Double Mediations: Carlo Ferraris

By Horace Brockington

Untitled, 2005. 24X24 in.

In his photographs, installations and video works, Carlo Ferraris’ art resonates with a strong theoretical underpinning that cannot be separated from his interdisciplinary approach to making art. However, Ferraris’ artworks are less about the dynamics of his medium—including photography, sculpture, video and their particular discourses—and more related to post-conceptual art’s potential for exploring a host of political, cultural and social themes. In artworks that are loaded with subversive humor, Ferraris critiques social and cultural history by using a very complex vocabulary built upon an irrational re-ordering of the real, factual and concrete to imply a world that is totally out of synch. As such, his artistic situations become metaphorical symbols of events, fates, fantasies, words and bodies as they are transformed and trans-located in our own minds and in the minds of others.

Through his re-processing of the visual, Ferraris concentrates on stimulating the viewer to reconsider principles and practices in our postmodernist culture. This reconfiguration of images in his videos and photographs, as well as his reworking of the very functions of the real objects in his sculptures, results in a series of disconnected images and objects within which the artist attempts to suggest visual re-readings. In this way, the visual language of the works collapses into new relationships. Carlo Ferraris’ art speaks to how images and objects can be combined and refigured, but it also speaks of the process leading up to the viewer’s re-reading of what is visually presented. His visual language embraces the public and the private, issues of space, scale, time and logic, as well as the irrational. In Ferraris’ art, narrative and metaphorical parallels are essentially intertwined.

Carlo Ferraris was born in 1960 in Romagnano, Sesia, Italy, in the Piedmont region. He now lives in New York. Since 1987, Ferraris has had an extensive exhibition history. His work has been shown in numerous museums and galleries, including one-person exhibitions in New York, Viborg, Denmark, Adelaide, Australia, Paris, Moscow, Milan, Montua, Alba, Turin, Milan and London. Formally trained as a sculptor, Ferraris’ early works consisted of figurative and object-based works. However, despite the figurative nature of his early art, these were conceptual in their intent and rejected any clear narrative platform of establishing meaning in the work. These early works similarly emerged out of the artist’s fascination with materials that pay homage to the vocabulary of Arte Provera. Ferraris used bronze, iron, paper and found objects, as did his Arte Provera forbearers. However, what distinguishes his intent is a primary interest and sincere concern for the nature of the materials. Informing every aspect of his work is a reliance on a simple material means to investigate some un-resolvable ideas.

In many of his early artistic attempts, the artist appears to redefine the legacy of Arte Provera as opposed to just aesthetically refining its original techniques. Anthony Iannaci observed that, within the context of the recent generation of Italian artists working with the inherited grammar of Arte Provera, Carlo Ferraris’ work depends on the viewers’ faculty responses, or lack thereof. Yet, his parapraxes are not simply blunders; they represent serious mental acts motivated by an element arising from two distinct or mutually opposing impulses. In his work, materials, techniques and his reassessment of Arte Provera are immediately worked over by the viewer’s unconscious, and emerge as a joke. In these early works, Ferraris sets up comically paradoxical situations by exposing what Iannacci described as the institutionalized valorization of art that is willfully inaccessible. By exposing these conceits, Ferraris’ early works called into question the entire system of art. Iannacci notes that, whether intentionally presented as jokes or uttered as slips of the tongue, Ferraris’ works originate from opposition. The introduction of a comical moment or a “punch line” in his works interrupts the viewer’s reading of it as a quest for perfection and reveals Ferraris’ true intent. This humorous aspect of his early work would lead to the improbabilities that characterize the later installations, more recent films and the photographs.

Some of the works shown in 1993 at Salvatore Ala, NYC, including a “paper” airplane and oversized sheets of snowflake-style cutouts, have an ironic substantiality. Other objects were crafted out of metal and rendered oversized, some of which contained holes cut by bullets, adding another dimension to the works. In addition, what appears to be a dour marble pallet stretched out close to the floor is actually a stack of sheets supported at one end by a small white pot.

