Artworks / Opere

DANIELA FORCELLA : QUEEN OF HEARTS

(Thought, felt, seen, dreamed things)

Critical text by Alan Jones

It is the same tranquil and insensate
beauty of matter which to me appears
metaphysical ...

(Giorgio De Chirico)

The work of Daniela Forcella, like that of any other artist and those encountered for the first time in particular, is well served by a topographical survey which can assist us as we set out to explore her personal geography of the imagination. Our task is to make a map of not only of her exterior locality, but also of her interior phantasmagoria.

We are, first of all, in the historical center of Milan, in the very 'heart' of the city, an expression particularly appropriate in the case of Daniela Forcella given the importance of the heart in her creative agenda.

But the term centro storico, or historical center, can be seen to be misleading both in the case of contemporary Milan as well as when applied to the work of Daniela Forcella; measuring the historical span of a city, whether in terms of millenia or centuries would be out of place in this instance unless it were to shed light on the contrast in the case both of the vital role of Milan in the history of European Modernism, and, of the context in which Daniela Forcella's work enters into harmony with this historical scheme.

Although Bergamo is the city of her birth, Milan has been the point of departure of her creative endeavours. It would be of interest to enumerate the cities of Europe, in order of achievement, which have most contributed to the evolution of Modernism since the second half of the Nineteenth Century up to the present day, if we may permit ourselves to discard the once-trendy password of 'post-modern' which, like nouvelle cuisine, has thankfully fallen out of usage for at least a decade and a half, and I have no difficulty in announcing my belief that the noble project we call Modernism did not, by any means, end its evolution with Baudrillard & Co.

The city of Milan stands high on any list of the major stations on the trade route of the historical avant-gardes; and like others of these European capitals, cultural ferment has taken place simultaneously in more than one single sphere, and this holds true of Milan just as it does of Barcelona and Weimar, Vienna or Bruxelles.

If Daniela Forcella exemplifies a whole spectrum of virtues characteristic of the tradition of Milan, it is then for this reason that a brief sketch of this distinction is of use in order to demonstrate how her work could have only emerged from circumstances, with regard to Italy at any rate, which are unique to the Lombard capital.

The evolution of this modernist tradition of innovative development took place simultaneously in a spectrum of arts thanks to the convergence of many factors, artistic as well as financial. Milano as Illuministic European capital, as cradle of Liberty toward the independence of Italy in the Nineteenth Century, industrial hub, birthplace of Futurism, revolutionary Urquelle which served as the primary model for art movements everywhere: Cubism, Dadaism, Suprematism, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Vorticism... Technology leading culture, and culture leading technology.

Art Nouveau was the audacious maternal grandmother of all modernist movements; Art Nouveau or Liberty, represented the first example of pan-European aesthetic innovation emerging from a post-symbolist milieu. It touched the fine arts in all its forms –from painting, music, architecture, graphic design to the applied arts. Yet Art Nouveau achieved this by the imposition of aesthetic sensibility only, careful to not attach a social agenda to its aesthetic revolution. If Salvador Dalí was the first in the Twentieth Century to re-evalute and appreciate the fresh verve of the Liberty style, a kinship with it can be detected in the work of Daniela Forcella.

Futurism, on the other hand –and, moreover, in stark contrast-- stepped on the accelerator and sped up its ultra-radical agenda in an heroic mission to transform from the bottom up every aspect of modern urban life. From the start the founding father of Futurism, Marinetti, chose Milan as headquarters. Futurism, and the sweeping impact of its aesthetical program, was to spread with remarkable rapidity from industrial Italy to every capital of the world. And without Futurism, it is doubtful that hot-blooded rebels such as Ezra Pound in London would have declared: I want nothing less than a new civilization.

. . .

If Lombardy re-emerged from World War II as one of the most vibrant zones of innovation anywhere in Europe, combining industrial-entrepreneurial paradigms that linked technological growth to artistic experimentation, this was due in great part to the enduring validity of the Futurist model. Milan, international capital of industrial design, fashion, architecture, theater and art, enthusiastically embraced and sponsored by an enlightened entrepreneurial class: such is the socio-economical backdrop out of which emerged the artistic generation of Daniela Forcella.

The Emblem can be regarded as the DNA with which the universe of Daniela Forcella is brought to life. Reproducing nature by manually or photographically rendered depiction was long ago challenged by those artists hoisting the banner of Abstraction. The debate between figurative realism and pure abstraction has been, by and large, a big waste of time: in that it stops at the point of merely posing more futile questions than it answered: the vast majority of labels attached to art movements, almost always by non-artists, simply do more harm than good when it comes to our understanding of art.

