The Non-Existent Explorer


by Gigliola Foschi

‘What are you doing, moon, in the sky? Tell me what you’re doing, / Silent moon?’ asked the poet Giacomo Leopardi in his “Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia (Nocturnal song of a wandering shepherd in Asia). Well, this is not the question that Beba Stoppani’s ‘L’esploratore inesistente’ (The Non-Existent Explorer) asks when the moon rises. Down here, on the earth, in fact, Leopardi’s shepherd wonders about the meaning of his existence and the mystery of the universe, questioning the moon shining clearly in the sky, far away from him. He is thus a stable subject before the moon, which is an equally stable and specific object of contemplation, yet different from him.

The moon seen in Stoppani’s photographs, however, appears as an iridescent, delicate entity. It is, in other words, so unstable and uncertain in its otherness that it fades away before an ‘explorer’, who, in his turn, is so aware of his transience that he also vaporizes into an ethereal, almost indistinct void. Here everything is linked to everything else, and the moon, the clouds and the observer’s eyes drift ceaselessly towards the continually transforming horizons. In the same way, in the other series of Stoppani’s photographs, there are, at times, blurred close-ups of fragments of bark; or vibrant, spring-like shades of green; or peaceful wintery greys. These are, however, always observed at a distance — or from a non-distance — where what one sees is, above all, the incessant flow of time as it goes away, then returns, then goes away again, both within and without us. In this perceptual process of mutual fade-out, what remains in the end seems to be a state of bright, yet calm and quiet consciousness, where things appear simply as they are: that is to say, temporary and lacking in their own substance, but also pacified and free from suffering, because they are aware that everything in the world is nothing more than bright emptiness — just as Buddha taught us.

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