Through these early works, the viewer is able to see the artist’s thinking process made tangible, a characteristic feature of his approach that remains consistent throughout his work. The “what if?” factor continues to guide the work, and to unexpected ends. In the work Regard to Leibniz, for example, Ferraris has lined up a long row of glasses on a long stretch of toilet paper on top of an iron shelf which dips downward at one point. The glasses are filled with oil, the level of which increases as the shelf curves downward to give the impression of a unified level.

A related early work consists of scales interspersed with weights stacked so that the scales record the weights as the stack rises. Therefore, a titled table holds heavy-looking geometric objects in impossible suspension.

Untitled (1991) consists of a construction of a long, hollow horizontal iron frame suspended off the wall by two iron rods at one end. The work pulls the viewer’s attention both to a fragile notion of the balance and the irregular shape of the room, which is rendered regular by the suspended form. Within the visible, narrow hollow of this iron structure, Ferraris has fixed layers of highly colored confetti giving the work a festive quality that deviates from the seriousness of its construction.

Re, regina (King, queen) reveals Ferraris’ incorporating two iron sheets, suspended off the wall (each by a singular, pin-like rod) and joined together by an iron ring set with a large, pale-blue, gemlike stone. Here, Ferraris’ use of iron suggests the invariable and the eternal, but the nuptial pun seems intended to elicit a laugh rather than a sublime experience.

In Caro M, parla e sente (Dear M. speaks and listens) a work dedicated to Michelangelo, an egg-shaped iron wheel with eight red ribbon spokes stands on its curved surface supported by two legs made of the same material. Both of these iron appendages are fitted with white socks and brand new black shoes; their heels seem to dig into the gallery floors as if to keep the oddly shaped wheel from rolling away.

In these early works, improbable balances and questions of privacy, both mental and physical, engage Ferraris and inform his artistic strategies. Ferraris’ manipulation of iron, paper and various found materials speak through the pre-established symbolic language grounded exclusively in the mind and are therefore free from the liability of the variable as an expression of the changeless. Upon closer inspection, any apparent authority in the work is undermined by an inherent paradox. Ferraris adopts this institutionalized language only to reject it. In these early works, Ferraris records his own process of re-definition by mapping out new paths for investigation, which leads to new conceptual practices and also his engagement with photography and video.

By the mid-1990s, the conceptual intent in Ferraris ‘ work lead specifically to installations that often combine sculpture with other elements. In 1994, when Ferraris moved to New York where he turned to the photographic medium, creating a series of works whose environments included his studio, streets of New York, and his hometown in Italy. Ferraris realm is that of the everyday, which he mines and re-positions, suggesting an alternative reading of the actual events unfolding in the image. For Ferraris, photography provide the radical means to open up new ways to access common occurrences. The new works are less about the formal issues of photography, and more important for interpretative potential of photographic medium.Ferraris’ images are loaded with internal context whose understanding lies in more external situations.Ferraris’ issues are not specific to photography but centered around humanistic and theoretical concepts.

Now, Ferraris works rather flexibility between sculpture, video, and photography. Ferraris grasp the photographic or moving image both film and video, and molds it to correspond to a potential of the image to paradoxically informs and transform its on reality. Through his fusion of minimal and conceptual strategies, Ferraris prevent the hegemony of the image from holding sway, introducing difference, to create shifts, and to open fresh truths.These “new” truths in Ferraris’ work can be defined as the real/authentic within the image. His new approach concentrates on a subversive and decisive play between the real and the imagined, which opens up a discourse on life versus death, presence versus absence, false oppositions, surface, and representation.

Rather than technically manipulating the photographs through technical process and sequential strategies, Ferraris alternates the actual scene that will ultimately be photographed. Although often based on specific locals of NYC, his studio and his hometown in Italy these works are never simple documentary depictions of specific locals. Using this background as a sculptor, Ferraris creates scenarios, the streets, and studio setting as stage sets for a re-invented world. These  ”set-ups” imply a world out of order, loaded with rather darker but often humorous undertones. Often Ferraris photographs, video and installation reference a world whose meaning is never clear, and often impenetrable but their unique context address issues relating to suffering, pain, violence, racism, sexism, consumerism.

