Persepoli (2016) is the work that gives this exhibition its title and which, together with Lotta (2017), leverages an aspect concerning the poetics of the residual. As reconsidered discard, the residual has always featured in the material experimentation which Luca Pignatelli has carried out in his works over the course of his research. In the context of this exhibition, however, the name evokes the ancient and never-seen splendours of a city, the remains of which are those that have survived the ravages of the elements and of man over many centuries. In the comprehension of Luca Pignatelli’s work the geographical location of Persepolis is marginal but not incidental. It is perhaps more decisive for such an understanding only if we see Persepolis as another point – after New York and Pompeii, and this time to the East – on the map of the artist’s iconic references. If New York is the epitome of magnitude and the result of human vision, if Pompeii is the still image of a tragedy, and at the same time the subsequent and eternal moment, then Persepolis represents another step in the complex attempt to contain different images and cultures in the mind. No attempt at provocation, therefore, but merely at comprehension, and the opportunity for an exchange of views in this very city, Venice, which was historically a cultural crossroads, and in this marvellous site of the Teatro La Fenice which has risen so splendidly from its ashes after the great fire.
The questions raised by the works of Luca Pignatelli presented in this exhibition are of different kinds. The first relates to the image.
Persepoli is made from a Persian carpet on which the artist has impressed the image of a female head drawn from classical statuary. This is a reference to Western civilisation founded on the primacy of the eye and of the observer. The head is superimposed on the decorative elements of the carpet, and at times appears to vanish among them. We have the impression of seeing these elements simultaneously, but in actual fact we see them in alternate sequence. We have to add to this impression the fact that what we normally see is not reality, because what we perceive – that is the external reality that we become aware of through the senses – is different from what the object represents and is reconstructed by our eyes in the brain.
In the case of Persepoli, the procedure is not exactly stratification, where the development of the formal and aesthetic language proceeds by selection, appropriation, additions and montages of images and matter. The procedure is actually layering, produced by the impression of an image on the support. Image and support are overlaid and we perceive them as alternating since comprehension, in the literal sense, continues to be one of the greatest challenges for the human intellect, which cannot contain two dissonant images that it does not experience simultaneously. It is this dissidence that arouses in the observer the – frequently erroneous – need to comprise the information received in a single definition.
Instead, in the case of Lotta (2017), the procedure adopted is stratification and recalls Luca Pignatelli’s research as a whole. A dustsheet is placed between the impression and the large tapestry that supports it, between the struggle and the decorative motifs.
In his artistic practice Luca Pignatelli has always used different supports, such as railway tarpaulins, sheets of hemp, wood, pieces of iron or paper. He acts on them to alter their nature by ripping them or making joins, superimposing images drawn from the Western cultural heritage (warplanes, trains, buildings, elements of classical statuary, animals). Images and shapes through which we have made sense of the world.
Lotta is a representation on a representation: the artist has impressed on an old tapestry the image of a battle between a hermaphrodite and a satyr, a common motif in classical iconography. The identity of the two figures is dually ambiguous since we cannot clearly discern the attributes or the limbs, and the head of the hermaphrodite (in mythology Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite) is that of Aphrodite. In addition, the ‘struggle’ seems more like an amorous tangle. The relaxed expression of Aphrodite contrasts with her hand held firmly over the satyr’s mouth, preventing all verbal expression, any protest or licence, and also partially blocking his sight since her finger is very close to his eye. This strong gesture on the part of a figure half man and half woman expresses both gentleness and strength, magnificence and fragility, in a composition which as a whole pivots on binary tensions.
In Luca Pignatelli’s works stratification and layerings take place at both temporal and spatial level. The same happens when we watch a film or look out of the window of a moving train, seeing at once the changing landscape and our own reflection in the glass. In the same way, the associations that the artist suggests in his works are then recomposed differently in our mind generating new associations and frames of reference.
The carpet and the tapestry are indeed objets trouvés, everyday objects; partially worn by the passage of time and altered by the artist’s intervention, they have been chosen for their aesthetic characteristics and for the possibilities they can offer. These are operations aimed at balancing weights and measures and abstract and figurative elements, almost as if the artist were seeking an ancient bond in the relationship between the planes and the depths of the blue.
Another aspect which the works on show underscore relates to the perception of the image, more precisely the interaction between the observer and the surrounding environment. As we know, the perception of what the observer has before his eyes is partially influenced by his origins or geographical “belonging”, regulated on the basis of his knowledge and influenced by his individual experience and by the collective experience (such as major historic events).
There are various important events in the history of the twentieth century on which scientists from different disciplinary backgrounds, intellectuals and artists have necessarily had to reflect: the photos found in the extermination camps; the first photo of the Earth taken from space; the
spread of images in the Internet era. These events have contributed to generate an evolution in thought, not devoid of traumas, and in the method of study of acquired knowledge. All this goes back to the question of the status of the image in relation to the truthfulness, pertinence, alteration or adherence to the real datum (the image is not reality).
Definition of the archive function and the question of the truthfulness of the image are issues that have been addressed by many scholars. And, as Luigi Ghirri wrote in 1969, the first image of the Earth from space was not merely an image of the world, but included all the images of the world (photographs, books, frescoes, texts etc.). The appropriation of an image launched on the web through diverse channels of circulation is throwing up new aspects, with repercussions yet to be investigated. The moment an image is published, someone – or rather an undefinable number of persons – is appropriating it, observing and manipulating it. From one context to another the image is being regenerated in a multiplicity of semantic and visual references.
Apropos these three benchmark moments, concentrated in a few decades, we can then take a further step backwards to when, between the end of the 19th century and during the 20th, the parameters for defining the concept of identity – which has much in common with that of image – crossed the borders of Europe to become extra-European. An element of interference, understood as difference, shattered acquired certainties and ruptured the notion of similarity, conciliation and unity: the problem of non-identity emerged. The conquest of the idea of the other as similar was overtaken by the realisation of a difference that could be overcome only through approaches different from those hitherto adopted, entailing the possibility of a reversal of perspective and hence of comprehension.
The deconstruction of the concept of identity (from various angles) and that of the image (for example the Cubism of the 20th century, the early symptoms of which can be sought in the experimentation of the late 19th century) opened the window onto new possible convergences, new ways of experiencing reality even when the differential gap between two people, two images or two cultures cannot be bridged.
This procedure can also be adopted to analyse the two works by Luca Pignatelli presented in the exhibition: we should not be deceived by the reassuring effect of the recognisable images of classical statuary. To give just one emblematic example, the landscapes of the Impressionist paintings concealed crucial research into light and colour that was to lead to the greatest evolutions in the artistic language of the 20th century. Now, like then, it is the duty of the artist, the public and the critics to go beyond “the threshold of the atmosphere”, to shift the centre of gravity of artistic exploration and attain a new level of knowledge. Or rather, of comprehension. Observing Persepoli and Lotta, it appears that we can trace and recompose remote acquired knowledge which still needs to be analysed, moving through differences and analogies to explore a present which is increasingly complex. This complexity is the result of the space-time difference interposed between observer and image, and of the paroxysmal simultaneity currently characterising information and knowledge.