The works of the active Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani, pieces from whom were exhibited at The Armory Show this year by the Italian institution Galleria Poggiali, chart a departure from our most familiar methods of translating our multi-layered reality.
Smoke, Soot, and Ghostly Vases
A piece comprised of two works on board that are the same size — eight and a half feet tall each, “Polvere,” 1997, uses smoke and soot on board to outline what appear via their ghostly representations to be a series of glass, vase-like items. The vase-and-bottle menagerie, arranged on similarly ghostly shelves also represented within the frames, is constituted by areas of lightness situated against backgrounds that are largely darkened, though Parmiggiani’s specific materials mean the background’s tone is richly dynamic, shifting as though the specter of the soot is rising from the surface.
The colors — even though roughly similar across these surfaces — go beyond the mere representation of their substance, somehow drawing another layer through their general tone. In other words, the effect seen with whatever precisely Parmiggiani was originally representing being moved into this haunting format is also apparent in the materials themselves and how he worked with them.
The precise work processes underlying these boards are not made evident when you’re looking at them. How did Parmiggiani achieve these shapes? Upon viewing, I was struck by how he captured an interchange between the physical and what lies beyond, pulling this esoteric version of something that clearly was originally physical into view.
What the Ghostly Shelves Suggest
In a glass bottle or vase existing — or the presence of any similar item, there’s the inherent potential for it to no longer exist and for its vague outline (as provided here via the smoke and soot) to be all that remains. It’s something inherent to the object and irrevocably associated with it. While writing this, I glanced up from my computer in thought and locked eyes with food packaging, which makes me think that acknowledging the systematic, internalized, progressing decay more comprehensively could have helped our modern world avoid some of our well publicized problems with waste. If you make something and expect it to be thrown away, it doesn’t just disappear.
Dialing into the specifics of this piece (1997’s “Polvere”) and, by extension, others from Parmiggiani that are similar, you could see a lilting moment of death or (if it’s inorganic) demise here. Smoke itself is a highly volatile thing. It inherently moves when in its original form, drawn either into or away from sources for air flows, depending on complicated patterns of placement in the relevant environment. Thus, you get that sense of progression from this work — something solemnly grandiose at times but also kind of everyday in nature, meaning very familiar.
It’s a self-assured process that you can nudge a certain way but can’t force into not being a thing. If the specific pattern of lines on an abstract canvas can evoke certain emotions corresponding to what would be associated with your body itself becoming patterned or shaped in such a manner, the same applies to the textured color of Parmiggiani. “Polvere,” without any evident human touch (at least that I could ascertain) within the boundaries of the pictorial worlds the artist created, shows a highly active underside to mundanity that inherently is always slipping just out of our collective grasp.
The Absolute Briefest of Moments
Another work I’ll highlight is “Mercurio,” 1981. Comprising the work are multiple pieces of painted canvas, plaster molding, and a painted wood egg. Though utilizing canvas, it’s not a wall hanging. Rather, a narrow and tall piece (painted mostly in rich blue) rises from the ground, while at the ground, there are two stacked pieces of mostly orange-painted canvas comprising a seat for this not-chair (the narrow and extended “back” reminds me of some historical chairs). Atop the base is the egg alongside that plaster — which has been shaped into the front half of a large and intricately fashioned sculptural foot.
Repeatedly throughout Parmiggiani’s works, you’ll find altered presentations of the classic elements of representational, full-length sculpture known from the artist’s home country and elsewhere. Looking at just half a foot, you’re again left contemplating an interchange — this time between an original sculpture and its environment, since now more prominent is the area where the represented foot touches the place upon which it rests. You could imagine this work as manifesting an incredibly brief moment, like a runner getting into position before they get going or something metaphorical that fits roughly with that scenario.
Parmiggiani draws out the fleeting impermanence within even the most monumental factors to our physical experience of reality, whether mediated through our own physical forms or implements we utilize. From the enigmatic locus of life to its incalculably quick departure, whether in a metaphorical or literal sense, every second is remarkably short.
Via Instagram, check out some images from Galleria Poggiali’s presentation at The Armory Show, which took place last month, below:
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