Text by João Silvério (June 2022)

Drawing and sculpture are two central artistic media in the work of HElena Valsecchi (Novara, 1976), which allow her to explore and experiment with forms, methodologies and themes closely linked to iconographic and poetic representation in painting on paper and in sculpture, through a markedly more physical relationship, even in the absence of a body, or in front of imaginary bodies.

The artist has been developing a research on metaphysical questions, marked by an aura of spirituality that questions our historical relationship with the representations of the sacred, in terms of the paradoxical questions embedded in life itself, on the one hand religious, as a sacred space, but on the other profane, mundane, and secular. In this respect, and in the context of this exhibition, Valsecchi has been working on a work that is intensely related to her life and integrates another conceptual tool, the language, in the synecdoche figure of speech.

Synecdoche”, in an approximation to the word in Greek, is the title of the central work in the exhibition, which also includes a sculpture of particular importance, and which is a part of this universe. The work “Synecdoche”1 gathers a great complexity of actions, spaces and gestures, and can be understood as a work in progress, and as a project/state of life of the artist. Valsecchi thinks of this work as an almost diaristic process, which will be carried on during her life time and is based on a numinous sphere that attends to Rudolf Otto, central author in the research and thought developed by the artist.

The work was started by the end of 2020, during her participation in RAMA Art Residencies, located in the area of Torres Vedras, outside the urban environment, amidst the forest and farming landscape. The relocation to the countryside created conditions for the artist to develop with more intensity and freedom her walks, meditations, and studio work, which coincided with the most confined period of the pandemic that we all went through.

The work in watercolour on paper shows an exceptional expertise in the domain of this technique, which allows the representation of such diverse figurations, some of them more fictional, sometimes abstract, but also objects of collective memory that the artist searched in two museums located in the city of Torres Vedras2 , or artefacts of very different provenance, such as books, masterpieces of all times and other images, which still emerge from Italy.

All this process contributes to the creation of the visual atlas that is in fact “Synecdoche”, a simultaneous and thus paradoxical vision of the part and the whole, fragmented in various geographies of the spiritual and metaphysical imaginary of the human condition, as artistic act and expression of her life.

The work presents an almost homogeneous palette, inked in subtle gradations that at times vary in intense, almost obscure tones. The composition runs through us at the moment of observation as if it were animated, on sheets of different formats, and expresses a variation of layers that is not subject to any formal or thematic hierarchy, transmitting a pathos of proximity so characteristic of the substance of painting. The spectator’s perception is reconfigured at each moment, under an imagetic itinerary without beginning or end, as also occurs to a certain extent in works by Christian Boltanski, where the composition expresses a reference to religiosity in art in the form of sectioned or fragmented panels of images, or even reminiscent of Mnemosyne, the incomplete work by Aby Warburg.

But all this thinking about the whole and the part in the work is closely related to a logic of game, of exchange of cultures and references to historical periods. In the period of the confinement, Valsecchi unfolds, so to speak, the format of the work for a digital platform, releasing each of the images through an open call so that anyone, from any geography, may contribute with a sentence on her/his conception of the sacred. The work, now on display, already integrates in its current state a network of relationships and human sharing, becoming a metaphorical representation of a hierophany. We return here to an initial question in this text: the possibility of the representation of a reference to the sacred space and simultaneously of its desacralization, as a work of art that is both coeval and confronts us.

This confrontation transits from the wall to the space of the spectator’s body, in the presence of the sculpture entitled “Vertigem”. It is a work that appeals to an immateriality of spirit, in the movement that the suspended ropes announce.

However, the noose and the glassy, brittle seat grant it an allegory of the drives, or instincts of life and death, in a more Freudian sense. The figure of the swing embraces a multiplicity of references, from the shamanic cult to the Dionysian splendour, in the game of love, in madness or in tragedy, as for example in the Greek myth of Erigone, between Eros and Thanatos (see for instance Raffaele K. Salinari, “L’Altalena”). The balance, perhaps vertiginous, is an ontological impossibility that resides in its materiality as an object given to the body, as a sculpture that demands desire and as an icon in its historical and mythological references. “Vertigem” is a work that summons in us an inner, metaphysical, volatile and dialogical tension, by proposing to us a myriad of interpretative questions about the intangible reality of feelings and death.

João Silvério

1 About this artwork, please check the artist’s website: