In his conclusive work entitled Etant donnés Marcel Duchamp exhibited a body of a woman lying down, spied on by way of a breach in the wall and with a strong light projected onto her stomach: a supreme representation of the “mystery” embodied within the dialectical couples of hiding-discovering, inside-outside, darkness-light and cavity-fullness. Enigma as the origin of the world.
Usually walls are a barrier, they delimit space, they confine sight and movement. They check the fields of vision and action, and in some way they give an initial identity to the place, they cut out its volume, they establish an inside and an outside, separating what is beyond here from what is beyond there. Walls close up an area and close in pieces of existence. They are a diaphragm between living spaces and they rationalize functions and events: “inside” there is the home while “outside” there is the square/street/road or the field. And the house itself is divided into rooms in which objects and events tied to different activities are distributed. Walls are a form of the structuring, the organization of life: they write the language of the inhabited space and they codify the silent tongue of architecture.
It is for this reason that to find oneself in front of the “walls” by Fiorenzo Zaffina whatever expectation is subverted, singular works of art that overturn the inside-outside relationship. The walls open themselves in a sort of excavation beyond the surface itself, flaying plasters and disclosing building materials.
Zaffina dares to penetrate the what is hidden of the crushed stone and mortars, carrying out an exhumation of poor materials, laying bare bricks and pebbles. The tortuous gorges of the mural opus reveal themselves to the eye like a casket in which an unusual find lies.
If the truth be said, the natural cavities always allude to an ultravisible and ultraterrestrial mysterious world. Although these artificial cavities opened by Zaffina with the blows of hammer and chisel join up with an extremely physical and matteric universe, tangible and concrete, and yet not less obscure/dark and out of sight than the metaphysical dimension.
From amidst the stones and bricks one glimpses the simulacra of a cryptotechnological condition which draws upon the iconographic repertory of electronics. The pieces of computer, the integrated circuits and the microchips are icons of our own times and those of the future, exhibited signs, ready-mades, that represent themselves and the civilization that has produced them. It is as if one produced a sort of exploration in the time to come, an archaeology of the future which finds what has not yet been buried. Walls listen and speak, retaining a ‘samples book’ of subtraced life and giving back the stories/histories and objects of the memory which become mingled with those of expectations.
In all of this there is a poetic and playful approach – as had been the case towards the close of the 1960’s with the “talking walls” by Luca Maria Patella, at the beginnings of Conceptual Art.
Zaffina’s walls and excavations are not outside but inside us, taking on the onus of a psychic and existential condition, thick and bulky on which to transcribe the mega-signs of a writing that has something in common with the practice of prehistoric graffiti and the first forms of cuneiform writing. The expressive and communicative forms of proto-civilization are once again to be found in those of ultramodernity. In the age of the virtual one rediscovers the pleasure of the incision/engraving in the matter, the triumph of the soft invites one to once again discover the taste for the assault on the hard. If walls are hard, and so much so as to become the synonym of robustness (and obstinacy), then Zaffina challenges them, he opens and violates them with an energetic and decided introspective action. Walls represent conspiracy of silence and prejudice, incommunicability and difficulty. Yet precisely for these reasons the excavating takes on the sense of liberation and release from whatever impediment of consciousness, of awareness. To remove the strata of the plaster and cement is the equivalent of a breaking down of mental barriers – and not understood so much as rational thought but above all as imagination.
In fact, Zaffina’s is a creative exercise, a bringing into play of the mind and body in order with his hands – and quite literally – to take the courage the demolish the superstructures that prevent one’s eyes from seeing purifying fantasy.
This anti-architecture based on a de-constructive process is an invitation to venture into the material infinite. The openings excavated in the wall are microenvironments in which the laic idols of technology live. Similar to votive niches they conceal the ultramodern ex-voto offered to the electronic divinity, small demigod of the chip, invisible and omnipotent, master of (real) time and of (global village) space. Zaffina’s walls do not construct buildings, piling up stones or putting one brick on top of another, according to a more or less daring progressive geometry. They are instead singular infrasculptures which explore the hidden world of chance. Rather than erecting monuments of the past they disassemble the traits of a prophecy of the future. Moreover, walls are often associated with anxiety (and anguish) because apart from the religious evocations of that wailing wall in Jerusalem and those “historical” ones of Berlin they possess a certain something which is objectively oppressive, they give the sense of finiteness and implicitly make one think of the mystery that lies beyond them. Walls can – emphatically – enclose the city, like those of Jericho, or else protect the land, like the Great Wall of China.