Take, for example, two notable titles of art movements, Conceptual Art and Arte Povera.

To begin with, all artistic manifestations, whether having as their occasion the Biennale of Venice or the caves of Lascaux, are inherently conceptual by their very nature, and even after decades of searching I am still unable to locate the poverty in Arte Povera.

Daniela Forcella never confines herself to a single narrow didactic dogma; instead, each of her projects, depending on occasion, medium, dimension, establishes its final form through an organic process. Yet the realm in which her work comes about is an emblematic one. The Emblem can be said to combine the mute symbol at its most pure, and at the same time the blatantly loquacious metaphor of allegory.

Symbolism can occur in abstract art as easily as it can in realist figuration: a cross can be recognized in a canvas by Malevich as well as in a Grünewald altar piece, although for different purposes; the somber palette which Mark Rothko employed in his chapel at Houston, Texas, stirs powerful emotional reactions through pure colour alone, just as much as a figurative sunset seascape by Caspar David Friedrich inspires a mood of meditative melancholic contemplation, turning the mind toward thoughts of the infinite.

The immediate geneology of Daniela Forcella's work begins with Modernism itself. It is not in the least difficult to imagine her work adapting itself perfectly to the Belle Epoque avant-gardes of Vienna. Here emerged artists such as Gustav Klimt during the time of the Wiener Sezession and Wiener Werkstatt. These movements were able to freely abolish the pigeonholing that compartmentalized the high arts from the low, the fine arts from the applied, the sublime arts of painting and sculpture from the utilitarian: architecture design fashion. Soon thereafter the Bauhaus School in Weimar comes to represent the next transfer point of successive avant-garde academies.

After World War II, in the United States, Black Mountain College became the most important staging-ground of experimental art where ceramics and weaving, music and dance, painting and poetry all were happening side by side, in precicely the same period when in Italy a great entrepreneurial generation best opitimized by Adriano Olivetti were putting into practice a new vision of industrial production and coorporate structures which brought creative artists to center stage as great architects like Carlo Scarpa gained access to the board room, as did painters and poets from Salvatore Fiume to Bobi Bazlen.

So it is that this geneological family tree would not be complete without mentioning Daniela Forcella's significant relation to Pop Art in all of its national affialitions, from New York London Los Angeles to Paris and Milan, while at Rome, in the Piazza del Popolo, an entire Pop Art circus all its own was in full swing.

[…] In quella parte – dove sta memora
prende suo stato, – sì formato,
come diaffan da lume, – d’una scuritate
la qual da Marte – vène, e fa demora;
elli è creato – ed ha sensato – nome,
 d’alma costume – e di cor volontate. […]

[…] In memory's locus taketh he his state - Formed there in manner as a mist of light - Upon a dusk that is come from Mars and stays. - Love is created, hath a sensate name, - His modus takes from soul, his heart his will. […]

(Guido Cavalcanti, Donna me prega -
- English translation, Ezra Pound)

If the medieval mind was organized in accordance with systems emblems and allegories, all in service to Memory, mother of the nine Muses, so too Daniela Forcella's approach to symbol, or more precicely to Emblem, abounds with Jungian archetypes.  At the same time, it possesses several characteristics in common with the iconic Pop nature of Andy Warhol's work (iconic in the strictest sense of Eastern Catholicism, given the slavic origins of Andy Warhol's family). The Forcellian iconography, like Warhol's, comes about through a process of simplification, the concentrating on the recognition-factor of the image in its most elemental version possible. The image strives to achieve an instantaneous triggering of our iconic memory-bank; the quest is for a universally readable cipher.

For Warhol, this could mean reproducing ad infinitum the brand-name trademarks of common supermarket products, while for Daniela Forcella it can be the simplified 'sign' indicating the human head as seen in profile announcing its name as quickly as the international symbols encountered at airports, or equally often the universally recognizable hieroglyph for the human heart –as emotional seat rather than physical organ.

This symbol is unfailingly present on greeting cards for Saint Valentine's Day's cards, depictions either in sculptural or pictorial form representing the Sacred Heart, and even in after-school adolescent grafitti, and once upon a time carved onto the trunk of a tree, Cupid's infallible arrow piercing it; on may encounter the rustic symbol of the heart in the decorative motifs of cosy Tirolian ski-lodge Weinstuben furniture. Yet in the case of the Lombard capital, all that need be said is its famous motto:

Milan coer in man

('Milan, heart in hand').

