by Gianluca Marziani

Alighiero Boetti created many different maps from 1979 to 1992, all emphasizing geopolitical structures in the period of the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. These tapestries are today considered part of the fantasy world of “legendary” works where the image becomes a symbol, a dualistic historic icon that now belongs to the archaeology of ideological thought. Maps were the starting point for Boetti to move beyond the genre of painting, beyond the confines of avant-garde, and beyond the cage of figurative dogmatism. The theme is always an object of particular fascination, whether due to the visual nature of the map or to the relationship between this visual nature and the geopolitical territory. Artists have explored it in different ways: from Luciano Fabro to Emilio Isgrò, from Nanni Balestrini to Maria Lai, post-war art has developed critical thinking surrounding maps, passing through materials, volumes, installation elements, enlargements, symbolisms, metaphors, and short-circuits. The result touches upon the various Italian tendencies in a heterogeneous manner, not limiting the ties connecting them to a didactic account or tying them to aesthetics (let’s not forget that maps already have their own figurative aesthetic perfection), but on the contrary, underlining the most conceptual research, the use of new materials, the mixed languages.

Obviously the discussion of map-making doesn’t imply a mutually exclusive tie with the classic foldable map or with the rotating world map. Through these artists we understand the value of researching the theme of exploration, seeing their open, across-the-board acceptance, even knowing the implications of affecting multiple expressive languages and narrative avenues. I think about the aerial video by Grazia Toderi, satellite mapmaker of stadiums and metropolises at night; to the crop circles of Cristiano Pintaldi, a journey into the mysterious fields of grain through the pictorial retina of the pixel; to the aerial photography of Olivo Barbieri, a type of map that shows the real world under the lens of an estranged panorama… There are different artists mapping the real world with eyes that reveal anomalies, hidden spaces, risk points, reflection zones. Italian art explores the generative roots, insinuates itself in the most minute of details, analyzes individual as well as collective history. This capacity to explore the real world and condense it to works of art is part of our DNA.

Fabrice De Nola: humanistic mapping

As Lorenzo Canova wrote: “De Nola puts at the center of his pictorial reflections the human body in a deep relationship with the urban context, with the mechanisms generated from the Internet and from digital stimuli, a body that modifies itself and moves through transformations caused by new impulses it receives from the world that circulates our existence like a storyline of relationships and solicitations.” From the 1990s the artist has painted with solid humanistic visuals, mapping the exchange between bodies and technology, investigating the invisible ties between people and metropolises, intuiting the energetic influences that circulate between bodies and living spaces. To do this De Nola exploits information technology in the research phases and the construction of the work, passing to painting only as a final touch, when the idea needs an iconographic approach. Here the picture releases its duty going beyond space-time confines, recreating an hyper-contemporary imagination with the most archaic means, or appropriately in this case, the most innovative means, in existence. De Nola was the first artist to insert a QR Code (a 2D bar code) within a work, among the first to connect the East and the West in an intercultural dialogue that is gradually occurring in the real world. Fifteen years ago, he painted huge metropolitan spaces and inserted superimposed symbolic figures, breaking with dimensional realism with a flare of cinematographic flavor. His pictorial maps are among the most cinematic (in the most literal sense of the term) that have come up in recent Italian painting.

Alberto Di Fabio: global mapping

The environment and pollution, the ecosystem hanging in the precarious balance, negative influxes of bulimic progress: all these become pictures that are refined, never trivial, mixing color and force of design, implicit abstractions, and the tactile sense of the materials. Di Fabio paints the cellular micro-world, chains of DNA, aerial panoramas of mountain chains, but also stars, the Big Bang, explosions, and cosmic collisions. He uses vivid colors over surfaces that create harmonic wall installations. The panels come to life under the elegant partitions, the tangled weavings, and the tonal gradation. A trip within the synthesis of this micro-world that becomes a painting serves to remind us how far beauty goes, where our lives are born, and where the future may stop itself. The works pulsate in front of our gaze, almost having their own internal heartbeat. The stylistic matrix has something kinetic about it, because the narrated elements possess a circulatory and propelling motion. It’s not so much about kinetic art, but about painting with a volume that reflects the incessant gait of terrestrial biology. Flickering, reverberating, contrasting, centrifugal movements: the kinetic rhythm regarding the vitality of the real, without any relationship with the optical values of the image, without ties between the form and science of the retina. If anything, like I just said, it’s about pure plastic volumes that, living, affix themselves to the refined bi-dimensionality of the frame. Pieces of cosmic reality ideally unite the faraway galaxies with the enlarged cells, the planets to the atoms, the mountains to the synaptic passages. Here the micro and macro, having complementary surfaces and volumes, interweave their  opposite threads. It’s the demonstration that every form possesses a precise sense and a necessary structure. And that certain pictures introduce abstractions through their appearances, within a figurative tenacity in which aesthetics offers itself to an ethical message.

Simone Bergantini: photographic mapping

Mapping the world implies heterogeneous artistic attitudes, even regarding respecting the language you are using. In the case of Bergantini, one of the new Italian talents in the photography circle, the printed image is something more than the typical documentary or elaborative shot. His photographic cycles are maps of humanity, with its urban wastes, parental memories, its resistant scraps. Here photography becomes the pretext for a rigorous quality of figurative intervention, as if the print were an ever-changing picture. Observe the singular images and perceive the sense of organic geography, of a “surgical” exploration of living bodies and their energy. Mapping the living in this way becomes a mental photography, managed with meticulous technique, close to the beating heart of the picture. An exploration in which the bodies and the places have the pleats of aerial geography, a revealing dynamism that resembles the mutant cycles of the seasons. Bergantini’s photographs are like a figurative biology, where nothing ever seems immobile, where subterranean changes resemble micro-tremors that come out of innards of the Earth.

[Cover picture: Fabrice de Nola. I quattro amici, 1993. Oil on canvas, 27.6 x 15.7 inches]

Gianluca Marziani is a Columnist for the Italian Journal.