For Zaffina, instead, their aspect is a more serene one, notwithstanding the apparent crudeness of the gash which shows the material it is made of. In fact, there is no aggressiveness whatsoever and the carnality – which is equally evoked – finds sublimation in a sentiment of lightheartedness that is well related to a playful and passionate eros rather than to a harsh and dramatic one. The “wounds” of the walls are not ‘bloody’ but are redeeming and liberating stigmata – and neither lacking an ironic vein. In some way Zaffina’s walls smile.
And yet walls also have a more familiar identity, like those of the home which distinguish the habitat and defend one’s privacy. Effectively speaking, starting out from their origin walls have bound their existence to both the domestic dimension and to the woman, the artificer – according to Mumford – of that Neolithic revolution which brought about the correspondence of the birth of the home and the town with the passage from an economy of hunters and gatherers to one based on the rearing of livestock and on agriculture. Walls are therefore tied to the idea of permanence whereas space suggests nomadism.
As Bruno Zevi has indicated, walls create the architecture that is made up of internal spaces which in their turn – psychoanalysis informs us – have to do with the female symbolism of the container-womb: that is, with the home-town-woman identification. This symbolic interweaving is taken up by Zaffina with an operation of progressive interiorization of the object-wall and the action-excavation. The walls disclose/open a new life, with the latter perpetuating knowledge and awareness. Experience is intimately lived, as if an internal eye were prompted ready to receive the ancestral memory which then coincides with the final prediction. Walls generate materializations of premonitions that as progeny of hardware surface from the excavation as finds of a future archaeology. A space is differentiated in internal and external starting out from the wall that divides and articulates it. In the same way that internal walls produce darkness whereas externally they open themselves to light.
Human civilization and activities are marked by this continuous building which takes with it both a symbolic action and an economic production. Walls lift up temples and monuments but also support shops, workshops and factories. They denote the spaces of life and mark the places of burial in order to consecrate death (thus exorcizing it). In fact, both mythologies and religions identity in cavities the points of beginning and end: the Platonic myth of the cave as the original place of ideas and Dante’s pertugio [very narrow opening] as the entrance to the kingdom of the underworld.
In the broken wall Zaffina fully understands this dialectic between life and death, the coming to light and the placing in the burial. On the threshold of this world, which is interior in every sense, he carries out the laic ritual of an unreal evocation, explaining clues of a pan-electronic dimension.
The walls are often painted on their surfaces, both when they are uniformly done so as when they are sublimely frescoed or spontaneously scrawled. The frescoed walls are virtual openings, they simulate possible worlds, they imagine historical scenes and they render fiction verisimilar.
In Zaffina painting has its home inside the wall which takes on the appearance of a bas-relief created by way of the subtraction of materials, in a movement from the surface towards the inside. Space is not represented although the concavity is real. The excavation/digging out continues in an irregular way with a deflagration of the surface, making cuts in the edges and penetrating in depth. The colours that are let loose from these openings are very brilliant, fluorescent, iridescent and electric. They brazenly reject the darkness of the gorges, they signal an explosion of light that reinforces the idea of coming into life.
Initially created as installation interventions to be realized in loco, Zaffina’s wall excavations have from time to time ‘borne down’ on various chosen sites with the empathic approach of the person who knows how to “listen” and look in order to grasp the environmental suggestions present(ed).
With a progressive operation of construction and deconstruction the object “of desire” is identified, a wall that is above all the “idea” of the wall, an icon of the mural rupture which renders the sense of penetration internal. And so the hardness of the bricks and plasters is converted into the softness of polyurethane. The wall is simulated. The wall-work gives way to the work of the wall. The wall effect is made safe and the lightness achieved: besides favouring mobility it accomplishes the aspiration to immateriality.
Starting out from the wall Zaffina returns to the wall in the form of painting-object – as before him had been done by Mimmo Rotella with the décollages of advertising posters and by Giuseppe Uncini with his “cements”.
With a new-Dada taste for the ready-made and the assemblage, although also neo-Poverist due to the humble materials, Fiorenzo Zaffina arrives at a new image which is rich in media suggestions.
The closed and the open, the dark and the luminous, the full and the empty, the hard and the soft, the buried and the living are the contrasting characteristics of an artistic practice that is totally projected towards capturing a conceptual complexity and an existential precariousness in which also the real and the virtual, the true and the false among themselves dissolve without breakage.
by Tonino Sicoli