In Ferraris’ art there is no apparent codifying aspect that links the works with the exception of their disjointed undertones. The low-tech aspects of his photographs and installations partially account for the nihilist undertone in the work. However, despite the conceptual basis of his recent work, the art of Carlo Ferraris is extremely humanist in its attitude. There is a resounded serene humanist quality to the work despite its surreal outlook. Ferraris appears to be concern for the most part with a collective spirit of life and art. A discernible plot never drives the narrative tendency in the work.

Ferraris’ art intrigues because of the minimalist nature of the content. The artist appears essentially interested in paring the work down to basic elements. While in earlier photographic works, this approach by is aided by his use of simply the light and dark, of the photographic image. In more recent work, he has incorporated color into his photographic process, but color remains rather simplistic, and is never used to distract or overwhelm content. A purist quality towards the photographic medium remains in his work despite the range of option in contemporary photographic process. Thus his works retain a formalist quality they are never staid expose on medium. It is the hybrid sculptural, set-up and a type of performative aspect in Ferraris’ photographs that removed them from formalist exercises.

Rejecting the need to manipulate media, Ferraris rather, relies on the “set-up” in the actual image to push content in his work. Often this content can be described as ambiguous, convoluted situations. However his works are never visually complex, for while they are by layered with meaning, they are never difficult.

One photo sequences starts with a portrait of a bedroom. Then the same room is presented emptied of the furniture, with diagrams drawn on the floor indicating where the furniture had been. Joyce Korotkin has suggested that the in the series the reversal of expectation, the mapped room seems more functional without its contents. However the work is equally more conceptual in rigor. The removal of the consumer objects from the space is evident of Ferraris’ critique of our flawed collective reliance on them.

Bethany Anne Peppalardo has described Ferraris’ work the creation of a series of sculptures, artifacts, and photographs, and mutated consumer objects, which the artist inverts and reverses the functions, subverting their meaning and thereby altering and disrupting the everyday life, of consumerism, in which the familiar is made strange. Many of his fabricated objects intentionally rendered as useless.

In 2003 at the Florence Lynch Gallery, NYC. Ferraris created the installation Allegheny. The entire installation is structured around a series of objects, advertisements, large color photographs, and a series of short narrative video works. The installations consisted of three objects situated in the center of the gallery- a flashlight, (BlackLight, a flashlight that shined darkness), a small white microwave (Frostwave- a reverse microwave used for chilling). Frostwave thus looks like a microwave, but it freezes rather than cook food. The final object is a picture-frame-like object with the word “ Allegheny” printed in the center of is a dark gray ground, creating an effect beyond the frame and merging interior and exterior reality. The three objects are connected to the idea of “Allegheny”. Ferraris intentionally obscure their relative connection. Allegheny is also framed within the accompanying video trailer More than Still.

More Than Still, is far closer to the early video works by artists such as Peter Campus, Vito Acconci, and Bruce Nauman. It is a work that is best understood as a temporal visual corporal experience. In the video there appears to be a play on opposites such that two layers are not only inverted as positive and negative, but also never overlap.

The actual photographs introduce other objects and scenes into this rather surreal universe; consisting of upside-down bottles with labels right side up, a living room littered with red apples with one bite taken out of each.

The viewer is never certain if the Allegheny is a person or a concept.

In the installation the mystery of the intention filled with harmless objects a suggestion of a life that might be on the verge of unraveling, while alternating expanding. While critiquing the commonality of consumer objects that constitute our daily lives he equally suggest they’re potential to offer alienation. The use of real objects in his work makes his re-interpretation both aesthetic and critical. In the installation Ferraris seeks equilibrium between production and consumption. Pappalardo has proposed that an element of anachronism lingers over Ferraris’ objects and videos that convey an exaggerated sense of need- fulfillment.

In a related version of this installation, The Help of Metaphysics in Everyday Life, the assemblage included a series of consumer objects and household items. The video in this case makes his intent clear, as it contains scenes from a series of infomercials that show how to use what are apparently useless products.

