Twenty years on

by Eugenio Viola

To weave a complex reasoning around the work of Perino & Vele, in terms of its genesis and perspectives, is essentially to sew a critical discourse "around" the reasons and developments of sculpture in Italy in the latter part of the short century; it is to take up the threads of a proficuous and twofold discourse linked to the story of an artistic and intellectual partnership that began exactly twenty years ago. Since then (Emiliano) Perino & (Luca) Vele have assiduously frequented the impervious territories of sculpture with devotion and consistency, immersed in the alienating dimension of their studio in Rotondi. Over time, probably aided by their dyadic nature, the two artists have developed an unmistakable artistic stamp, enriched by counterpoint, short circuits and apparently antithetical but in reality complementary paradoxes, since it is precisely the meeting/clashing of these different notions that gives rise to the Wesen of their aesthetic strategy.

In substance, Perino & Vele have carried on a consistently undulating discourse, suspended between nostalgia (for the reasons for doing; with the recovery of an ancient technique such as papier-mâché) and experimentation, by interpreting, transforming, establishing to use Heidegger’s words, the places where they intervene. Therefore, on one hand, without a doubt their work recalls tradition, the so-called "reasons for doing": their characteristic forms, made with papier-mâché, are now an unmistakeable "mark", having grown over the years to acquire an ever greater monumentality, which on one hand recalls the gigantism so dear to Oldenburg, and on the other the bewildering effect of objects of surrealist derivation and a certain theatrality dear to Arte Povera. Their vision, at once ironic and iconic, is in this sense based on a process of sculpture seen as the decomposition and reconstruction of the material: from pulping the paper, a necessary operation to produce the papier-mâché, to its reshaping, lending itself to further "forms" and meanings. Perino & Vele give us a "chequered" world, whose kind and apparently reassuring glaze in reality hides further meanings, as it denounces the lacerations and contradictions that afflict the contemporary world. Hence, tellingly, the materials directly used to build the works come from the printed paper of newspapers, from the ink that gives us news and images of an uncertain world: a formal choice that almost seems intent on hiding a poorly concealed ideological assumption. On observing their "corpus" of work as a whole, it is telling that there is no doubt as to their "pseudo-playful" vein, as well as their subtle provocation. Renouncing the document metaphor, their work investigates the everyday, it makes a statement with different allusions, the sum of which is expressed in The Big Archive 1994-2014, a site-specific work made for the second courtyard of the Madre museum in Naples, devised to celebrate the twenty years of Perino & Vele’s partnership. This work marks a point of arrival in the two artists’ careers, but at the same time it lays the foundations for a future whose outlook is still long and fruitful. The Big Archive 1994-2014 is an irredeemably oxymoronic work, alienating in its (hyper)realism, monumental in its simulated fragility. Apparently playful and carefree, as it sense is progressively unveiled, it reveals the opposite, imbued with the lacerations and restlessness of our time. Welcoming and subtly provocative, it unites the mythical past of Elpís, Hope, in the form of classical vases brutally caught up in present-day industrial shelving. A monumental presence in a dimension suspended between painting and sculpture, somewhere between the second and third dimension, emblazoned with the classic danger signs (harmful, inflammable, contaminated, fragile), also typical of their plastic vocabulary, applied directly to the support structure. The archiving instinct implied in the title of the work is swamped with ethical values whose aim is once again to make a statement, above all a social statement, making the sculpture a space for thought, for critique, which, while latching onto an ancient tradition, surprisingly manages to create a new language.