Carlo Ferraris

Valeria Belvedere

Within the context of the developing generation of Italian artists working with the inherited grammar of arte povera, Carlo Ferraris’ work depends on faulty action, or lapse, yet his parapraxes are not simply blunders; they represent serious mental acts motivated by an alternative sense that arises from two distinct or mutually opposing impulses. Whether intentionally presented as jokes or uttered as slips of the tongue, Ferraris’ works originates from this opposition. It is as if a preconscious train of thought—here the materials, techniques, and order of arte povera—is momentarily worked over in the unconscious to emerge as a joke.

Ferraris’ manipulations of iron, paper, and various found materials initially seem to speak through the preestablished symbolic language of institutionalized art—a language grounded exclusively in the mind and therefore free from the liability of the variable as an expression of the changeless. On closer inspection, this apparent authority is undermined by an inherent paradox. Ferraris adopts this institutionalized language only to rebel against it. The introduction of a comical moment or punch line interrupts our reading of this work as a moment in a quest for perfection and reveals Ferraris’ agenda. In an untitled piece (all works 1990) Ferraris has constructed a long, hollow, horizontal iron frame suspended off the wall by two iron rods at one end. Ferraris calls our attention both to a fragile notion of balance and to the irregular shape of the room, which is rendered regular by the suspended form. Within the visible but narrow hollow of this iron structure the artist has fixed layers of highly colored confetti creating a festive deviation from the work’s refined execution. Ferraris seems to be redefining the legacy of arte povera as opposed to esthetically refining its techniques in the manner of many of his colleagues. In another work, Re, regina (King, queen), Ferraris incorporates two iron sheets, again suspended off the wall (each by a singular, pinlike rod) and joined together by an iron ring set with a large, pale-blue, gemlike stone. Again Ferraris’ use of iron suggests the invariable and eternal, but the nuptial pun seems intended to elicit a laugh rather than a sublime experience. In Caro M. parla e sente (Dear M. speaks and listens), a work dedicated to Michelangelo, an egg-shaped iron wheel with eight red ribbon spokes stands on its curved surface supported by two “legs” made of the same material. Both of these iron appendages are fitted with white socks and brand new black shoes; their heels seem to dig into the gallery floors as if to keep the oddly shaped wheel from rolling away.

Ferraris’ work sets up comically paradoxical situations by exposing the institutionalized valorization of art that is willfully inaccessible. By exposing these conceits, his work calls into question the entire system of art. Currently the only exponent among his generation of this brand of comic relief, Ferraris records his own process of redefinition and reflection as he maps out new paths of action.

Anthony Iannacci