Alfredo Pirri

Scuola di Guerra Aerea

The installation of Alfredo Pirri’s Gli Effeminati Intellettuali (The effeminate intellectuals, 1988) at the Scuola di Guerra Aerea (School of aerial warfare) consisted of two monitors showing a videotape of an inventory of materials, while actor Sandro Lombardi read a passage written by Yukio Mishima. The whole thing lasted for only 20 minutes. The piece was decidedly minimal, not so much in terms of its compositional simplicity, but in terms of its carefully calibrated effect.

First of all there was the site, which was excellent. The Scuola di Guerra Aerea, which occupies a vast area of the Parco delle Cascine, was built in the late ’30s, according to the once-popular language of rationalist architecture, with an added measure of puritanical and bourgeois rigor. Devoid of the excessive triumphalism of the Fascist regime, it was embellished by a faithful optimism in civil and technological progress. The enclosure, hidden by tall, dense vegetation, prevents one from visually penetrating the interior, which opens up to broad avenues and paths shaded by tall plants and ornamental flowerbeds, all marked by an aseptic cleanliness. The low, spread out buildings, faced in red brick with detailing in marble and travertine, create the image of a model city, good for scholastic manuals and for propaganda pamphlets. The officer’s building has the shiny elegance of a fashionable modernist hotel from the ’30s, or of a luxury transatlantic liner: vast spaces, shining with marble and brass, precious crystals and woods, large modern paintings and frescos with views of the Tuscan landscape and of aerial battles.

The performance was set for 10 in the evening. At that hour, this part of the park was deserted and illuminated by occasional street lamps. It was necessary to pass by the watchman’s station, announcing oneself. Most of the lights in the buildings were already out. Only the official area blazed with interior light, which created a tenuous halo in the calm darkness of night. A reception was in progress. The officers and their companions were decked out like models in a fashion magazine from times gone by. Imperturbable waiters displayed a rigidity that revealed their military identity. The guests spread out through the rooms and over the broad terraces that looked out over an interior garden. The drinks were rigorously clear: white wine, champagne, malt whiskey. Coffee was served upon request at the bar, which gleamed with different marbles and glassware, brass and chrome. Only one room was crowded: it was divided in two by a large sofa covered in aviator blue. To either side, on the floor, were two video monitors. They were showing both a chaotic film featuring images of traffic in a large Japanese city, overlaid with tapes of the various phases of Mishima’s suicide: the allocution to the soldiers, the interior of General Mashita’s office holding the corpses of Mishima and the young Morita, their funerals, etc. The whole piece, pale ochre in tone, looked like an old photograph. At the beginning the sound was like the wind, strong and gusting. Seated on the sofa, his back reflected to the public in a large mirror that occupied the rear wall, was Lombardi, whose large body bore a Mediterranean opulence. Speaking in a halting voice, broken as if by intimate emotion, he interpreted a press conference that Mishima had once held before an audience of students, the theme of which was literature and its venom.

As in the videotape, the images overlapped with each other, abolishing all sequential or narrative structure, each in its own way seeking to interweave suggestions and memories. Each involved the crossing of the nocturnal park, the penetration of the fine place, the elegant gathering of the party, the formal rigor of the structure and the people, and the very presence of the actor, who repeated aloud the artist suicide’s message on the danger and risk of every deeply experienced, genuine artistic stance.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.