Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why Gaetano Pesce?


Roland Barthes once wrote: “What if knowledge was delicious”; it would be ludicrous to think that Barthes was paying some kind of service to knowledge, as if commissioned to  invent a slogan for a mouthwash (imagine what could follow)!  More plausibly, in the presence of a palette or any other organ we are blessed with, he was thinking of experience, the mechanism by which something becomes a thing of memory; but more so he was thinking of the individual, in the absence of whom his theory would be impossible and in the presence of whom we are faced with the problem of variability, for it is hardly a matter of dispute that say an apple is delicious, rather, how is our individual notion of deliciousness differ from, bless her soul, our great great ... grandmother, Eve, or our contemporary constellation of brothers and sisters. Of this Barthes has written:
“Pourquoi n’y aurait-il pas, en quelque sorte, une science nouvelle par objet? une mathesis singularis (et non plus universalis?)”
“Why can’t there be in some way, a new science per object, a singular understanding and not a universalist interpretation?”

The history of a universal ascension and its subsequent descent begins with the Tower of Babel, indeed with language.  Still today in our nostalgic amnesia we use words sparingly, generally unaware that this ensemble of signification codes, like a congregation of ambassadors equipped with the latest intelligentsia and lexical utensils: vowels and accents, dots, paisley shaped virgules, hollowed out profiles of question marks, etc., are, unlike their teller, immune to the [telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth], and thus in the fine distinction between information and meaning, language must form a double psychosis with markedly contradictory moral standards.  On the one hand a brigade of word-stock that in full display of unity is recruited to march the streets of information; and on the other hand the soft tapestry of letters that clothes meaning each time she chooses to reveal herself.  Of course the material aggregate of language is not only verbal, and unlike its counterpart, meaning is not a socialite, undefinable by any general notion, it borrows its form however momentarily by the happenstance of its encounter, that is by individual experience, the top soil of new meanings.  It is in this vicinity of multitudes that we may encounter the singular presence of Gaetano Pesce who for the last forty years, has been tirelessly navigating the unchartable topos of identities.  On terrestrial grounds we can trace his life from his birthplace in La Spezia, Italy, to his childhood in Padua, his studies at the Faculty of Architecture  of The University of Venice, and his nodal practice in Manhattan, all harbors, next to water, maritime port cities.  This is significant because in the telescopic range afforded onto the macro and the micro, the city and its inhabitant, there might be found some answer, some hope, in the least some explanation to the timeworn metaphysical dispute between form and content, whereas the quality of the operation by which they come into being, their reciprocal ecology, the thing we call culture is necessarily dependent upon the dynamics of their interaction and the subsequent rise or suppression of new values.
In this light  besides a mere formality, it matters little to ask, ”who is Gaetano Pesce?”, for after all with the exception of a few, everybody knows who he is, more crucial perhaps, since his influence in the arts is being increasingly felt and the implication of his ideas and practice have considerable impact in the quality of our life, it might be more appropriate  to know, what is meant by him,  [why Gaetano Pesce?] and how can he change things for us?

In contradistinction to landlocked regions or more accurately centralized power systems,  where deeply rooted traditional values are  formalized in favor of a homogenized centralized state, and thus reject the presence or diffusion of elements in fear of a threat to the stability of their command; the cities in which Gaetano Pesce has lived or one should say, lives in, the maritime and international cities, are places that are susceptible to high infiltrations of foreign elements into their mix, ethnic, trades, diseases, the list goes on, subject to continuous outbursts, fissions and chain reactions;  resistant to the formalization of any one values, they are hence always in a process of change and growth.  What is interesting in all of this is, that the same activity is present in Pesce’s work, as if  vis-à-vis some genetic transfer as it were, Gaetano Pesce has  spawned a legion of ideas and concepts to proliferate into his work and as a result has blurred  the parameters and distinctions between the various branches of the arts.  Indeed in equating art with life, art must leave the asylum of self sufficiency and assume a more practical role, in short it must be made useful,  not as the term might misleadingly point to an object of utility, indeed we would perform a terrible bargain to replace art with toasters!, but that there is required a new integration, an elastic dimension in which art and life are inseparable, free from the institutionalized meeting hours of museums, whom, mind you,  seem to be far happier these days with selling toasters and such in their newly renovated museum stores. In this regard, since his early engagement with programmed art in collaboration with Group N, Pesce has sought a synthesis between his work and reality, in such a way that critical discourse and not an aesthetic judgement is the overriding element.  The quality of encounter with the work therefore, be it space, an object or theater is one that demands a conscious participant; in fact the traditional role of a viewer or a user is dissolved in his work, made inadvertent.  On an equal standing with the work, one can no longer exercise power on it, impose laws, define parameters and conventions to forge meaning; it seems rather the concern here is not so much with meaning per se as it is with its breeding, the operation by which through a constant to and from as in a dialogue, the rapport with the viewer is simultaneously interpretive and  reproductive giving form to new meanings which in turn triggers new questions.  It is therefore impossible to sum up the work in terms of any definite shape or form,  that we may or may not want to, is not the inquiry at hand  ; it is simply such that through this kind of linkage, we are not afforded the vantage point to view it any other way than map it from within, in the process of which we may ever so dimly locate ourselves; on the horizontal dimension of things, the problem facing spirituality is not to find a higher truth, but an authentic one, here, on the contingent world of things. 
Thus the inferred opposition of Gaetano Pesce to the principles and beliefs of the rationalist movement has never been a destructive one, but a productive reminder of the unreasonableness of their very reasoning which is based on  presumed sublimations and idealizations that are fanatically carried out in what Bataille has termed, their “ mathematical frock coat ”.   Mathematical exactitude if one cares to be exact does not follow a straight path.  In House Elasticita, Pesce demonstrates just that,  the  rationalist icon, the grid when injected with life cannot sustain its orthogonality, that the geometry of  life is more variegated, softer and more expansive than the air tight agenda of text books.  Some years later in the UP series, a set of chairs in expanded polyurethane, the air is fully removed, packed in flat pvc plastic, when the bag is opened, upon the entry of oxygen, the seats slowly grow and assume their normal shape, this is a discovery, or perhaps a rediscovery that there is in things if granted their freedom to breathe, a spirit. Other meanings have been read into them, the vacuum is said to refer to the suffocating status of women in certain societies.  The fact that the work is made symbolic or metaphoric is not in itself significant, for any number of meanings could be read in the work depending on the individual, the critical factor is that in the work, there can be found the element of empathy, the desire to comprehend it in our terms; function therefore must be understood in a broader sense than commodification .  The Pratt Chair is the title of nine sequential stages that in more than one way recall the Three Stoppages of Duchamp. Here the object of assault is not a unit of measure but a unit of language itself, a word, in such a way that it collapses the moment it is subjected to the circumstances of reality.  Using a single chair mold, nine objects are produced with urethanes of different  rigidity, the first, too soft to support its own weight, is a limb object, a splatter on the floor; the subsequent tries with the exception of the fifth,  are either too soft and unstable or too rigid and uncomfortable to fit our expectations of a chair.
The function here is precisely the malfunctioning, so that in the apparent incompatibility of the visual and verbal registers and the further lack of a better word the object is made disobedient, revolutionary, evolutionary.


