Europa’s sleep

 

Twenty-five sheets of card painted partly in watercolours, partly in oils pressed with a template, are embedded in the walls of the Tor Bella Monaca exhibition space. Although the collocation of the work underlines its desire to act as a wall, to form “an obstacle in the way of the general flux” (Pirri), something different seems to be happening compared to Alfredo Pirri’s previous works. Those in which the forms spring from an act of resistance and become manifest when the friction occurs. As in Squadre plastiche (Plastic Squares), produced in the 1980s, where the painting emerged in the impact with the walls, or in the more recent Facce di gomma (Rubber Faces), which bear the signs of their resistance to or acceptance of the paint. On each of the sheets embedded in the walls the words “Here lies” are printed in a black rectangle, translated into the major European languages.

Watercolour halos radiate from these monolithic structures, similar to tombstones. The words are enveloped in mandorlas of different colours, dark blue, light blue, green, purple or red. Flower-like patches of colour open out on the walls, and the surface assumes the softness of painting. In 1996, two years before the exhibition in Tor Bella Monaca, in Serre di Rapolano a whole room was filled with these visions and an indigo colour radiated, together with the light, from the screened windows. The outside world, the real world, where people walk, talk, and go about their business, was omitted. But the flowering of colour from the wall and the light that entered the room hinted at the presence of an elsewhere. One was inside a place designed by the artist also responsible for what one could perceive as the outside. The screened windows made it impossible to see what was going on in the street and the light that entered was as blue as the sky, but more intense than natural light. With their pattern of words and colours inserted into a horizontal structure like a large block of stone, the walls defined the space, but with their flower-like patches they also seemed to be surfaces opening up, sensitive membranes. They called to mind a breath, a puff. In Serre di Rapolano the exhibition was entitled Luoghi ritrovati (Places Rediscovered). The building that housed it had been adapted according to contemporary exhibition criteria and the room in which Pirri arranged his work was bare and painted completely white. It was as if the inflorescences on the walls were, among other things, meant to break it up. The space cleansed of the accidents of life that is generally created in museums and galleries to protect art seems to be considered by Pirri as a historical necessity, and at the same time he seems to try to open up an elsewhere. What elsewhere, however? Not that of everyday life, with its endless different gestures, whose presence within Pirri’s work is assured by the spectator who inhabits the place of the work. Rather, an elsewhere from which there comes a light more intense than natural light, and which emerges through openings that are fragments of painting. An elsewhere that the artist does not entrust to life, but wishes to govern. He exalts it with the indigo-coloured light, he expresses it through the metaphor of an open form, he represents it through the exemplary nature of colours spread out on the neutral walls of the architectonic space. The work has a title, Sonno d’Europa (Europa’s Sleep), that highlights the words that appear in it. The words “Here lies” and the black rectangle that contains them, similar to a tombstone, initially call to mind a funeral service, a memento mori, a thought also borne out by the tragedies that have devastated Europe in recent years, the war in the former Yugoslavia, and in 1997 itself, the outbreak of the civil war in Albania. Another idea, however, begins to take hold. It might be a case of sleep understood as a distancing from the accidents of the world, a sign of wisdom. In representations of the Holy Family, Joseph is often portrayed asleep; his character is an example of wisdom and patience, like that of Jacob, who dreamt of Paradise as he slept. The fate of Buddha is announced by the premonitory dream of his mother Mâyâ, and it is during the night, during the time normally devoted to sleep, that the prophet reaches illumination. Dante chose the metaphor of sleep to explain the sense of bewilderment after which he undertook his memorable journey. Sleep is the state most propitious to visions, it is the intermediate stage between consciousness and imagination. In Europa’s Sleep the place is rediscovered because the artist has become absorbed within himself. He has given up the simple tones of conversation, the observation of the accidents of everyday life, and has fallen asleep in order to be able to generate a new vision, a new way of looking at things. An ascetic practice emerges in this work, a practice also found in previous works by Pirri. A tendency to consider the details of human life, whether personal or historical, in the light of an intense desire to overcome contradictions, to defeat pain, to be able to see and understand. With Squadre plastiche, since painting is understood for historical reasons as reflection, reverberation, he has constructed the obstacles necessary to allow colour and light to become manifest rather than to fade away, even using his own face to bear the brunt. In Sonno d’Europa he seems to have changed perspective. Something must have changed in his way of looking at things. It is no longer a shield, but an inhabitable place, an internal organism that opens up softly to the other.

Daniela Lancioni

Translated from Italian by Mark Eaton

to see the images of the show click here

writings.

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