Video Works:

Ferraris’ video/cinematic language is more aligned to the Structurist of the 60s and 70s, again with a reference that of art of Michael Snow. However rather than be formal film works, they are rather clever and often sentimental, while retaining often unsettling effects of scenes. Initial impression of his early video works has a quality that is reminiscent of the early experimental video by artists such as Vito Acconci and Bruce Nuaman. This comparative impression occurs perhaps due to the fact that in a many of the early black and whites they have documentary quality based on performance that move them away from a purely photographic context. In more recent works this quality is less apparent, perhaps due to the fact that the artist has now moved rather comfortably in creating video works. Now, Ferraris often subverts scenes, pushing for contexts that undermines narratives. Ferraris’ videos similar to the recent works of Cerrith Wyn Evans aim to dissolve any tangible connection to an ordered naturalized world. In achieving this aim, Ferraris rejects formal cinematic order even though there remains in his videos an obvious dependency on the very formalism that they reject.

Robert Rose has described Ferraris ‘s approach as one aligned to the radical conventions of French New Wave cinema, whose artists often in their work theatricalize the psychic reality of the socially engaged. However Ferraris’ works appear to reject a clear distinction between the real and entertainment. His video equally rejects traditional cinematic approaches that have programmed the viewer to adopt moral, ideological or political positions. , Rather we must accept his films on their own idiosyncratic terms. We are never certain exactly what the artist is doing, creating an often intended and derisive antagonism between art and viewer. One can argue such tensions create socio-political debates that the artist wants to take the viewer to in order to engage theoretical issues of material means, science, good and evil.

On initial viewing of Ferraris video there is impulse to read these works as rather diarist or personal images. However, soon the viewer is aware of the free flowing stream of consciousness operating within the works. As results that which may at the start might seem as visually or externally consistent or sequential gradually gives way to random outpouring if segments in the video which endows the works with a more evocative intent.

Carlo Ferraris’ videos prepares us for a visceral viewing experience with works that represent both the literal and metaphorical and address a spatial or perceptual experience and its psychological implication to everyday life and objects. In the works, all legends, knowledge, and invention, all heritage and messages, all the avant-garde inventors of every era and tradition, all of it becomes a series of metaphysical creation of contemporary gadgets.

In the video the play on various levels of reality is achieved through a series of uses of precise frames (close/far, through focusing techniques (clear/ blurred) and movement (jumpy/ static). Such an approach allows access to an anterior content to see often other side of the story. Often by their very disjuncture, they draw us into the work. These works are about the interface between cognition and consciousness, or between perception and mind.

One device that links the video works with Ferraris other works is the issue of situation, essentially dividing the two into two realms. These worlds co-exist by means of interference, reversibility and experimentation. The ordinary worlds and those objects that make it up becomes the object of experience, affecting our senses and understanding in new and unexpected ways.

Eastern Standard Time

The work is both a humorous and disturbing, juxtaposing narrative of mental breakdown with Oedipal undertones. However, no clear narrative is ever presented, for a quickly as the viewer think there definable narrative or formal structure to the work, East Standard Time breaks, especially in the middle and begins promoting itself, first with a satiric expose on the lead actor and then with a preview of the film.

In the video a young man wears a rotating symbol upon his forehead. The man appears to be incapable of distinguishing between the words “pork” and “Porsche”, or essentially between “ swine” and the name of the rather expensive and desired automobile. This main character is gradually losing all comprehension of a real world. We see early symptoms of this development in the beginning of the film when as boy, the young man accidentally shoots from anus to skull his Army father’s with his own father’s gun. Robert Rose has described the scene as one patricide; however, if so then it is one of comical patricide as there is a humorous element of in ascension father’s spirit by bullet through a hole in the ceiling. Later we are presented with a scene of the boy contemplating the mystery of his father’s death while peering through the bullet’s entry hole in the rear of the man’s combat pants.

Throughout Eastern Standard Time, including an interrogation scene of a character named Rosie there is a clear link here with the issue of violence and the nature of power (military/nationalistic), echoing Walter Benjamin’s concept of abuses of power in a demographic regimes, or Foucault’s concept of biopower and its consequences.

