press release



A carol by Francesco Urbano Ragazzi written for the exhibition.



I was alive, to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. But the reason I knew it, that I was alive, was sadly unpleasant. For the past few months, every day around six o’clock in the evening, my eyes began to water – both copiously and as soon as the sun set behind the buildings. Drops that I perceived to be elastic and somewhat viscous would descend unceasingly to the sides of my nose, rest on my lips, descend again to the tip of my chin, in the center of which they would accumulate. And from there, they would then fall, finally, beyond the surface of my skin.

Since every day that unstoppable dripping lasted for more than a few hours, at first, I tried to stop it by dabbing the end of the tear ducts with a handkerchief. But then my hand began to get sore; gradually, I grew tired of exerting that slight pressure, and I was forced, in spite of myself, to give up. I would then let the rivulet of tears flow as it came, trying to lick up with my tongue as many drops as I could, occasionally wiping away the many that escaped with the sleeve of my sweater.

The tearing was not painless. Already within the first few minutes of that weeping for no reason, my bulbs began to inflame, giving me an uncomfortable tingling sensation that grew in intensity as time passed. It was as if the surface of my eyes gradually became a large lake into which endless lighted appliances fell.

Here was the painful proof of my existence! It was enough for a Cartesio a little well skilled in ophthalmology to prove it. From the time it began at six o’clock in the evening until it ended many hours later, all the time I was thinking and rethinking that tearing. I was tearing, and therefore I was alive; I was alive as long as I was tearing. Under those conditions, I could only think of myself incessantly.

As always happened when the inexplicable phenomenon occurred again, that evening I was sitting in front of the computer doing some unimportant work. I then began, once again, a meditation exercise that granted me some peace, making me forget my tearful ego. It had now become a ritual. The exercise was not complicated nor had I been taught. Rather, I was instinctively doing what so many human beings do when they want to lose track of time and of themselves. I used to open Chrome full screen on my computer monitor and start searching, and searching, and searching.

After many hours, the research would lead me to beat unimaginable territories, but the starting point was more or less always the same: I would randomly type words corresponding to the symptoms I felt I had and read the results on the search engine, jumping from page to page at an increasingly impatient rhythm. I don’t know whether due to too much concentration or too much distraction, but within minutes I no longer sensed that I had a body, and with it those two wet, burning eyes. Without realizing it, I became nothing; the world around me became nothing, while the information I accumulated ended up coinciding with the world, with everything.

The routine was more or less the same. What had changed, as the days passed, was only my writing style. In the early days, I would randomly type rather generic headwords: tearing, eye pain, eye disease. Then the descriptions had become more precise: persistent tearing with burning eyes. Verbose: unstoppable tearing with concentrated inflammation on the perimeter of both eyeballs, sporadic telangiectasias. Almost poetic or shamelessly hermetic: watery eyes flare up in the evening. All the way back to the initial simplicity but with some pro-searcher tricks: persistent “tearing” + “inflammation” + “eyes” + And so I had ended up believing myself to be a discreet expert on at least about twenty disorders and malformations, which, however, never coincided, for one reason or another, with what I was suffering from. Conjunctivitis (viral, bacterial, or allergic), blepharitis, keratitis, retinal detachment, glaucoma, uveitis, Sjögren’s syndrome, orbital cellulitis, hay fever, herpes, blepharospasm, ocular surface disorders, corneal chondropathy, ocular or palpebral tumors, pterygium, trigeminal neuralgia, dry eye syndrome. I knew all about these topics, but this all was of no use at all. I had switched from consulting popular portals such as,,,, to reading pages devoted to homeopathy, phytotherapy, yoga, and Ayurveda; from there, to frequenting forums whose scattered and paranoid users proposed risky natural remedies or the massive use of hallucinogens. Having arrived at the fiftieth page of results offered by the search engine, I no longer distinguished the plausible from the false. The information I was foraging for blended into a single plane of unreality that suspended my judgment. By searching, I was finding everything except the solution I was looking for.

Going to a doctor was out of the question. Not because I was afraid of facing a potential inauspicious diagnosis, but because of laziness or a strange form of forgetfulness. During the day, when the clinics were open, my eyes returned to normal. They stayed in place without bothering me, as if they disappeared from my sight. I, therefore, forgot the urgency of seeing a doctor until the effluvium started again at the first darkness of the evening.

The meditation exercise I practiced in front of the computer was very effective, but it caused a rather predictable side effect. Involving a fair amount of eye strain, the many hours spent staring at the monitor would indeed make me forget the pain for a few hours, but at the same time, make it worse. The more I lost myself in the glare of the screen, the less I felt my condition; the less I felt my condition, the more my eyes wore out. Punctually, after a good half-hour spent in a state of unconscious impermanence, a new painful jolt would force me back into the world.

