Pierre Restany

In the age of stone, of the brick and mortar the wall became flesh as gradually the home became woman. Flesh made-up with pigments, coverings and plasters of every type, flesh decked out and disguised with posters, flesh tattooed with graffiti. Flesh of the public woman: twenty-four hours each day the walls and facades of our towns and city are streetwalkers, giving proof of a carnal availability which permanently exhibits them to the lacerating manifestations of anonymous violence. These excesses of vitality today appear to us as being an integrating part of our town and city culture. They are the evident signs of the growing autonomy of urban expressiveness, of the irresistible poetry of the language of the city, of the ascensional power of this culture which in starting out from the street goes towards enriching the permanent collections of our museums of contemporary art. In a Roman gallery in 1954 Mimmo Rotella exhibited the shreds of a torn poster as a painting and in 1960 obtained international recognition by forming part of the Parisian group of the Nouveaux Rèalistes. In the 1980’s it took the graffitist Basquiat considerably longer to pass from the corridors of the subway to the crowning of the galleries of the Fifty-seventh Street in New York. Fiorenzo Zaffina lives the carnal approach of the wall with full right, flesh against flesh, as it were. He attacks the wall, he strips its plaster, he flays it, he ‘pages’ through it and digs into it until denuding the stones and mortar that constitutes its bowels or its profound structure. He then finishes the incision until giving it the dimension of a scarification which often takes on the decorative aspect of a flower that blooms at the top of a long stalk. Brought into sight the stones are painted with fluorescent, vivacious colours: green, for example, in the Penne piece which measures 11 x 3 metres; or vermilion as in the piece of the Cloister of St. Francis in Alatri (9 x 3 metres). Zaffina creates large public works, depending on the space available. “Eclisse” represents an orbital curve of 7 x 3 metres, an orange wave edged in white, a clear allusion to the eclipse of the sun that took place on the 11th of August 1999 under the sign of which the work was begun. The piece was presented to the public in Catanzaro on the 27th of October 1999, a day after the inauguration of the retrospective exhibition dedicated to Mimmo Rotella. It was on this occasion that I was able to see Zaffina’s work on a wall of the Calabrian city. I was struck by the excavation/tearing coincidence. Two views on the wall of the city: that of Rotella, who eradicates images from their chosen seat, and Zaffina who engraves the marks of the wall’s memory. And what memory! Zaffina achieves the anonymous and immemorable gesture of the rock-engraving/incision, the first manifestation of vitalistic consciousness which lies at the origin of art. If our cave ancestors made use of their hunting weapons to engrave the imprints of the memory then Zaffina uses the miner’s pickaxe or the chisel of the stone-cutter. In whatever case, we are talking about the same physical energy of the gesture in its full expressive freedom. A simple and powerful gesture that involves the totality of the individual within the fullness of the instant and which has not changed since the times of Lascaux or Altamira, for 15.000 or 20.000 years. The immemorable reference becomes more keen and is sublimated when Zaffina intervenes inside, on the walls of a gallery. The situation is conceptualized, the wall action becomes performance. Even if it takes on the aspect of an aesthetic preciosity Zaffina’s gesture remains exemplary in its authenticity and definitive in its atemporality: if the art of the street reaches that of the caves with such simplicity then there are grand possibilities that humanity remains humanist notwithstanding Ruanda, Timor or Kosovo. With his “Eclisse” Fiorenzo Zaffina has offered me a stimulating occasion for hope. I am very grateful to him.