In the gardens of the Katsura imperial villa at Kyoto there is a path built with. stone slabs, trodden in the past by philosopher-emperors, wise monks and poets. Each stone slab corresponds to a step and each step corresponds to a displacement of the point of view. The path is made out of one thousand seven hundred and sixteen stone slabs, corresponding to one thousand seven hundred and sixteen points of view. The stone path of the imperial villa of Katsura is thus a cunning device to multiply the garden. I have recalled an example of oriental cunning (or wisdom) because I believe the wisdom (or cunning) of the sculptor Federico Brook also comes from afar, allowing the spectator to use movement to multiply the points of view of his mobile cloud-shaped sculptures.
But are we sure Federico Brook’s onyx or bronze clouds are clouds? The “reader” of a work of art is no longer allowed to be so naive as to yield to appearances or so ingenuous as to take the “naked” forms the artist proposes at face value. We have learnt that interpretation can dilate the appearance of a work of art, enriching it with new meaning to the point of distorting its formal principles, sometimes against its author’s intentions. If we say that a cloud is a cloud is a cloud is a cloud, following the well-known literary exorcism, with the third repetition the cloud is already something else, it becomes a metaphor of itself taking scraps of the unconscious along with it. Let’s close our eyes a moment and ask ourselves in the dark where we have already seen these jelly-like clouds propped by black obelisks or solid earthen columns. Can we light-heartedly deny they have already appeared in our dreams, or that they are one of the many materializations of our nightmares?
A purely realistic reading, a surrender to appearances, risks falsifying and down-loading the basic ambiguity of these art objects. If we say De Chirico’s metaphysical pictures simply represent manikins placed in the centre of squares, we offend the intelligence of both painter and spectator. What difference does it make if these sculptures by Federico Brook look like clouds or, the second time we read them, like flowers? And I still don’t know if the sculptor meant to provoke the spectator with trompe-l’oeil or subliminal sexual allusions. Playing with ambiguity is part of our culture which has at last assimilated the wave of probability of post-aristotelian physics with all its founding contradictions.
It has been said that in art fixations count more than ideas. Federico Brook evidently has a fixed idea. After the spatial sculpture and metal planetaria period, he has continued gazing upwards, while seeking to circumscribe the contents of his imagination, giving them a closer, more concrete shape. But since he sets his concreteness in clouds, perhaps we can seize the profound paradox of his sculpture, apparently so happy, airy and reassuring. What is less concrete, more mobile and volatile than clouds? And yet the marble and bronze the sculptor uses do not betray the subject’s airy nature; rather, they exalt it and this is one of the miracles (or paradoxes) that make these works so magic and disquieting. To the point that an extreme suspicion is legitimate: with his clouds the sculptor may have wanted to give us an ironic (ironic?) representation of the unsubstantiality and futility of both the world and its human inhabitants. Such an interpretation
would lead us too far away and would in the end dissolve at the touch of the first sunbeam. Let us rather caress these clouds, touch their smooth and sensuous surfaces, without being seduced into the negative abstractions they evoke; even if the ghost of Jorge Louis Borges, a friend and compatriot of Federico Brook’s, might induce a moment of dismay and dissipation.
We are used to reading a vast repertoire of figures in clouds: horses, dragons, trees, angels, birds, coaches. There is no end to reading in the book of the sky – whether clouds, so close to our imagination, or even the remotest constellations, ennobled by fantastic names like Berenice’s lock, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, the Centaur, Orion, Cassiopea. I have quoted those remote constellations because the unconscious must have guided the sculptor’s hand when, amid white onyx clouds, he gave form to a wonderful pink onyx comet propped on a slender metal stem. And so this figure, probably inspired by Halley’s comet, takes us on a new flight well beyond the clouds into the spaces of astronomy. Or of myth.
Thus we may say Federico Brook carves wonderful onyx or bronze clouds, or we may say he carves fantastic flowers and chases after comets or rain; but we know this reading doesn’t account for the metaphoric dimension of his works, the meanings each of us can lend those images, because the artist’s fixations are but the projection of our own fixations taking form and materializing under his hands.
We can continue conjecturing about the infinite points of view of a form rotating round itself, reading into it all our emotions and our dreams. With his marble and metal Federico Brook has succeeded in dilating our imagination and making us dream like the philosopher emperors, the wise monks or poets of ancient Japan, working one of those miracles that renew themselves each time we are faced with the mysterious manifestations of art.
Translation by Luisa Calé