Texts by Carolyn Christov Bakargiev e Giorgio Maragliano for Alfredo Pirri’s exhibition at Galleria Planita/Galleria Alice, Roma, 1988

Alfredo Pirri loves Mishima and certain ideas of Heidegger’s; he likes rationalist architecture, the elongated, thin quality of the font ‘Futura’, a sense of the sublime and a sense of strength, certain Modernist ideals. In amongst these coordinates we find a trace of nostalgia, as if the wood of the typeface were slightly chipped, and a great sense of hope; a taste for rhetoric softened by the slight smile of he who knows he will have to be patient. His Squadre Plastiche (1987-1988) are rectangular tables, of various dimensions, uniformly lacquered as if they were furniture. The back is painted a colour which reflects onto the wall behind it, like a halo surrounding the table. These works are the ‘heart’ of the artist’s current practice, and they are often installed in intimate spaces which he defines in architectural terms – temple, mausoleum, stage, ‘exemplary’ space.

In the 1930s, modern ideals built stone monuments as the world ran, unwittingly, into tragedy. Today, the monument is the metaphysical wrapping of the Subject, of he who feels the weight of an inevitable lack of project. It is the scenography of a drama which has already taken place; a church already desacralised.

I. Screens turned upside-down, screens turned on

Apart from the Squadre and the spaces the Squadre inhabit, Pirri also builds installations where video-images form part of ‘edified’ spaces. The monochrome of the Squadre shouldn’t, then, be seen as a reactionary or purely formalist amnesia: in Pirri’s work the nostalgia for an epoch of great projects and ideals, such as the rationalist era, is never undone from a will to activate the contemporary, to understand a form of communication highly dependent on televised images. In other words, for Pirri the ‘model’ never precedes ‘the real’: the two coexist without alienation, without a loss of authenticity. The Squadra (which in Italian is the set-square used for architectural drawing, but it is also the military squad) is plastica, ‘sculptural’, covered in polyester. It doesn’t wink to ancient practices – to oils, say, or to marbles. We can see them, then, as a sort of TV screen, although it is distant from the screen that created Pop Art, semiologically open to the world. This is a screen turned on: it produces only light, a lot of light. The reflected light isn’t extracted ‘artificially’ (electrically), not is it the light of ambient art: rather, it is the pictorial, slightly fluorescent simulation of televisual light (which simulates the real). As such it re-flects and re-flexes itself, neutralizes simulation and incorporates it into a global vision which humanistically refuses the death of the Subject at the end of the Modern era. By reformulating light and translating it into pictorial matter, artificial ‘plastic’ light is tamed: it becomes a new source of energy, a place of culture.

II. Empty, full

The frontal surfaces of the Squadre, initially shiny black, then white and rarefied, then a light hue of ethereal blue (like the sky but also like a screen which isn’t receiving its signal) carries no figuration. It’s the mute object that defines the halo around itself, the space of thought, immaterial, partially hidden. It becomes the metaphor of a void which isn’t absence, and of how a movement, a relocation suffices to see the signal of sense of the work of art. These plates follow the ‘linguistic’ monochrome which has characterized the century, where geometric and formalist reduction has made sign and signifier coincide, as if their distance were merely a lie. These plates also show a trust for the ‘last picture’ of existentialist monochrome. While the idea of a ‘full’ void, of a power balanced with a lack of power, of action balanced with anti-action could remind us of certain principles of Zen philosophy, it isn’t silence, nor white noise which interests Pirri in his work. The stress does not fall on what we can project into the centre of the void, like those ‘clouds’ on white paper or pale distant mountains, or like the calligraphic equilibrium of ‘zen’ paintings from thirty years ago. Here the ‘empty’ space remains empty and assumes its aura of power precisely from the way it sheds light on what surrounds it. The expression of power (or of strength) and the expression of renouncement (or of containment) are the two poles of this research for the sublime; and since they are polar opposites, they stimulate a sense of stable nothingness which resounds in its own very aura of power and surrender.

III. Squadre

Before this series of Squadre Plastiche, most of Pirri’s paintings were circular. The sense of the circle is something which returns constantly to the same point, which over time modulates and grows, as in iterative music. Serial structures are, then, also close to the idea of the circle: the underlining of a rhetoric produced by a sequence. These tables, each with its own aura, are never isolated one from another. They are always presented in groups, modulates sequences of elements of varying dimensions and number. They are composed in orderly ‘drawings’, concentrated mostly on the margins, showing an attention to the contours of the shape. The interval between them is measured carefully and simply, and the golden section is neither refused with a pretense of originality, not is it exalted as an inviolable mystery of Tradition. It is used naturally, as if by a functionalist architect, to form solemn groupings; like blackbirds on an ancient tower, like the frame of a modernist doorway. These Squadre give themselves as objects in the world rather than windows onto the world, but they are never banal objects of the world. Like the humble unrefined wood which used to support a carefully sculpted Christ, Pirri’s tables look up at us with reverence and awe: crucifixes, where the serial structures of the squadra (an allusion to sense) substitutes the structure of the cross which used to define the space of sense.

Carolyn Christov Bakargiev

This text was originally publised in the catalogue of the exhibition edited by Carolyn Christov Bakargiev, Galleria Alice e Galleria Planita, Rome, November-December 1988.


