In the modern era, the archive – whether endorsed or personal – seems to have become the most significant means by which historical knowledge and memory are collected, stored and, most importantly, retrieved. Traces and testimonies of any sort, attributed even to events such as the World War II or the fall of communism for example, have provoked a reconsideration of the authority of historical truth (in its narrower sense). If archives were once considered a sort of neutral record of the past, today they are undoubtedly a medium of “historicity” in themselves. Yet, as Derrida astutely notes in Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression – the printed version of his infamous lecture in London in 1994 – the nature of an archive is to be both authoritatively transparent and authoritatively concealed. For, as he writes, “There would indeed be no archive desire without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness which does not limit itself to repression.” Due to a quality – defined metaphorically as “archival violence”– which appears to be a crucial point in his essay, Derrida highlights the way in which archives can be simultaneously traditional and revolutionary, able to determine, though their (archiving) structure, their content and its relationship to the future. Archives after all are a synthesis of certain preserved traces of what happened there and then, never the fact in its totality. There is usually information lost or “burned” on the way, randomly or not randomly at all, for which we will always strive.
Do archives express some comprehensible truth?
Well it would appear nowadays that this is totally “up to the beholder” (meaning both the author and the witnesses over time). Archives seem to be – more than anything else – sundry dialogical compositions of a collective memory and a collective oblivion at one and the same time.
Luca Pignatelli’s oeuvre appears to be, at a first glance, a compound archive of symbolic beauty and form. But, as they say, every aesthetic decision is a moral (and/or political) one too.
Driven by the “compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire [...] to return to the origin [...] to the most archaic place of absolute commencement” that Derrida describes as the “archive fever”, the artist accumulates books about cities, art, architecture and history – among others – as well as everyday paraphernalia, decorative objects and furniture from the past, regardless of the precise period of their fabrication. Carefully displayed, rather than merely stored, the collectibles together with his works in progress transform his studio into a microscopic indoor reproduction of his head. A “theatre of memory” and at the same time a psychographic territory of the now, containing – in the manner of the “cabinet of curiosities”– a collection of types of “objects”, (even embedded in the architecture of the space), whose categorical boundaries are yet to be defined. This as a whole (together with the space of the studio and the artists working in it) shapes the absolute “piece” of Luca Pignatelli, glimpses of which are often presented in different exhibitions.
Playing with symmetry and repetitions, construction and fragmentation, archiving and chaos, Pignatelli opens up an unpredicted range of hybrid possibilities in both a “formalistic” and “conceptual” manner. Beauty is essential to his world, not only as an aesthetically pleasing agent, but also as the method of sweetening the “fact”. He is definitely a “classicist” in his appraisal of rhythmic organisation, as seen in the poses of powerful male and female ancient nudes. However, in his case, instead of following the principle of “classicism” – an approach to the medium founded on the imitation of antiquity, and on the assumption of a set of values attributed to the ancients – he violates it. As seen in his recent “paintings” of sculptures, the enduring grandeur of the geometrical compositions is disturbed by the literal fractures in the background and the structural supports that hold the painting together. A set of metaphorical “defects” in the canvas or the paper are overtly and lustfully mingled with close-ups of repro- ductions of the sculptures to complete the composition. This formalistic pairing between the uncouth but lively axes (horizontal and vertical) and the graceful curves of the sculptures achieves a very contemporary and almost radical result. Through the visual manipulation of shapes and meanings, the viewer is imprisoned within a set of ambiguities, similar to those found in the precarious real world. At the same time, the timeless dignity and the reassuring calm of the – carved in marble – ancient figures are being contaminated by the notions of the “fragile” and the “ephemeral”. The heroes of today can be the anti-heroes of tomorrow. Monu- ments in our times are as conditional and consumable as the people or the accomplishments they recall. Through a contemporary contrapposto, Pignatelli’s Sculptures 2010 succeed in creating “fluidity” not within the pose, (as achieved much earlier by Praxiteles) but within “history” and the “historical fact”.
