Before presenting the artist's work, I would like to say something about the source from which it was inspired. I will begin with the words of Calvino. "This book was written bit by bit, even after long intervals, just like the poems that I jotted down, following my inspiration". During a conference held at Columbia University in New York in March 1983 the author talked about 'The Invisible Cities', a novel that is part philosophic, part allegorical and part fantasy. It started out as memories of journeys, mostly reminiscences of cities visited, poetic remarks in certain moments and in certain places.
His evocations of sad cities versus happy cities, star-lit cities versus devastated cities, different types of people, spaces and impressions are all set down like a diary. One can imagine the great traveller, Marco Polo, presenting Kublai Khan, emperor of the Tartars, with a series of reports on his travels in the Far East. The book contains five hundred descriptions of cities, all of them labelled with a woman's name. These descriptions are subdivided into eleven thematic branches, each of which contains five descriptions of cities. This work of art was written by Calvino during the first part of a Parisian vacation (1964-1970), and published in 1972. In those years Calvino felt the turmoil of French culture, in particular due to those emerging writers that started the literary current called 'structuralism', which tended to reduce the complexity of the world and its physical events into figures and emblems: thus, writing lost all its relationship with reality.
Indeed in the invisible cities there is no trace of reality, everything is mental, even space and time have become abstract. But the reader is never abandoned: the titles of the thematic branches (The cities and memory, The cities and signs, etc.) and the short narrative lines help the reader to reflect and ponder on the symbolic value of each and every word.
Colleen Corradi Brannigan has been able to represent admirably the idea springing from these representations of cities. One can notice symbolic points from Piranesi (Venezia 04/10/1720 - Rome 09/11/1778) and Escher (Leeuwarden, 1848 - Baain, 27/03/1972): from the first series of "The prisons" (1750-1761), where the eye of the viewer is attracted by the intricate pattern of steps drawn by the artist; from the second, the agglomeration of cities superimposed with intricate and impossible pathways (Relativity, Ascending and Descending), because going up or coming down the steps will always leave one at the starting point; "Waterfall" (Cascata) has no beginning and no end, but forever flows from above to below and vice versa, along a single path. It is a continuous path that cannot exist in reality. The way of escape is not the only way because both artists wanted it to be a studied confusion to understand the theme itself. In the same way, the artist carries out an arduous but successful theme: her cities come to life through jagged rocks that, in 'Bauci', recall very original figures, because the walls of the houses and the rocks come together vertically and it is difficult to understand where the walls terminate and the rocks begin, an extraordinary compenetration between Nature and the human world; or, hanging in space in the middle of nothing like in 'Ottavia', where a very thin spiderweb system seems to hold up complete blocks of houses. Underneath, there is empty space for hundreds and hundreds of metres, here and there a few idle clouds that give an idea of an aerial immaterial vision, the same idea of a city that in reality does not esist.
But the conscience of the cities is not all. Pirra, Despina, Adelma, Argia, Olinda, Aglaura, Smeraldina, Anastasia, Andria, Eusapia, Eudossia, Ipazia, Zoe, Zobeide, Maurilia and all the others start from similar spatial conceptions but develop with successive hyperbole into an ascending vision: they stand out bulging internally, starting from a spacious flight of steps that circle and connect the various blocks of houses, buildings, rural mansions, sometimes perpendicular to them. The spiral theme constitutes the leitmotiv of many etchings, due to the fact that it is itself a symbol of movement, from bottom to top, as if it is a matter of reaching a state which is not any more earthly (or only earthly) but has to do with higher sensitive spheres, therefore with the divinity. 'Olinda' should be viewed in this sense , also 'Anastasia', superbly defying the laws of nature: the houses are built one on top of the other, like conical sandcastles, megalithic flights of spiral steps embracing empty space as if wanting to prevent certain crumbling. There is evident similarity with the steeple built by Borromini for the church of Saint Ivo at the Sapienza University in Rome, a real and true architectural miracle, a revolutionary product from a mind that can only be called genial. But the inventive of the artist does not stop here. 'Eusapia' resembles a medioeval fort, built like 'Bauci' on a jagged rock and at the same time it is the continuation of the ground underneath. It is enclosed in a small space, but it less oppressive than in other cities. 'Andria' is a well constructed pliable architectonic landscape: the structures seem to be made of plastic materials, space widens and narrows. It seems to crumble or better to sink, to deflate as if it were falling in on itself.The sensation one has leaves a deep impact like a vision that tends to overcome the human soul because no one can deny that sense of restlessness to have to cross through a city that could fall and crumble at any moment. Similar to this conception is an etching by Corradi Brannigan entitled The Eiffel Tower, proposed in various editions. In this case too, one can see a strong cubistic link, the floors become separated and place themselves on top of one another, they go back and forward but at the same time they reconstruct themselves mentally in the mind of the observer in a unitary composition. Also 'Argia' could be assigned a cubistic role due to the obvious themes of the twentieth century. At first sight it seems to be a mass of shapeless clay with jagged edges to which the artisan did not give a preestablished form: from the beginning it reveals deep repercussions of an anomalous esistence, its streets are not walked on by anyone, a state of immobility and stillness reigns over all.
Also the other cities reveal unreal visions, total abandonment at the inexorable passage of time, which sooner or later will cancel even the subtle traces of what were once boroughs full of emotion. But their memory will live on through the beautiful images printed in books in the library of 'Ipazia'. 'I went into the great library, I got stranded among the bookshelves that were coming apart under the weight of bindings in pergamena, I followed the alphabetical order of alphabets no longer available, up and down the corridors, stairs and bridgeways. In the most remote hall of the papyrus bookshelves, in a cloud of smoke, appeared the soulless eyes of a young man stretched out on a mat smoking opium (from The Invisible Cities of I.Calvino).It is the rotatory movement of the bookshelves that gives a centrifugal vision of the environment, almost distorted as if it were being observed through the bottom of a bottle. Again reality and unreality move together along two tracks that become indivisible in the eyes of the artist.

Gianni Gallinaro

other reviews (in Italian)

Floriana Riggio, writer
review for "Quotazioni" and "Giorno e Notte"

Floriana Riggio, writer
review for "Quotazioni" and "Giorno e Notte"

Luigi Pagliarini, curator
curator of tthe show "violini" c/o Ecoteca - Pescara

Antonio Picariello - art critic

Paolo Thea - art critic

Prof. Giuseppe Cornelii - art critic
Presentation of the art show: "Arte Dentro"




Colleen Corradi Brannigan


Copyright © 1999-2012 Colleen Corradi Brannigan
Reproduction or use of these images is prohibited without written authorization