Giuseppe Chiari, Luca Massaro “Duetto” at Viasaterna, Milan

“Duetto” is a cross-generational exhibition featuring the radical work of Giuseppe Chiari (Firenze, 1926-2007) and the multi-disciplinary practice of Luca Massaro (Reggio Emilia, 1991).

The term “Duetto” was coined to indicate a piece of music for two solo voices who sing alternately or together. On this note, combining in a rhythmical arrangement selected works on paper and collages made by Chiari from the late 70s to the early 90s with sleek “canvasses” and larger than life sculptures from Massaro’s recent Dizionario Vol.1 (Art Paper Editions, 2023). The show expands on the innate performative properties of language and disputes arbitrary binaries like matter and representation, reading and seeing, literalism and metaphor.

Concerns on the contamination of image and language and the use of techniques of manipulation to disjoint content from context are the fil rouge throughout the display as both artists undertake a formal and semiotic investigation into the visual impact of the written text.

Composer, musician, conceptual artist, and all-round interpreter of the universality of art, Giuseppe Chiari saw in the interaction between art, music, gesture, and language the key to unlock a spontaneous, unaffected experience. An ode to improvisation and to the unrestrained freedom of expression and creation, each act, sign, or sound should be worth the status of art inasmuch as it forms part of what life as a whole is made of. This rejection of any form of musical, cultural, and artistic hierarchy set the conceptual framework of Chiari’s oeuvre spanning experimental musical compositions alongside scores and words/phrases which characterized his late production.

Typically mining the intersection of art and language—intended as any set of signs and symbols—he came to envision that scribbles and graphic notes which dotted his musical scores would gradually gain the visual evidence of pictures bearing a significance of their own. Dismissing the idea of their bare function, the musical scores were manipulated, worked upon, coloured, scratched thus transformed into visual compositions. Their scope subverted, they are to be looked at and experienced instead of played and listened. The inclusion of words paved the way to his later works where phrases and fragments of conversation suggested an open dialogue with the public. Tiptoeing on the thin divide between irony and non-sense, incoherence, and ambiguity, these provocatively didascalic works offer a compelling testament to Chiari’s poetics as he distilled clues to an imaginary rebus eluding the conceptual dogma.

Language as a paradoxical and conflicting force shaping the hybridized present is at the core of Milan-based Luca Massaro’s eclectic work. Through photographs, sculptures, paintings, and artist books he digs the urban and online transient panorama laying bare the combined action of contemporary culture, visual art, graphic communication, and advertising in negotiating the cultural, social and political value of the images that embody our collective worldview. Although the possibility to experiment with a vast spectrum of media and supports is functional for Massaro to address the tension between meaning and materiality, it’s the creative process itself that outweighs any formal solution. From his archival collection of almost 1000 photographs of signs which he shot and rigorously recorded over the last ten years, the actual writings are extrapolated from the pictures using default graphic softwares (“text-to-path”) and converted into a textual outline, creating an abstract image out of language. The dissociation is both digital and semantic as the “text” gets printed, painted, or forged into a sculptural piece and reproduces itself in a new image.

Among the selected works on display in Duetto, two sets of paintings on metal plates emphasize the grey area where message and repetition overlap as they explore the interface between how information appears and how viewers interact with it. Hand-painted in white against a black background, mimicking the negative-positive photographic process, words and symbols stand out all the more starkly, positioned as they are in the middle of pictorial space. The size of the four larger paintings is a 1:1 scale based on the artist’s height, whereas each of the twenty smaller plates is a 1:1 scale based on the artist’s head, this correspondence introducing a “Modulor” (scale of proportions based on human measurements) and an autobiographic characterization to the serial display. Two soft blown up sculptures of a question mark stretched on the floor and an exclamation mark hanging off the wall like a punchball, also extracted from the photographic matrices of Dizionario Vol.1, stand still in a state of charged latent energy alluding to the intrinsic oscillation of Massaro’s work amid masculine and feminine, hard and soft, mind and matter, frivolous and functional, high and low, images and words. With captivating lightboxes La notte and &, fabricated out of photo-textual outlines, Massaro relays his longstanding fascination for the ubiquitous proliferation of backlit devices and the charming effectiveness of their communication. These “corpi tipografici” (typographic bodies of work) eschew definitions (λόγος) as they let themselves be said, read and seen only through their phonetical effect (φωνή).

Through the lens of Giuseppe Chiari and Luca Massaro, today and few decades ago alike, “Duetto” reflects on coexisting dimensions of universal vision and individual cosmos as it maps out our dual nature of actors and spectators.

at Viasaterna, Milan
until March 24, 2023

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