Tempi Ultimi


1996 – XIII Biennale della Città di Penne
cm 300 x 100

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di Paolo Balmas

In the work by Fiorenzo Zaffina there is a constant factor which it would be reductive to consider as being a simple fact of taste, although it would also be excessive to undoubtedly collocate it at the centre of the research to which it refers. I am alluding to the tendency to always take up the position on the borderline that separates the gratifying from the self-satisfied, the pleasing from ‘sweetness’, the playful from the comical and so on. This constant factor which translated into formal terms means vivid and artificial colours within clear-cut and alluring contours while on the semantic plane means savoury psychological associations supported by a popular – or, at least, elementary – iconography, has in the past been something very similar to an expedient used in order to raise the temperature of language almost to fusion point, in this way once again conquering a margin of healthy ambiguity (to be understood as an antidote to the stereotypy of mass communication although also as a homage to that same universe of the media to which one can attribute a paradoxical extract).
Now however in his most recent cycle of works, the so-called “excavations”, the constant factor in question (always present even if less in evidence) takes on a more subtle meaning: it becomes the access key of an interpretative code without which the work would certainly be misunderstood and exchanged for something completely different.
Let us try to be clearer by examining the artist’s procedural method and the principles that motivate it.
Generally speaking a wall is something we perceive as a limit or closing of a habitable space. Of a volume, therefore, understood as being an empty space at our disposal. What one never thinks about, instead, is the fact that it can also be considered as a full, itself a volume. In fact, in this sense the wall is considered as not being interesting above all in so far as one presupposes that what it is filled with is something inert and homogeneous which is there only to constitute a mass.
In starting out from the presupposition that everything which man creates or has created as transformation of the environment is in whatever case referable to the condition of sign, Zaffina instead has decided to investigate precisely this type of space with a gesture which recalls that of the archaeologist – although also of the hermeneut, of the researcher who digs down into the depths of words that are widely atrophied and yet still in use.
What he has discovered working with a chisel and imagination is that inside a wall – especially if not of recent construction – one has an infinity of forgotten things, of objects whose distinctive characteristic and ability to communicate have at a certain point been considered as no longer being useful and, consequently, degraded to the lowest degree of definition which a sign is able to have: that of mere coincidence with its material support. Put in other words, he has discovered that in every wall there is a sort of negative of history, the ‘benumbed’ testimony of what the society of a given period has imagined to be able to do without. In short, he found himself faced by a sort of collective repression and has intuited the possibility of retrieving it, upturning its negativity in an amused surprise. However, in order to do this – to avoid its discovery to only be interpreted as a pathetic little theatre of the memory – Zaffina has felt the need of once again connecting himself up to the expansive path of the communication of our own days, once again making reference to the most conspicuous of distinctive characteristics to be understood as colours, forms and symbols. An insight which immediately opened the way to the practice of putting himself into the wall, as finds for future memory – precisely those objects, images and messages that today we consider as being the most representative of our civilization and that tomorrow – perhaps – we shall only use as ballast or fillers.

by Paolo Balmas