Perino & Vele

Unlike their typical repertoire of embroidered objects made from simple materials such as papier-mâché or rusted iron, Perino & Vele’s latest work, Closed for this week, 2001, was an installation that transformed the surrounding space. Two rolling galvanized-iron window gates were installed on opposing walls. The first, lowered to the floor, completely blocked access to the interior; the other, only partially closed, allowed a glimpse inside. It was as if the space of the gallery had been negated; viewers were kept outside, pressed by a desire to understand what lay concealed within the two “storage areas” created for the occasion.

What one could see beyond the metal gates was a shapeless greenish mass, extruded through holes in the sheet metal or set on the floor. It appeared to be a damp slime, soft to the touch, without any stable configuration, and characterized by an acidic color and an unpleasant odor. This substance was like a gigantic blob ready to invade the gallery. Only after a while did one understand that the mysterious mixture was really papier-mâché, still wet and ready to use. Perino & Vele had put one of their favorite materials, the substance of their art, on display. But in this case the papier-mâché had no defined shape and became a work of art even without being given artistic form. It is as if the artists meant to reveal the matrix and original configuration of their work—its core in embryonic, still-virgin form—after having worked through reduction to reach its very essence.

One of the two rolling shutters, the one that was partially open, functioned as the entrance to a storeroom full of the slimy stuff. At its interior was a chasm that seemed to have been produced as a result of the landslide of this pile of pulp, no longer supported by the partly open metal barrier. The outer surface of the heaped-up material was green, while the large cavity produced at the center was grayish and emanated a peculiar warmth. On the ground, strange yellowish puddles stagnated beneath the metal shutter, corroded and oxidized through the application of a water and salt base that brought to mind the strong presence of the sea near Pozzuoli, a port town west of Naples and site of the installation.

Thus what one saw was the artists’ material, their expressive means, but also their “how,” their process of making. In fact, one portion of the gallery contained a large papier-mâché sculpture, as though to demonstrate what could be done with the strange substance piled up nearby. Here the papier-mâché formed an embroidered blanket, folded and stretched on steel tie beams set up so it could dry beneath the lights of the gallery. Here Perino & Vele’s customary procedure returned to the surface, but with a difference: The blanket was no longer an added factor, an element of protection, and even less a new skin for an object with a recognizable form. The embroidery was now the work itself, the sole protagonist. Created in still-wet papier-mâché, it had a soft inner surface, like a feather bed, and a smooth exterior punctuated with white marks that simulated stitching.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore