For the art and architecture students, here’s a riddle: depict an image that can be neither abstract nor figurative, physical but within the mind, hazy but at the same time unmistakably clear.
If it sounds impossible, or at least severely frustrating, it would interest you to learn that the plausibility of such an image is explored over and over again in the entire practice of Marco Tirelli. In a special AAP lecture last Thursday, we got the chance to hear this celebrated Italian artist speak about his life and work.
It was clear that this talk would be an interesting one when our art professor Luca Padroni stepped up to do the Italian-to-English translations with the artist. What we didn’t anticipate, however, was how complex and conceptually rich this language around the work would be— like Tirelli’s paintings, it conjured clouds of information from the simplest gestures.
Tirelli began by showing us images of his paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Fuzzy abstractions of geometric objects, forms magically appearing by stark contrasts of light and shadow; two-dimensional works that resemble vague sculptures, and sculptures that describe the flatness of a canvas surface through color and shape. Many of the depictions seemed to be of basic objects, such as an ashtray or a clean sphere. Tirelli explained to us how his works are fragments of details that he encounters, and in questioning the boundaries of “abstract” works, he interprets and projects these mental images onto physical surfaces. His processes paid heed to ancient Roman wall painting, unfolding visions with spatial references to different places, descriptions of incidents that occur “elsewhere”.
At one point during the lecture, he invited us to close all the windows in the room. (It turns out he may have been joking, but some of us jumped from our seats in order to do this.) This demonstration taught us how the absence of light might generate our consciousness of the space. And if reality is what we can see, how might we manage to create our concept of truth? To Tirelli, appearances merely make up the first layer of “truth”. Reality by light, truth and falsehood, and the passage of time are recurring topics explored in Tirelli’s works, throughout all mediums used.
Ideas of memory, layering, and time are resurfacing themes that have been important in my own experience in Rome so far, both in studio and outside of classes. Our first artist lecture thus felt like a necessary one, from which both artists and architects alike could learn- it was a refreshing dash of contemporary art in a place where the old and new have mixed inseparably.
Finally, a last piece of wisdom shared by Marco Tirelli: It may be that artists are not really meant to reveal truth or explain truth, but rather the mechanism of how things work. Perhaps from this vantage point, we can also feel inspired to create our personal strategies to navigate the world of Rome as artists this semester!