“…peripheral or distracted vision is richer: it is like Freud’s concept of oceanic or free-floating feeling. School-age children have not yet introjected a materialistic or severe Super-ego. They can let their thoughts drift or really run, thereby giving more space and devoting more time to the freedom of the imagination. […]
Current educational culture concentrates on self-consciousness, on the ability not to be distracted, and does not take into account the immediacy of unconcious forces, that is the imagination in full-flight.” Salomon Resnik
“It is necessary to crouch down and crawl along the ground: everything changes when you assume the position of one who has just been born or who has just died. If we look at these things from the height of one meter and eighty centimetres, these things somehow appear to be at our service; the world is at our feet.
But by lying on the ground, the leaves of grass around us become a forest […] our blind self-centredness is overturned because we begin to realize our position in relation to other things.” Arshile Gorky
In my work, Con la coda dell’occhio [“Out of the Corner of an Eye”] (1993-1994), there are images taken from below, from a crouched-down position: there is always an area that is out of focus. It is a work about perception for me: an unintentional, inattentive perception that is without direction and rationality. They are forgotten images, thrown off by the mind, as glimpsed at out of the corner of the eye. At the same time these are images that show the city’s margins, the city seen from the ground up. I am interested in what lies in the margins of perceptions, in the periphery of consciousness, in a rational discourse. A free-floating attention can apprehend inflections, pauses that, for as much they may seem banal, organize meaning.
In Con la coda dell’occhio, and Rumore di fondo [“Background Noise”] (1998), and in Primo campo [“Primary Field”] (2001/2003), the sidewalks and the fragments of presence of the other, sweaters, folds and fragments of faces are, in effect, residual images of a coded institutional perception.
Spontaneity, inattention, seeing in a distracted manner, chance, are all part of my project (I am referring to my video work as well). As a matter of fact though, I control the distance and focus, and in some way define an image: I am looking for an empathic relationship with this object or place. It is as if the image comes out of itself. It is important for me to be able to present, not represent. I am not interested in overly precise descriptions that are definite; instead I tend to maintain an ambiguity, to give the impression of a relationship with the object/other, a preconscious empathic relationship: an intuition of the other. These are fragments that are shabby and destitute: the routine and the banal are given back their strength and sense of presence. In the work on the corners of my house (in Rumore di fondo) there is really a decontextualization; it is as if the corners and doors were dislocated, monumentalized, taken away from the rest of what is there and placed in the centre of focus.
It is these very things that we see fleetingly every day in our homes and they are almost never objects of primary interest. In my opinion, the viewer can experience something surprising in seeing a normal, everyday object as if for the first time. “Given that you only see a great deal of undifferentiated space in peripheral vision, you get the impression of having had an intuition, or simply of having noticed the presence of an object rather than having seen it. […] Peripheral vision gives the impression of something you know but without having seen it directly, something you know from out of the corner of your eye […] objects and relationships register just barely […] Interest [lies] with what is on the edge of consciousness […] they intuitively [abstract expressionists] achieved this kind of vision through a similar process that is an analogue to the contents of the mind which flee from conscious observation. A visual analogue of the preconscious state or the unconscious perhaps […]”. Anton Ehrenzweig
In the video installation Conversazione [“Conversation”] (1998) I believe in the possibility of rediscovering something elementary in what lies behind the word: the breath. The prelinguistics of language. It is possible to speak of language in relation to expressive types of language. Perception has undergone a process of exclusion similar to the one which marginalizes autistic children from the social world. I like to think that I give words to that part of ourselves that has been marginalized by conscious processes.
I believe that it is like the gaze of the child that roams the city streets (as in the work Con la coda dell’occhio) or the baby being held who does not see everything – the face, for example – in a descriptive way. What he sees instead is an enormous part (the part being the whole), a perception that is almost tactile and olfactory in nature, something which makes itself present and thus becomes real, something that belongs not to common ways of seeing but to a language which somehow precedes decodified language (I am referring to Primo campo). I am not interested in details: it is the fragments that give my work meaning. Neither the descriptive aspects nor the high definition of details are interesting to me. It is the much larger areas, the fragment-parts. The part which gives meaning, which gives sense to everything through a process of intuition (and not evocation). It is ambiguity that is important and not the surprising, aestheticizing aspect.
I am referring to a child’s field of vision, an unusual way of looking for us: the young child being held and his ways of visual contact with the family figure: it is a seen area which becomes the significant aspect of the person. Once again, it is not the described face that interests me, but the visual field that is usually seen fleetingly.
