Emilio Fantin
"Max's Dream", 2001
C-type print
Courtesy the artist

Emilio Fantin

Stefano Pasquini

In the Bologna art scene Emilio Fantin is certainly an enigmatic figure: the last work I saw of his was in a shut gallery: nothing to see, just the sound of someone crying inside. He later told me that he was recently working on "taking out" rather than adding. What else can an artist take out if not the gallery itself? And is this not a good enough reason to cry? This truly conceptual approach to contemporary art makes him a difficult artist to sell or promote: he barely ever produces marketable products and in all effects he is an invisible artist, in the sense that unless you're lucky enough to experience one of his work or action, you may never know of his existence.
Looking at his work, one can tell that Emilio Fantin is profoundly influenced by philosophy in his idea of art. He doesn't like the word communication, and in an interview with Giorgina Bertolino he states "I soon realized that communication for me meant something else. It actually meant 'else' - the other - the relationship between me and that which is not me. This relation didn't come through a need to relate to an audience but rather a philosophical stance specifically regarding the relationship between subject and object. In classical logic an assertion is a proposition formed by subject, verb and object: through this kind of situation, the final sense of a statement is determined. I worked on communication because I wanted to modify this type of structure: not so much to determine an object through a verb, as to place subject and object on the same level."
This was achieved in the first work of his I saw. We were in a group show together at Art in General where I heard "Private", a deja vu of Yoko Ono's telephone piece. The phone rings at the opening, I pick it up, and the first thing I say is that Yoko Ono did the same piece in 1969. To this day I don't know if Fantin was aware of it at the time, but nevertheless the work does the job, and this is particularly noticeable in the transcription of some of the conversations: almost immediately the words spoken between the artist and the receiver assume an aura of immortality: time stops for all and the work is here and now. The conversation raises to a higher level, as it is true that the will of communicating makes communication easier and deeper. The work is the voice of the artist and the visitor, and they are its only witnesses.
"Philosophy is like untangling wool. Pulling doesn't help. And I'm inclined to pull", states a woolen sweater citing Wittgenstein. And if we take for good the Aristotelian precept that "it is not possible to think without images", Fantin knits the quotation on the woolen sweater itself, and I can figure him out going around town with the sweater on, classifying as art the thoughts of all the passerbys who read the writing. Time comes also into play in "Autoritratto", a self portrait diptych of the artist now and in his youth. What's in between can only be filled by the artist through his memory and by the viewer through imagination, and this is what make Fantin's work invisible: the work is not the two portraits, it's what's (and what has been) between them. Like in a movie where we missed the beginning we can only imagine what came to that point, "the work of art today" wrote Fulvio Carmagnola, "is not an arcanum above normal perceptions, but an object uncompleted by the artist which asks to be completed by the active participation of the reader, the viewer, the user."
"Comune a tutti e' sognare" (Dreaming is in common with everyone) is the title of a poster from 1999, and dreams are a significant part of Fantin's research. In "Sogna per me" (Dream for me) he asked different people to dream in a set night and place, then recorded the dreams, which he "showed" coming out of little holes in the wall of the gallery.
An extension of this work is what he did at his residency at Art Omi last summer: he restaged the dreams of his colleague artists and then photographed them. The results are images of beautiful efficacy. They make me wonder if Fantin's best achieved result is not just this: his projection of ourselves inside his dreamworld, the moment that makes us feel like we're falling through a fennel and inside his brain, only to become part of one of his intricate thoughts.