: “Made in L.A. 2014