The dream and the – extremely difficult – task of art criticism is to capture the movement of artists’ thought, the glow of their mental processes, the intellectual knots that obsess and fascinate them throughout their existence. Without a doubt, Julie Polidoro’s “idée fixe” – as she herself confessed to me some time ago – is a fundamental question for all the arts: how to translate space. It is around this idea that her entire artistic praxis has developed and, therefore, this exhibition as well. Let’s see how.

First of all, it is necessary to specify that the space “translated” by Polidoro is the space of the world geometrically reduced to a flat surface, an image, a mere object of representation. A world which – as Giacomo Marramao explained in the philosophical field – has ceased “to be the habitat in which our lives are immersed, the dimension which surrounds and involves the destinies of our human existences in an inextricable interweaving with other forms of life and non-human existences, to transform itself into a rationalizable, measurable, calculable object of knowledge and, consequently, subjectable and mouldable by the devices of representation […] productively aimed at the domination of the world-object, set up by the subject”.

But the question of space is closely intertwined with the question of time. Because empty and unitary space corresponds to the empty and homogeneous time of capital, which places any event in an implacable and fixed chronological hierarchy; a utopian time, since it is found nowhere in real space. The world “translated” by Polidoro is, therefore, a world in which – to quote Marramao again – “one experiences only silent events – without words and without value, and therefore measurable and susceptible to legislation – which take place in the physical dimension of natural facticity”. A world, therefore, in which the symbolic and emotional events of past experience cannot be experienced, because there is no place for them. It is no coincidence that the “subjects” chosen by Polidoro for this exhibition are extremely “silent” subjects.

On the one hand, the bodies of the migrants, which lie abandoned on the bare floors of the so-called reception centres. “Non-persons”, according to Alessandro Dal Lago’s definition: nameless and faceless bodies, reduced to the status of objects and “parked”, like parcels within a large distribution chain, in temporary “shelters”, waiting to get their life back. Borders, detention centres for migrants and spaces of segregation, in fact, are “states of exception”, wherein materialize the effects of that disempowering, impoverishing and deadly spatialization which Achille Mbembe has dubbed “necropolitics”. They are “social death zones” that produce outlawed individuals, brought back to what Giorgio Agamben, taking his cue from Roman law, called “naked life”: the radically depoliticized life that is included in the legal order only in the form of its exclusion. A life absolutely exposed to the sovereign power of the Other and, as such, not expendable, but simply killable. And, consequently, the subject who carries it is somehow already dead.

On the other hand, within the exhibition, there are a series of landscapes, depicting looming sandstorms, which are nothing more than the effects of what is usually and euphemistically called “climate change” and which, instead, more properly should be called “global warming”. Yes, it is the pollution produced by our species with the consequent global warming, the “hyperobject” par excellence according to Timothy Morton, the other great “theme” chosen by Polidoro; that global warming which is directly responsible for the intensification of the damage caused by hurricanes in recent years. A theme that would apparently seem detached and distant from that of migrants, and which, instead, is closely connected to it. For two main reasons. First of all, because, as has been amply demonstrated, global warming in the near future will cause massive migrations, destined to cause an increase in social and geopolitical tensions. And, secondly, because both the images of migrants and those depicting sandstorms, which Polidoro has used as models for her works, are images taken from the web. Here, then, the silent character of these images emerges more clearly: both are images of “catastrophes”, which, however, in digital fruition, are not perceived as such. One might say that they are images of a traumatic Reality that has necessarily been domesticated, so as to be rendered consumable. In short, they are “defanged” images that shield us from the “dirty” and “uncomfortable” reality, unbearable to see. Images by which we are bombarded daily, but which, precisely because they have lost their “violence”, do not become dramatically fixed and do not settle in our memory. In fact, as absurd as it may seem, the common features of these symbolic images are their iconicity and consequent virality, but certainly not emotion or indignation.

And so Polidoro’s work of translation becomes clearer: a work that aims to give rise, within the opus, to the perception of that irreducible “gap” that exists between the actually experienced event – tremendous, dramatic, potentially fatal, unspeakable – to which these images refer, and its representation, consumable and viral, as experienced on the web. A work, in other words, which aims to recover that “unseen” – as the title of a work on display states – present within the deafening silence of that which is seen. And this Polidoro manages to achieve by inventing new ways of mapping space and time. In fact, it seems to me that hers is a real “critique of cartographic reason” (Farinelli), that is, of the objectifying and dissecting mapping of the world. Aware of the fact that geographies shape processes and social actions themselves, Polidoro contrasts the “legibility of the world” (Blumenberg), where the domain of representation resolves itself in the injunction to tear the world apart and flatten it, with “new” cartographies, “new” logics, and “new” ways of thinking about the world. And in my opinion, this very fact makes her painting extremely modern.

Whereas the images of the world provided by the devices of representation are “saturated”, uniform images, whose sole function is the transmission and propagation of information, Polidoro produces “unsaturated”, incomplete, unstable images, images in which there are “empty spaces”; images that therefore act as counter-information, as counter-narrative, as an authentic act of resistance. Polidoro, in fact, by keeping empty backgrounds that reveal the “virgin” support or by painting on pieces of scotch tape that she subsequently moves within the work, creates holes within the images. The goal is to subtract or displace information to disturb the syntax and thus leave the viewer room for movement and reflection. Indeed, by interrupting – through metonymic slippages and gaps, which act as disturbing and disorienting elements – the linear, rapid and dematerializing interpretation of visualization on the web, Polidoro forces the viewer to grasp other perspectives: namely to take into consideration, within the image, other possible points of view, those points of view which are normally silenced and excluded, and which, instead, prevent the perfect closure of the representation.

In short, by piercing the image, Julie Polidoro obliges us to recognize the singularity of what is hidden in our automatic subconscious, the other scene underlying the structure of our present, that “prose of the world” – made not of uniform space-time, but of singular places, qualitatively connoted, of radically heterogeneous, asynchronous and dissonant temporalities, of submerged experiences, of different and non-synthetic densities, of relational dynamics – which makes up the constitutive factor of our action and of our concrete, corporeal, being-in-the-world.


Giuseppe Armogida is a philosopher and independent curator.

Currently he teaches Aesthetics and Phenomenology of the Image at the Accademia di Belle Arti L’Aquila and Semiotics of Art at NABA in Rome.