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School Colors

Gianni Riotta – Punti Fermi, 2007

A man notices how women look at each other when they are adults. Ever since he was a boy he has caught other men’s glances of desire, challenge of rivalry.

Because of something said by a lad to a girl I was with, with the pride of my fifteen years, I found myself with raised fists; it was a stupid thing to do, he would have killed me. To save me his older friends separated us and I was foolish enough to feel cocky. It was she who put me in my place; instead of praising me as her knight in shining armour, she reproached me for acting tough.

As a man you see how women look at other women, their clothes, their walk, their glance, their companion, the children, the car. It isn’t a look of envy or competition, it enfolds and scrutinizes them, it compares their own self with that of their partner, it examines them, analyses them, votes on them, awards positives and negatives to oneself and to the other. A mature man, if he has managed to achieve the state of Don Giovanni surviving the Commendatore, will see how women look at other women.

In these collected works of Marina Sagona the feminine look at other women is offered to de Beauvoir’s second sex, like Conrad's shadowy line of every man leaving his youth behind him. It is the limpid gaze of a woman who judges but doesn’t condemn, examines but does no harm, analyses in order to love. One glance at the past, Anna Karenina, and one to the present, Mina. Her art, also loved by The New Yorker, is a pastiche between feelings and affection. A glance between women which dips its colors in the school pencil case, adds the homemade flavor of Italy and refines them with the elegance of Manhattan. There’s no tenderness, friend, mother, daughter, sister, diva, fan, heroine, companion, who escapes Sagona's restless brushstrokes.  Where you seem to find the serene smile of maturity, here, once again, is the eternal and ambiguous  passion of youth. Every portrait is a story;  Emma Dante's theatre of shadows, Donna Elvira's failing determination when, in casting off Don Giovanni, she also  renounces everlasting happiness, to the evocation of her mother and a mysterious embrace in the snow.

In Vasily Grossman’s important 19th century novel Life and Fate, a mother attempts to raise her son from the frozen tomb of a war victim with the strength of her love. The ascent from Hades takes place, the son returns, but no love is stronger than physical death and the boy falls once more into the frozen earth. Sagona’s drama remains secret; a man, a woman, an embrace, snow, a hole, the border between which worlds? Everyone can fill the void  as they wish. But it is  the look that saves us, the artist’s perception that does not allow time, fatigue, disappointment, or the disorder that wears us all out (Strenua inertia nos exercet according to Horace), to cast us into nothingness. In this moving exhibition, Sagona who is Italian by birth and American by culture, challenges time and its strength with the same reckless passion with which I threw myself in front of that colossus who attempted to harass my young love.

Any brutal contact would have the same end for which I was destined, covered with blood and on the ground. But just as I was saved by those wise older workmen, so she is saved from the brutality of fate by those delicate outlines drawn  with such grace. The writers, the directors, the heroines, the friends, the mother, even the humble things, will magically come together to halt what Enzensberger calls The fury of transience. The fury which Sagona halts with love for a single moment, a single miraculous instant, long enough for an urchin to deride eternity.