Alessandro Ceresoli

Francesca Minini

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Alessandro Ceresoli’s recent exhibition opened with a group of drawings that evoke the tradition of grotesque ceramics as much as that of grotesque drawing. These works, from 2009, combine images executed in black felt-tip pen and gold leaf with fragments of texts, all relating to a trip the artist made to Eritrea, which turned into a six-month stay in the capital, Asmara. The catalogue that accompanied the show also includes the story, dreamlike in part, yet not fictional, of the artist’s arrival in Asmara and his first impressions of the city. These are visionary and hallucinatory impressions that merge personal experience with the stories of the many Italians who lived in Asmara and interacted with the local population from 1880 to 1947, when Italy’s former colonial empire was officially dissolved.

The catalogue begins with a description of the city’s best-known structure, the Fiat Tagliero service station, built in 1938 by Futurist architect Giuseppe Pettazzi, constructed in the shape of an airplane and equipped with canopies that seem like self-supporting wings. Writing about this building, Ceresoli says, “The impression, though vague, was of having found the initial fragment that would lead me to put together what, almost two years later, would be completed with the show in Milan.” In fact, the entire exhibition was punctuated with elements that seem to derive directly from this architecture—if on a reduced scale. But Ceresoli has also noted the similarities between Pettazzi and those architects who, a few years later, began to think of modernism as already totally in the past, updating the utopian tendency that characterized it according to new cultural demands. Pettazzi’s architecture, in fact, expresses a civil and political commitment, and its complex, problematic nature is also tied to existential problems. Ceresoli must have thought of this when he decided to take Pettazzi’s work as a source of inspiration, seeking the collaboration of a group of artisans in a city glass factory, Jumbo Glass, whose owners are descended from someone who learned the trade from Italians. In the catalogue, they describe, from personal experience, the tremendous trials that the Eritrean population has had to endure.

Ceresoli seems to demonstrate, through this exhibition, a pressing need to delve into the cultural relationships between Futurist architecture and present-day Asmara. His use of colored, backlit mirror glass shows how the materials that recur in contemporary life can open up new interpretations of past discourses—in the case of Futurist Architecture, explicating some characteristics that have yet to be completely revealed. Moreover, it seems that, for Ceresoli, establishing a relationship between Pettazzi and Jumbo Glass also expands on a central aspect of contemporary aesthetic discourse, namely the focus on cultures seemingly marginal to the modern movement, yet which have been touched by it.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.