Chiara Valci Mazzara

BODY PERFOMANCE   “W”Wo-man  by Thomas De Falco

Research and study at the Met Museum New York 2022/23

On the occasion of his research study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Thomas De Falco explores the relationship between the body, its forms and shapes and the animal world, to develop a discourse based on the correlation amidst the human being expressions -translated in the study of movement-  and the thematics concerning the world and nature as source of norms for human behaviour ( Lorraine Daston  ‘Against Nature’, 2019 ). The artist refers to Lorraine Daston’s thesis according to which we continually seek moral orders in natural orders, despite so much good counsel to the contrary.

Daston argues that the human reason -based on empirical and logic evidence and practiced in human bodies- should draw the attention of philosophers and scholars of anthropology who traditionally looked to form/s of transcendental reason valid for anyone, at any moment in time and across any spatial and geographical border.

To De Falco is cogent the idea of nature inasmuch as being gravid of constant transformations instances -meant as transcending the human rules- to deepen his studies on the anatomy, on the motion of the living beings and on performance. The artist, hence, considers the natural phenomena as an unicum rather than in reference to a transcendent cause legitimate for every being at any time. He is invested into the study of ways in which the natural sequences of transformation, growth and decay are mirroring the human expression to the point in which art and nature are braided in a mutual subsuming act , and mirror life, death and metamorphosis.

Inspired by philosophical anthropology De Falco choose three works from the permanent collection of the museum, key to the research on the subjects and particularly apt for the studies on the human body and the movement: the focus being on the features of the human body, the animal, the pivotal role of the gender and the performative act.

The tapestry Creation and Fall of Man, from a Ten-Piece Set of the Story of the Redemption of Man ( Probably Brussels, before 1502), outstanding in size and manufacturing, narrates the Christian tale of humanity’s behaviour duality as sinful and virtuous from the Creation of Adam and Eve to the Last Judgement.

The remarkable portion of the piece which portrays the couple is of great significance for De Falco, but not in an immediately foreseeable way. The artist is interested in the  anatomy: in the figure’s bodily parts, in the perceivable hint of the act and in the limbs of the human bodies.

A series of details captured De Falco’s attention: where the right foot of one of the figures – Adam, but the interest of the artist is on the body, not in the gender – seemingly touches an ideal ground, ‘absorbed’ and ringed, belted, by vegetation: stepping right next to a toad, his leg in proximity of a goat.

The body, the toad, the goat construct -drawn into the preparatory sketches of the artist-  a map, a chart of signifiers, all concurring to the study of the movement of the human and the animal, together with the growth and the germination of nature. De Falco’s research aims to  synthesise the state of nature and the human body, the animal anatomy and the flora, the branches and the limbs, and here the wild, scattered and swift steps and jumps of a goat or a toad with the human motion and nature, the ladder two being the terrain on which the artist usually builds the performances he is most renowned for.

Through a glimpse of the details on a portion of the superlative tapestry, the animal life stands as the juncture between the studies on the human body and its gestures in reference to the vegetation, to nature; where the tapestry functions as the script or libretto for Thomas De Falco’s research on the performative act. From the sketches of the details of the tapestry, from words and notes, quotes and arrows, from his drawings, the artist’s research spills , dripping on the territory where De Falco creates a tapestry which will deduce together signifiers and signified, intertwining bodies and matter. As Emanuele Coccia describes : Art and nature phagocytise each other, becoming one the meal and body of the other, as in a process of digestion that liberates and distills the purest forces of both. And in this way the tapestry frees itself from the flatness to which the past had condemned it to become volume, a world in miniature… ( Emanuele Coccia, TECHNOLOGY (World – Nature) 2021  ).

