Patrick Corillon

The announcement of Patrick Corillon’s recent installation fictitiously introduced his works as “Le osservazioni di Geppetto C. . . . Botanico Milanese (1902–1960)" (The observations of Geppetto C. . . . Milanese botanist ([1902–1960], 1989). In doing so, it both provided a historical and narrative structure within which the works could be read, and aroused curiosity about the identity of this late botanist, who shared his name with the famous woodcarver from Carlo Collodi’s tale, “Pinocchio.” For this installation Corillon constructed 27 nearly identical flower-or plantlike forms—manipulations of wire, iron, Plexiglas, soil—to document a life dedicated to botanical observations. Pots of soil each held a central wire, quickly perceived as a stalk, which seemed to grow organically out of the shelf, a tail of the same wire hung freely beneath the shelf; indicating the plant’s roots. Each object was accompanied by plastic labels, embossed into which were the invented names and places of origin of each of the plants, along with botanical texts observing the reproductive habits of these plants. These texts, in both French and Italian, described sets of contrived, often poetic or romantic difficulties encountered by the various seeds and in each case, justified, as a consequence of these difficulties, the nonexistence of the plants themselves. The text or observations, for example, for the plant “Oymnoi Acquatico” read (in translation), “Hitherto the seeds of Oymnoi Acquatico have been concentrated exclusively in the loamy layers that sustain numerous lakes and large ponds; only a frightful drought would allow them to bloom in the open air. But when the occasion presents itself, the sprouts, which have dried too rapidly, do not have the strength to bore through the crust of earth baked by the sun.”

Corillon here establishes a disguised narrative structure—the life of Geppetto C.—which reveals itself through the enigmatic interplay between various elements: the references to Collodi’s story of Geppetto and Pinocchio, the information provided about the life and work of the Milanese botanist, and the fictitious scientific documentation and information provided about the various plants. He enables us to assume that Geppetto C. started his career in 1929 at the age of 27 and continued observing these strange plants incapable of germinating until his death in 1960 at the age 58. In Collodi’s story, Pinocchio spends a great deal of time searching for his lost father and, here, the absence of Geppetto C. calls to mind that search. “Once upon a time there was a piece of wood,” begins Collodi’s story; from this wood, Geppetto creates for himself a puppet, which he quickly refers to as his son and who, at the story’s end, becomes a real child. Corillon has appropriated a narrative structure in which the puppet-son Pinocchio is not only immaculately conceived, but is the creation of a surrogate father as opposed to a surrogate mother. Within this absence of the mother and identification with the adopted child, Corillon opens chains of references which move through notions of masculine procreation and the complexities of father-son relationships. The strength of Corillon’s installation lies in its ability to establish, from the few clues it provides, a narrative which moves from the work itself toward the autobiographical, to arrive, finally, at the construction of an allegory of hope and vulnerability.

Anthony lannacci