From Code to Style

by Angelo Andreotti

From Code to Style.
A Brief Reflection on the works of Perino & Vele.

Let's start with one of the best known works by Perino & Vele, that installation from 1998 presented the year after at the Venice Biennale, Pelle d'elefante (Elephant Skin), and we'll start by describing it because a description aids comprehension, it causes the eye to pay the attention needed to deepen a thought that remains in the reality of things, to then perhaps abandon itself to inferences that may however justify a meeting of minds with the public, with the artists. We can but try.

An elephant skin laid out on the floor like a rug with two armchairs facing each other on top of it like in the lounge for receiving visitors in a house. The iron-made armchairs are lightly trea-ted to safeguard the aestheticisms of rust reinforced by the reds used for dripping. However, the elephant skin is made of papier-mâché, more precisely, "La Gazzetta dello Sport", "Italia oggi", "Il Mattino" and "Il Sole 24 Ore", which is not a slavish list of mashed newspapers, but colour, chromatism, in short it is the equivalent of the painter's palette. In itself, the installation has a playful manner, as those solitary armchairs do suggest a bit of unease. One gets - I get - the impression that they are not waiting for someone, but that they are there to be looked at and in being looked at they want to show something. Solitude? Desolation? No, these emotions are too strong and above all too banal. Maybe it is only "making room" which plays by creeping between an everyday thing - the armchairs - and an unusual thing - the elephant skin -, to achieve a bewilderment that stops just in time so as not to become a hallucination.

The elephant skin is tacked as if it were a quilt, or the continuation of a 3D project, or maybe quite simply as if it were the revenge of the practicable structure that holds up the papier-mâché mixture. They are three hypotheses and consequently three different poetic routes that can, however, exist together: if the quilt hypothesis were to prevail, one would have to think of a world with rounded edges, a childlike universe, the "soft corner" of nursery schools and everything that follows on from that, perhaps passing through a certain surrealism, but above all resting its attention on the creations of Claes Oldenburg of the 60s; if the computerised aspect were to pre-vail, the visionary universe of cartoons would probably come to mind and the structure of some videogames, probably corrected by the mathematical and lyrical rigour of Escher, which comes over more in two-dimensional works. If the will to highlight the formal qualities of the grid of the practicable structure were instead to prevail, then the interpretation would be more compli-cated because on one hand the action reminds to the printed grid of Roy Lichtenstein's pain-tings, and on the other hand it pays a certain attention to some subjects of "arte povera", obviously restyled.

There is no space here to investigate this: suggestions are enough and this work belongs to a first phase in the production of Perino & Vele, a certainly successful, appreciated and mature one, but in which the formal aspect somehow plays with itself, it pleases itself (and this is not a defect, quite the opposite, it coexists with poetic rigour). It prevails over the reflexive aspect that is nevertheless "covered", perhaps generating some uncomfortable misunderstandings for the refined palette of the two artists who are ready to distinguish between code and style and who want to revise what has been acquired, in practice exorcising what has long put many young artists in their place.

It is no coincidence that the year 2001, the same of the creation of A subway è chiù sicura (The Subway is Safer) for the Naples underground - an installation in line with their first phase and which probably marks its apotheosis, the point of no return - records a further step in their poetics. It is almost a rebel gesture even documented in the title recurring - with slight nuances at most - as in Closed for this week or We have closed, the latter is an installation made in 2002 for the Palazzo delle Papesse in Siena. It consists of shutters through which one can see and glimpse at the torn paper for papier-mâché that continues to excess coming right up to the shut-ter. The shutter is like a cataract for a substance that is overwhelming, metaphorically contai-ning all the possible works, or concretely all the possible communication (the newspapers, indeed). The torn paper is beyond the shutter, in the virtual/concrete space of the work; while on this side, in the real space, the water overflows, soaked in the colours of paper, as if were a "leak", a haemorrhage that does not hide its dramatic nature.

Is it that the artists want to withdraw into silence, despite the multitude of languages that hit our society without respite? Maybe it is like this, and the decision to continue to live in the pro -vince of Avellino may be an emblematic symbol of this. I think that, without denying this rea-ding of their work, choosing papier-mâché as a mean of expression has been an important deci-sion that counts predecessors like Jean Dubuffet and Niki de Saint Phalle. This decision, beyond - or together with - any cerebralism places again the substance and the dealing with it at the centre of the poetic reflection, which clearly does not mean avoiding concettisms. In the same way, I believe that works such as Servirà o no? Non lo so! (Will it be useful or not? I don't know! - 2002) are more than emblematic, even in the title, in order to help us to understand, for example, Big archives (2002) and Small secret archives (magistrate's court) (2003), which in the end are nothing but the aesthetic transposition of crates that contain torn paper - I sup-pose - of works illusorily dismantled, or never done and only thought of, or maybe imagined for themselves and then again imaginarily destroyed. It is that rare ability to aestheticize daily life, as they already evidently did in 2000 with Senza titolo (Discarica) (Untitled - Rubbish Tip), once again showing their pop roots, but with forty years of art history behind them. To confirm that their poetic world has matured a totally new awareness, a changed relations-hip with their art, there is a sentence said to Mario Savini who, in a recent interview given to "Extrart", asks them what scenario their works come from, and they briefly answer: "Today we don't look outside our studio." It is a precise and evasive answer, which says a lot about the crea-tive route of the two young artists.

This could mean a closure from the outside, digging themselves in the studio as if in haughty and volitive defence, or it is more likely to be a conscious turnaround to check up on their ori-gins and do not forget the path followed and the desired aim. In short, they catch their breath, do not pause, but continue to generate things and to gather their thoughts after that precocious and fast success that brought them very young to the Venice Biennale and above all to impor-tant collections, exhibitions and to be worthy representatives of a certain way of conceiving con-temporary art. They needed courage, but also sharp awareness, thought-out security, to abandon a profitable and affirmed code to stubbornly begin to reflect on their stylistic roots with works which do not only please the eye, but intend to lead to thought.