Gianluca Bianchino is a long-time artist resident of northern New Jersey–he received his BFA from New Jersey City University (NJCU), where his current show “Uncharted Space” is on exhibit; and his MFA from Montclair State University. He currently maintains a studio in Newark, which maintains an active and interesting art scene, not least because rents have been cheap (but the city is gentrifying). Bianchino has been producing and showing work and curating shows in the area with Jeanne Brasile, who runs the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University; his art, consisting mostly of site-specific wall pieces, navigates corners and architectural projected supports with elegance and grace; and lenses, in this show supported by aluminum cases, that produce effects of space junk and primordial geology at the same time when the lens is looked through. “Uncharted Space,” curated by gallery director Midori Yoshimoto, is a remarkably gifted presentation of Bianchino’s long-term themes, which are, by implication, involved with the great age of natural history and, also, the consequences of human activities in outer space–all the stuff hanging about in the atmosphere above us is cause both for inspiration and concern.
It is worth taking a moment to consider the liveliness of the northern New Jersey art scene–Index, a long-active destination for work made by local artists, remains a center for shows and discussion. Some of the other galleries have had to bow out; money remains tight here, even though the city is showing signs of permanent recovery. Yoshimoto’s two NJCU galleries support artists whose work has not received the coverage it deserves–but it is true Bianchino is known in the area, the result of ongoing activity and a willingness to partner with established curators and other artists in the region. Yet there is nothing particularly Newark-ian about art made here; Bianchino’s show, likely best seen in a non-profit space, ushers in an awareness of modernism and electronics mixed with papier maché, as well as molded aluminum. His work fits in very well with the other artists, not only in Newark but in the New York City area. Most of Bianchino’s work is electrically lit–the wall reliefs; small, flat panels; and the lenses, which make up the totality of the show.
It is interesting to note that Bianchino’s technology is decidedly low-tech. Both his installations and his lenses have been produced using only a minimum of machinery: simple electric cords, plugs, and outlets. But the works themselves are visionary; they promise a view of natural history that comes close to a utopia. In the site-specific, 2019 wall installation called Faultline, we see a flat, papier-maché horizontal outlay of whiteboard, embellished and supported by camera tripods. The piece extends more than ten feet across the gallery space, working its way around a part of the wall that juts three feet into the gallery’s central area. Bianchino, who was born and raised in Avellino, a small town near Naples, hasn’t forgotten his native art history from Italy–a Futurist vision is implicitly encountered in the arrangement of the overlapping planes of paper.
More than most artists, Bianchino is sensitive to the architectural structure serving to support his art. Faultline is a particularly successful planar environment that hovers among the vocations of painting, sculpture, and architecture–in ways that are highly original (it is also the only flat planar work that is not internally lit). The other major installation in the show, named An Attempt to Communicate with the Sky (2019), rises upward toward the ceiling from a fairly low level on the wall. Complicated in its arrangement of light-industrial materials, the work includes photographer’s umbrellas, tripods, lights, electric cord, plastic, a power strip, projections, and video. The wall environment makes its way upward, following stairs leading to an exit, at the same time rising up the wall to an open space with a cutout letting in light. The piece is visually intricate: slits in the umbrellas result in shadows on the wall; the skeletal remains of tripods extend linearly within the overall composition; and colored lights imbue different areas with varying hues. These two ambitious environments stay close to the environs that shape them, but they also demonstrate the continuing esthetic intelligence of Bianchino, who again and again finds the correct way to engage the site he faces. At least part of his creativity depends on the physical circumstances that he is negotiating, making his work original and different from space to space.
The flat panels are called “Lightmaps” as a series and are lit from behind, suggesting a Futurist past even more than the installations. These works are moderate in size and extend light from within (white strips hiding the electrical cord were prominent on the floor, to some extent detracting from the experience of the art, but the artist has assured me that they will be hidden completely from the viewer in later viewings). Lightmap 8 (2018) is made of acrylic-coated, laser-cut wood, with round openings that emanate light. The rectangular place consists of angular, geometric lines that create parallelograms incised into the plane of wood, but spherical shapes occur too. This tour de force of a line drawing and a low-relief of sculpture, animated by artificial light, results in a highly agreeable schematic effect. It feels like a diagram for a vintage outer-space film, but at the same time, it can hardly be characterized as something stuck in the past. Bianchino, now in his early forties, may be starting to accommodate an outlook that incorporates an art historical awareness. But it is hard to determine whether he is looking back or ahead, or both–his art fluctuates in the gap resulting from a contemporary esthetic that looks toward previous achievements. This is neither conservative nor nostalgic; instead, it is a presentation that makes sense, in light of our predilection for newness for its own sake, taken up by most contemporary artists, and our equally questionable affection for a mostly idealized past, embraced by a smaller number of painters and sculptors.
Perhaps the most involved of Bianchino’s works are his lens sculptures, which usually look like a length of pipe, encased as they are in aluminum, and offer a complex array of rock-like effects for the viewer’s interest. They could be meteors lining up behind each other, or they could look back to ancient geological events. Maybe part of their effectiveness has to do with the fact that they are not placeable in a time sense. Certainly, they are compellingly interesting and, in a general way, serve as curiosity pieces that engage Bianchino’s audience by virtue of their eccentricity–both as a sculptural form and as a window into a world that doesn’t seem true, despite the scene’s overwhelmingly real detail. Wormhole 3 (2018) is a vertical length of aluminum pipe with a lens in the middle and at the top of its length, enabling the viewer to look in on the diorama Bianchino has prepared; the lens opens up to a crowded view of not fully recognizable rock-like forms (other lenses in the show allow some distance to occur between the stony shapes that lie in sequence). This is, at once, plumbing and visionary imagination; the combination is memorable. As time goes on, it will be the job of Bianchino’s audience to link the lenses to the wall pieces, both of which extoll the improbable; everything appears to turn on a slightly hopeful, slightly pessimistic reading of the future. We remember that the title of the show is “Uncharted Space,” whose introductory adjective certainly looks ahead rather than backward.
If we consider the overall vision of the exhibition, we find Bianchino improvising with forces and space he may not fully understand. The world of space is mostly dark matter, but we don’t fully understand how this matter might transform itself in the future. In the meantime, we can look closely at what has happened rather than what is yet to come. But the name of the artist’s show indicates he is moving ahead to confront the unknown. Who knows what will come of it? So far Bianchino’s career has been a steady march toward an increasing sophistication in handling his materials, which are both natural and manmade. He is highly gifted in his visual installations, aligning materials with precision and imaginative capability. Even so, we really don’t know what will take place, so we can only speculate about possibilities. This means that we are all at least partially blind in relation to forthcoming events. But part of art’s beauty has always been about imagining what might be; Bianchino’s insight is particularly grand because he incorporates historical truths as well as as-yet-unrealized actualities. It is impossible to balance completely the difficulties between our knowledge of former occurrences and our guesses at the unknown. Yet it looks like Bianchino has come pretty close, even without his knowledge.