Trialogue for Villa Medici
(a question a day)

by Alfredo Pirri, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jerome Sans


Alfredo Pirri: What is a question?

It occurs to me that it’s – always – a request of help. A question mark, like a hook thrown against something in which it will stick safely. So that it turns into an “anchor”, an escape. What help can we get from asking questions to someone we know will never be a rock to which to adhere, or a mountain to climb, or even bleeding flesh, but will resist like the fish mouth to the fisherman’s hook? The hook, coming back to us after the throw, turns into a crutch, bending and modelling itself in the hollow of the armpit, in order to sustain the body weight, helping it to walk more safely. Walking alone, stopping, sharing the square with others, looking ahead (head up), feeling living beings within an organism also living, feeling the impression of going in and coming out at the same time… Each of these deeds is a question we ask the open space, with these deeds we trace the work at Villa Medici, as if it was graphite engraved in a sheet.

(Isn’t every drawing a question?)

Jerome Sans: What is your relationship to the landscape?

A. P.: A landscape is a view; the portion of space caught by us in the moment we look at something. Then, staring at the world, we see it in its complete, stable form, while everything else grows on, moves on, lives on, indifferent to our look, or even hostile, adverse, like a saboteur. It acts indifferent to our constructions, tricking and forcing them. The moment forms are born, they’re already ruined, like collapsed monuments. What relationship could be established between the two (form and landscape)? The one reporting the fleeting vision with made-up words? Or the one that proves understanding, corresponding to the vitality that’s everywhere like a delirium of grandeur? It’s hard for me to think of a relationship of mine with the landscape without these premises, that make me feel what’s mine as yours, ours, theirs. My only property is the work  I’ve done, in a live monochromatic fluctuating environment, behind and in front of those who walk and look. A walking and looking that orient and disconcert at the same time. It was mine before existing, not any more now. The more people visit it the less it is my possession. Each one’s look enriches it with visions until it becomes similar to a landscape.

(Can a work of art be its own landscape?)

J. S.: Let’s start from your question: can a work of art be its own landscape?

A. P.: A work of art recreates the landscape, replacing it bit by bit. It settles where the spectator looks most heedlessly, intermittently and indifferently, thus making a new landscape. So a work of art is at the same time a picture and its background, a tree, a view. It assumes different dimensions and expectations, until it considers itself as self-sufficient. This is true even though, one minute later, a form bright from its own light, that had momentarily got the shape of a square, goes back to being a street, a path, a confrontation. You can compare a work of art with the unplanned architecture: it comes in out of control places, hidden to the public and to authorities. This is why it does not make a urbanistic planned landscape, culturally correct, but it builds a cosy and fresh house, full of light and colour, a place for resting and feasting.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: How do you see art/architecture relations?

A. P.: Looking at architecture we have always thought of eternity, of something coming from the distant past and bound to last forever (or until some tragic event causes its destruction). Rudolf Steiner believed that the origin of art goes back to the ritual funeral practices, to the building of the first tombs. They provide the prototype for the earliest dwellings. Death is the home of life, the place where to celebrate its splendour and its beauty. On the contrary, art rises from the attempt to fix the shadows of moving bodies, from the desire to give solidity to light and to its effect on things, so art moves from existing to projecting itself and penetrating the universe of death, trying to brighten it, displaying it as a luminous phenomenon. We can’t cancel these differences, it would be not only impossible but even antihistorical: such an effort would take us out of contemporaneity as it would induce us to lead an existence deprived of its founding contradictions. My generation has strongly shared an attempt to dialogue with architecture, both the built architecture, the architecture of the architects, and the purely imagined architecture made of absolute spaces and voids. Pure spaces of the mind or city spaces, often lacking any human presence or even outlined with shapes acting as measure, “scalar ratio”, unfavourable comparison between the small and inactive human shape and the huge and aggressive urban size. Today I have no confidence any more in this attempt to compare and humanize measures and ratios. Architecture is more and more an expression of power, a power that wants to cancel art and impose the merging of one form into the other, prompting death over existence. The art of wide spaces tends to replace art assuming its “monumental character”, not so much for its dimension as for its symbolism. Contrary to this, the work at Villa Medici is not architecture even if it faces the built, it’s not a site of staging power, it’s, instead, a site that tends to disappear revealing itself as a chromatic “tale” in which persons can meet other persons, being however left alone.

J. S.: How do you relate your work to society? Does your work provide for a social commitment?

A. P.: This is a tragic issue, inducing us to lie, whether you say: “My greatest wish is to be able to acknowledge myself and talk to people” or “my human and artistic condition compels me to live isolated”, in both cases you say the truth, or rather you lie. This is true if you see things from an objective standpoint. You could face the matter in more personal terms. Then I wonder: Is there a possibility of survival for a society that doesn’t provide for, or rather eliminates the regenerative trauma of art from its evolving process?

