Portrait of the Artists...

by Angela Tecce

Portrait of the Artists, When They Were Young

Does sculpture still exist? Not an unusual question today, after it was considered one of the Fine Arts for many centuries, though not exactly the most important one. When sculpture finally reaches its praise in the 19th century and one can see it on every monument and at every street corner of the triumphant bourgeois town – an unforeseeable destiny for an art considered little more than a branch of architecture in the Middle Age –, a blasé aesthete like Baudelaire suspected that it was "boring". Even if the 20th century is full of great sculptors, none of these can be said to become a "modern" artist par excellence, like Modigliani or Picasso or Warhol. Sculpture is of course not "boring" but it is neither popular, it requires a greater ability to let the mind wander from the "concrete" of its existence to grasp its creative and poetic capacity. Sculpture has become a privileged tool, especially for the artists of the second half of the last century, thanks to its ability to create a space as well as to occupy it. One can say that, since the end of the Second World War, "spatiality" – the very essence of sculpture – has become a field in which artists have measured and constantly tried out their own expressive means. From Land Art to Body Art, the researches on space and human body – that is situated, moves, perceives and reacts in this space – have dominated artistic study. Is all this still sculpture? A correct question, but looking it closely, not a very useful one to identify the roots and the founding components of that part of contemporary art which we hesitate to call "sculpture" – although "painting", on the other hand, is still a current term – because it is a word with a strong academic sense. Today there are still many artists who we could call tout court sculptors, and there would be still more if we were also to consider those for whom sculpture is an actual expression of their work.

Instead, it is unusual to see an artist emerging in this field, that is to say, someone who shows a bent for taking over a material – natural or artificial – to manipulate, conform and deform it plastically in order to transform it into something new. This new material, without losing its own physical and chemical features, is impressed by something that does not belong to it, that expresses something else also when it seems to have remained identical to itself.

It seems to me that Perino & Vele – but I would like from now on to abandon what is starting to seem like a logo and I will use their first names – are one of the most enlightening examples of this process of identification in the material of their work. Their work allows us to reflect on the unavoidable presence of the "plastic will" that runs through contemporary art like a thin but extremely tenacious thread. The debut is withering, the creative physiognomy is already extremely recognisable, with no doubt; from the beginning Emiliano and Luca mark the boundaries of their work, a territory (new? We will see it later) which belongs to them and that they already seem to know, even if very young. They look forward to explore it. An unexplored creative territory, which indeed has already produced extraordinary fruits (like Mainolfi and Paladino) who are both "condemned" to three-dimensional work, to the need to make concrete in clay, stone, bronze – like a gradus ad parnassum of the substance – the figurative ghosts that bother their talent, also when, as for Paladino, painting seems to flow in a creative way. Figurative ghosts from the past, far from the Magno-Graecian origins of our culture; samnite ghosts that populate a territory that valiantly resisted to Roman dominion and from which sculptures – that still conserve something mysterious and enigmatic – come from.

The creation of shapes by means of a "level zero" of that climbing the Parnassus that we have just hinted at – nowadays clay is a sought-after material, alien to our society – seems to have driven Emiliano and Luca to mark their first step in the field of art. Newspapers – that are so numerous, fleeting and lowly – are transformed into an endlessly pliable and ductile material, without losing the awareness that they are a symbol of "modern" society. The two artists are never tired of describing and recounting the beginning of their work, the "discovery" of such a simple material, easy to work, cheap and easy to find. A simplicity which, to the suspicious one, does not immediately sound perfectly pertinent to the quality of their work "so why do they divide the newspapers by colour?" only in order to avoid the use of pigments? why, if theirs is a "coloured" sculpture? What is more, it can't be easy to find the right tone when one has to base the work only on the product derived from a particular type of printed paper with a particular ink. The result comes from experience, from calculation, but it shows the unwillingness to accept what has already been stated as inevitable: within the "level zero" it is still possible to decide, choose, create, without denying the starting point. In fact in every caption appears a list of the newspapers used for the work.

Luca and Emiliano know which newspapers to use, how to treat them, how long to manipulate the substance from which they are made to obtain the desired effect. The artists are aware that the final effect is the result of "work", a knowledge that is craft in its most noble meaning.

This is not without meaning for young artists; it means that they consciously renounced to the short-cut that video art means for many, to the pretentious modernity of computers and to the audiovisual mean as an autistic gesture. They are aware of this, to the point of "simulating" in their two-dimensional works, a Cartesian grid, a symbol of the vectorial nature subject to formal computerised production. This is a grid that bends and deforms through the perspective definition of 3D but which is placed, like a net, or a spider's web, on the sculpted works. Like the base structure of a spider's web, onto which the most complex geometries will graft, so the grid that covers the surfaces of the plastic works identifies the lines of strength in the structuring of the mass, the routes that govern its configuration and the unfolding of the three dimensions, in almost an obsessive manner. At least until 2000, every work bears the Cartesian grid of this net that accentuated the plastic value of the volume: the material in fact pushes from the inside as if it were growing, blocked and contained by the orthogonal cage. This process is particularly evident in works like Cappotto grande (Large Coat – 1997), in which the choice of the subject, a giraffe, highlights, for the works of Emiliano and Luca, the lack of congruency with reality. This can easily be confused when it moves on the crest of the ironic quotation in the domestic surrealism of Attenzione! Qualcosa brucia (Watch Out! Something's Burning – 1997) and Pericolo di contaminazione (Contamination Danger – 1998, 1999), works in which the apparent placidness of the reference is contaminated by something alarming: the mark of an iron, the abnormal dimensions (Thank You – 1997), the presence of prickles on an armchair, on which a cactus is growing.

