Perino & Vele

It was difficult to enter the gallery to see this installation by Perino & Vele, since the artists had created a sort of obstacle course in the corridor outside. In fact, visitors had to walk over a floor of papier-mâché “pillows,” passing between zinc-plated-iron stakes and huge piles of colored paper sheets. The sensation was unpleasant, in part because the papier-mâché was still fresh and gave off an extremely strong odor of glue.

After negotiating the tortuous entryway, one finally reached the large gallery space, the center of which was dominated by a gigantic installation made out of Perino & Vele’s characteristic materials. Beneath a papier-mâché quilt—the hallmark of this duo from Italy’s Campania region—one glimpsed the silhouette of a camel attempting to flee the blades of an enormous electric blender. The scale of the piece and the presence of the threatening metal machine made for a vivid image.

These were the elements of “Kubark,” a show consisting of two works with no apparent connection. Indeed, one might question the relationship between the silhouette of the large animal and the sculpture found in the entrance to the gallery. But then one remembered that among the piles of papier-mâché in the entryway one could make out some writing that, in retrospect, hinted at a very topical theme shared by the two works. The first piece, Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation (all works 2004), takes its title from a secret manual, compiled by the CIA during the ’60s, which contains descriptions of interrogation techniques implemented by the American military. The press release for the show states that this document was declassified by Washington in 2004. It becomes clear that the masses of paper sheets in the entrance to the gallery represent the first draft of the manual, an original and uncensored version from which one could comprehend the gravity of the methods adopted by the military to obtain information from an enemy.

The title of the large sculpture in the main gallery space is Dick. The camel hidden by the quilt presumably symbolizes Arab culture, in its attempt to flee the destructive action of the blender of contemporary Western culture, a machine that emits a deafening noise, spraying fragments of paper into the surrounding space. Thus there is a natural association of ideas between the secret military documents and the Islamic world, at a time when political will, the power of the media, and distrust among cultures are the order of the day. This, then, is Perino & Vele’s intention: to push us, with only a few elements, to think about one of the most powerful concerns of our time. As usual, they do so in their very personal language, using simple but extremely effective materials.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.