Claudio Parmiggiani


Revelations by Catherine Grenier.

In the infancy of time, art was a prayer. Very little of this infinite beauty is left to us now. Now we are no longer even capable of praying. We walk like the blind among ruins. Claudio Parmiggiani, 2006

Death, memory, life

All Parmiggiani's installations address the viewer's body before speaking to their mind. Whether he is using the luminous stridency of pigment in works of "pure light" or the commotion of scenes of destruction in the burnt libraries or the labyrinths of smashed glass, his works produce an emotional shock that precedes intellectual meditation. In the installation at the Collège des Bernardins, the impact is heightened, and the combination of his elements with the exceptional architecture exacerbates the emotional density of the proposition. Thus, upon entering the Collège, visitors are struck by both the beauty and the violence of the spectacle presented to them. Even before they decipher its meaning, they feel its power and plenitude. Paradoxically, pathos, which here is raised to its apogee, is the instrument that the artist uses to bring us to the calm of meditation. At the heart of the destruction is the matrix of possible interpretations, the origin of a recreation of meaning in which both memory and imagination will play a role. The path that the artist takes us along goes from death to life, and the agent of this vital translation is memory. Thus the burned library summons from the shadows of forgetting the library of medieval college, the books collected, copied and disseminated by the monks trained within these walls. Beyond that, the work refers to human knowledge, and to its transmission by books and teaching. Each possibilities of scripture and the word. Haloed by the shadow deposited by the smoke, the book becomes a fragment of light, a ghostly apparition of a world that escapes us, but which is not unfamiliar to us. The book designates the foundation of the human as surely as a shroud does. Its absence speaks to the spectator's body as if it were another self, inscribed in the depth of a time that is not finished.

The glass which rises up in front of visitors, and which they eventually recognise as an evocation of the sea, first evokes a similarly broad range of associations and symbols. Celebrated for its clarity, its purity and its fragility, it is also commonly associated with ideas of destruction. Shattered glass is a dangerous material used for its dissuasive properties, and the fragility of the glass is traditionally associated with the fragility of life. This work in smashed glass is a representation of the sea. The artist describes it as "wave, violent, flames of water and glass", rising up in space before being dashed on the beach, where it is calmly washed up. Indeed, whereas the transparency of glass recalls the transparency of water, the jagged edges of the shattered sheets evoke the mist carried by the wind, and the scattered shards figure the drips that gleam before merging with the slack mass. Playing on the border between metaphor and figuration, this work freely invokes all the different wellsprings of creation, by intermixing conceptual association and formal association. Once again the artist solicits visitor's reflexes as much as their thinking. The work comes across as a simple obvious image, before taking on a multitude of other references: for in the fronds of that sea we can make out the order of an architecture, a labyrinth, ancient ruins, the outlines of a dream or a nightmare ("Crystal Night, a besieged fortress").

Fire, shadow, light, sea. This significant combination recalls the originary movement initiated by the artist: death, memory, life. Between these three states the whole course of human destiny is found in condensed form. It is a destiny that has its birth in death, affirms itself in memory, and unfolds in life. In all the artist's works we see the same trajectory: life is not the origin that finds its finitude in death, but the culmination of a process of creation that is rooted of destruction. Thus, the tragic character of the work that meets visitors to the Collège des Bernardins is not the sign of a pessimistic or prophetic vision, but, rather, the expression of an overwhelming experience, that of the persistence of life. Life that triumphs over destruction, death and forgetting.

Faith in faith

Parmiggiani's works and writings show him to be a man of faith. Freed of all churches and denominations, his belief is rooted, we might say, in faith itself. Faith in faith is what authorises the artist's belief in the work, in space, and in time. "As for the mystical, spiritual dimension that some people detect in my work, I would say that is simply a deep conviction that is part of a vision", he says. And: "poetry is a religious practice and living is in itself already religious practice and living is in itself already a religious act." For this artist who takes an interest not in religious painting but in the "religiosity of painting", art is effective, operational. Parmiggiani describes this phenomenon by evoking the disorientation, and even the "displacemement" of the spectator entering the space of painting. He translates this into an image : it is "like the child's illusion of being able to drink water from the bank of a painted river." But how can he believe in a practice -art- when all his work goes about countering its deception, and systems of illusion? How can there be any faith in the future when the present is so manifestly struggling to distinguish itself from the past? What assurance can we feel about a world that appears as a fragment, something destroyed and inconceivable? What faith is possible in the reign of the absurd?

Parmiggiani's avoids referring to Christianity, but equivalents of his position can be found in the Christian tradition. Tertullian's oft-repeated formula is particularly resonant when we consider the artist's work: "We must believe it because it is absurd". The absurd, as mystery, as revelation of a higher determination that escapes the mastery of reason, is present in his work as the very place of spiritual experience. The way this functions is, however, quite free of the disquiet evinced by the existentialist philosophy of the absurd. It is this positive mystery which determines the conditions of validity of this art that is always confronted with the consciousness of its own limitations. The violence that subtends Parmiggiani's work is certainly not without its effect on this feeling; it attests the mystic meaning of absurdity. Which brings us to the postulate put forward by the Latin theologian: to believe not despite of the absurdity that is a stain on man and his destiny, but in that absurdity and through that absurdity. Reason, Parmiggiani's work tell us, in a superficial instance, an instrument in the same way as the brain is the instrument of thought. The profundity that is the element of truth is spiritual. In this sense, the work is simply the means of communication with this buried truth, the absurd consciousness of an impossible revelation. "The divine", he tells us, "is grounded under the earth, in mystery and in what goes deep in us. That is where our sole Olympus lives: we are ancient and alone."