Future anthropologists may someday wish to retrace the migration which the hieroglyph invented by Milton Glazer - who also came up with the Smile Button - into a symbol imitated already for several decades in every country around the world:

I NY

Daniela Forcella, through her use of symbol reinforcement, brings to mind the intricate world of heraldry, a rebus-like system of signs not dissimilar to our continued usage even in the present day of flags announcing the identity of nation states, or yet again the quickly recognizable symbiology employed in coorporate logos and product copyrighted symbols. Medieval heraldry, on the other hand, was created by an accumulative evolution that would instantly announce the combined descendency of a noble warrior and his knights.

.  .  .

The first portable easel painting was mades of wooden planks over which was stretched a tight skin. It could be carried easily on the left arm, attached to it by a leather strap or held by a handle on the reverse side, while the right hand was free to bear a sword or spear.

The shield provided the first and most important surface on which to advertise what were originally simply called 'signs' and later came to be known as coats of arms, crests, badges, ensigns, emblems, devices. Today the surface of a shield is referred to in heraldry as its 'field,' on which the highly codified language of distinguishing signs is painted.

In every coat of arms, according to the basic rules for heraldic painting, gold or silver, represented by yellow and white, must appear at least once and are called the 'metals,' which are used alternatively with the 'colors' --in order of frequency, red, blue, black and green. Any symbol placed upon the field of a shield is called a 'charge.' Colors can be employed for the ground of a shield or the coloring of a charge, but in each case the remaining areas must be rendered in metal, and it is equally correct for a field carrying some geometric pattern to be done partly in metal.

In the abstract language of heraldry, conjugate charges of all kinds can themselves be charged and countercharged in never-ending variation, with successions and combinations of accumulated symbol, joined by reciprocal relation of antinodal points, lines, quantities, in what is termed the 'division of the field' - a pageant as inexhaustible as the moves on the Duchampian chessboard. Charged and countercharged, emblematic, schematically precise images float always at the metacenter of the field of Daniela Forcella's works.

This language is as old as scripture. Daniela Forcella is fluent in this primal system of wide symbolic invention and interchangeable properties, an elemental language which shares the same radical imagistic picture-making impulse which is at the source of all alphabets, hieroglyphic and ideogrammatic in origin.

.  .  .

Daniela Forcella's way of ordering a set of variably interchangeable signs –eye, head, heart-- comes to stand as an abstract heraldic language of her own, a diagrammatical system of symbolic invention combination and interchangeability of a wide range of emblematical properties. Her unique symbology is embodied in her objective fabrications through the use of simple forms reduced to the minimal essential of common denominators, colour and support surface, that is, the mechanism of display, which comes to represent an integral and ever-present elemental springboard animating the work.

She is fluent in a manuality of a variety of manipulations that muster her creative toybox of perfunctory props. As the poet Jean Cocteau once said, 'A painter can never have too few colours on his palette, a poet too few words in his vocabulary, and a composer too few notes on his keyboard.'

In a balancing act of transcendent materiality, these loquacious bibelots, full of animation and bouncy boisterousness, leap with ludic lightness from her atelier, stripped of dull routine and accepted habit. A wiff of theatrical glee hovers on the air, and one could easily envision Daniela Forcella designing the decor for any variety of ballets, from Till Eulenspiegel to Peter and the Wolf. But where better to start than with Igor Stravinsky's Petruschka?

Daniela Forcella's modulation of ingredients demonstrates her adherence to this deceptively easy recipe. These objects eminate a self-originating caloric warmth all their own; they modify environments intuitively through benevolent yet occult interior sources of colour form and space, temperatures, humidities even that almost seem to modify and regulate eye movement and heart beat.

The mantra of repetition, variation of rhythm, reiteration of theme, reinforces their well-equilibriated flirtation with the functional: Daniela Forcella --through her material sonority and a certain symbolic 'melodic line'-- makes her work resonate with a Minoan clang: a chromosphere of significance at all times magnetized, always charged.

.  .  .

I see a time soon to come when individuals will no longer be classified according to the trade they practice,' wrote Alberto Savinio on his book The Birth of Venus in 1918, “There will no longer be poets, painters, composers. There will only be individuals whose expression is capable of reaching all the possibilities of concrete form, whatever form it may assume, according to what their minds have conceived...”.

Daniela advances along this creative road, with high spirits, irrepressible exuberance and an optimistic solarity which the world needs no more than ever.

Alan Jones,
Milan, 2015