Pierluigi Calignano

Walking down the stairs and into Pierluigi Calignano’s solo show, “L-Ray,” was like being catapulted into another time, different from today’s reality—a time that has existed and might still exist, in part, but which cannot be sorted out in linear or chronological fashion. One could say the show seemed to take place in the imperfect tense—a tense for describing repeated actions or ongoing states in the past—and that the temporality of Calignano’s “constructions” is an ironic and sentimental mix of eras, both of history (especially art history) and of an individual life story. Thus, ingenious machines from Leonardo’s or Agostino Ramelli’s Renaissance studies of hydraulics coexist with light sculptures like something out of the American minimalism of the ’60s, Duchampian bachelor machines, and an approach to color reminiscent of Pop art, the whole ensemble evoking childhood games.

Calignano’s magical and absolute objects, which bear their maker’s unmistakable stylistic signature as artisan and bricoleur, are not everyday things of the present; they are neither found objects nor even, really, sculptures. They are objects without hope, meaning that they cannot aspire to partake of a contemporary reality dominated by functional design and playful consumerism; they possess the certitude of another, past existence. The exhibition title might seem to allude to LSD, but the other dimension expressed by the artist is much more complicated than the altered state offered by a drug. The gallery space was invaded by five large wooden wheels—Scultura 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (Sculpture 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), all works 2007—scrupulously and precisely based on those designed by Ramelli in his studies for water mills. These served as frames for decorative structures, with motifs ranging from floral to arabesque to geometric, which supported thousands of colored lightbulbs (green, red, white, fuchsia, blue) like the ones that traditionally decorate southern Italian churches at festival time.

Drawings in colored enamel, all titled Rotante (Rotating Devices), at first appeared to be graphic transcriptions of the light of the bulbs or sketches of ancient rose windows in Medieval cathedrals; perhaps impossible stains of a Pop version of a Rorschach test or transcriptions of kaleidoscopic views; maybe even colored sculptures translated into two dimensions. In reality, the works were made using a monotype technique in which patterns are created by folding and unfolding the paper onto which the enamel was poured, a mechanical process that allows for chance. The same is true of three enamel-on-canvas paintings—Progetto per scultura 4, 5, and 6 (Project for a Sculpture 4, 5, and 6)—that evoke a strange monochromatic and luminous pointillism and recall the pouncing marks made on tracing paper to create ancient frescoes. Five small wood and cardboard models for the wheel sculptures seem to be a formal synthesis of the sculptures and the drawings: Their scale diminished, stripped of bright lights, and simplified, the circular wooden structures evoke no movement but that which is purely mental.

Paola Noé

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.