Beyond Elpís

by Lorenzo  Respi

The recent cycle of works that Perino & Vele have dedicated to Elpís - the Hope of classical mythology - not only mark a great milestone in the twenty years of their joint artistic career, but also introduce new iconographies and fresh motifs to the range of their usual, and always recognisable, papier-mâché language. Drawing on the positive moral in the verses of Hesiod, Perino & Vele have given Elpís the form of Attic pottery, the earthenware pot symbolic of the now lost Golden Age, ideal timeless model that is at once an everyday object and human testimony of horror vacui. It changes perspective, uses a new grammar of expression: for the first time, the artists introduce a bitumous organic compound - tar - black, empty and profound, among the materials of their sculpture. The vases solidify, fixed by the bitumen, and become immune to the trials of slowly, inexorably passing time.

The two installations, Elpís (2013) and Grande Elpís (2014), responded to the need to fix history to date in the memory of the matter and to begin to restore order to the waywardness of the contemporary world. Papier-mâché, tar and zinc-plated iron are no longer "destructive" techniques that take us to discover the paradoxes of the present day. Instead they become "constructive" materials with which to build an alternative future, that is, a future of hope. In this period of great crisis and limited prospects, Perino & Vele feel the urgency to cast an anchor in the artistic career they have traced together, not to stubbornly clutch onto the consolidated certainty of time gone by, but to stimulate critical reflection on the future development of sculptural research. To take the lid off Pandora’s box is to tackle reality as it is. It is to overcome its limits and abherrations with a sense of responsibility towards society and the environment.

Slamming crude reality into the visiting public’s faces has to serve as a stimulus to react to the widespread crisis of values that has anesthaetised the collective conscience and wiped out the sense of civilisation and of peoples living together in peace. But how can this be done? By provocatively putting Elpís into storage, putting it to one side like a dangerous substance, obfuscating its memory. Perino & Vele wrong-foot the public by overturning the notions of how the work should be used and contradicting the very meaning of its message. With nonchalance, they use the device of paradox, while maintaining the coherence and identity of the linguistic syntax. This is the shrewdest intuition given by going beyond Elpís: it reawakens sleepy consciences through the representation, in the guise of sculpture, of an only apparently contradictory reasoning. The Big Archive 1994-2014 (2014), the site-specific installation made especially for the internal courtyard of the Madre museum in Naples, forms a catalogue and gives an order to Perino & Vele’s twenty-year career, isolating and freezing their work in its perennial state of topicality. The multiple forms of classical vases making up Elpís are caged in and enclosed in a pile of zinc-plated iron boxes. Hence the integrity of the piece is safeguarded, but its correct and necessary use prevented. The "uncomfortable" presence of The Big Archive 1994-2014 is underlined by the characteristic danger symbols (harmful, inflammable, contaminated, fragile) applied to the bars of the cage structure. Rejection in order to attract, distance in order to bring closer, concealment in order to reveal: Perino & Vele instigate their observers to isolate themselves in order to then return to the others, in the attempt to transform Hope into a concrete possibility for all. This filing away, therefore, is not a synonym for forgetting. Instead it is a conscious action to gain awareness of the past, using it to lay foundations to build a different, still probable future.

Perino & Vele are well aware of this. Already in the work Big Archives (2002), housed in the permanent collection of the Mart museum in Rovereto, a pile of boxes jealously guarded heaps of papier-mâché, the artists’ favourite material. Therefore, their way of doing sculpture has always been at one with their way of thinking, and every work is responsible for making a critique of the contemporary world.