Texts by Cecilia Canziani and Giorgio Verzotti for the exhibition Eighties are back!, Macro Roma, 2010
In his work, Alfredo Pirri returns the concept of Gestalt of the work of art to its profoundly political role, investing it again with a civil function which all the same does not shy away from questions about what the work of art may be, what the role of the image may be. Perhaps because I belong to a ‘generation born in the desert’, as Deleuze put it, I find Pirri’s work resonates with me because he speaks of another desert, the desert of his generation, which is just as scorched as mine. At a first glance, Squadra Plastica speaks the canonised language of minimalism: it is a specific object – neither a painting nor a sculpture – a monochrome surface made with an alternation of full and empty, one thing after another. Monumental in scale, it fills the space on two axes: the vertical axis of the painting and the horizontal axis which repeats the same module, and which gives the work its intrinsic sense of process. But unlike the monument, it has no rhetoric; and unlike minimalism, it refuses the logic of the autonomy of the object: the vibrating plane we’re faced with looks like the wall has been liquified, bringing with it a score of light and shadows. It is in its shy incorporation into the wall that hosts it that Squadra Plastica declares itself as a question about the re–significational possibilities of painting. This reapplication of painting to the wall, the declaration of its limits, the staging of the residue takes courage, and constance. And Squadra Plastica performs these gestures by entering into dialogue with architecture, which is the art-form which most strongly maintains its public dimension: this piece, apparently abstract, actually evokes the facades of the city’s buildings, and by imitating their external walls it also imitates their everydayness. It does this through a dialogue with sculpture, with a series entitled Gas which Pirri was working on at the same time: tridimensional metal structures upon which he placed a series of wooden tables painted with chalk, one on top of the other. Much like another work whose title tells us volumes regarding Pirri’s explorations – the Infancy of Painting – this piece attempts to reseal a gap with tradition: Piero della Francesca’s painting, Donatello’s sculpture – places in which a shared, collective dimension can still tell us something. Its unravelling at the same time – in time – posits itself as a language of the everyday, of the human, of the civic.
Alfredo Pirri and primordial words
The work on display is part of a group of pieces which Pirri realised from a unitary structural principle, which generated a family of similar forms. The materials of this group are plexiglas and feathers, whereas the third significant element is colour, which we find here used in a way which is typical of Pirri: colour is used for the luminous trace it can reflect on the surfaces posed next to it, for the coloured shadow which touches the exhibition’s environment, a discreet presence architected to influence our perception of the space. The structure containing the work here is plexiglas, which virtually opens up the work (which can be on a wall, or free standing, or on the floor) to its space; the feathers play the role of the pictorial: a number of them are drenched in paint, and hence give the effect of solidified brushstrokes, suspended shards of colour. These install a relationship with non–colour, that is with the white of the unpainted feathers, creating a chromatic movement, sometimes a vortex, but always an alternation which gives the work its dynamism, which puts it in a state of becoming. Becoming what? It isn’t a question of identity, not in the slightest. Pirri works on destitution, on the fragmentation of possible identities, because he knows that the truth of the work will only be perceivable after this undoing, after the relativisation of all truths. At once a painting, a sculpture and an installation, this piece stays anchored to a multitude of meanings which forbids us from assigning it to this or that dimension. Furthermore, its major trait, that is the expansion of colour, is as ungraspable, as undefinable as art can be: it’s like the essence of an interior which is propagated outwards by way of the most minimal gestures, the tiniest of reflexes. The artist himself tells us that the works in this cycle are halfway between abstraction and figuration, that the plasticity of the various elements make up a complex network of allusive valences, mental associations, narrative hypotheses. So what is this piece? An intellectual game, a formal exercise, something made in a vacuum from reality which still evokes an opening to the world by way of its transparent encasing? Not at all: ambiguity, doubleness, unsayability form part of the very nature of reality. Even the most primordial words tell us, the words we use when we feel the need for fundament, for origin, for something to tie our incertitude to. Our early words, the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the old Indoeuropean languages, ancient Arabic, always have two opposed meanings: light also means darkness, strong also means weak, to rule is also to serve, as Freud explains in a brief essay on primordial words based on studies in linguistics. As we know, artists reach the same conclusions as scientists: they trust their intuition, and we should trust their intuition too.