With what I do, can I transform the trauma of the language in a social trauma? What’s the relationship between aesthetic society and exchange? I think that society, seen as all the events pertaining to reality, has a tendency to disappear, when it gives up (or it’s forced to give up by some authoritarian thrust) vouching for the trauma. In this sense, my work is greatly oriented toward society because it forces it to acknowledge the debt it has signed with art, reminding it the risk of disintegration to which it goes. I’ m also convinced that art (or rather the work of art) carries out a task of rebuilding reality, constantly renewing it and letting itself in turn be renewed by the results of this action. But this exchange does not occur through reflection, i.e. not through thought nor through mirrors, on the contrary through an exchange and comparison of images. This exchange can found two different societies according to the prevalence of one image over the other. We could call the former artistic society or real society because in the confrontation what prevails is the solitariness of forms, the control of one over the other, the energetic and underground act of the changing. We could call (actually it’s called) the latter aesthetic society, or non-existent society because from the start it gives up confronting, being satisfied with a primitive vision of the exchange, denominated “of the goods”, where both art and reality represent interest and powers alien to their essence. I think that in what is defined “aesthetic society” there is no room for art nor for any social relation, and also that the art which centres about the concept and the practice of relation works pro the cancellation of reality.

H. U. O.: Can you tell me more of any of your utopias, unrealized/unrealizable projects?

A. P.: I have no utopian and unattainable project in mind, not because my desire has a limited form, simply because I don’t cultivate projects, but images.

The utopian drive present in an image is immensely stronger than the one in a project, if we, by project, mean something articulated, presupposing study and planning. The work at Villa Medici, for instance, would not be possible without studying and projecting, but what I care for is the final image, being able to consider that work a synthetic image more than the result of a project. I would say I like to consider unattained a whole set of small things, of shades of colour, or to be able to depict the wind in a plastic work, or even do a small work that occupying a narrow space winds it all with its beauty, or also creating a work that makes people heartily laugh. In short, and this really is an utopia – works that move and are expression of a civilization at the same time. I am thinking of the emotion at reading poetry, which can be at times a protest poetry, not only because it helps identifying an enemy and bombards him with poetical charges, but because every time it invents the language making it alive and therefore political.

H. U. O.: What do you think of the return to politics just when we risk a de-politicization?

J. S.: What do you mean by poetry?

A. P.: To answer these two questions I’ve worked hard for many days, writing a long text that was partly different from the rest of the dialogue, in which I maintained that it’s impossible that politics disappear from the artistic world as any environment presupposes a civic, and so political context. At the same time I examined the (possibly) negative use made (mainly) in the western world of this assumption as one more weapon against the “poor” part of the world. A weapon for the attainement and enrichment of the already overflowing “barns” full of western images. A richness (at times exhibited with poverty) that stands as a model to imitate, according to the lack of sense and the incapacity to tell anything interesting. This text has been swallowed by my computer, which has never given it back, not even its bones! As a consequence Hans asked the following question, but I’d like to answer Jerome’s question quoting from a poem by Mariangela Gualtieri.I hope the quotation can be rather than a (new) answer, a hinge in our dialogue, the loving passage to new words:












H. U. O.: How has the computer changed your work, and your style of working? What do you think of the possibility to create new interfaces? According to S.Johnson it’s a great change for the artists.

A. P.: With the Computer there is a tendency to replace one of the basic structural factors of drawing: prefiguration. As opposed to drawing, which is always extremely synthetic, electronic prefiguration can’t be but complex. In these last years I have used the computer to define space and shapes in advance. Of course we are not speaking of what role the computer plays in the various phases of the creation of a work (complex as the one in Villa Medici), where it has been used in many ways , e.g. for calculations for the statics of the path, or for the use of tools for bending the metals, and so on. Rather, for the possibility to create new interfaces, that is new relations. On this I have no clear idea, as I’m not sure that the task of a work of art can (or should) be fulfilled with the starting of a system of relations, even though an important task is to ever reinvent possible relations with ways and worlds far from the one that generated them. This endless confrontation is carried on “vis à vis” the world, the look deriving from it is mutual, osmotic, at times mimetic. As a consequence, the creation of “new interfaces” belongs properly to the work of art itself. In Via d’ombra, for example, the osmosis work-garden cooperates to the arising of a new relationship Villa Medici-City (Rome).

Translated from Italian by Valentina Ajmone Marsan