Paolo Parisi devised a multi-faceted, site-specific project for the area of the Lounge / Project Room on the Luigi Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art ground floor. Here, he has placed accessible sculptures in cardboard, monochrome paintings on canvas and an original ambient installation, taking the circular lobby as the departure point for a reflection on the structure and experience of the work of art. This is a direct encounter between Observatorium (2004), from which the exhibition takes its name, and the permanent installation by Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #736 Rectangles of Color (1993).
Observatorium, the architectural model presented at the Fornello Gallery of Prato which has recently become part of the Museum’s collection, acts as a means for the visitor to be literally introduced to the exhibition itinerary and to his/her role of observer. Invited to penetrate the cavity cut out in the cardboard sheets of the work he/she should establish the place for looking at the side openings – views of details of the museum’s architecture, glimpses of the ambient installation created in the Lounge, or Monochrome background painting of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing. Indeed, Observatorium spawns visual relationships between the inside and the outside by creating images that come from architecture and, in exchange, by directing the eye to the surrounding reality. The living space is conceived as an inverted orographic relief in which the empty replaces the full, a geographic map that shapes the internal surface of the outer shell.
The relationship between LeWitt’s installation and Parisi’s work plays, instead, on the geometric assonance between the modular combination of the American’s “colour rectangles” in ink and the mechanical seriality of the stacked cardboard rectangles of the Italian, and on the correspondence between the impersonal rationale of the “wall drawing” of the former and the minimal schematics of the cubic volume of the latter.
Analogously to Observatorium, Benches for Everybody (2006) – benches in series composed of sheets of cardboard cut out and stacked, also invite the visitor to use them by sitting down and enjoying Parisi’s colour array in the installation designed specially for the Lounge. Here the windows are covered with fluorescent red panels which allow the outside view to filter in and with it the changes in the weather and the different amount of light during the day.
Similarly to the printing procedure in a dark room, the red light stresses the images of the urban setting that filter through to fix themselves on the plates. At the same time, the whole interior seems steeped in the variable intensity of colour that takes on a physicality beyond the virtuality of the projection of light. Here, Parisi subverts not only the experience of the real world by reducing it to a dynamic surface representation which, furthermore, is altered by the fluorescent light, but also the perception of monochrome colour that expands from the two-dimensional screen to the real space occupied by the visitor.
This immersion in red of every single object present in the room sets off a reaction of vibrant reflections, even from the traces of silver sprinkled over the curved walls in front of the windows. The combination comprises the Come raggiungere la costa (2008) installation.
Produced by a complex procedure of masking and copying the drawing created by the artist from maps and cartographic routes, these lines are the result of previous research by Parisi in the Rilievi series (1993/2000), Come raggiungere la terra dal mare (1993), Punti nave (1996), and in the installations Come raggiungere il cielo dalla terra (Cortona, 1994), Come raggiungere la vetta (Catania, 2000 and Munich, 2006), Dalla camera chiara all’immagine del mondo (Bologna, 2002).
Parisi’s apparently casual Wall Painting is a further move by the artist towards decomposing and recomposing a representation of geographic information so as to trigger new relationships between the space of the work and the onlooker. The “relief” on the wall announces the appearance of the painting at the very act of its perception and the immediate disappearance of its interpretation into relativity, “to be or not to be” (Giulio Paolini).
Parisi’s starting point is the abstraction of reality interpreted by means of a code of signs that reproduce it in the form of images, in this case nautical or coastal outlines, then moving on to the physical dimension of the painting and the tautology of its essence – a visual form that appears to the subjective perception, its mobility and arbitrariness. In this way, the work is never the same because it depends on the viewpoint of the onlooker who defines it by looking at it
In the large monochrome canvases of the Coast to Coast series (2006), the eye settles on the cartographic surrounds, the margins towards which our glance is led. In the slim borders left to frame the paintings, Parisi indicates that he had originally used oil colours the modelled shapes of which, wrinkled and oozy reappear on the upper acrylic layer, seen as a uniform background at the centre of the scene.
These details are possibly reminiscent of the silhouette of the Teatrini (1964-1966) by Lucio Fontana, the representations of which were projected on to the depths of the corresponding Concetti spaziali. Parisi, however, anchors them firmly to the surface of the painting focusing on it the spatial perception of above and below and the temporal perception of before and after. As he had already done in the earlier series Inversi (2000-2004), the artist hides the representation behind the last veil of paint submerging shapes in the dominant monochrome. The grey facing the interior of the museum could be taken as a way of visualising the emptiness the nothingness “neither visible nor invisible” (Gerhard Richter). The green facing outwards to the garden, instead, seems to wish to reflect the natural landscape, the open space that faces us. Yet again, Parisi upsets the order of things – he makes reality look different from what it is, he replaces common sense with the paradox of art. The final destination of this sensorial and cognitive experience is his work.
© 2008, Stefano Pezzato, in “Observatorium (Museum)”, ex. Catalogue, Published by Contemporary Art Center Luigi Pecci, Prato.