solo exhibition at MASSIMO, Milano
curated and text by Paolo Gabriotti
“The exhibition, conceived as a site-specific environmental installation housing two sculptures, is articulated as a game of overlapping between different temporalities. On the one hand, the past, evoked by the carpet of shredded texts and documents, discursive scraps that become landscape, and by the bones contained in the bedside tables. On the other, the future, evoked by the crystal sphere and the movement through time recalled by the saddle. The title, eve, alludes to the correspondence, in English, between the noun “eve” and Eve, thus evoking a sense of expectation, the imminence of an event, but also an original gaze, The title, eve, alludes to the correspondence, in the English language, between the noun “eve” and Eve, thus evoking a sense of anticipation, the imminence of an event, but also an original gaze, situated at the dawn of humanity. The orange light, as well as the placement below street level, alludes to an underworld, in a metaphorical as well as literal sense.
Almost two years ago I was preparing an exhibition with Paolo, the production of the works was almost complete and so was my text, then the virus came, blowing among the many things also this one up. I had chosen to open the text with a quote from Mircea Cărtărescu’s Orbitor Trilogy, probably altered as I have never been able to recover the page. It had stuck with me because as soon as I read it I immediately thought of Paolo’s work. I propose it again, as I remember it: “There is nothing to decipher, yet everything seems to ask to be”.
I believe this time Paolo has played a nasty trick on me. I have to write a text on an exhibition that literally emerges from a haystack of shredded papers, almost as if he wants to warn: mind that the work is born where the word ends. So I find myself looking for the famous needle with an inadequate medium, and as I write I hear the noise of the shredder, with him giggling as he inserts the pages. I confirm the first impression, there is nothing to decipher. I should stop here, yet everything seems to ask to be.
The artificial lighting, the tattered pages, the bedside tables and the skulls, the horse’s saddle topped by a crystal ball. Even though I know there is no solution or message, I’ll try to respond to the invitation, to suggest some correspondences. A possible starting point is that these elements fully belong to Paolo Bufalini’s practice, focused as it is on the affective performativity of the image, which is explored through certain themes, such as animal and technological otherness, the vitality f magical thought, the restlessness of the intimate and the domestic. The house, the bones, the reptiles and the code are composed in his work in images that are as alienating as they are synthetic, characterized by an extreme formal cleanliness, often played on chiasmi, objects in pairs and contrasting juxtapositions. The compositional order, however, seems to be charged with a subtle violence, almost as if it were an attempt to translate into images the experience of a disturbing, dysphoric reality, turning into an omen.
Faced with this amputation of words that is growing in the floor, I have no choice but to look for references, to stitch together quotations from which suggestions may emerge. I pick up a page by Tim Ingold, a passage on the illusions produced by the myth of the will: “To presume mastery in any situation of existential uncertainty is to court disaster”. Paolo’s formal control makes me think of a courtship with disaster, for his works seem to be innervated by the sensation of the impending, in which biographical elements and iconological references mingle, calling into question broader criticalities of the present age. The way it reveals, day by day, a conjuncture of many ends of the world - social, environmental, economic - but above all the apparent historical incapacity to express them if not in the immobility of a retroactive prophecy. The very title of the exhibition, eve, the vigil, conceals in the harmony of the palindrome word a reference to cyclical time, to a feeling of being trapped in an imperishable wait, which is though essentially dead time as it does not seem to be able to find a resolution in the event.
I insist on the title, eve, the vigil, but also a play on words, recalling the proper name and its biblical origin. The formal synthesis that characterises Paolo’s work also counters the search for a proliferation of signs, an ambiguity that links images and imaginaries that span time, starting with the references to the history of art, such as the horse and the skull. In his work, one often has the impression of being confronted with a kind of strange elliptical archaeology, made up of sharp juxtapositions, like a jump-cut montage in which the present becomes a spectre hidden between the folds of the temporal link. An example of a similar collapse between past and future cosmologies can be found in the recurring presence of the crystal ball, which the artist sees as an interactive screen ante litteram. A symbol of clairvoyance, of the questioning of the future, which from medieval legends sheds light on spheres that are only apparently more rational, such as technological development, at a time when both surveillance and finance rely increasingly on the algorithmic promise of predictive analysis.
I look at the electric orange light as we prepare the exhibition in the studio, and I am reminded of another literary passage, this time by Thomas Ligotti, on metaphysical horror: “Billions of years had to pass following the formation of this planet before its atmosphere became… atmospheric”. I’m not sure whether this light makes me think more of a physical, mythical or fantastic atmosphere: Blade Runner, the Apocalypse or the burning skies, so familiar lately from Australia to Sicily. A metaphysical scenario, a Last Day atmosphere, what Kant called “the end of all things”, in the face of which rational thought cannot but find itself immobilized, as if on “the edge of an abyss: for anyone who sinks into it no return is possible”. And yet fascinated, constantly driven by the impulse to look at the world from the viewpoint of its end. To remain in the epic, one could speak of the terre gaste, the wasteland of medieval poems revived by Eliot... Almost immediately I looked up the word eve on Wikipedia and discovered that it is a great chivalric theme, the sleepless night before the investiture at dawn.
This light signals a state of phase, a threshold, like the twilight which is dawn on one side and sunset on the other. Thus, the paper haystack, the scene of desolation, of shattered words overflowing from a pair of bedside tables, can be taken not only as a figure of thought and imagination, but also literally, as a blanket falling over the bedroom, when the muscles relax and the words mingle, opening up to dreamscapes. Before he shreds this one too, I transcribe a page by Gaston Bachelard, where he describes dream time as a space traversed by the movement of a tide, which first drags us towards the psychic midnight and then brings us back to the intimate light of dawn: “In the morning we can only find a few fragments of our nightlife. These shreds of dream, these scraps of dream-space, are connected according to the geometric patterns of the clear space of daylight. The dream is therefore an anatomy of dead parts”. The exhibition appears to be traversed by a continuous two-step movement: the light and the paper, its environmental diffusion and the objectual presences that one finds kept in it, the sight of the bedside tables and the discovery, only at the last moment, that an unfathomable message is hidden in one of them.
It is not clear to me why, but that pair of skulls that seem to be looking into each other’s eyes reminds me of the discovery of the charcoal lovers emerging from the rubble of Pompeii. Disaster is courted, but not known, as it does not respond to a principle of readability. It insinuates itself into ambiguous and allusive images, like a dream or a prophecy, but has no exhaustive words.”
Exhibition booklet ENG/ITA
Graphic design: Marco Casella
ATP Diary (interview)
1 external view from the courtyard
2-3 exhibition views
4-5 Untitled, 2021 horse saddle, glass sphere, 50x40x60cm
6-9 Untitled, 2021 bdside tables, shredded paper, skulls, two elements 55x40x48cm each
10-12 exhibition views
13 Graphic design
Ph: Niccolò Panzeri