Michele Parisi

Galleria Cardi; Untitled & Artra

These two exhibitions of Michele Parisi’s work demonstrate the convergence of an image and a critical act. The subject of his work is the process of revising and reinterpreting the conceptual experience as a historical phenomenon and as an esthetic choice. According to Parisi, conceptualism is not a canonic system but a terrain where gestation and regeneration occur and new images arise. The problem posed here is whether conceptual practice can admit the risk of the image, violating what is sometimes taken as an esthetic tautology. Images also question the value that the minimalist and conceptual gesture places on the self-referentiality of material or writing. In Primumque furcis erectis, 1989-90, the conceptual seeks its own historical and anthropological roots in the words of Vitruvius and Lucretius. This installation was a staging of their historic-critical discourse on the origins of language, on the birth of meanings, and of art in primitive societies, which both writers link to the early stages of socialization that developed around the discovery of fire. But according to both, particularly Lucretius, the historico-rational reconstruction of the origins of myths tended to free humanity from the excessive power of the myth itself. Primumque furcis erectis transforms their intention into an enigma to be resolved.

The space created by this installation is shaped like a cross, through the arrangement of ten canvases, positioned stretcher up. These stretchers act as the bases for five vertically thrusting hammers of varying lengths. Two sides of each stretcher are embellished with gold type, spelling out individual words in Latin, taken from texts by Lucretius and Vitruvius, which are quoted in their entirety against painted backdrops on the walls, or fragmented into phrases above their gilt frames. Here the backgrounds of these five large black, red, green, and gold enamel monochromes as well as the writing become “image.” Five tall hammers rest in front of each backdrop, above a wood platform at the lower base of each frame. These hammers act as both objects and signs, creating a vertical rhythm in front of the monochrome canvases.

All elements of this environment are measured by their relationship to gold. Gold appears in the letters of the Latin text on the canvases, and as a constant element in the frames. But only in one piece does gold triumph completely. There, the words of the Latin text disappear, swallowed up by the left edge of the canvas, leaving a radiant gold unified field. In traditional Byzantine and Greek Orthodox icons, the absolute gold of the background guarantees that the image is an “apparition” and not a “reproduction.” A similar phenomenon is produced in the space of Inintellegibilis, 1990. On the back wall of the gallery, a vertical structure made up of 16 spotlights, forms the words ININTELLEGIBILIS, with individual transparent glass letters superimposed upon the frosted glass of the spots. With the lights out, the transparent glass letters are perfectly legible; with the lights on, the image vanishes within its blaze, slowly reemerging to remain fixed at length in the observer’s memory like a disquieting presence. In contrast, a second structure has two 500-watt spots on a single marble shelf. The spots face each other, their light meeting on the wall as a virtual projection and generating the abstract image of a pentagon. Both pieces reflect upon the paradox of mystical knowledge, which is realized precisely through the loss of rational boundaries. This condition is created through an excess of light from the spots, which paralyzes the glance. The sumptuous clothing of a historical-critical discourse, as in Primumque furcis erectis, and the mystical undressing of Inintellegibilis define the extreme poles of Parisi’s baroque stance.

Luciana Rogozinski

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.