Imaginary Autobiographies – Text
Thomas Zitzwitz’s Imaginary Autobiographies cues up a reference to Luc Ferrari, the French-born Italian composer who was a primary exponent of Musique Concrète. In sampling from the broader world, the composer deployed sound as a form of sensuality, play and libidinal expression. Sensation flows freely in Ferrari’s exchange between perception and world, and—through the elasticity and slippage of matter and form, content and experience—his sound brings boundaries into flux. Everything becomes insistently contingent and entangled.
A related approach courses through Thomas’s artistic practice, in his paintings, performances and scent environments. Throughout the Zitzwitz oeuvre, the features consistent with the material qualities of sound reach into the embodiment of flow, into a range of intensities and a play with limits. Just as sound comes in layers of pitch, tone and loudness and just as sound is channeled through signals, locations and perceptions that come in intensities of flows, paint, perfume and light can be strong, heavy and diffuse, subtly embracing or moving through an entire atmospheric range. With the intensities fleeting and usually lighthearted in Thomas’s work, any momentary appearance of an anchored limit gives way to the primacy of the ephemeral and the evanescent. There is ambient surfacing, re-surfacing and layering of motifs and subjects, whether abstract or metaphorical, gestural or conceptual, and they cycle through states of density, repetition and diffusion.
In his squeegee paintings, pigment, medium and the artist’s physical movement all exist within a dynamic of density and lightness as well as pressure, friction and release. Thomas rakes fast and automatically into his paint, pushing and pulling with his squeegee and lifting it high. In response, his canvases variously lie still to absorb, or resist and perhaps even push back.
In the current exhibition, the artist’s identity and the formal attributes of his latest body of work also come into play through a suite of invented autobiographical stories that echo Ferrari’s own surreal Imaginary Autobiographies. While the composer allegorized the artistic transgression of boundaries, these new faux memoirs vector Thomas’s canvases in a variety of directions: toward relationships, roles and tradition; into corporeality, gaze and attention; through sound, heat, speed, and light—all natural and all mediated. The boundaries have long been elided but in so far as they surface again, they claim merely to be human.
Make me your painting. Press your heart deep into my skin.
Rake blue from the ocean until it swallows my hips. As the waves lap, the beach of my abdomen bears the marks of staccato. I surge into your hand.
I’ll leave to slip through the tall grass of the savannah at dawn. You’ll stretch canvas from the mossy forest floor.
Come night, see where the light leaks as you fold around me. Allow time for your eyes to adjust as you peer through windows with a lift of the blinds, as you slip into caverns and out of traps. Feeling down into the darkness, breathe me through your nostrils and brush me with your finger’s tip.
When your lips finally start to pulse in my ear, I beg you, please, don’t tell me you love me. Whisper instead that we have no end.
Her features were at first indiscernible, but over the span of a few minutes her nose, mouth, chin and cheeks filled into their own clear shapes.
In the studio some months later, I understood from having witnessed Anna’s birth that flesh forms under varying intensities of internal and external pressure. I thought about how Ingres’s sitters were like inflatables, and I imagined that he received and resisted the weight of tradition by huffing and puffing them into new, youthful form.
I am convinced that life itself is like blowing air into a die-cut balloon. Inflation continues until all the margins of the body have been met, and then we start to age.
I spent my career staring at screens in dimly lit hospital basements. X-rays on light boxes, CT scans and MRIs on TVs—all lanterns of pathologies illuminated from the inside. I was responsible for detecting differences in the density of tissue and in discerning normal tissue from abnormal growth. It meant seeing through the radiographic artifacts, which came from image enhancement in the effort to capture solid visual information.
Every single one of my findings was related to the quality of the projection, and it took a great deal of care to translate the relevant abnormalities into a clear mental picture that a referring physician could use in diagnosing and in formulating a treatment plan.
In my off-hours in the fresh air, going places where there was landscape and sunlight, I honed my skills of observation. Photography became a passion and I shot fata morgana in San Diego and southern France. I developed an interest in art concerned with optical phenomena: the anamorphosis of Leonardo and Hans Holbein; the flat picture plane of Victor Vasarely transmitting in three dimensions; the spectacular mechanical Light Ballet of Otto Piene, a piece made of the ebb and flow of light.
In 1989, I retired five years earlier than anticipated due to the failure of my own sight. The first weakness in my vision appeared spontaneously, as I was reading an ultrasound of a woman with twins twenty-six weeks in utero—one was thought to have been missing an ear. I saw floaters and waves in my peripheral vision. It was my retina pulling back like a drape in a Vermeer. Macular degeneration followed within the year and it occurred to me that instead of being solely an exploration of light, my life might also be about the navigation of fear.
“We’re sampling Jean-Claude Bonpassant’s new fragrance Ambigüité. People are falling in love with it. Would you care to try?”
“It’s the scent of luminous elevation and sensuality.”
“What’s in it? What am I smelling?”
“There is salt flaked from the sea and grassy chamomile from a Spanish prairie. Imagine a cerulean expanse of ocean and a swath of French meadow dotted with lilies. A calm sweep of pleasure and fulfillment, of gentle waves and bright echoes.”
“Mmmmm…something reminds me of a yacht.”
“Yes. The lower notes capture the scent of modern travel—the re-circulating air of ship cabins and planes, of new carpet and leather seats. And a delicate suggestion of medicine to soften the edge of any loneliness or pain. This is a woman who embraces the world and knows the comfort of an elegant home.”
“Ohhhhh, I really like it. It’s really very nice.”
I came to from the sound of a siren waxing in intensity. With each revolution it made on the roof of the vehicle speeding in my direction, it hit louder. My little sister’s sobs heaved from a fixed location somewhere to my right.
My body lay heavy on the concrete, and I could feel the elastic grip of my trunks around my waist, the chlorinated water on my skin and the moisture of puddles evaporating around me. I felt just enough strength to open my eyes to the blinding summer sun, which was vignetted by people in swimsuits as they hovered on all sides. All the sounds were strong and piercing, but the people and their figures were as weightless and as faint as ghosts. Not one looked me in the face and their gazes, like their bodies, were extraordinarily dispersed.
The siren ceased, the latches of the vehicle doors clicked open followed by the ejection of the stretcher and its metal legs snapping into place. For a moment I felt the sensation of levitation, and then the medics pushed me into the ambulance as if they were sliding an eight-track tape into a deck. The siren returned to its loop directly over me and we sped off, weaving, braking, hesitating and accelerating. In my delirium, I rocked from side to side in sync with the spinning blue light.
Lisa Ann Favero, 2014