Square, 2011

Introductory text to the piece Piazza ( Square), made for the new Archaeological museum of Reggio Calabria


On the cover of the pamphlet illustrating the piece I have made for the National Archeological Museum of Reggio Calabria, I chose to juxtapose two things which are important to me: the title of the work, Piazza, and a photograph documenting the beginning of the restoration works of the courtyard (that is, ex courtyard) of the palazzo which hosts the museum.
The photograph sheds light on the kind of effort which went into making this piece: huge concrete beams, oversized widths, etc. I’d like to start with this photograph because, to my eyes, it bears witness to the authentic ends of the project, which isn’t simply about recuperating and restoring a building, nor is it about presenting a work of art, rather it’s a foundational and civic operation in an expanded sense.
The operation (I use this term to point to the whole of architecture and work of art) was finalised to creating a piazza, a public space, a piece of city which wasn’t there, a place that’s open to everybody, much more than the inner courtyard of an exhibition building, which is what it used to be before. Through architecture and art we have given a space back to the city: a space which had until then been inaccessible is now a new public space.
This new space is a piazza and at the same time it’s a stage, upon which you can move, be still, watch and, sometimes, witness the miracle of three curtains which are lifted to reveal the ‘jewels’ held by the museum: the two sculptures known affectionately as the ‘Riace bronzes’ or ‘Riace warriors’ and a third piece called ‘the philosopher’s head’.
From the very beginning I imagined this piece not as something which would be superimposed onto the architecture of the building, but as something which could create a dialogue which could be pushed to the limits of integration and of mimesis. I know that, these days, the word ‘mimesis’ has a negative, overdone ring, something which makes us think of simple imitation, something which keeps us away from an autonomous creative gesture (which might be more suitable to the times we’re living in). But I propose we use the word ‘mimetic’ in the most radical and authentic sense of the term, by which I mean something which manifests itself ‘in continuity with’, something which lives in harmony with the subject it confronts itself with. A harmony which shifts, in which the subject (the work of art) and its context (the architecture) are combined and confronted without hierarchies.
Although, in making the piece, I chose to follow the direction of a work of art harmoniously in conversation with its environment, the idea which lies at the heart of it is not the product of a multidisciplinary attitude which tends to the total (and, in my view, totalitarian) confusion of images and disciplines of various provenances. On the contrary, I’d like to underline how such an intimate dialogue between art and architecture was made possible, in this case, because the architecture of the ABDR group, who were in charge of the restoration, is architecture which doesn’t imitate art and because the piece of art (my work) is a piece which has no interest in playing the role of architecture; rather, architecture is seen as the allegory of a vast and perfect expressive world, and which as such returns us to its dream. My piece was born out of the need to think a monumental work which wouldn’t dominate on its context, which wouldn’t distance itself from its environment, which wouldn’t reduce space to a backdrop upon which an ‘artistic’ figure could be drawn. I wanted a piece which was able to give in to its context and trust it, a piece which would only slightly distance itself from its space in order to point at its constitutive elements, and which, in this small distance, in this breath, could produce a tiny, delicate imbalance. The same imbalance we have in our eyes every time we look to art, be it the art of our times of the art of the past, or, indeed, archeology, which arrives to us in the form of fragments, charging us with the responsibility of joining the dots of a universe of forms, ideas and narrations, starting from a set of broken pieces. This is a mode of narration which is of particular importance to me: the ability, and the desire, to tell a coherent story through a single fragment, as if the fragment held the entire story of the work of art it originally comes from, as if it contained all of its original, foundational spirit…
The work of art entitled Piazza is composed with elements taken from the design of the architectural facades (by Marcello Piacentini 1932/1941 and by ABDR 2009/2011) and then superimposed onto the same architectural elements, creating a score made up of fragments which, although composed from abstract shapes, hint towards their belonging to the space itself.
These elements sketch out something akin to the wings of a theatre, which protrude slightly compared to the actual walls of the building (which were, in turn, designed by the architects as walls which duplicate Piacentini’s original walls, like a perforated cover). These wings are made from frames installed at a 45° angle from the walls, which are painted red so as to create a reverberation between the frames and the walls behind them, giving the feeling of a white veiling projected onto the white of the wall thanks to an aura of coloured light (that is, of coloured shadow). It’s a fragmented surface which has only slightly been recomposed, so that the result is slightly ghostly and at the same time slightly structural. It’s made up of shapes of colour which are reflected following the natural journey of the light in the space, interruped by the shadows (also mobile and shattered) created by the metal beams which hold up the large glass panel which covers the whole space.
Inside this space, then, we have the impression of finding ourselves in a bright city square but also on a stage, the stage of an Italian classical theatre, a frontal, rather than circular theatre. To aid this impression, in fact, I wanted the first wall in the space to be devoid of art so as to immediately guide the gaze of the spectator to what is in front of him/her, as if it were a painting which expands on both sides, giving birth to theatrical wings. So it is a stage: a special stage, because its three openings reveal the three main actors of this ‘performance of the ancient’, the two bronzes and the head of a philosopher.

The protruding elements are made with the same materials as the actual walls of the courtyard (plasterboard and iron), and they have the same finish as the walls, chosen in collaboration with the architects. The floor (which is also white) was also chosen together, so as to give a sense of the wholeness of the space. The flooring will also host the furnsihings necessary to the running of the museum, which will also be designed by the architects using shapes taken from the original building and not from my work: the result as whole is an ‘exploded’ architecture, made up of fragments of the larger harmonic whole. Like this, the work will be confused with space, and will act as a constitutive player within it: it’ll underline parts of its environment, like the pen marks you find on pictures and books, where someone has underlined something that moved them.
The succession of shapes exhibited in the space looks like a series of bits of sentences, letters of the alphabet, interrupted stories, or intentions to tell a story. In a sense, what I want to do with this work is what many readers do everyday with books, whether it’s novels, botanical treaties, sacred texts: reading, learning, interpreting and translating into a new form, even if it’s only a detail, a single word, a single punctuating sign. I confronted the walls of the Piacentini/ABDR space the way you might confront a book: a classic, which narrates an equally classical kind of story.
With Piazza I attempted to sum up, in a single form, three spatialities, three characters, three chapters, three reasons which are at the heart of the very concept of museum: the Piazza, the Theatre, the Book. After all, what is an archeological museum if not a place which hosts the parts of a whole which is no more, where pieces are carefully conserved, cleaned up and ordered so as to give a sense of unity to time, amongst the chaos of history?

Alfredo Pirri


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