Perino & Vele

Perino & Vele, “The Big Archive 1994-2014,” 2014. Courtesy the artists and Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Napoli. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

The artistic and intellectual partnership between (Emiliano) Perino & (Luca) Vele was formed exactly twenty years ago. Since then, the two artists have explored the language and techniques of sculpture with dedication and consistency, immersed in the estranging dimension of their studio at Rotondi (Avellino). Over the years, probably favored by their dual entity, the two artists have developed a research characterized by counterpoints, short circuits and paradoxes, seemingly antithetical yet actually complementary in developing a wavering discourse, suspended between nostalgia (evident in the recovery of an ancient technique such as papier-mâché) and testing, reinterpreting and transforming the contexts in which they work.

On the one hand, therefore, their work unmistakably evokes the tradition, the so-called “reasons for making”: their characteristic forms, made of papier-mâché, are an unmistakable “sign” which has grown over the years to gain greater monumentality, recalling the gigantism dear to Claes Oldenburg, the unsettling effect of objects with a Surrealist pedigree and the theatricality of some research by Arte Povera, supporting an iconic vision based on a process of sculpture understood as the decomposition and reconstruction of matter (from the pulping of the paper, a necessary operation in making papier-mâché, to its shaping in forms with further meanings).

On the other hand, Perino & Vele restore to us a “checkered” world whose gentle patina is apparently reassuring, but in reality denouncing the lacerations and contradictions that afflict contemporary life. It is significant, in this respect, that the material used in the works (papier-mâché) is made from newspaper, from the ink that records the news and images of an uncertain world: a formal choice that almost seems to seek to conceal and dissimulate a latent ideological assumption. Observing the corpus of their work reveals a pseudo-playful vein, in which the irony becomes subtle provocation, renouncing documentation to become a metaphor, its summa embodied in The Big Archive 1994-2014, a site-specific work made for the Madre’s second courtyard and conceived by the two artists to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their collaboration.

The work consists of sixty-six boxes of galvanized iron and nine tarred fiberglass vases of different shapes and sizes. The arrangement of the individual elements that make up the work perceptually recalls the crenellated wall running along the museum courtyard, behind which the work is placed, in the maze of alleys and courtyards of the San Lorenzo district in Naples. In this way The Big Archive 1994-2014 does not impose itself on the architecture and the urban context that surrounds it, but is set alongside them, blends into them, relating the interior of the museum to its urban context. A further object amid polyhedral objects, a further stack in a free zone of daily deposition, disposal, removal, not only of objects, but above all social and cultural. The Big Archive 1994-2014 is, as always in Perino & Vele, an irreducibly oxymoronic work: alienating in its (hyper)realism, monumental in its frailty, seemingly playful and disengaged but which reveals, in a process of gradual revelation of meaning, the expression of multiple lacerations and anxieties.

Welcoming and provocative, it evokes the mythical past of Elpìs, the hope (and by extension the very memory of the city of Naples), enclosed in the forms of a classic vase (Pandora’s vase), but brutally entangled in a present of industrial shelving. A presence that stands on a dimension suspended between painting and sculpture, between the second and third dimensions, homage and critique, on which appear the classic warning signs (harmful, flammable, contaminated, fragile), which are also characteristic of their sculptural vocabulary and in this case applied directly to the supporting structure. The archival impulse, subtended by the title, is sumptuously decked out in ethical and memorial values, capable of reviving an intellectual commitment, in which sculpture becomes a privileged space of thought, a critical attitude and social proposal, by the “artist-citizen” who, drawing on an ancient tradition, is surprisingly capable of renewing its language and content.

[Eugenio Viola]

The Big Archive 1994-2014, detail

On view

Courtesy the artists and Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Napoli. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

The Big Archive 1994-2014, project

Not on view

Courtesy the artists.