I Am Wasp di Simonetta Fadda

Museo della Ceramica di Savona

Roberto Costantino

Simonetta Fadda, I Am Wasp, 2018. Museo della Ceramica di Savona. Courtesy the artist

Roberto Costantino: You need a wasp’s waist to move around like you did in your last video Sono Vespa/I Am Wasp. And you would also need that kind of waist to be able to see from a wasp’s point of view. That’s not all you need however: to adopt the wasp’s outlook, you had to use a prosthesis, i.e. a video camera. When I watch your video, I get the impression that I can see the habitats of these potter wasps, but – and this is what I like – I get to see them from their point of view. In other words, you managed to get behind the gaze of a wasp and make their way of seeing your own. What did you learn from these wasps about our and their ways of seeing?
Simonetta Fadda: The human gaze abandoned any sense of being “natural” as it started to explore super human visual dimensions. This happened when visual appliances fitted with lenses began to be built to expand organic human vision. Think of Galileo and Sarpi’s famous telescopes, for example. These artificial visual dimensions became more clearly evident when the telescope evolved into the camera and cinema. Human vision was inexorably caught in a visual post-optical and post-human world that has now become prevalent. Therefore the use of visual machines as a medium of expression – be they photographs, videos or films – always means working with non-human vision, as I tried to do in this work, by imagining the vision of the wasp.
In general, the implicit frame of reference for a super human machine vision is the “gaze of God”: a perfect and precise gaze, which views everything in total clarity from a superior position. Vision through a machine comes short of the dream of being able to finally break free from human subjectivity to take on a “divine objectivity”; the machine would seem to be a direct tool to do this.
The paradox, however, is that the technical history of vision machinery covers forms of vision that belong more to the animal world than the divine – and our knowledge of this is limited. My attempt to showcase the gaze of the wasp is in line with the whole history of cine-photography.
At the beginning, with black and white or sepia images, hand-painted in an absurdly improbable style, the cine-photographic machine did nothing but show us humans the world as dogs see it: in a black and white daltonic vision. Then, with the advent of aerial photography, machine images finally revealed the world from above with the precision, proximity and clarity of birds in flight and their experience of seeing. Another instance would be to imagine the wide angle view at its most extreme: one hundred and eighty degrees of framed field with clear peripheral definition, which is always less defined and blurry in organic human vision. We have managed to adopt this as our vision in multiple projection shows, for example, in the IMAX technology of theme parks. And in the theme parks of science or play, like Disneyland, the world bears more resemblance to how certain fish view it; it is no coincidence that the one hundred and eighty degree lens is called a “fish-eye”.
To give yet another example: with three hundred and sixty degree virtual reality – the final audiovisual “frontier” reached digitally – we humans we can appropriate space in the same way as a fly might perceive it, or any of the other insects, albeit with some differences. The spherical shape of space cannot be rendered visible all at once, but only as a succession of details embedded together as in a mosaic. It is impossible for us to view three hundred and sixty degrees of space all at once; we have to turn our head so space reaches us piecemeal; we put it back together mentally as we move around inside it…
Perhaps what potter wasps have shown me, or taught me, is precisely that the more visual machinery presents a “perfect” vision – such as the high definition that I used to make this video – the more this vision gives ground to visual stages which have little to do with perfection, but point rather to the anomaly, the surprise, the phenomenon: in short, the extra-ordinary. And this also reminds me that cinema, at the beginning, really belonged to the world of sideshows…

R. C.: When potter wasps go in search of food, they must also be able to find their way back. Wasps have their own strategy of finding their way home: when leaving the nest, they fly around it in arc shapes in order to memorize the outside panorama. Some researchers have suggested that this method allows the wasp to build a sort of “album of memories” from which it draws images needed for the return flight. I noticed that with your prosthesis – the video camera, you also started flying, and let your gaze fly around the nests, arching in circular and semi-circular movements to get closer to these structures. In short, you have tried to move about and look through a video camera as if you were a wasp. It seems as if you were simulating the arc movement that the wasps perform around their own nests to understand their own position in space. Were you trying to adopt the gaze of the potter wasps, perpetually in motion?
S. F.: Yes, I tried in every way to make the video camera “fly” as a wasp flies. I have no scientific knowledge of insects, but I do spend a lot of time with the plants on my balcony and I observe continuously all the animals that live there, including the wasps. I know how they fly: the way they approach their objectives in concentric circles, the way they pause on the leaves only to take off in a circular flight almost immediately, moving around the area in seemingly somewhat haphazard trajectories, as if undecided, before leaving and returning a little later…
It took me about a month to get any satisfactory simulations of wasp flights; I had to get used to that type of movement. I purchased a high-definition video camera with a good “macro”, because the nests are extremely small, wasp size. Then I built a sort of day-light studio that I set up and took back down in my kitchen every day. It was the only room in my house that received any direct sunlight at the right time to be able to illuminate the nests in a natural way. I tried with lamps, but the light was too cold to show all the detailed nuances of the material.
Instead, in order to visualise the circular flight, I bought a portable gramophone so I could move it around to follow the sunlight and I built the set on the turntable. More or less every day, for a couple of hours, I did ” wasp gymnastics” with the video camera. In the end, I had to stop, tired out by all those movements which required so much concentration. I also had to wear sunglasses so I would not be dazzled by the reflections of the light, but after a while my eyes hurt anyway because I was trying to focus on infinitesimal details. Fortunately, there has been a lot of rain this spring.

R. C.: In your video the wasp is never seen. But it is as if we are always involved with whatever was at the centre of its field of vision. The gaze of the wasp, its subjective way of seeing, reminds me of what we might understand as reconnaissance of a territory. Its gaze and your gaze (there is this identification between the parties, highlighted right from the very start with the title Sono Vespa – I Am Wasp) seems to me to be a way of examining, exploring, inspecting and monitoring a territory or a space, i.e. systematically and with circumspection. As if to inspect and preside over this space. What do you think?
S. F.: The idea of inspection is intrinsic to visual machinery, it is part of its internal logic, of its techno-logic. Visual machinery was made with this implicit objective – and I could say quite a bit about a capitalist industrial rationale leading to the development of visual machinery, but that is a different conversation…
The objective never “watches”, because it is not acting out of pleasure or in an emotional way as we do; it works to create order, to catalogue: the objective always inspects regardless of the nature of the thing on which it rests its gaze.
In this particular case, I thought it was crucial to bring out the material of which these nests are made, a composite in which different elements coexist: clay of various origins and colour, tiny stones, miniscule crystals, plant fragments and animal traces. It was also essential to show the geometry of the architecture, made up of concentric circles, types of spirals, like the movements of the wasps in flight. This is why the video is made up of a series of approaches and infractions: the video camera roams on the surface and tries to enter narrow openings, then our gaze founders among the matter being observed, blurring into it. At this point everything starts again in another nest. In the selection of shots and the overall structure of the video I have been guided totally by the material and the morphology of these incredible non-human works of art.

R. C.: Finally, I would like to what it feels like to fly around looking at the world from the point of view of a potter wasp.
S. F.: Well…it is like having a type of vertigo, but it is also tiring. This forced proximity with things becomes quite oppressive after a while …
I really like to be able to close my eyes. I find that it’s the only way for the gaze to become vision; I hope that in my video you can “see” this aspect, but more than that, I hope that it also happens in the video, when the gaze seeks to understand the material only to find itself sucked in and ends up in a kind of black hole…