A Wonderland of the Imaginary: Matteo Basilé’s World
by Ji Shaofeng
Day after day, an increasingly indisputable fact approaches us, announcing that we are living in a visual world where images, as part of our lives’ and experiences’ backdrop, are gradually changing our way of living, thinking, connecting and expressing ourselves. We are losing control on our lives to movies, television, mobile phones, computers, printing, color-inkjets, Internet data and digital images. As a result, our consciousness is dominated by media and television, our consumer behavior governed by signs, and our lives saturated with Internet, phones, weixin and weibo. This is exactly what causes Terry Eagleton to conclude that “it’s an indisputable fact that cultural symbols tend to be a hegemony of the image”. It appears clear that Basilé’s narrative reflects not only the visual approach of contemporary social and cultural cognition, but also a significant change in his cultural standings and attitude, affected by the pattern of writing the scenery of a contemporary visual art experience.
In Basilé’s world of images his cultural vision and edges are extended to the depth of history, culture and memory, and his artistic research penetrates into various issues including society, nature, life, memory, imagination, gender, religion, war and cultural identity. By combining real memory and conforming fantasy, he builds a visual world that is unrealistic or surrealistic, but at the time close to reality. This reminds me of some poetic lines from Goethe’s Faust:
Still o’er my heart is that illusion thrown?
Ye crowd more near! Then, be the reign assigned ye,
And sway me from your misty, shadowy zone!
My bosom thrills, with youthful passion shaken,
From magic airs that round your march awaken.
Vivid pictures from life memories and cultural illusions are carefully composed and arranged, unveiling Basilé’s passionate thinking and symbolic expression of contemporary society and art life. Meanwhile, the self-evaluation and cultural identity foreground take us onto the journey of exploring a refreshing artistic style.
Basilé’s works investigate a variety of issues: religion, fantasy, history, myths, war, nature, man, society, passion, violence, gender, taboos and so on. To some degree, the artist becomes a divinity in the world of self-images where every frame, as a phantom wandering in the wild, reveals the human perception of danger and violence, the sacred and the mysterious. While these images render history a strong sense of authenticity and spirituality, they also carry with them the impulsive passion of breaking away from the establishment of western culture, showing a cultural difference in the way of seeing and attempting to construct a brand new cultural identity, with consideration of difference.
Basilé seeks to blend real-life situations with invented history that includes people and events from real life, so that a fantastic and mysterious dream, that is persuasively real, can come into being. Yet in this altered reality, where actors and audience trade places, it appears clear how scenes are conceived between reality and illusion, in something we would call a “constructed reality”. No matter whether the frames appear real or not, no matter whether they belong to the past, present or future; Basilé restlessly aims to restore and rebuild what happened in history and what is taking place today. All distortions and fabrications lead to a disappearing reality among visions, which Basilé elaborately arranges and photographs, as he employs real-life settings and mysterious fantasy. It is by reproducing representation that self-memory, imagination, evaluation and visual experience are put in the spotlight. In this process, the artist also transforms the traditional visual reading experience and habits, calling forth an intensively magical space of fantasy and mystery between the body of creation (the subject) and that of acceptance (the object).
Basilé’s visual expressions provide certain relaxation to our tediously repetitive and mediocre lives, and satisfaction to those who hunt for adventure and novelty. Yet, as a matter of fact, behind these frames is an intended violence towards consumption, business, entertainment, popular culture and vision, and there also hides the conspiracy against visual consumption.
By producing and directing the images all by himself, reflecting his culture and history as well as strong sensitivity toward tragic flashes of society, Basilé digs deeper into his own self, yet maintaining his strong vitality and impulsive passion. He examines and accepts contemporary society from his own standing and with his own attitude. While part of his judgment is based upon a cultural understanding which is familiar to us, other aspects differ from ours due to a diversity in personal upbringings and knowledge. Still, the social issues of global concern disclosed in his frames force us to meditate on modernization and globalization, our living environment and current reality. We live in a world lit by beauty and hope and shadowed by pain and sorrow, violence and death (as one’s violence and desire is released upon the pain and sorrow of others). Yet, it is on the anxiety that arises from the visual experience of modernization and globalization that Basilé places the greatest emphasis.
In The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud says：“a cigar is sometimes just a cigar”, while Rene Magritte – the master of surrealism – tells us that when we see a painting of a pipe, sometimes “this is not a pipe”.
What is in Basilé’s world of images? An image tells the truth, and as Susan Sontag confessed, “if I have to choose between truth and justice…I choose truth.”
The Infinite Coexistence of Contraries (The Re-Dreaming of Reason)
Matteo Basilé possesses the uncanny ability to reconcile opposite ideas such as the beautiful and the grotesque, integration and alienation, natural and artificial. By exploring the un-finite and transient nature of difference the artist develops his narrative according to motions-chapters: The Saints are Coming (2007), Thisoriented (2009), Thishumanity (2010) and Landing (2011): a number of independent passages in which the artist negotiates his perception of existence. Basilé’s research is an interface between Orient and Occident, an interposed dialectic that operates as a collision-metamorphosis situated between tradition and modernity, sacred and profane.
Basilé’s glossary not only relies on timeless and multicultural signs and values but visually encompasses a totalitarian language in which the dream is not anymore the subject of the picture but embodies an altogether recognizable narrative, boundlessly. His meticulous and perfectly balanced (anti-heroic) portraits constantly refer to the history of classic art making while simultaneously conveying the spirit of our time. Formally, Basilé obliterates the antagonism between the imaginary and the real, triggering a complex system of emotional sliding doors. Conversely to Goya’s “ Dream of Reason producing Monsters”, here dream and reason converge into an epiphany, where the unique and the multiple are binomial components to the communion of the sensorial and the rational – Matteo Basilé’s poetics is an iconographic universe, it is the fruit of the combination between technological Mannerism and pictorial Surrealism. The unique confluence of those two art historical moments signals the unusual use of quotation, aimed at synthetizing and asserting art as meta-language-.
If the spiritual is often unreachable the dream, on the contrary is, accessible to everyone. The artist’s dream-like journeys eventually drive us towards different plans of comprehension, both sensorial and intellectual, where we find ourselves suddenly aware of these aspects of reality, that are usually concealed within our inner selves; Therefore, his profound investigation of the Self, the Other and the Elsewhere eventually corresponds to his personal experience of life outside his original environment, simultaneously addressing the meaning of existence and the in the context of the confusing dynamics inherent to the globalization process.
 Achille Bonito Oliva, Matteo Basilé: The Dream within The Dream, Biasa Artspace, Bali, 2009