Milan

Emilio Prini

Galleria Toselli

As in heraldic coats of arms, where every bit of information is conveyed in abbreviated form within a general framework of references and exchanges of images, Emilio Prini’s prints (reproductions of pages from the artist’s notebook) contain a multitude of conventional signs. The first reading is enigmatic, as one cannot decipher the printed traces and figures. Observation is further complicated by the way in which the prints are exhibited: lined up along a wall at the center of the gallery, above a pile of sawdust heaped up at the bottom of both sides of the wall. One peruses the pages cautiously and quietly, eager to glean information from the titles; they are as strange as possible, but always closely connected with the drawings, as if a narrative cycle were passing through these sheets. The earlier allusion to coats of arms ceases to function at this point. These prints do not evoke a symbolic world; one doesn’t wander within a murky realm of double meanings. There is meaning here and it is tied to the subjects. In this collection of visual thoughts, the subject has priority, yet identifying the subject is like carrying out an archaeological excavation. Barely perceptible signs are stitched together and linked to a meaning; slowly, the significance of each title becomes clearer: Prima idea per Via Lattea come linea crea cultura (First idea for the Milky Way as a line creating culture, 1986); Prima idea per “Donna che guarda la televisione” (First idea for “Woman watching television,” 1986), and so forth.

“In the heart of contradictions, the artist must assume art as the antidestiny of language,” writes the anonymous A. B., quoted in the introduction to these prints. And so the effort required to piece meanings together from these small prints is a logical one. It’s like rowing upstream. Eyes and head patiently cooperate to reach a meaning. It’s no accident that the phrase cose lente (slow things) is prominently featured in several titles. The subjects sometimes refer to works realized as pieces of sculpture, as in the case of Prima idea per Cose lente (tagli malfatti) (First idea for slow Things [ill-made cuts], 1986). Tagli malfatti are irregular cuts made into planks of wood of medium density, which allude to the profile of the body of a man in one, and of a woman in the other. Other “ideas” seem to be simple annotations of things to be remembered (which is not to say that they don’t contain hermetic resonances), as in Prima idea per Muratore animale e urina sani nell’arte occidentale (First idea for Mason animal and healthy urine in western art, 1986), or in Prima idea per Araldica a fuoco (First idea for Heraldry on fire, 1986). Certain prints are in black and white, others in color. In the black-and-white ones, it’s typical for colors to be indicated with a particular type of sign (yellow, for instance, with cross-hatching). Prini wants a charged glance, and indeed, the observer looks with intensity. The direction where one looks oscillates from art as a deterrent to language, to art as the revelation of its being.

Yet it is impossible to classify all the thoughts translated into prints according to an ideological trajectory; Prini resolutely avoids inclusion in ideologies and movements. He cannot be simply categorized as conceptual or arte povera. At the same time that he is present within these movements, his presence is felt as one who watches over the development of things.

The show contains two other groups of works: some compositions with threads of colored silk arranged according to color theory, horizontally on wood boards, and several cases containing large crosses. The outline of a dome is traced on the front of these cases, and the title is emblematic: Convivenze simboliche con i romani (Chiavari 1986) (Symbolic coexistences with the Romans [Chiavari 1986]). A final advisory to the visitor is also emblematic: “Cose lente non riconosce ufficialmente questi problemi” (Slow Things do not officially recognize these problems).

—Jole de Sanna

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.