Vettor Pisani

Galleria Mario Pieroni

“I work with a T square and compass” is the title Vettor Pisani has given to the rooms in his show. He brings into play elements found in his other work, such as archetypal figures and an austere use of the rational, the measured.

The central characters in this show-ceremony are two of the builder saints from the Roman basilica of the Santi Quattro Coronati (Four Crowned Saints), who hold up as emblems the very T square and compass cited in the title. They are patrons, then, of the dialectic between the straight line and the curve, of the existential tension between the logical order of reason and the more circular order of the soul. The place that the two masters of ceremonies introduce is a territory that contains within itself this bipolarity of signs; it is a space in which events, even if strictly planned or precisely measured, show the effects of the ambiguity that exists at the edge between the conscious and the subconscious.

Pisani presents this location as a theater, and constructs a cruciform structure which is simultaneously a pit of water, a room for the hero, a residence of myth, and, finally, itself an icon open to many readings. If one divides the cross on its central axis and turns the two halves around, an “H” form appears—a sign of the labyrinth which closes in on itself. The arms of the cross are no longer held outward, in the symbolic gesture of Christian hope, but work against each other, nearly sinking in toward the center.

In this closing up of the object toward its interior Pisani finds the dialectic element of the double, the mirror, the means by which Alice crossed over to discover the inhabitants of Wonderland. The labyrinth is the space in which one loses and then finds the self again: the symbols and archetypes, leading outward or inward, can bring one to the light or plunge one into darkness. The labyrinth is a place of mystery, of profundity: unknown rooms can be paths either to salvation or to damnation, but in every case they must be entered, even if the final destiny is none other than the revelation of death.

On that fine line, that hair’s edge that both joins and separates the world from the mirror, two characters meet—Oedipus and the Sphinx, as portrayed in Khnopff’s painting, Des Caresses. This introduces another of Pisani’s prevalent themes, the myth of androgyny and animalism. While it seems that Khnopff has painted a self-portrait in his depiction of a youth caressed by the Sphinx, it is certain, on the other hand, that the Sphinx has the face of Khnopff’s sister, Marguerite: the two faces touch, their temples nearly merging; the eyes of the Sphinx are half shut, those of Oedipus fixed beyond the viewer. The culminating moment of the artist’s narcissistic split can be found in the fusion of the two heads (animal, or two-headed man?), suggesting the impossible androgyny derived from union with the sister. This action contains within itself two cultural categories, which at various times have been joined in different ways: animal eroticism (along with the ancestral taboo against it, and consequent repression), and the eroticism of the virgin (a form of idealization, a sublimation of the unattainable). The theme of familial relations has appeared elsewhere in the rituals that Pisani has performed, on and with his sister’s body, identifying in the past with Duchamp, and now with Khnopff.

The iconographic and mythic archetype of Oedipus has two components, solar and nocturnal: he is “illuminated” and at the same time he is thrown into the shadows of blindness, darkness. Returning now to the labyrinth and supposing, in a juxtaposition of mythical figures, that it is Oedipus and not Theseus who must find his way to the center of the rooms of knowledge, he reaches a crossroads of two opposing moments. The first, the moment of light, contains naturalistic elements, and is reminiscent of his native island—brilliant and gilded with solar reflections, the lost Eden of childhood; the model of the theater is set like a jewel, a lucid and bright space, lapped by water. On the other hand, in the nocturnal room (the second moment) are gathered symbols of sleep and death. Cypresses rise up from a sofa (which is white as a sepulchral veil) next to a closed door. Blue swallows up the surrounding space, in an atmosphere which compresses the irreconcilable opposition between contrary and antithetical forces: sex and death, masculine and feminine, rational and unconscious.

The cycle of the hero concludes thus, in a dreamless sleep, in the last room, where the archetypes take on a more precisely Jungian meaning, revealing themselves as “the chthonic part of the soul.” And the mystery of the labyrinth reveals itself, the mystery of the Sphinx, the non-seeing non-human that Oedipus faces with open eyes, with a look beyond the measure of knowledge: the mystery resides there, in the dark element of the soul, the mystery of the voyage without return.

Ida Panicelli