That evening, as the last twinge still burned under my eyelids, it came back to me that I had read somewhere a philosophical phrase that perhaps suited me. Actually, it seemed to me to be about toothache, but I was sure it centered on what I was experiencing. The sentence in question, in broad strokes, ran something like this: only the pain of a cavity makes the tooth itself perceptible, the tooth as a tooth. Something along those lines. However, the meaning of the phrase seemed to allude to something much broader. Perhaps it had to do with the connection between pain and the perception of internal organs, with the relationship between suffering and the understanding of the parts, or with the end of the idea of the body as a whole. I couldn’t quite remember, but the phrase certainly dealt with a meaning that went beyond the confines of a mouth, no matter how wide open.

I was certain that the quote, vaguely held in my memory, was relevant to my condition. I was equally convinced it coincided with a famous paragraph by Sigmund Freud. Believing that I could easily track down the words of the psychoanalyst on the internet, I hurled myself onto the keyboard. Once I found the exact phrase, I would copy it into the little agenda I always kept open beside me. Who knows, I thought, it might come in handy someday.

I soon had to revise my expectations. After fifteen minutes immersed in inconclusive readings, all I managed to gather was an account of a dream in which an anonymous maid, seemingly young and attractive, appeared to be wearing an ill-fitted denture in her mouth. In the dream, Freud inspected the woman’s oral cavity, discovering a mysterious whitish glow within it.

What was to be done? Should I delve deeper into the meaning of the scene or continue in pursuit of the still elusive quote? Usually, a thirst for knowledge would lead me to open a long parenthesis of meticulous digression. However, this time I decided not to relent, to hold firm to my initial resolve. Racking my brains a bit, suddenly I had the impression of remembering. Could it be that Merleau-Ponty had something to say about cavities and teeth? Wasn’t he the one who wrote fundamental pages about how touch, integrating with the sense of sight, enables us to perceive the invisible?

Phenomenology wasn’t within my field of expertise, but I distinctly recalled the example of a finger inserted into a glove, sensing the shape of the emptiness within the object, reaching where the eye cannot. Was it possible that between the pages of The Visible and the Invisible, there might be another example where a tooth replaced the glove, and a cavity stood in for the finger? After another half hour of searching, I had to acknowledge that once again, the screen refused to validate my assumptions. There was no trace on its surface of any interest Merleau-Ponty might have had in decayed molars. Given the overwhelming frustration, I felt a clear desire—disproportionate to the context, I know—to dissolve into a consolatory cry. If only my cheeks hadn’t already been streaked with tears…

The emotion engulfing me coincided with my facial expression without any correlation between the two facts paralyzed me. I felt like an actor following the script of a play, shouting ‘Fire! Fire!’ and then realizing a real fire had broken out among the stalls. Like that alarm cry, my tears seemed so sincere and so fake, internal and external, appropriate and inappropriate at the same time.

Perhaps to swiftly escape the indecisiveness of the paradox, my brain brought forth a new and clearer memory. From the depths of my mind emerged the certainty that the sought-after quote revolved around a specific theme. I was now sure that, in the phrase, the tooth symbolized an object naturally designed for penetration, while the cavity represented the possibility of the penetrating object being penetrated in turn. That’s why I initially fixated on Freud and psychoanalysis! The sequence of words was meant to depict a role reversal, some sort of dialectic that still needed clarification.

I sprang up from my chair and went to rummage through the bookshelf. Following the order I had meticulously set and knew by heart, my hands instinctively seized upon what I was looking for. What a victory it would have been for the twentieth century if I had reached the conclusion of my inquiry through the analogical method!

I pulled out two paperbacks from a lower ledge on the bookcase. The answer to my quest had to be in one or the other of these volumes. Seated cross-legged on the floor, I began to leaf through both books almost simultaneously, swiftly scanning the paragraphs that had already been underlined. To my left, I had open The Penetrated Man by Jonathan Kemp, a literary history of male passivity in the modern age; to my right, I wielded Speculum. De l’autre femme by Luce Irigaray, where feminist psychoanalysis was conducted on certain classics of psychoanalytic thought: indeed the structure of the argument seemed to mirror the dynamics of the cavity and the tooth.

I immersed myself in the re-reading of the two essays for a considerable amount of time. It was amusing to note how in one of them, Freud was celebrated as a sort of queer progressive, while in the other, his figure was torn to shreds. Despite the slight amusement, however, there was not a trace of my coveted quote anywhere to be found.

Although the outcome remained unchanged, and I still found myself at a disadvantage due to my unreliable memory, a more compassionate feeling had taken over me. Two or three tears had fallen onto those rough pages I had flipped through countless times as a student. The salty water had dissolved some marginal notes I had written with a somehow childish handwriting decades ago.