The Other Way Round (1)

Pirri’s works confront, since their inception, the problem of the relationship between the subject and the work. The anomic and ‘ecstatic’ being of the work, once interrogated, morphs now into precise traits of a representative system sustained by rigorous laws. His works don’t resolve themselves, in fact, in the pathos of an emotive ‘climate’ in which the work of art is a lengthening of subjectivity; they don’t inscrive their euphoric or plaintive quality into a mundane totality, into an external force whose limits are impossible to determine. On the contrary, Pirri’s work appears to want to display the internal legality of the work of art as syntactic articulation of its figures; his work seeks to recognise key figures, becoming the representation of an essential subjectivity which poses the existence of the world.
This key figure, for whom the subject is the representation of objects in general, could be called inversion. While in Kant the inversion of traditional thought is precisely the what grants access to empirical truth, in the history of thought and of art from German Romanticism onwards this figure of inversion will denote a totalization of subjectivity for which the final goal becomes the reference of the subject to itself; the resolution of any external thereness in the moment of creative expression. In art, this process of totalization of subjectivity reaches its highest expression in various forms of non-objective art: art whose final criterion is the definition of a self-finalizing whole, constructed from pure signs, that is of signs which do not refer to anything other than themselves. The nature of the abstract work of art, whose traits are apparently distant from any concept of anthropomorphism, nevertheless hide a metonymical representative of infinite, pure, creative subjectivity. In Alfredo Pirri’s production, the cardinal places of art intended as ‘autonomous system’ or self-referential language show their internal aporia.

Beginning with his Tondi and ending with his Squadre Plastiche, and including his installations this year at the Venice Biennale and at Taormina Video D’Autore, Pirri traces a pathway whose object is the very research of field of tension between, on the one hand, a work which doesn’t want to exhaust itself in analogy or representation and, on the other, the plea the work makes to the spectator, the critical question the artists begs from his own work.
Neither of these urges resolves itself completely in the others: the space of the work of art is the very struggle in which the two have to renounce their presences of absoluteness. At the Biennale installation a flagpole (the ‘heroic’ subjectivity of the artist), a series of monochrome panels and their luminous auras (the mystical self-referentiality of art), writing (the pure, judging contemplation of the spectator); the whole installation poses the sacrality of aesthetic space as monument. The work is not ironic: although analytical, it is not self-reflexive, it doesn’t take itself as object, it doesn’t talk about itself. What occurs here is the vision of a non-objectivity which, by abstraction, reaches a profoundly other reality, given in its entirety by the space of the work – the vision which from Malevich to Analytical Painting supplies the mythology of the avant-garde. The rhetorical tropes which the non-objective work of art used to become metonymy of subjectivity are deformed here, violated until they appear inverted, the other way found: the monochrome modules of the series Squadre Plastiche, with their interval of distance from the wall, violate the one essential rule of tautology and of self-referentiality that is flatness; the aura of light that is diffused on the back of the panels is superimposition, baroque doubleness of that one light which pure colour diffuses. In some of these pieces, Pirri uses white – and precisely white, a turbid colour is, I’d like to say, the antithesis of transparency, it erases light and shadow but it will never erase or evade the perverse nimbus which frames it. This perversity Pirri shows in his treatment of light becomes even more apparent in the final pieces in the series, which display an identification between the colour on the surface and the colour reflected on the wall and, in doing so, artificially, fictionally reconnect the double to the one, the object to the wall, the light to ‘real’ space. Nevertheless, the most extreme and most significant violation Pirri makes here is the juxtaposition operated here of monochrome modules and of writing. The elemental taboo of the monochrome is broken, be it in its tautologicL OR sublime guise, and it is broken especially in the injunctions it makes for the spectator, by bringing back to earth the mystical subjectivity off non-objective art. The judgment that every abstract piece of work makes and declares towards the world, in its being the incarnation of an absolute consciousness beyond the ephemerality and the accidentally of objects, is pronounced here loud and clear in the letters outside the room; it is held in the panels, in their quiet discourse; and the flagpole is the custodian of a mystery, the mystery of the internal, of interiority, which it deceives, dissimulates and dissolves at the same time.

In northern mythology there are in-between figures, half-human have-divine, whose function is to guard the threshold between the here and the there, sentinel-like creatures whose role it is to make sure that the passage between profane exteriority and the perimeter of the sacred happens according to rule. It isn’t by chance – although it isn’t thematized by the artist himself – that that Goethian flagpole, also a guardian of the threshold, has a divine quality associated with the agile movement of the flag: the Sanskrit term isirah, translatable into Greek as bieros, ‘sacred’, denotes vigour, vivaciousness, and from here isiram ketum, ‘waving flag’. If we allowed ourselves to keep going with this association of ideas, we could say that the strength of this installation lies only apparently in the disappearance of presence, the making present of absence – rather it is the inversion, again, of rhetorical models per absentiam, by way of subtraction of the empirical and ephemeral attributes of objectivity. The fact that the pole is flagless is not a sign of mourning, the sentinel of a ‘terrible’ secret: it’s the proof that for Pirri there is no secret in the beyond. The dura lex is always already exposed, and the work exhibits it with finite, determinate, immanent, non-symbolic signs.

As in Kafka Before the law, we enter this room of subjectivity imbued in our own singularity; but this is not an example which the work itself seeks to embody: the monument not of what is meant to last, but of that which cannot die. The words consigned to the wall as we enter the room becomes a transcendent judgement, indifferent to the who, to the here, to the now. Yet another inversion, then: an opening towards an essential exterior, an exteriority which the work of art cannot dissolve, a necessity which the aesthetic is condemned to betray.
The absence of symbols explicits the ephemerality of every sign, be it natural or artificial. But it is exactly that ephemerality, that finiteness, which – this work seems to whisper in our ear – substantiates its importance for us.

Giorgio Maragliano

This text was originally publised in the catalogue of the exhibition edited by Carolyn Christov Bakargiev, Galleria Alice e Galleria Planita, Rome, November-December 1988.