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Tarots @ Kips Gallery – NYC

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Tarots by Alessio Delfino. Notes for initiatic photography.

by Nicola Davide Angerame

There is synchronicity between our frame of mind and the figure of the Tarot cards that appears and, beyond actual words, puts us in a state of total empathy that affects the body, and that from the stomach, passes through the heart and into the head, becoming thought and action.

Carl Gustav Jung

It’s as if photographyallows me to see the photographer’s legends, fraternizing with them but not quite believing in them.

Roland Barthes, Camera lucida.

In his recent book dedicated to the Tarot cards, Alejandro Jodorowsky condenses 40 years of research of the Tarot de Marseille, which he himself reviewed and modified. This led him to establish his own school of public reading of the cards through which he developed “social therapy”. Symbolism, initiatic language, synchronicity, symbolic-psychological interpretation and the practical work that takes place during his crowded seminars are spread around the world by psychologist disciples. This is a kind of modern exotericism that also involves psychotherapy and psychogenealogy. Even though the origins of these cards are deeply rooted in ancient legend, they undoubtedly represent an important reservoir of initiatic meanings being linked as they are to the main questions that man has always asked himself: who am I, where do I come from and what is the meaning of my existence?

It has been said that the Tarot cards date back to ancient Egypt and specifically to a deity known as Thoth, a figure that created writing (according to ancient Greek sources) and all sciences, including magic. Some sources refer to the Tarot cards as a book that safeguarded hermetic knowledge and that had become lost. The cards are the traces of that knowledge and, like all traces or fragments, stimulate and require a continuous proliferation of interpretations that make them immortal and always contemporaneous with respect to alternating historical periods. Therefore, even more important than knowing the truth of the Tarot cards is to approach them with the proper mental mindset. And this mindset becomes photography for the case involving Alessio Delfino, who has interpreted the major arcana in a personal manner, beginning his own journey along a path of interpretation and discovery of the profound meaning of the Tarot cards. Like a mirror, they can also reflect, albeit partially, the personality of their interpreter. But it is the power of the symbol, the force of the archetype, the suggestions of the images and the symbology of the colours that make the Tarot cards an excellent test bench for anyone intent on experiencing the richness of the images. The Mantegna Tarocchi are famous but, still today, artists and graphic designers, cartoonists and photographers refer to the archetypical figures that Jung already acknowledged as providing support along an inner spiritual path.

For Jung, like for Jodorowsky, the Tarot cards appear as hermetic figures, but can also become a shared language thanks to their symbolic and iconic nature. Fascinated by this aspect, Delfino, in his photography, literally puts his Tarot cards on stage, highlighting their monumental aspect. Etymologically, the monument represents a “warning”, an exhortation, an invitation to comprehend and to memorise a message that becomes manifest in a statue, in a sculpture for which its natural location is a public space, like a square. In this case, it is photography that strives to achieve the force of the monument, the ability to stimulate experimentation that the artist, together with the women he photographs, is carrying out through a relational process for which the model is the one who chooses the figure of the card that she wants to interpret. An important detail to obtain a final result that creates an image beyond time, statutory but also vital, mysterious and yet vivid.

Themajor arcana cards of the Marseilles tarot deck are perhaps the highest expression achieved in the art of representing the Tarot cards. This interpretation was commissioned during the first half of the 15th century by Filippo Maria Visconti, the Duke of Milan. Delfino performs a transposition that celebrates feminine beauty not as an end in itself but as a tool that “makes the truth tangible”. And since the truth in question is not the evident one of science, but belongs to the initiatic context of the mysterious philosophy, that comes to us from Pythagoras, it is photography that then becomes a means of exalting the “body of truth”. Delfino’s struggle lies completely within the technique and his own philosophy: he must at any rate be able to reconstruct, with modern and personal language, those images from the distant past that narrate a path with stages, whose steps are allegories and symbols. And it is the dimensions that come to him. Modern technology allows him to take very high resolution photographs, and then to print the female figures, the protagonists of the various cards, as if they were giantesses. In their presence, an interlacing of incredibly vivid details (and easier to see with the naked eye), the beholder experiences unexpected sensations. This effect is the challenge through which photography seeks beauty within a more extensive context in order to render it enormously significant. Its language is destined to remain mute, symbolic, but it is this that allows it to communicate at a deeper, subconscious level, where the meaning of things becomes one with the image. The “card” becomes a tableau vivant. For Delfino, stature is not a stylistic exercise but a declaration of subjection of the human being toward destiny and of the male toward the female. The question of the eternal feminine emerges in this series. The exaltation of the artistic nude does not prevent Delfino from achieving conceptual outcomes, the final result of which can be considered an experimentation involving the relationship that we as modern-age man have with the “myth” of knowledge. In a post-rationalist epoch like ours (in which the society of show business has imposed emotiveness as the underlying mood), this work by Alessio Delfino reminds us that the Tarot cards are indissolubly linked to Hermeticism, to the Cabala and to esotericism in general, and are deeply rooted in the origins of our culture, that are first mythological and symbolic and then rational and scientific.

The Tarot cards are one of the most popular symbols, also thanks to the fact that each major arcana is a complete image of this exoteric relationship with the understanding of the authentic and of the origin. Even in the Tarot cards, Delfino develops his own relational photography, nurtured by the relationship between the artist and the muse, for which women present themselves to the photographer with the clear intention of interpreting the card that they have chosen. Delfino speaks to, is familiar with and listens to the deep aspirations of his women (called on to transform themselves into “models” in the sense of archetypes) but then works above it all, creating the most appropriate environment for them. The Empress, the first card created, is the driving force behind his methodology.

In the same manner that the world is “representation”, even the life and destiny of men are subject to the power of the symbolic. Thus, photography is called on, beyond any objective reference, to recreate the symbolic space, to provide it with shelter and nourishment, boosting its force and finding a dimension for which it can extolled to the highest level.

Apart from operative and content-based originality, Delfino’s theoretical and stylistic points of reference can be traced to “models” such as Erwin Olaf or Helmut Newton and David LaChapelle. If Delfino admires the first’s vintage, elegant, evocative and mysterious atmospheres, he appreciates the second one’s use of female models with post-feminist beauty and heightened awareness, with aggressive, decisive, managerial and even sadistic features. For the last reference, Delfino assumes instead an evident gusto for playing, mischievousness (that he uses very subtly) and a Baroque mannerism that if, in LaChapelle, the end result is the celebrated ultra-pop and mannerist excesses, in Delfino it remains subdued to avoid upsetting the balance imposed by the seraphic inspiration of the cards of fate. Their “self-control”, also the result of compositional thoroughness, bursts from a post-modern symbiosis in which photography exploits all its potential to create a space in which the senses and symbols waft with dramatic lightness, without losing the depth of an original feeling and without plunging into the outdated pomp of rhetoric.

As pointed out by Roland Barthes in one of his fundamental books, for the observer it’s as if photography “allows the public to see the photographer’s legends, fraternizing with them but not quite believing in them. Delfino’s photography produces exactly such an effect of non-violent fascination, of playful seduction, of serious hilarity, allowing the image to be interpreted at various levels, thus stratifying its meaning and showing that photography is capable of combining glamour and suspense. As if beauty was merely the mask of a deeper truth.

Delfino creates his sets with maniacal precision, studying every detail and putting make-up on the models for hours to make them statuary, softening the eroticism of the scene while exalting the personality of the main figure of the card. The vintage gusto allows him to create the idea of an image “without time”, shifted into a past that can be remote but also recent or eternally present. This “atemporal” rigour can be seen on the porcelain-like skin of the model that, in this way, is covered with a “mask” which, like that used in the ancient Greek theatre, affords access to the symbology of the figure. The use of Photoshop in post production is forbidden. Delfino only uses the print preparation functions, which can also be analogical. Retouches would be a negation of a work that loves details, such as the minute imperfection of the skin and the hidden wrinkle that gives real substance to the image. A furrow, a small dip or depression, rendered almost imperceptible under the make-up, tell a story for those with an undeniable fetishism for detail. The final photograph is only the last step along that long path of the imagination, that of the Magician/Delfino, who loves to approach the ideal image by degrees and attempts. “I stop when the energy I demand from the image emerges, since I have the composition in mind before taking the picture. I wait for the image with that special magic, and afterwards the others don’t exist”.

