For Safeguarding Essential Uselessness
works by Raffaella Formenti


Di Quando in Quanto AC 349 RX - 1997
Thermocollage 35 x 24 x 5cm
These days there is a lot of talk about trash and a reference to it would seem obligatory in the case of Formenti. Yet I am reminded, instead, of Andy Warhol and his construction/landscape/store of Brillo boxes, of Piero Manzoni and the "double personality" of his work, so mental and so "organic". And, of course, there also comes to mind the "sane madness" of Schwitters and his obsessive and ironical collections of rubbish.
There is the choice of "humble" materials - the cardboard wrappings from supermarkets, the plastic nets for vegetables and potatoes, printed advertising materials. And then there is silicone, that opaque dribble, that chemical saliva that gums up everything - and its organisation - and that has a two-way sense, that of spontaneous growth, of blobs, and that of repetitive and meticulous archiving - and all these materials speak openly of the uneasiness of modernity. Things (but perhaps I should speak of non-things: coverings, wrappings, labels, plastic netting, shells; containers and non-contents, which as such are a kind of "reverse" of objects; elements already programmed from the very beginning as waste, as refuse that has never been a protagonist) multiply and are overlaid, are stacked and accumulated in layers. And it doesn't matter whether in an orderly way, like the cells of a bee-hive, or chaotically in a jungle-like proliferation, because they remain anyhow unreachable, illegible, opaque. They are metaphors of those ways of experiencing we are obliged to follow in this age of built-in obsolescence.
 

So is Raffaella in herself a gallery of everyday archeological remains, a cartload of portraits of the beloved dead? No, these confections, these wrapping papers, these shells and nets and advertising material have never been dear to anybody. What Formenti is creating is more like a dust farm, ("I've thought about cultivating dust (...) cultivate it in special pens" Raffaella has written somewhere, openly giving homage to Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp). And what use would a dust farm be? From a straightforward utilitarian point of view, nothing; it is completely useless. But from a symbolic viewpoint it would contain time, the traces of its passing, its memory, its forgetfulness, memory as forgetfulness. Works as essential uselessness.
Basically the materials she uses are far more traditional than they might seem at first sight. After all we are dealing with cardboard, paper and glue, the expressive means that have always been part of the painter's and sculptor's armaments. Certainly, it is a very chemical glue and plastic, making the work more acid and placing it more violently in contemporary experience. Often this glue covers with an opaque patina the non-things that Raffaella puts together, but more often it seems to be the very magnetising, centrifugal and centripetal force of silicone to drag along with it the most different "remains" in an endless flight, in a potentially limitless growing explosion.
 

Strali Pixels di Strada
lunghezza variabile da 30cm a 180cm


Torre Palazzo Pubblico
Siena -59 x 39 x 300 cm
The boxes used in fruit and vegetable markets become constructive modules that divide space in a regular way like the backs of book lining a book-shelf. This way of constructing also transforms space into a landscape that has a potentially infinite growth, like the most Dionysian of agglutinations and wild proliferations. The regular marking of space also alludes to problems of the un/measurability of the time flow (often he titles refer more or less openly to time). Lists, archives, encyclopaedias, libraries (Babelian), calenders... all labyrinthine figures attempting to understand, codify, catalogue, and capture the flow of reality, and they are all figures that are to be found in Formenti's work.
With the printed adverts which are slipped under car windscreen-wipers she creates little boxes. They are useless microscopic vaults, nests for fleas, hives for farming dust. She is always fed up with it all. In her works they have a chromatic function, like the pieces of a mosaic, or of a paradoxical "ephemeral or precarious monument". In order to fold these sheets, that all have the same monotonous creases, she repeats mechanically certain gestures of the hands, a tic of modern times. She folds repeatedly and repeats folding in the middle of other things, not in the isolation of the studio but more often than not when around and about, along the road, during her travels from one place to another. It is an automatic gesture that has no need to be controlled by the eyes: it is as though she saw with her hands.

But they do not appear in Raffaella Formenti's work in which the human body exists as a "quotation", as a second hand reference to reality. She makes use of photographs published in magazines, but only uses them in the form of fragments. The parts most often used are the eyes - there is a myriad of eyes - and the feet. And their presence automatically leads us to ask certain questions: what are we seeing? How do we see? Where are we? Where are we going? The usual old questions man has always asked himself, the questions about our origins and human nature: questions we continue to ask ourselves because there is never a convincing and final answer.
It is an ethical and aesthetic body of work which warns us against false experiences palmed off as true, those experiences in which everything is offered up to view but in which nothing can be really seen, in which everything is reduced to invasive rhythms, undifferentiated heaps. It is a work involved more with the viewer than with the object, with art.
There is a call to "being", to questioning the present and to stop submitting to it.

Elisabetta Longari Milano, marzo 1998

See other works by Raffaella Formenti