Anne and Patrick Poirier

Galleria Arco d’Alibert

The representation of ruins has ancient roots and illustrious precedents; in various epochs, a sense of searching through sites from the past has been communicated through the evocation of the remnants of the classical age. Fragmentary suggestions of antiquity elicit feelings of transience, ephemeralness, catastrophe, almost as if to indicate that nothing is impervious to the forces of time, that everything is subject to decay. The attempt to reveal traces of a sumptuous but long-vanished past has thus taken on the aspect of an illustration of the vanity of every artistic gesture, be it sculpture, painting, or architecture.

Anne and Patrick Poirier, the French couple who for some time now have been concerned with the evocation of ancient sites (particularly those in Italy), mounted a show entitled “Frammenti di marmo e di parole” (Fragments of marble and of words). Sculptural details of figures, larger than life size, were arranged on three walls of the gallery: eyes, mouths, ears, all in white marble. The forms were obtained from casts of fragments of a statue in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Since 1967 the Poiriers’ work has been based on an exploration of classical sites (the Domus Aurea, the Villa Pamphili, the Villa Medici, Ostia Antica, and Selinunte, to name a few). Their investigation is carried out both in situ, where it is bound to the current reality of the observed sites—almost an archaeological analysis, documented by photographs, notes, maps—and in the studio, where the material they have gathered is reorganized and arranged. Much of their work is simply a reconstruction of their wanderings among the ruins, with real data elaborated with imaginary elements and with the emotional reverberations and mental associations that spring forth from the original site. Their methodology lies somewhere between the world of history and myth and that of fantasy and the dream, the two paths meeting in the end product, the work.

In the case of the statue from the Boboli Gardens, the fragments are of weighty and perfectly smooth marble that occupy the space with a confident solidity. Gold arrows protrude from the fragments, aiming in the direction of other fragments on the gallery walls; phrases are etched into the arrows, as if a continuous thread of relationships were interwoven among these mouths, eyes, and ears. The messages shift from one meaning to another, creating a network of relationships within the space of the room, which thereby acquires a sonorous and spatial fullness. The paths of these arrows seem to materialize in the gallery space, which consequently seems filled to the point of saturation by a spider’s web of echoes. The effect is one of neither emptiness nor silence, but rather a spatial and verbal language which vividly resonates and takes shape.

The observer pieces together this mental construction from the incised phrases, the brief messages, and the fragments themselves, which hold both the allure of a mysterious ancient past and the power of a past that lives again. This, finally, is the most interesting aspect of the Poiriers’ work: their rambling among the ruins does not carry the stench of death; the stopovers along their physical and mental journeys have the sense of something lived. Their work goes beyond a conceptual evocation that draws on memory to become a present realization of a desire, an investigation of the roots of an ancient utopia—that of the imagination.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.