In a conversation with Salomon Resnik, a psychoanalyst who has done much work on creativity, it was suggested that a child’s field of vision goes beyond Winnicott’s idea of the mother’s face as mirror. According to Resnik, the visual field of a child, whether it is the face or something other part of a family figure, becomes a mirror that is a mixture of realities: the body of the other and at the same time projections of the child’s body itself.
In Rumore di fondo I thought once again of the small child’s mind which knows that behind the folds of that sweater lies a family figure, almost as if there were a tactile and olfactory connection. It is the empathic relationship that interests me. In the video installation Conversazione, which is a “degree zero” conversation, meaning one without words, the point of interest lies in the margins, that which is not in the centre of attention, what we know as “off-screen”. And once again, in the series of videos Disattenzioni [“Inattentions”] (2000-2003), I put at the centre of my attention an experience which we never think about normally. The “off-screen” becomes the centre: areas of light from one’s home, in the corners of one’s own home, light which disappears in real time.
Here too, it is as if the fringe, our living of experiences without being fully there, assumes importance, a sense of necessity. The thing exists: it has a presence and its own sense. The marginal and latent can be surprising. The stammered “da-da” of a child can almost be more authentic for me. The primitive, the “pre”, the atonal that is not yet melodic, the “free” must be recovered and re-evaluated because it expresses the fullness of living with: in an empathic relationship with the object, place, other.
“[...] the aesthetic moment is an unthought part of what is known. The aesthetic experience is an existential memory of a time when communication came about based on this illusion of a profound relationship between subject and object. Being with, as a type of dialogue, allowed the child an adequate elaboration of existence before being able to do so through thought”. Christopher Bollas
As it is in a psychoanalytical session where attention is paid to linguistic transgressions, at the limits of what is being said, in my work I try to bring to the fore those elements where the significant part of language (for example, the metropolis) fades away to break into another language: it is an attempt to make sense of the non-sense of minimal, apparently inert panoramas. It is like putting the focus of attention back on what has been removed by the power of culture. When we fix our glance on something, it is as if we are bringing that object into the world for the first time: it is a type of preconscious experience. To put in the centre that which slips from our mind, the edges of narration and discourse – this is to let the mind wander: perception without need of concentration. Indeed, it is the opposite – the attempt not concentrate on one specific thing. To empty the mind somehow means letting the mind roam: perceiving without intention.
In my opinion this is linked to inattention, or perception in distraction. The marginal, the forgotten, the banal, routine, the “removed” is what is always seen, which is now frozen, arrested, removed from its usual context and placed in the foreground; now it is in the centre and monumentalized, but not aestheticized. Here the object is recognizable and familiar because it always occupies a fundamental place: it is always present in our daily lives, and falls into our field of vision, both internal and external. In the videos Passi leggeri [“Light Steps”] (1999), the free-floating attention becomes the attention of the camera itself (in the definition of Franco Vaccari, a “technological unconscious”). I tied the videocamera around my waist, facing forward or backwards, looking down, at the height of the eye of a child who is about three years old; and so equipped I filmed while walking around. It is an “eye-body”, with no rational principles – not the eye that measures but the eye that is living with the body. Here the aspect of randomness, which goes beyond the original intentions, is more accentuated than in my other works.
A first version of these notes appeared in Utopie quotidiane. L’uomo e i suoi sogni nell’arte dal 1960 a oggi, edited by Vittorio Fagone and Angela Madesani
(Milan: PAC, 2002): 44-7.
M. Ballo Charmet, “On the Empathic Relationship, Free-Floating Attention, Peripheral Vision And Other Notes” in Marina Ballo Charmet, Fotografie e video 1993/2007, Electa / Jarach Gallery, Milano, 2007
 Salomon Resnik, Sul fantastico. I. Tra l’immaginario e l’onirico (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1993): 83-4.
 Quoted in R. Carleton Hobbs, “Early Abstract Expressionism. A Concern with the Unknown Within”, in R. Carleton Hobbs and G. Levin, Abstract Expressionism. The Formative Years (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978)
 Anton Ehrenzweig, The Psychoanalysis of Artistic Vision and Hearing. An Introduction to a Theory of Unconscious Perception (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953).
 Chistopher Bollas, L’ombra dell’oggetto. Psicoanalisi del conosciuto non pensato (Rome: Borla, 1989).