All at once, I was thrust back in time. What had become of that person, of that young man, now that the cells in his body had all been replaced, one by one, with new cells? After all, he was still the same. Even in the mirror, his reflection had remained almost the same. There was still time for his potential to be expressed and understood. It wasn’t too late.

Reinvigorated by the feeling of finding myself again, I slowly became convinced that the search, now two hours old, was nothing but a waste of time. I had to stop looking for a phrase that wouldn’t serve me anyway, a snippet that would likely remain a dead letter in my notebook for who knows how long. I needed to focus on real goals and let go of the small obsession that had taken hold of me. I had to remain in the present.

In a bid to root myself in the here and now, I abandoned the books on the floor and sat cross-legged. I directed my full attention to the rhythm of my breath, beginning to employ a meditation technique I had recently learned called ‘sobbing.’

In a tutorial I watched a few days earlier, it was advised to take two quick successive inhalations before exhaling deeply. The advice continued to repeat this cycle daily for at least five minutes. The purpose of the exercise was to mimic the type of breathing we instinctively do when we stop crying and find strength within ourselves. A team of psychologists had verified that the brain areas regulating serotonin activated automatically by the third minute of repetitions. Encouraged by faith in neuroscience, I endeavored to breathe with discipline myself.

Before reaching the tenth repetition, my thoughts had already galloped elsewhere. I found myself almost back to the starting point of my digression. Once again, I began to ponder Descartes and his methodological doubt. Almost playfully, I wondered if the reason I couldn’t locate the quote might lie in some form of radical deception. Without invoking otherworldly entities, I could imagine, for instance, that my brain was the only thing remaining of myself; I could also imagine that this organ was immersed in a container connected to a machine, which would send me wrong information every time I searched for a phrase on the internet. If things were truly that way, I wouldn’t have any means to know. I would be condemned to a hell of unsuccessful searches, but in return, my incapacity would find complete justification. I pondered whether, in some way, the possibility of that hypothesis being real would offer me solace. I couldn’t deny it to myself and felt ashamed.

The image of the brain in a vat wasn’t original; I knew that. It was inspired by a thought experiment developed by Gilbert Harman in 1973 and refuted by Hilary Putnam in 1981. Yet, despite that science-fictional philosophical vision being worn out by years of debate, it still sparked a strong interest within me. Soon after finishing university, I even considered writing a short essay on it, which I, however, never managed to complete.

In some ways, the reasoning I had started to develop back then still convinced me because it was based on a rather obvious fact. In the essay, I argued: there is no need at all to imagine vats containing brains to demonstrate that our experience is always unreal. To do so, one simply needs to realize how the machines already connected to our thinking organs operate. Let’s consider the evidence carefully. The two eyes we possess each see slightly different panoramas. If we close our eyelids one after the other, we intuitively sense this. Yet, the inherent duality of vision is concealed from us through an unconscious process of synthesis. Therefore, isn’t it the first and most constant lie of our perception that leads us to see a single image where in reality there are two?

My mentor at the time had advised against continuing with the text. He identified so many contradictions, absurdities, and misconceptions of philosophy that he wouldn’t have known where to start correcting me. Since I held him in extreme awe, I obediently followed his discouraging advice. However, now that I reconsidered my arguments with an adult mind, I wasn’t so sure anymore if I had made the right choice. Not only did the premises of my syllogisms seem to link to the conclusions like clockwork gears, but the array of examples I had brought to support the thesis seemed undeniably erudite. At the beginning of the second sub-chapter, I had even found a way to compare two works of art: Marcel Duchamp’s Stereoscopie à la main and Robert Breer’s 3D Mutoscope.

A sense of deception swept over me. How had I let myself be persuaded to abandon such an ambitious project? After much reflection, the surge of anger that consumed me brought back into my awareness the gravity of bodily weight. Having remained motionless on the floor for many minutes, I also realized that the continuous stream of tears from my eyes had soaked the collar of my sweater. That sensation of stagnant dampness turned into a shudder of disgust.

Enough! I couldn’t bear the thought of being reduced to the state of a faulty faucet any longer. It was time to act! Without any more hesitation, I plunged all ten fingers into my eye sockets and pulled out the mushy content I found inside. Two snails in their shells. I felt no pain whatsoever, but I wasn’t surprised. I hurled everything I had in my hands against the wall in front of me, listening to the dry noise it made upon impact. Finally, I inserted my fingers again into the two gaps I had just opened on my face.

Finally, the tears had ceased. What immense relief! The tips of my fingers returned a smooth and crystalline sensation that I had only felt by brushing against certain glasses in Michelin-starred restaurants. Finally, everything was clear. Finally, everything was calm. As if I looked at the perimeter of my vision, all I could see was a single image:


Thanks to

Painting S.R.L. Verniciature Industriali, Luzzara RE, Italia