The second piece the artist selected for his study is an Iranian carpet, probably Kirman, from the Safavid period ( 1501-1722 ). The vivid colours from a broad palette, permit arabesque bands and dense floral patterns to contour distinctly stylised dragon like creatures, deers and lions. In a portion of the carpet, on the shorter side, are illustrated two lions: in the act of moving, walking forward, beyond or underneath the two sides of the arabesque pattern. They bend their heads upwards, with an open mouth, the muscles visible through a thread in the weaving, the claws noticeable and the whole body seemingly engaged in an active movement. It is here that De Falco finds, once again, the drifting idea of the animal motion, key to his study. He finds the progress, the shift from a position to another, the perceptible glimpse on the animal world. The features of the creature, its swift and wild movements are, to the artist, related by contrast to the slow growth of the flora, of the branches of trees, and of the human body when in a state of contemplation. As trunks of trees we are too wedded to the ground, to the earth, to our animal, instinctual nature and here’s where, the artist found – in F. Kafka, Contemplation – The Trees 1912- the affinity to his artistic approach: “For we are like tree trunks in the snow. In appearance they lie smoothly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can’t be done, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance.”

Next to the celebration of the natural wonder, in the carpet, the fierce nature of the feline seems to be almost tamed in the pattern, but the system of symbols the animal evokes remains fundamental. The lion being one of the emblems of Iran, historically refers to strength, balance and courage: this is crucial in the choice of De Falco. The perception of the lion,  as sentient animal and symbol of courage, has a particular meaning for the artist in relation to the current socio-political turmoil, especially to the role of the woman and  determines the choice of the last but probably most important piece from the MET Museum collection.

The coptic textile fragment which depicts an image of a goddess (Egypt, Coptic period 3rd-4th century ) it is of great value for the artist research on the female body, the feminine figure/s and on thematics such as the image of the woman represented as goddess and human, symbol of strength, determination and wisdom. The piece depicts the personification of Luna, the moon, or Diana goddess of hunting and chase but who presides over childbirth and protectors of the young, a woman seemingly crowned by a golden thread. The woman, the letter ‘W’ recurs more than often in the work of De Falco.  The ‘W’ stands as the woman, central in his performances, and the wrapping around the body:the extension and reach between the individual and the world. The ‘W’ is the womb, life, strength.

On the occasion of the solo show of Thomas De Falco ‘Nature’, for the Triennale di Milano in 2017, the curator Laura Cherubini together with the artist, talks about the deep reflection in the work of De Falco on the figure of the woman: De Falco seems to conceive the mother figure, in its most heterogeneous meanings, in the sculptural forms (..) The performers, initially isolated and motionless, strictly with their eyes closed, change their initial state until they gather into a comforting “big embrace” that metaphorically brings us back to the social tragedies with which we are unfortunately accustomed to confront on a daily basis. An embrace in which the subjects seem to fortify themselves and which resembles, or at least replaces, that of an “absent mother” who as “step-motherly nature” bears down on contemporary humanity.

There is – in the choice of the artist to develop a study on the textile fragment with the face of a woman-  the investigation on the role of the woman and the deep interest on her pivotal role in the social and political tissue, as well as in reference to a more personal and intimate dimension: The artist’s own performances stage a need for relationship that is made explicit in the tension generated by the use of textile materials that stretch to the point of “binding,” “sewing,” or “stitching” relationships and relations on the brink of fracture.

Everything, from the very early stages of the studies of De Falco and onwards, is crucial to his creative process, research, and outcome. And everything, from the notebooks with drawings and sketches, from the poetry digested in his studies to the natural philosophy and anthropology he incessantly reads and refers to, concur to the complexity of the artist’s work. The informed but also intuitive choice of the pieces from the MET Museum collection as well as the colours of the threads the artist uses to compose the tapestry, the result of his work in New York, reverberates the gesture of De Falco : a performative act in which nature and humanity merge and feel as if they’d redeem their instinctive essence as central, vital, determined, decisive, capable. Of questioning and soothing the current socio-political failures with a return to the will, to the ground, to life.

Chiara Valci Mazzara