Fernando Melani

Salone Villa Romana

The site for Fernando Melani’s art was the world, not in the earthly but in the cosmic sense: that shapeless mass without history, broken up into micro-episodes and charged by infinite expansion. From 1945 until his death last year at age 78, Melani focused on the uninterrupted flows of energy that only become concrete—have perceptible existence—in the surface of reality: as, in a near analogy, in the individual conscience. And these things had no form or style but were simply there, full of an intimate beauty which held a primitive power and energy.

Long isolated in his studio/house in Pistoia, Italy, Melani only occasionally emerged for one-man shows and to participate in large survey exhibitions, where he elaborated upon his art/life project by means of a large number of “experiences” (enumerated by him), embodied as artworks. His personality was characterized not so much by reserve or humility as by a conscious recognition of the intrinsic differences between actual experience and art. “I begin my strange art activity at zero; I think of art as a means and not as an end.” From the beginning he used art to place himself, in his words, in “tactile reverberation with the message received at the moment of birth,” to transcend materiality through the process of art. If, through self-imposed isolation and the assumption of a series of disciplinary rules (reflection, humility, and vigilance), this tension was maintained, Melani’s research into the nature of reality and the origin and structure of the world found resolution in the practice of writing or constructing small objects—objects that took esthetic form from the artistic practices of “their” time. In effect, “artworks” and “writings” don’t exist as such in Melani’s work; the two processes merged in his unique working method, which aimed at delineating fundamental experience. Just as his writings took the form of mundane descriptions of the “state of things”—methodologies, formulations, indexes, tables—the objects were operational mechanisms, realized through the instruments of art, that were meant to bring the perceived “state of things” to a level deeper than that which can be expressed by language. Beyond this, Melani individuated space as a concrete place where experience—life and manifestations of life—is inscribed, and art as the intersection of life and one’s perception of it. Melani believed not in art’s “value” but in its "decisive creative power that is, in its ability to resolve (in the sense of breaking up and restoring intact) the elements of energy that preside at the origin of the world. And this is where Melani devoted passionate attention, believing “it is against nature not to be a materialist.” The goal of his attention to physical phenomena was knowledge, which, while differentiated from merely speculative or abstract goals, was linked to them, in that knowledge of the structure of reality would enable him to transcend it.

Melani’s art is more arte facile (simple art) than arte povera, and uses the materials in its immediate surroundings: wood, threads or small sheets of metal, butcher paper. Colors, too, are simple primaries, which coagulate into amorphous surfaces defined only by their own pure expansion. The absence of margins that characterizes all of Melani’s work is really an absence of limits, or, better, a continuation beyond the limits imposed by experience, the expansion of its echo. Here again there is his predilection for repetition, for seriality, what is an attempt to eliminate distortion, to distill the essence of experience. Melani realized objects that, in their absoluteness, resemble certain works by Kasimir Malevich or Robert Ryman, and that are not too distant from the work of Blinky Palermo in their passionate concreteness. Yet one difference persists: Melani’s work was a total project, like Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass, 1915–23, or Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, 1925–35. It involved his life, an abstract idea in tangible form conceived of as space, within which one could have a large number of experiences, facilitated through the process of art; the subtle awareness that the experience came to offer was in turn projected outside himself in the art object. For Melani, life and art were interchangeable.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.