“When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long”
Kostantin Kavafis, Ithaca
‘Map’ comes from a term of Punic origin meaning tablecloth, napkin, or a piece of cloth used to make a bundle of objects to carry on long or short trips. The map is therefore “a mobile container” (1) , an arbitrary collection of tools and rules, of scattered objects that contain the voyage and conduct it. Every map and every cartographic device, reconsidered in this condition of mobility, the reciprocal reflection of movement and its representation, can lead to the same disturbance that assails the reader, when absorbed in a book he suddenly finds himself inside the story itself that he is reading, there too surprised in the reading.
So we can think about an open series of assimilations where the map is the voyage, its planned representation, its accidental narration, one moment after another. The journey generates the map that contains it, and in the ramifications of art it scatters parts, burying them for future memory, and it proceeds, hanging back at times even with respect to itself, leaving behind it “one step after another” but always finding itself again, even at a distance of very long times and in inconvenient places, because every journey is a circular journey. Even the trip in which the place of arrival does not physically coincide with that of departure. It is always a return, a line at the end of which we find we have to listen again, with the need for meditated interpretation of the self, of the space in which the person who has just arrived is overlaid, older (by one day or many years) than the person who left, rewinding the tape on which the voyage is recorded, to file it away or record over it again, without ever erasing it. It is worth recalling that for the Greeks the circularity of the voyage was necessary and perfect, and its narration was only possible thanks to the return.
The thinking involved in the work of Luca Pancrazzi always has to do with the voyage, and in most cases the start of a work echoes the end of the work that came before it. Along its surface we can find uneven parts, clots of memory, sedimentary visions that assert themselves for new interpretation. The voyage is the underlying current, even when there is no landscape, no automobiles and highways in perspective, as in the works done since 1996 under the title Carborundum, with their thousands of pieces of glass, which come from an observation made while walking on the erosion of a rock rubbed against a wall. Even the still lifes, reproduced by employing and countering variations of the light, contain steps around the objects, and demand of the observer an ongoing movement, towards and away from the canvas. Pancrazzi’s voyage is not a simple compulsive movement between different geographies, but a shift needed to change the vantage point on things, and to rethink and change knowledge of those things.
The drawings and paintings devoted to representation of the landscape imply getting beyond the gap between natural and cultural condition of the landscape itself. This concept is easier to understand if we keep in mind the strictly intellectual and functional quality of the map, where visible space that can be crossed coincides with its encoded representation: the landscape, as soon as it is perceived, as soon as it is projected into the scientific or creative imaginary, becomes cultural in an immediate, irreversible way. In this sense the representation, even on a mental level, of visible reality is already an act of colonization: we move through places naming them in order to take possession of them (a path, an urban ring road, a work table).
In Pancrazzi’s paintings the crossing of space asserts itself perceptibly in the form and the light of the subjects: there are panoramas subtracted from the speed of an automobile, there is the movement itself along viaducts or through tunnels, and there is the view from above, as if from an airplane: there is always the attempt to convey the object of a view caught at the borderline of its perceptibility. In all these cases Pancrazzi works on his own gaze, on the influence of the medium and the technique, on the synthesis of space and time that impacts the gaze and transforms the subject. The artist (who should always be imagined as he carries his Phoenician map-bundle, which contains objects and guides the voyage for which it was compiled) calls two tensions into play: the synthesis between medium and vision, through which art manifests itself, and the opening of perception in an analytical development that brings out and amplifies the possibility of meaning of the work, on a formal, sensory and cultural level.
