Ketty La Rocca: In principio erat verbum

15 Sep-19 Nov 2022
PV 14 Sep 2022, 6-8pm


I like other people more and more.
I notice that other people have lots
of ideas. I don’t have time for ideas,
only for obsessions

1974/note unpublished during Ketty La Rocca’s lifetime

Ketty La Rocca’s playful note to herself differentiates between the rational notion of an idea, a formulated thought, and an obsession where the thought process is controlled by feelings. This exhibition brings together a group of works that illustrates her drive to disrupt traditional language, which she considered to be representative of the patriarchy. She proposed as an alternative a language of gestures, one that encompassed a more emotional and expressive form of communication.

At the centre of the exhibition is the performance In principo erat verbum (In the beginning was the word) which was performed for the first time in the UK in July 2022 at 9 Cork St, London. A group of local performers and students were given a simple set of instructions and asked to play a game in which the challenge was to communicate without using the voice – using only gestures made by the body. The improvised movements of the players, captured on film and re-presented here in the gallery, resulted in a series of performative vignettes, as the participants in the game created an intricate set of movements and developed their own means of exchange.

The video Appendice per une supplica, 1972, further illustrates a language of gestures as the hands of a man and a woman describe a series of shapes suggesting a male-dominant power structure. In later works, from a series known as riduzione, La Rocca dissects these movements by tracing images of the hand gestures transforming them into a series of abstract lines. In other works she makes drawings of the hand gestures, using tiny words laced together to do so: language is used to form images rather than to create meaning directly.

Two of La Rocca’s early collage works offer a further mode of resistance to what she considered the contemporary, male-dominated language of both words and images. Qualcosa di Vecchio (Something Old), 1964-5, is a playful reference to the mini-skirt in which a woman drawing attention to its length is juxtaposed with the cut-out words 'La liberty e' arrivata' (Freedom has arrived). The second Ma non cerco abbastanza, (But I’m not looking enough), 1964/65, places cut-out words and images together like players in a game. A broken egg, a family of monkeys, the Milky Way, a mask, a chair (with the artist’s initials) are positioned next to each other inviting us to formulate a meaning without offering any rationale for doing so.

Thanks to The Ketty La Rocca Estate, Michelangelo Vasta and Marina Cioni