You stand fixed in a climate-controlled museum corridor, left hip cocked and head slightly tilting to hold eye contact with a figure frozen in an oil portrait. It’s a quiet, somehow reassuring ritual which stirs up all sorts of sentiments; wonderment at pain-stakingly executed artistic techniques, nostalgia for times forever intangible to one’s self, assumed comprehension of what lies behind the sitter’s gaze.
But what if they blinked back, and raised a beckoning finger to draw you deeper into their brushstroked reality?
In 2014, video artist Rino Stefano Tagliafierro (born 1980, in Piacenza, Italy) envisioned such a bizarre twist of events, and undermined centuries’ worth of conceptions about static allure and grace. By combining eye-catching 2.5D technology and a catalogue of classic paintings by artists ranging from Bouguereau to Rembrandt, Tagliafierro produced the aptly titled film BEAUTY.
Still images, some more celebrated in the canons of art history than others, rouse themselves to life in a series of smooth, clever gestures that become increasingly more wrought with tension and gloom. Birds flap coolly across unfurling woodland landscapes which first welcome the eye, mothers press their babes’ forehead to their virtuous lips, dreamy little girls let wildflower bouquets slip from their fingertips; but a mutation takes root as Millais’ Ophelia sinks woefully downward, cadavers are inquisitively peered into and witches take flight under menacing night skies.
For the present, only the airier beginning segment is available for online viewing, as the full version of BEAUTY is frequently shown at distinguished international film festivals. Public interest likely continues to be piqued by Tagliafierro’s emotive work because the ideal of Beauty, its light and dark bits, is something inseparable from the human story. As the photographer Giuliano Corti wrote of the piece, “Beauty in this interpretation is the silent companion of Life, inexorably leading from the smile of the baby, through erotic ecstasies to the grimaces of pain that close a cycle destined to repeat ad infinitum.”
Some might debate whether or not Tagliafierro’s work matches up with the motionless depictions of the original artists, so pondered-over for the sake of perfect composition. Sublime or superficial, it’s up to each viewer to settle that within themselves. Yet no matter how you’re inclined to construe Tagliafierro’s short film at its end, there’s no glancing away while it plays.