Mi disperdo e proseguo lasciandomi indietro un passo dopo l’altro (I lose my way and forge on leaving one step after the other behind me) illustrates this attempt of comprehension of the artist-traveler. A horizon line unwinds along eight hours of single long take showing a drawing traced on a role of cash register receipt paper. A continuous landscape runs by, made of overlaid signs: a sea-roving trip along a hyperurban road marked by the vertical presence of light poles, buildings, scattered groups of trees. The film reveals the error of the pen: the gesture of relapse of the calligraphic execution opens the horizon, and on the larger scale it becomes a marginal gaze that restrains the forms approximated by speed. The margin of error is inevitable and at the same time foreseen and pursued by the artist. Its presence bears witness to a challenge: thus is it manifested in the repeated attempts of Mira (a variation between the verb “sparire” (to vanish) which alters to become “sparare” (to shoot), written with shots from a rifle on canvas). The wavering of error around the initial idea, and in competition with the will of the author, guarantees “the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be” (2) with which Walter Benjamin defined the aura, a parousia that is free of any sacral tone here, braided like a “strange weave of space and time” (3) kept alive in the passage of art.
Restituzione di paesaggio al paesaggio (Restitution of Landscape to Landscape) is a slide projector installed to project into the void, in the sky over the city, eighty images from the archives of Luca Pancrazzi: some of the innumerable landscapes and urban routes he has photographed and then used as models or inspiration for many works made over the course of almost thirty years (and, the artist writes, he has “photographed many more than I have painted”). On a formal level, Restituzione di paesaggio is the enactment of a strange tautology (a series of landscapes, though invisible, overlaid on another landscape), while on a conceptual plane (meaning the assessment of the relationship between the behavior of the artist and the world) it expresses an opposition. In its apparent inefficacy – if the image is not visible, what use is it? – Pancrazzi’s projection launched into the void defines the status of a work on the image that steps back from the passive aspect of perception.
Western culture has developed an independent way of viewing the landscape, perfecting it across the centuries with a gradual overlap of the idea, the thought that is developed of the landscape, with the act of seeing, the process that reveals reality and compares it with that thought. Even if the idea has a relationship with seeing (“ἰδεῖν” in Greek, after all, means ‘to see’), its formulation corresponds to a form of knowledge, a critical comprehension that establishes a reciprocal relationship with sight, feeding on it and influencing it. The extreme speeding up of the acquisition of images and the compulsive tension of recording have definitively pushed aside the creative power of the idea, tapering it to the point of almost making it coincide with the tiny fraction of a second required by technology for the input of data. Tools have contributed to modify the mechanism of perception, shortening the time of the gaze and that of reflection. Things, persons, mountains and cities are stored, responding to an impulse that does not generate thought, and can be evaluated in a wider framework of reification of the space of relation, appropriation and identification the self establishes with the surrounding world.
Through interpretation of the sign, the work of Luca Pancrazzi raises questions about its function, as in the graffiti of Di Segno Di Paesaggio made starting with photographs taken from the window of a car during a trip in Lebanon. The sign used in these works is amplified and dubitative, containing the figure and its processing on the same plane, the will of the author and the filter of the photographic medium, without confusing these different orders. The sign recovers the idea and problematizes it with respect to sight.
All this happens within a perspective fed by a debate, and it seems worthwhile at this point to examine, at least in part, some of this background. On the one hand there is the formulation of deconstruction by Jacques Derrida (4), with the resulting series of oppositions and the deployment of the concept of the undecidable, where antinomies coexist that contain opposing properties. Among them, the sign indicates “an absence at the heart of presence, and history, including art history, cannot be interpreted as a procession of presences”(5) . On the other hand, there is the famous passage from nature to culture summed up by Leo Steinberg in the essay in which he states the “new criteria” for aesthetic interpretation opened up by the New Dada experiences. Writing about the work of Robert Rauschenberg, Steinberg refers to its elaboration as a “a pictorial surface that gave back its place to the world”(6). A change of enormous proportions, that can clearly not be entirely ascribed to the American artist, but does fine an undeniable manifestation and result in his work. The extension of this concept to the man-made horizon of the contemporary observer is even more interesting (which the critic explains using the term ‘flatbed’ to indicate the pictorial plane of the 1970s). According to Steinberg, “Rauschenberg’s picture plane is for the consciousness immersed in the brain of the city”(7). Pancrazzi’s research involves a similar form of stretching of the area of discourse, continuously engaging in exploration of the horizon, in a critical progress towards the idea of the visual limit that has the city as its center, and has direct knowledge of its noise, its odor, temperature and light.
