The Big Archive 1994-2014

by Andrea Viliani

Making art, with almost nothing: with one’s body and work, memories and thoughts, shapes and primary colours, a handful of paper. It seems nothing, but it is already something. The aesthetics of Perino & Vele, an aesthetics of almost nothing, or already something, is not so much of a minimalist, or poverist mould, but strives towards productive and aesthetic criteria that make the most of the existent so as, at the same time, to evoke its potentials. An aesthetics committed to interpreting the real, which makes its very physical fragility and formal rituality (marvellously summed up by the use of a material and technique associated with folkloristic tradition, such as papier-mâché) tools of an oblique knowledge and paradoxical representation. Namely, it can penetrate things and concepts, instead of imposing or superimposing itself on them, in order to study their symbolic codes and working, to investigate them further and possibly rewrite them from the inside. An aesthetics more ecological than material, or of the sense of things and concepts, which generates works made from an almost nothing that is already something. It favours the ideology of the works over their origin and economic use, and for this reason they tend to be naturally accepted by the public, without effort or prejudice, in the sub-conscious, the reservoir of individual and collective archetypes.

The Big Archive 1994-2014 is the title of the site-specific installation designed by the two artists for the external courtyard of the Madre museum in Naples. The object of this book, celebration of the twenty-year anniversary of the artists’ career, will become part of the museum’s permanent collection in December 2014. The work consists of seventy-two boxes of zinc-plated iron, each one 47x80x50 cm, and of nine tar-coated fibreglass vases of different shapes and sizes. The overall arrangement of the single elements making up the work, "decomposed" from each other, reflects the crenellations of the wall enclosing the museum courtyard that provides the backdrop for the work in the web of alleyways and courtyards in the San Lorenzo district of Naples. In this way The Big Archive 1994-2014 does not thrust itself upon the architecture that hosts it or upon the surrounding urban context. Instead, it is "set out" along them, it becomes part of them, linking the interior of the museum with the surrounding urban scenario. It is one more object among a variety of objects, one more heap in a free-for-all where not just objects, but also social and cultural elements are deposited, set out, removed, day in day out. It complements a transitional, architectural and urban space-time fluctuating between identity and transformation. Provocatively (there is always a hint of provocation in the duo’s work), the structure therefore blends into its context, in contrast to a self-conscious public sculpture, which distances itself from the reality and imposes its conscious interpretation on it. And nonetheless, it is precisely in its being almost nothing with regard to its context that the work can blend in with it, like a subconscious interpretation of it, an unnoticed yet capturing portrait of it… like the fresco by Mattia Preti in Porta San Gennaro, like a Baroque votive aedicule, like the stall selling oranges between Via Duomo and Via Settembrini… Art made of almost nothing, which however is already something, naturally belonging to the cityscape, taking on its problems and perspectives, giving a representation of its blacks and whites that is as penetrating as it is familiar. Lastly, on the pile of drawers making up the work, like a street industrial warehouse, there appear some classical vases, standardised icons reminiscent, in the language of contemporary road signals, of ancient legends (upon which Neapolis is literally built). These vases, albeit uniform and therefore recalling contemporary mass-production, could be an evocation of Graeco-Roman pottery, and therefore of the quinessential vase of that tradition, Pandora’s box, containing (and hence archiving) Elpís, Hope. Moral value and, at the same time, a denunciation of its absence, tangible presence and at the same time possible absence, with which the artists have associated warning and danger signals ("harmful", "inflammable", "contaminated", "fragile"), emblazoned on each side of the support structure. Critical and civic work, past archive and future catalyst of two citizen-artists, the Madre’s Big Archive is a work in line with artistic practice, expression of a "civilisation" that (still) requires art to sum up and share what makes a community a community. And, therefore, metaphorically, what, in the community’s mind, makes a museum a museum.