To further confuse narrative intent, create by constant shits in cinematic structure, Ferraris set two of the films central characters (assassins?) before a television set watching the preview of the Eastern Standard Time. The original narrative thus re-appears t in order to re-established on a logical course: the central character is assassinated and his corpse is adorned with lipstick and lingerie. However, as Rose has noted. This apparent return to the original narrative is clearly only wishful thinking in the part of the viewer for the nostalgic or logical progression. However, the subsequent images revealed the narrative have been completely subverted, as the evolving images have no direct connection to events inside or outside the main narrative. These images are rather independent acquiring a life of their own. They are a rather loose disjunctive series of images providing no clear context for one another.

The final image of Eastern Standard Time reveals a damaged young man being observed by an interpreter as he struggles with the help of a nurse to salute nothing at all. Again the scene is without a narrative precedent. However with its disconnection, Ferraris’ essentially has created a world whose structure in its very counterfactual.

The film can thus be understood in the context of artistic practices in which violence is expressed relate equally to performance as they do the photographic, videographic or cinematopographic image. Such images as expressed in Ferraris’ film explicitly reveal violence and suffering as part of the human condition. Concept of murder, suicide, and violence run throughout the work but also with a light hearted sense of humor, which is achieved through the intermixing of segments in the film, which are more closely linked with music videos.

As such the process of the work treat violence symbolically and allows for its working-through. Violence is closely linked with the body. As a site of suffering, it becomes the place wherein emotions and wounds come together. Chantal Pontbriand has proposed that to see a suffering body is violence in and of itself. In Eastern Standard Time to views images of violence and isolation is to perceive mechanisms nourishes and develops thought.

Carlo Ferraris’ Eastern Standard Time subverts the priorities of filmic conventions. The central character in the work has been compared to Jean –Paul Belmondo’s in “le fou” whose face is painted the blue of the Mediterranean sky and whose head is wrapped in dynamite, as he refuses, unsuccessfully, to blow himself to pieces in order to comply with the narratological imperative that the failed hero must necessary die in the end.

In Eastern Standard Time, Ferraris wants us to reflect on the situation of loss, seeking to awaken awareness through the opposing images, while pointing out the absurdity of many our adopted views of the world. By extension the work speaks to traces left by war and tyranny.

Pontbriand asserts that a process of work of art is often initiated in the imaginary; the relation to self and other is recreated. The work of art is therapeutic; in so far as it heals psychological or social wounds is a question that might define the narrative intent in Eastern Standard Time. It plays in the real with the real, restaging its own components within the framework of an activity that will not so much create effects in the real as alter the idea we have of it.


Ferraris’ most recent a short 24- minute film incorporates imagined locations and real settings, continues his investigation of disjunctive narratives, held together by the theme of surveillance and power. Again, Ferraris provides a work loaded with abuse, and inflicted violence. However, the violent aspect of the work is cloaked in a delightful humor that softens the tone of the work and transform from a grave serious expose to a series of surreal moments. He work is combined of hilarious performative interventions and an underlying story of a young man is appears to has from early childhood fallen into an introverted depression. The overlapping narrative, in this disjointed film, a characteristic element in Ferraris’ work, equally talks to the methodology of creating the film turning the work in a type of cinema-verite. Contextually, the film can be described as a story of a lonely man who is gradually losing contact with the works and alternatively creating a new reality through his imagination. Its central narrative tells conflicting stories of Osamu w young man who has become isolated as result of childhood trauma. However, we are never certain if this character is real or imagined.

Osamu contains a cinematic narrative, its also about non specific spaces and locations. The work is simultaneously formal, while surprisingly fuse elements that anti-aesthetic. It is both engrossing, and is quieting. However, no matter how abstract the work may appear, is squarely based in a narrative context. subject matter. The interventions of the work only prevent a direct reading rather that dissolve content. Despite its limitations there is in fact a dialectical reasoning operating within the film. Still aesthetic ambiguities of Osamu are at the heart Ferraris intentions.