The horizon is the perceptible figuration of the border (‘limit’ and ‘horizon’ are the same word in Greek), and the border is “a widening of the center, a corollary, an extension of an effected centering”(8). This centering provides the tools for the measuring of space and its surpassing, but it reaches definition thanks to its limit – which at least in nature, as we know, is simply an optical illusion caused by the curvature of the planet. Therefore this definition too will be illusory; the starting points must be sought from other bases, in other directions. Luca Pancrazzi moves in a radial direction, following the lines that from the center lead to the infinite points of the horizon, on which he notes down thoughts and leaves trails to decipher in other formats. The many paintings that show urban skylines and industrial panoramas, also made by experimenting with unconventional techniques, and works like Mi disperdo e proseguo lasciandomi indietro un passo dopo l’altro express a sort of aesthetic of the horizon. The impossibility of understanding it at a single glance, and its impalpable character experienced in the attempt to reach it, unfold in an uninterrupted representation guided by the canon of architecture. The variation of the elements (serial construction, engineering in reinforced concrete, cooling towers, worksites, road arteries) constructs a grid overlaid on the horizontal landscape: an attempt to grasp its ideal infinity, to lead it back to a possible perception.
Architecture therefore has the task of restraining a horizontal contemplation in which the recurring feeling is that of vertigo. The horizon (or horizontality) has a virtually infinite dimension, and pushing the gaze in the two directions along which it expands its size turns out to be inconceivable and – forever – limitless. Much more unreachable than any verticality, which has a beginning in an earthly point close to use, and also an end of its movement (a fall from on high, sooner or later, comes to a stop). Seipiede (Hexapod) is a complex work that puts the two directions into a relationship without resolving them, like another, original undecidable of Derrida. A pair of tripods are mounted symmetrically, one against the other, almost like a structural strut between floor and ceiling, adapting to the vertical size of the space. Yet Pancrazzi, writing about Seipiede, calls it a “tribute to the horizon” (as well as to the clear symmetry), and thus dubs it a tool of interpretation of the landscape where, he goes on, what remains imprinted is its “passage that paces the vertical volumes”. The normalizing network of architecture frames the horizontal world, which nevertheless continues to elude a definitive conception and, at every step of the artist, postpones the ultimate end of its composition. Verticality, in the temporal world of Luca Pancrazzi, is rational, normative, measurable; horizontality is like the gaze that probes the desert or the open sea, feverish, transcendent, unfathomable.
When the gesture shifts into constructed space, inside architecture, the landscape changes its scale, but pursues the same undecidable opposition. This happens in Sparire, a collection of dozens of tiny and disparate works that along the internal perimeter of Assab One can be observed as soon as one learns the rule of their level, which marks the jagged horizon of the structure.
The repetition of a gesture (a breath, a sheet of paper piled on similar sheets, a pen stroke on plaster) extended for a long time, days and months and longer periods, is an act of discipline and creativity: because it habituates and trains the hand (or the eye, or the diaphragm) and because it contributes, if it has not sunk into habit, to congeal meaning. The objects arrayed – and scattered – in Sparire come mostly from collections Pancrazzi has accumulated, complying with the urge to gather, or imposing the daily discipline of an action upon himself. In this way, micro-landscapes in ink, drawings, portraits with white correction fluid join one another, all made and stored with an archival impulse that does not even separate scraps. Carota is the outer limit of this affection for collection: a column of documents, sharing an A4 format and the fact that they have been discarded, a “trash biography” as their author calls it, that probes the layers of individual experience. The word game suggested by the title [which means both carrot and bore, as in drilled probes into ice] references the analogy with archaeology indicated by Michel Foucault, for whom “the archive is that which determines that all these things said do not accumulate endlessly in an amorphous mass (…), nor do they disappear at the mercy of external accidents; but they are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities”(9).
