Alfredo Pirri

In this recent show Alfredo Pirri combined Minimalist and Conceptual elements in an environmental mise-en-scène. The exhibition’s title, Gas, intentionally refers to an operative but invisible energy that pervades the piece. In the first-floor space this energy was expressed through an investigation of the nature and the origin of reflection, analyzed within what Pirri calls the “system of illusion.” The theme of reflection has animated much of his work, and the current show functions as a critical analysis of illusion, effected through the transformation of illusory elements into actors in a fully representational drama. By putting up two vertical walls, like theatrical wings, Pirri created a sort of stage set, dividing the space into two zones: one, in front of the wings, was totally dark; the other, behind the wings, was illuminated artificially and held five groups of vertical planks of enameled wood. Each group was composed of five units painted yellow, red, green, and blue. Seen frontally and from a distance, the colors seemed to merge, crossing over into black. The “true” colors of the planks were reflected on the wall and floor around each grouping, depending on the manner in which the light hit their lateral surfaces. Thus located within the chromatic scale, colors were treated as “characters,” in the 18th-century/Enlightenment, not the Romantic/expressive sense of the term. Each group of planks had a demonstrative rational value, and the light had the task of analytically pointing out the activity of each individual hue—showing us its “signature”—while functioning to generate the reflection.

In the second-floor space, Pirri undertook the task of transforming the conceptual system on “stage” by making manifest the invisible energy that gives substance to everyday life. With this end in mind, he chose Rome’s underground gas network as a theme capable of structuring the composition of the space. Pirri pressed stretched canvas directly over a manhole cover, and using a roller and ink, reproduced its features—its square form, the geometrics of its decoration, its text, “GAS”—36 times. The darkened space also contained ten open metal triangular structures, two angles of which were composed of nine horizontal wooden planks, gessoed and covered with a pigment that differed in chromatic tone from structure to structure. At the center of each, a lighted gas lamp generated tinted gradations on the pale-toned planks.

If the canvases on the walls were the installation’s frame, the center of this stage was shifted continually by the multivalent perspectives of the structures and the modulation of color tones and geometries. In this second space, too, Pirri addressed the issue of reflection as a disseminator of value in the atmosphere. He attempted to take the everyday dimension of urban life and remove it from the realm of insignificance. Pirri’s “engravings” are motivated by the sole objective of making memorable a real place of modern experience, restoring a high level of significance—and visibility—to an energy source that urban society banishes to the subterranean realm. The gas manhole cover is a boundary zone, one that blocks a potential catastrophic emission, through a dimension of “normalized” surface. In the canvases on the wall, the enigma of the invisible energy underlying the modern experience is revealed as on a holy shroud: nothing remains of it but the name and the essence. And this “gas” of Pirri’s becomes a metaphor for esthetic energy, which is equally impalpable yet ever active.

Luciana Rogozinski

Translated from the Italian by Marguertte Shore.