This last work is particularly interesting because it highlights a rhetorical procedure at the basis of Luca and Emiliano's works, a completely unconscious procedure, I believe, but which – as in everyday talk one creates complex figures of speech without meaning to – is no less clear because of this. We can identify two of these figures of speech, one based on the contiguity of meaning and the other one on the displacement of adjectives: metonymy and hypallage. Certain choices, only apparently surreal, are part of the metonymy, like the matelassé inside a bathtub (In The Room – 1997) or a rubbish bin (Trasferimento e deposito di opere d'arte – Transfer and Deposit of Works of Art – 1998). These choices come about for linguistic and psychological reasons: what is more relaxing than a good bath? Perhaps only sleeping, and in fact the bathtub is here comfortable like a bed, and the upside-down figure of the child – that "looks like a doll" – becomes all the more alarming. In the bin – with an ironic effect of feedback – is thrown the rubbish, including the newspapers, the material out of which Emiliano and Luca's works of art are made, which they symbolically recover from there. The meaning of this is once again the linguistic contiguity, which contaminates the apparent meaning of the work, making it a clear reflection on the birth of the art of the newspaper.

Hypallage means giving an object the features of a nearby object (like in Carducci's Il divino del pian silenzio verde) and nothing can be a better example than the cactus that transmits its prickles to the armchair, but also in the work In The Room the metallic bathtub incongruously makes the sensation real of the soft pliable nature of the bag nearby. Also in Esposito Transinternational (1999), the care with which the belongings entrusted to the company Esposito will be transported, becomes a characteristic of the mean of transport that "embodies" the promised protection. What to say about Supermarket (1999)? In this work the goods can be defined not only as reassuring and relaxing, but also they have transformed themselves into soft pillows, joining the two figures of speech.

However Luca and Emiliano's creative work does not only end with linguistic games, surreal quotations, ironic lunges, but also clearly deals with the real problem of contemporary art, which is its very meaning, and where it comes from. This is already evident in some works made before 2000 (Flectar non frangar – Flex, Do Not Break – 1998), but it is even more evident in those of the following years. There are more obvious signals that the internal energy – that seemed to blow up volumes, forcing the surface until it is damaged by the thin cage that imprisoned it – manages to cut through the thin casing that contained it. The punch bag breaks and becomes limp, the sofa bed opens unthinkingly tipping over the twin armchairs (Senza titolo – Untitled – 2000), the rusty iron basin tips up, spilling the radioactive contents on the floor (Attenzione! Pericolo di contaminazione – Watch Out! Contamination Danger – 2001); the papier-mâche – having now escaped from the Calvinist rigour of "one newspaper, one colour" – overflows from the drawers where it has been left to dry (Small archives, 2001, Big archives, 2002, Small secret archives (magistrate's court), 2003), and, almost as if it had taken a life of its own, tends to break out of its purely instrumental role. It is not only a physical overflow: "magistrate's court" disturbingly suggests not only the emergence of secret documents, but also the destruction of compromising papers, the inexistent archive of hidden crimes. Destruction and disarray also strike the most defenceless images, like Rino (Rhino – 2000), whose delicate three-dimensional quilt recalls the marvellous rhinoceros by Dürer, which, in Senza titolo (Untitled – 2001), transforms into an accumulation of fragments, amongst which a threatening horn stands out.

The drawers where the papier-mâché "rests"… papier-mâché that is not resting at all, rather it is moving out of its boundaries, outside the figures of speech and "out of control" – like in a tv commentary – comes out of its cases, neither longer slowed down by the Cartesian grid (the rational structuring) nor by the figurative form (the poetic structuring). In Big archives, brightly coloured waves of material emerge from the zinc iron as if they were boiling; the large metallic structure – which can be dismantled and recomposed like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw – is covered by these tongues of colour, which refresh the metallic series of the drawers, and by the transparency that continually questions the formal completeness: potential, not destructive energy.

In the same way, the lowered shutters from which flows out the coloured papier-mâché (Closed for this week – 2001), an ineffective dam against the material's own vocation, a very sharp reflection on the becoming of shape, the mechanisms of creation, the autonomy of art from the artist's personal will. It is an investigation carried out in corpore vili, drawing from its experience, suddenly stopping in order to examine what has always been considered familiar with foreign eyes: the attention moves from "what" to "how", the tools themselves become bringers of a Kunstwollen that must be combined with its poetic route, without breaks, maintaining the expressive coherence of its own choices. Now Emiliano and Luca's creative route includes also the research for a sought-after formal balance, without over-refinements, in the most careful juxtaposition of volumes, colours, textures, that conserve the animated and intense poetic nature of the older works, if one would call in this way the products of an expressive path brought in little more than five years to a core point in their critical conscience.

The two artists tackle serious topics without superficiality or arrogance and look into them, apparently in a distracted way, with the concentration of a game played following the rules until the end, without cheating, but putting to play all the experience and imagination of their still brief but extremely serious life as artists.