Tarots

With Tarots Alessio Delfino’s reflection on the ancestral symbology linked to the holy feminine, that permeates his work in recent years, acquires another value. The cosmogonical dialogue behind the search for the origins of the mother goddess, broken down into its various characteristic qualities to the point of creating a real pantheon of feminine divinities, now unveils its profound meaning, clarifying with almost no ambiguity the nexus with a third element that had been needed to complete the interpretation. In the compositional vision of each of the six major arcana of the Tarot cards, inspired by the Marseilles traditions, that Delfino has created up to now, unhurriedly, in this open artistic project, that makes the passing of time a basic element of the same meaning of its becoming, the feminine, the origin of life and the highest expression of the actual meaning of terrestrial existence, or rather the path to access subsequent phases of knowledge, intertwine in an irreversible form of chemistry, just like in an alchemical formula.

The journey symbolically undertaken by The Magician, the first card of the deck, through the path that will lead him from initiation, through a phase of purification and another of illumination, to final reintegration, reaching in the end a new cognitive and spiritual status, that will make him free: crazy in the eyes of many, it may represent the journey that the artist is taking through his own path of awareness. And all this produces a work that seems intent on containing everything, almost like Jorge Borges with his Aleph. An Opera Omnia, in the sense of an Aleph, that encompasses the symbols of the beginning and of the end, that pursue each other in an alternating pattern; with a strong reference as well to the commedia of that Dante Alighieri who by chance, or perhaps not, began to write his Opera Omnia in the very same “mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” (in the middle of our life’s journey), in which the artist from Savona finds himself undertaking his journey through the Tarots. But there is one element that, amongst them all, disambiguates the initial sensation that we find ourselves standing before a perfect work that almost impedes any other interpretation beyond the one already meticulously composed by its knowledgeable director. In fact, in the flawless aesthetics of each of Delfino’s photographs, the real level of exoteric access, that only few can perceive, can only consist in the ability to distinguish a space of interpolation, a white space constructed inside a full aesthetic scheme that can be visited, according to the rigorous discipline of the initiates, but only after having fully understood the previous hermeneutical level. On this plane the spectators capable of attaining an adequate means of understanding can finally offer their own interpretation of the fusion of meanings offered by Alessio Delfino. Only in this way can the artist venture into and attempt to conquer a new level of knowledge and, like the Magician, Tarot card number one, the symbol of a rebirth at the end of the deck, start again from the beginning.

Diletta Benedetto

Legend, feminine beauty, formal perfection.

Photography renounces its original nature as a means of reproducing reality to construct iconic architectures inhabited by legend and formal perfection permeated by a magical and suspended atmosphere crystallized in a timeless dimension with a decadent aftertaste. A refined photographer, Alessio Delfino scrupulously composes, while adhering to the dictates of the sources, the environments in which the subjects are portrayed, referring to other places and to other dimensions, inviting us to cross the threshold of mystery and the supernatural.

The Tarots series, dedicated to the twenty-two major arcana cards of the Marseilles Tarot deck, is represented here in the first six photographs portraying The Moon, The Empress, The Devil, The Sun, The Star and Death, elegant and complex allegorical representations in which classic iconography is knowingly sublimated by the artist’s aesthetic conception and Neo-Baroque style. The theme of choice is a spontaneous emanation of Delfino’s esoteric interests that, with the representation of the deck of Tarot cards as the initiatory path toward knowledge and in which the female figure plays a strategic symbolic role, unveils the main motifs of his personal approach: the holiness of the eternal feminine and the centrality of the woman within a concept of the world understood as a “great representation” and “about life as a path of more or less voluntary and conscious subjugation to the power of the symbolic”.

Anna Saba Didonato

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