Review: Elena Berriolo and the Imagination of a Line

source: this red door

*Performance of Elena Berriolo titled Transcription of Piero Manzoni’s Infinite line with Sewing Machine, 11 July, 2013, Red Door, Berlin

What is a line? A line is nothing but material; a line is only produced by its material condition. In contrary, a line that is taught in mathematics isn’t a line, it is the abstraction of a line, a line without matter, a pure form. A pure line is one without temporality, without beginning and without end. Such line only exist in formal imagination, and its mode of existence is the most abstract form. Elena Berriolo has answered in her performance “That is what the line has been used for since the beginning of humanity: to make the invisible visible”. The material, even that produced by a chalk on the blackboard is the support of the pure form. It is relevant to recall that Gaston Bachelard distinguishes two types of imagination, one is formal imagination, for example images in poetry; another one is material imagination, that found its ground in material, like water, fire, air, soil. All formal imaginations, or imagination relies on forms must find its source in materials. In L’Eau et les Rêves, after introducing the axis of materialising imagination (l’imagination matérialisante), Bachelard wrote “for such a meta-poetic, water is not only a group of images known in a roving contemplation, in a succession of fragmented, instant dreams; it is a support of images and soon a supply (apport) of images, a principle that found the images”(1942:18).

Elena Berriolo’s performance and her exploration of the sewing machine materialise the concept of a line. Like Bacheland’s water, it is also no longer the support of the line, but become the ground of image, of imagination. It also bring us to confront the question of the mode of existence of lines. The mechanical movements of the needle, the body gestures, the narrations, give birth to the line. It is on this specific setting, we come to realise the multiple modes of existence of lines, which is defined by different constellations of materials, tools, movements. The movement of the needle records time according to the predefined frequency, in turn transcribes time in the shape of the line. The line is also gradually transformed in time: The line fixed on a band, loses its fluidity, but at the same time, the balloons lift it to the air, the wind and the texture of the balloons give different altitudes to the line, it regained its fluidity in another dimension. We also observe that the line disappears in such a constellation. It ceased to be a line, while it remains a line.

This is not the first paradox provoked by the performance, the first paradox already appears in the title of the performance: Transcription of Piero Manzoni’s Infinite line with Sewing Machine. How can an infinite line be possible? A material line cannot be infinite, since by the end what is infinite? Kant was haunted by this question of the infinite at the beginning of the Critique of Pure Reason, how could reason know and make sense of infinite? Reason trembles in front of the infinite, and has to refrain itself within the limits of transcendental faculties. The same applied to the domain of mathematics, since all operation on the infinite always lead to infinite. Until the end of the 19th century, the mathematician Georg Cantor invented the concept of the transfinite number. Transfinite is not absolute infinite, but it is nevertheless infinite. It is infinite, but it is also finite since it is reified into a symbol: m, that is also to say concrete and material. The line produced by sewing machine is also a transcription, it is a line of transfinite, lets pay attention to the Latin root of trans-, which means “across, over, beyond”. It sets all what follows into movements.

The line flies, the balloons burst within 8 hours time. The line will be carried by balloons to somewhere else and open to all contingencies: fall into someone’s balcony, attach to a tree, etc. The disappearance of the line is the extension of imaginations, since with its disappearance can we vividly perceive its existence. This could be immediately understood by comparing reading a paragraph and memorising a paragraph, since to memorise we have to make sense of what is to be memorised – this is at core of Plato’s concept of recollection as condition of truth. By remembering a line that disappeared, it attains certain clarify in our consciousness. This is the second transcription of an infinite line, but it will disappear somewhere else, in the constant flux of time: the infinite.


Bachelard, G., L’Eau et les Rêves, Librairie José Corti, 1942

Cantor, G., Über die verschiedenen Standpunkte in bezug auf das aktuelle Unendliche, 1886

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