In his conception of art as something that confronts mystery, in his self-abandonment in front of the artwork, and his fascination with evocations of emptiness, of withdrawal and of the absolute, Parmiggiani speaks in Pascalian accents. For him, art is a higher order that transcends the levels of reality of the body and spirit. In this perspective, shadow can be read as a metaphor both of mystery and art. Parmiggiani evokes its privileged role in his art thus: "There is an image in a film by Takovsky, it may be Nostalgia or perhaps Solaris, a very beautiful image: it's an almost still shot: a glass standing on a table, a hand that raises it in such a way that the gaze can dwell at length on the halo of warmth, on the imprint of the vapour left by the glass that quickly evaporates in the retina, until there is nothing. Like a slow, slow agony in the gaze, the light shadow of a breath, the essence of a body being dispersed... Like a heart that goes on beating, even after death. Enigma, doubt- that is shadow. It may have been the first image of my work - maybe everything came out of that first image, the only one that really counts, the decisive image... because the doubt that is in you, you reveal only in that first image, or else you never reveal it all." An image of doubt and image against doubt, shadow is to Parmiggiani what the immaterial is to Yves Klein: a transcendent reality that only the body can approach, and that is revealed in "the leap of faith." "The question of God being the question of man, the answer cannot lie in a solution, but only in an act, a leap, a welcoming", wrote Blaise Pascal. The conception of art attested by Parmiggiani's work echoes this idea: art is not the answer to a question but the question itself; its sole object is man, but man is a question to himself, and consequently the work will not be an assertion or representation but an act, at once leap and welcoming.

To read more: Grenier (C.), Parmiggiani, Actes Sud, Paris, 2008

The book is available at Meessen De Clercq.

Didi-Huberman (G.), Génie du non-lieu, Air, poussière, empreinte, hantise, Paris, Editions de Minuit.


     Le genre de lieux qu'invente Claudio Parmiggiani dans la série d'œuvres intitulée Delocazione passe d'abord par un travail avec le souffle : c'est une lourde fumée qui exhale et dépose sa suite, sa cendre, sa poussière de combustion, créant ici toutes les formes à voir. Le résultat : une immense grisaille, un lieu pour l'ascèse de la couleur, l'absence des objets, le mouvement imprévisible des volutes, le règne des ombres, le silence d'une nature morte obsidionale. L'air devient le médium essentiel de cette œuvre, il s'éprouve comme une haleine expirée des murs eux-mêmes. Il devient le porte-empreinte de toute image.
     Impossible, dès lors, de ne pas interroger ce souffle - qui détruit l'espace familier autant qu'il produit le lieu de l'œuvre - à l'aune d'une mémoire où l'histoire de la peinture rencontrera les fantômes d'Hiroshima. Cet air mouvant, densifié, tactile, exhale d'abord du temps : des survivances, des hantises. Le résultat est un genre inédit de l'inquiétante étrangeté. Et c'est dans la poussière que nous aurons à le découvrir.

     Claudio Parmiggiani est l'un des artiste contemporains majeurs en Italie. L'ensemble d'œuvres analysées dans ce livre, intitulées Delocazione (« déplacement », « mise en non-lieu ») se base sur un procédé simple : disposer des éléments - tableaux, objets - dans une pièce, puis faire un feu de pneus dont la fumée grasse se dépose partout. Lorsque les objets sont ôtés, l'œuvre apparaît comme une empreinte de poussière ou de cendre. Ce sont tous ces thèmes qui seront analysés dans le livre.


Maison brûlée (murs, flammes, cendres)
Enfance de l'art et retour des fantômes. Le premier atelier : une maison rouge dans le brouillard. La maison brûle, le brouillard demeure, le rouge se déplace. Deuil et sens du contraste. Image : le feu survivant sous la cendre. Première Delocazione. Le motif de l'échelle et l'éclair d'Hiroshima.
Espace soufflé
Dimension critique de Delocazione. Heuristique du lieu et critique de la peinture. Heuristique du temps et position anachronique. Heuristique du sens et thématique de l'absence. Où l'interprétation diverge des positions de l'artiste. Les deux sens du verbe « souffler ».
Elevage de poussière
L'empreinte n'est pas absence. Trace et cendre : la poussière réfute le néant. Contre la métaphysique, la physique de la poussière.
Nature morte en grisaille
La poussière comme pigment. Grisaille et référence picturale. La question de la sculpture. La question de la lumière.
Empreintes d'ombre
L'ombre selon Parmiggiani : une notion générale et générative. Ombre et empreinte dans leur sens anthropologique. Sous-exposer jusqu'à enterrer.
Maison hantée (cendres, air, murs)
Delocazione comme expérience sensorielle-temporelle. L'empathie selon Parmiggiani : toute chose nous regarde. Rêve du lieu et lieu du rêve. Hantise et atmosphère.


160 pages     ISBN : 2.7073.1737.3