The use of plastics therefore, not only as an attribute of the time, the found stuff of history, is one that offers a more flexible economy of use.  its application today from toothpicks to tooth fills, from bone substitutes to auto parts to structural components is an indication of their superior efficiency in terms of  cost, strength and durability.  But they are also polymers, that is their molecular structure resembles a chain that allows them to be molded to different shapes subsequently their ability to be modeled and conditioned to meet complex demands, which with more conventional materials would be impossible or in the least, not feasible.  Moreover, the material offers itself as a conceptual model for decentralized planning in urban schemes where through a looser integration of zones consequently through malleability and resilience their societies are apt to be more adaptive, than the brittle rigidity of strict zone systems.  Nowhere is this contrast made more apparent than his proposal for the rehabilitation of the Lingotto in Turin, a conversion of a close to 200 hectares of a strictly industrial complex to a mixed use activity center where different functions in random interchangeable relations, interpenetrate, augmenting exchange, thus an intense flow of energy and with it a greater ability to sustain itself.


In François Barré’s citation of Pierre Soulages, we read:  “An artist and an artisan can be distinguished by the fact that the former begins a work without knowing how it turns out, while the latter begins with full knowledge of the result”.The artisan’s joy is attained through the exactitude of  execution, the material surplus; the most skilled workers can be brought in if needed be, the work will be evaluated within the strict specificity of a given task.  The work of the artist on the other hand is weighed against the cultural material present in it, that is the realities of its time. In presence of today’s exigencies, what distinguishes our epoch cannot be characterized by patience and refinement, rather by speed and discrepancies, hence Gaetano’s slant on faults instead of faultless, is not exactly a matter of choice, but the realization that in our material culture, (culture here to be taken in its biological overtones) the amount of the former far exceeds the latter.  Rather than the pretense in regarding ourselves rivals with the accomplishments and expertise of the past epochs, rather than wasting our resources to chisel stone and imitate the past which can only lead to utter failure since neither the time nor the money nor the skill is available, the only authentic premise is to invest in available  resources, in the abundance of mistakes, Pesce’s technic is fault itself.  The material therefore, beyond its intended use is not tampered with and is treated in such a way to enhance its own truth.  For the Vertical Loft, a three storey tower in Maison des Enfants in Parc de la Villette, the exterior envelope consists of modular blocks made of expandable polyurethane foam. This technic that today he has coined under the poetic name of Open Sky, comprises a mold with an open top; at bottom the material takes the shape of the mold that is formed for an in situ plug-in assembly, the top portion of the mold left open allows the material to expand out of its own accord, as a result no two blocks can be the same, hence the capacity to invest variety  in the mode of mass production.

Similar to his work, Gaetano Pesce does not really have a fixed position, besides his office and atelier in New York, he has offices in Paris, Venice and god knows where else.  He is always on the move, between his offices and commissions, his ideas take shape in transit, airplanes and hotel rooms.  Intensely delved into his epoch and borne out of the tenets of modernity, he is one of the very few suppliers of those peculiar fruits of the times we have come to name questions.

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