“Proportion” in its broader meaning is also at the core of Pignatelli’s oeuvre. Through the process of appropriating the physical as well the conceptual proportions between various images, the artist develops his own archival technique for comprehending humanity. The working procedure starts from mining the original – yet confiscated – sources found in the books he collects. Different sets of images in direct juxtaposition come to light and immediately generate unexpected narratives from which Pignatelli’s overall creative logic derives. It is difficult to say whether the images are assembled in relation to their form or their content. Most probably they are assembled in relation to both. However, looking at the startling “couples” one thing becomes clear. These juxtapositions are at once the crux of Pignatelli’s oeuvre and his protest march against the dominance of the – one and only – past over our present and future progress.
The term “analogy” coming from the Greek word “αναλογία” – analogia, which etymologically signifies “proportion”, also refers to the cognitive process of transferring information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target). In response to our invitation, for the first time Luca Pignatelli is showing at the Poggiali e Forconi gallery a set of black and white collages assembled using direct photographic reproductions from his collection of books. Parallel to painting, the artist has been working in this way for many years. Yet this body of work has remained mostly private. Under the title Analogies, Pignatelli juxtaposes a reproduction of the Sphinx of Cairo with one of a similarly-shaped mountain as it appears above a ski resort – probably around the fifties; an image of warplanes with the Nike of Samothrace in the Louvre; another one of a thirties power station in Louisville, Kentucky with a picture of the House of Ariadne in the archaeological site of Pompei; or a photographic reproduction of the Siena baptistery with one of a similarly-patterned parasol on the Massa beach in Italy, among others. Archetypes and signs of a past civilisation and of the present are reorganised in a laboratory of sophisticated randomness, resulting in a fruitful dialogue between distant worlds and distant times. Here Pignatelli claims his right to a self-governed judgment about History. Based on form and subject, as a pretext, his peculiar archive is at the same time an iconographic map of culture driven by aesthetic and sentimental personal assumptions.
This way of working – the “visual archiving of the world” – has become a common practice among artists in recent years. Museums allocate their entire space not only to artists who act as a species of curators of life, presenting found archives devoted to special interest events, but also to artists that format their own fictional ones. However, what makes Pignatelli’s practice different is that his “archive” is neither – merely – a ready-made transferred from someone’s drawers to the exhibition space, nor a fantastic narrative belonging to fictional events. More than anything else, “Analogies” is a pertinent commentary on the formation of knowledge, and in particular on the formation of our “ways of seeing”.
The homesickness, or nostalgia for the “return”, together with the continuous quest for the “political self” in the present, as expressed in Pignatelli’s oeuvre, explore the kaleidoscopic sphere of human identity and its changes within the realm of culture and history. This recent body of work manages to express not only the symptom of hidden human agonies and drives, but also the extent to which history can mutate and transform the facts. With him in command, his studio functions like a symbolic apparatus of appropriation through which every new work produced re-contexualises whatever it borrows so as to produce new form and meaning. Archiving and Painting, in his case, is a performative gesture towards time and space: an essential mantra, encompassing homage, intertextuality and travesty, through which Pignatelli invites us to address everyday life. In these works the virtuosity in the arrangement of found forms is being supplemented and resourcefully opposed by the production of a complex “historical” and “political” meaning, triggered by the unexpected synthesis of the different thematic entities. Yet at the same time, the relationship of these two strong and even at times conflicting virtues is resolved in a dynamic coupling that gives the work its surprising distinctiveness.
Luca Pignatelli’s paradoxical “Analogies and Sculptures” appear to be a means to understanding the “existential being” in the present. What would development be without the passion of the few to preserve what they thought was exceptional and to pass it on to the next generations? What is history if not various sets of individual preferences symptomatically arranged to sit together and pursue a trajectory side by side? Passionate collector and archivist of relics from a past life, Pignatelli re-examines the bipolar notions of beauty, knowledge and power. His compositions, often seductive and serene at first sight, reveal certain unpredictable visual elements that work as topical “scars” to what is apparently everlastingly invulnerable and sacred.