The archaeologist-archivist Pancrazzi reopens the question from scratch about what gets left out when one defines the terms of an archive. The inclusion of one element determines its survival and the feasibility of its fate to become a story or a sign. The ‘relics’ that resurface from Pancrazzi’s studio express at times, through their presence, a mystery that is so dense it wants to remain unexpressed. At other times, they are the trail, or the remainder, of a long period of research on a tool or on a theme (another “archaeology of the discard” is that of Cubare il cubabile, a sculpture that is the result of the repeated cleaning of paints hardened on the palette and gathered in a cubical container, then removed to show the spongy, multicolored molded content). All these elements scattered in the space of Assab One tend to vanish, to recover their nature as a buried sign whose meaning can be reconstructed through an operation of reconnection, guided by the path of their rediscovery and by the series of fortuitous juxtapositions, also removed from the plan of the artist, that determine their results.
Another example of this redefinition of meaning processed through new combinations is Space Available, a screening of slides using multiple projectors, where the images (scenes similar in origin to those of Restituzione di paesaggio) overlap, at times also with the bodies of the visitors, offering the view of a generative form of archiving. Significantly, Space Available is also the title of other projects, from 1989 onward, that gather themes, images, crossed landscapes.
In certain cases the materials gathered by Pancrazzi become a project, and their repetition constitutes a medium in its own right, deployed in an installation that rewrites the space and works on the semantic shifting of the objects utilized. They maintain the quality of utensils, but multiplication transforms them into a machine (apparently useless) whose application is revealed in the creation of meaning. A collection of plumb lines installed with millimetric precision at the same height, in its definition of one level suggests a horizontal surface, and the only thing it winds up measuring is the relationship between the eye and the space. Fili da te di-versi da me, as it is entitled, is a project that has been installed on multiple occasions, and will probably be shown in the future as well, changing each time to adapt to the host space, and in terms of the number of plumb lines. The work returns to the same paradox of the archive, where physical presence accumulates meaning in its context with other objects, and the verification of that meaning is, case by case, postponed to future interpretations, when the installation will reappear, expanded, amplified by the addition of new pieces gathered in the meantime.
The true nature of things is found in extreme synthesis, where they speak almost exclusively of themselves, with the gaze directed towards the detail that contains vastness in the infinitely small (10). The ability to narrow the range of seeing, concentrating it towards a personal, subjective and transient form, opens the way to comprehension, or the simple perception, of relationships that refer to time and history – I believe this happens in the same way with great literature, where the non-analytical specificity of the novel, its partial character, manages to be more universal than the objectivity of the documentary. In Polvere contemporanea (Contemporary Dust) Luca Pancrazzi arranges magnifying glasses (taken from another drawer of his collections) on a mirror surface, waiting for the passage of time to modify the space on which the lens is focused: the dust that gathers forms a spontaneous (and to some extent pre-set) landscape where the necessity of time is layered, “which passes and endures simultaneously”(11), and the entropic dispersion of nature accumulates, destroying, and producing new meanings by doing so. The installation of the lenses also listens to another rhythm of time, reprised at long intervals, as happens for the weights of Fili da te di-versi da me, and as it increases its size from one occasion to the next it alludes to a new writing.
Polvere contemporanea comments on the surrounding world and tries to concentrate it in a very light gesture, like that of the observation of specks of dust that become matter. With the fixity of its waiting, it is an observatory set across all the materials and themes of Pancrazzi’s research: it is the tireless eye that watches time, the circular space that informs and deceives that gaze on its limit/horizon, the flat surface on which the action takes place, the cadenced step that measures distance, the collection as an end in itself, the author reflected in his work who takes aim and strives to recognize himself and resolve error, and challenges himself to repeat it.