As several vignettes evolve throughout the film characters appear linked by the notion that there is not psychological construct in the narrative. The actors could, as easily have been machines, as their functions seem to imply conditions of human push and pull navigating ever changing and often stressful realities. The actors, as such, appear to be reacting to the situations they are exposed, aware of the fact that they are being observed, living and acting, essentially becoming characters in world that perhaps leads to an inevitable tragic conclusion.

Most recently a series of photos in an exhibition:” Carlo Ferraris, from all to one” presented at Florence Lynch Gallery, NYC provide the opportunity to view the range of Ferraris’ major themes that have ran throughout his work. The photographs and video installations, offered at Lynch Gallery engage the viewer to establish non-normative viewpoints on often-familiar situations. The viewer is drawn into an experience, without having to identify the position of the protagonists. The viewer’s perceptions are transformed and offer new sense- altering and conceptual insights into common occurrences and objects.

What become immediate apparent is the power of Ferraris imagery to articulate unimagined points of view on critical situations. Ferraris aims to push forward the idea of double mediations of past and present, making it possible to consider and raise questions of change. Through rather ordinary objects and situations re-positioned, Ferraris raises issues related to human’s experiences that encompasses social and political issues.

Equally, Ferraris in these photographic works wants us to consider the problem of borders, both visual and language. His imagery opens a dialogue and without a clear manner of decoding of sense –based experience and their use in the contemporary world. The viewer must enter the very point where rationality breakdown and different co-exist. As viewer we often find ourselves in unfamiliar spaces.

Carlo Ferraris’ works, often invoke the ambiguity of the boundaries between what we imagine to be real and what we experience--- the external versus the internal, physical versus the psychic, the punctures and connections of our various realities leading towards a type of hyper-reality. His strategies serve to emphasize the unreality of all levels of the putative real. As such his imagery is often loaded with ambiguous irony. His art embraces issues of the symbolic and the mythical, presence and authenticity, the contradictory abuses of consumerism, questioning their utopian promise. This concern with consumer production is explicitly aligned in Ferraris art with a curious bewilderment about humanity’s position.

However, regardless of their disjunctive narrative and context of his imagery, Ferraris’ art maintains subjective view. Ferraris strives to establish a discourse in which the aesthetic of the set-up reveals a reality that might provoke a moment of contemplation or displaced/ repressed sentimentality. Such disjunction therefore becomes the means of endowing the images with a context that serves to both denounce a situation but each adding a strange depth to the image/situation. The artist rejects clear parallels in his work, because the lack of clear logic become the points of discourse on disordered cultural and social codes that characterize our complex societal context.

Ferraris wants to question the nature of resulting experience of the world and the self. Ferraris art for all its ambiguity is about sense-based experiences in an ever-greater complex cultural and aesthetic realm. His photographs and videos, sculptural installations are meant to re- construct time, and to open up mediations. Such an approach in the process speaks to the nature of human experiences those ruptures, paradoxes and discontinuities that we must struggle against in order to avoid the annihilation of self.

Ferraris’ works operate between shifts between imposed flexibility and a creative malleability. By transferring common situations and common objects, Ferraris invites the viewer to experience perceptions and sensations out of the ordinary. His photographs, videos, and installations draw attention more to the living than to the being of things, thereby opening the present moment to unsuspected realities. To be in the world: how are we in the world? How does one exist in the world? are just some of the questions the artist raise.

Placed within rather Minimal environments, Ferraris allowed often-overwrought dramas to unfold or at best implied. There is uneasiness in his imagery that undermines the seductive quality of his art. His imagery often disrupts its own narrative. Through this process the artist aims to involve the viewer into a type of emotional participation at the level of objects and people observed as a condition of the aesthetic experience.

The interest and success of his work lies in trying to question and answer the ambiguous. We are intrigued by what has happened in the intervals (unknown) that have lead to his imagery- the very shifts that obscure meaning but raises questions. Both the nuances, and the practical terms of Ferraris’ art are loaded with double mediations on the historical, political, personal, individual and sense based-based levels that exist within everyone. However the artist never provided with precise or explicit reasoning because for Ferraris there are no clear answers to many of the issues he aims to confront in his work, rather these artistic strategies-photos, film, and sculptures, becomes a means for their articulation.

Essay compiled from this link from