NOT MADE NOT CHOSEN NOT PRESENTED BY EMILIO PRINI
Through sculpture, photography and performance, Prini’s research documents the fracture of experience and existence in the documentation of reality, in the form of its certification, or as the physical manifestation of tautological propositions.
In the years between 1967 and 1971, Prini took part in two exhibitions at Galleria La Bertesca in Genova, in addition to Il Teatro delle Mostre, Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome, and Arte Povera - Azioni Povere, Amalfi. Abroad, he participated in Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, Kunsthalle Bern, Information, MoMA New York, VII Biennale de Paris, and Arte Povera. 13 Italienische Kunstler, Kunstverein Munich. Beginning with a photograph made in 1967, the year of Prini’s debut at the first exhibition of Arte Povera organized by Germano Celant at La Bertesca in Genova, and ending with a 2013 poster, the present exhibition features works that revisit key moments in the artist’s oeuvre.
In Magnete/Serie fotografica/gruppo 2000 fogli relativo al Settembre 1968 (22.75/000) In Cabiria, Prini reproduced the image of an Exakta camera, implying its use while simultaneously foreshadowing its eventual and inevitable demise over time. According to the artist’s calculations, it would take ten years and twenty thousand shots for the camera to fully exhaust its functionality. In this work, Prini established a temporal dimension punctuated by the standard unit of the shutter release, and, exposing the instrument’s inert state, revealed its potentiality. A similar operation activates the untitled photographic work from 1967 depicting a video screen. Once again, the apparatus is shown in a state of inactivity: disconnected from any documentary function, it merely exhibits its suitability for a hypothetical recording of real time.
In other works from the 1960s and ‘70s, such as Punto - Ipotesi sullo spazio totale (prototipo) or Confermo partecipazione esposizione, Prini transfers the work's form onto the linguistic plane entirely. Presented as the referent to an event, or the descriptor of a physical dimension, the text produced a virtual mapping of space. In the offset print Punto - Ipotesi sullo spazio totale (prototipo), Prini refers to an environmental work made in 1967 and presented at the Galleria de' Foscherari in 1968. Using a series of small black roundels, three centimetres high, painted black and arranged on the floor of the exhibition room, the artist established a physical support structure which, referring to an intangible volume – the empty space of the environment itself – could only exist in a hypothetical state. Similarly, in Confermo partecipazione esposizione, Prini demonstrated his commitment to removing himself from the exhibition space without surrendering the declaration of the existence of the work.
Presence and absence coexist most powerfully whenever Prini puts his own body at the centre of the work. In the series of Fermacarte, for example, the artist used blocks of lead as stand-ins for his body weight, placing them on an enlarged photograph of himself in motion and re-photographing the ensemble. In the 1978 poster for an exhibition at Galleria Pio Monti, Rome, Prini photographed himself in profile, holding a thin baton which, in a line with the artist’s left eye, formed a stylised approximation of Prini’s field of vision. Further exploring the tension between passiveness and potentiality, it is as if Prini here were identifying himself with the documentary instruments addressed in some earlier works. In fact, by drawing the viewer’s attention to his own sight, directed towards a horizon outside the confines of the work, Prini seemed to want to emphasise the artist’s role as ‘seer’ in the absolute sense.
In the 1971 newspaper clipping Monaco, four people stand around a table laden with technological machinery: two are conversing, one lights a cigarette, another is already smoking. Despite the recording instruments at the centre of the image, what mattered most to Prini was the star that seemed to magically appear on the lit cigarette on the right-hand side of the photograph. In conversation with Germano Celant, the artist confessed his enthusiasm for this unpredictable appearance, which feeds without conflict into Prini’s research, guided by the unexpected discovery of visual spaces and their incidental phenomena. Prini’s investigation of normative formulations, the limits of reproduction and the unpredictable behaviour of machine technology continued in a series of over three hundred works on paper created with an Olivetti 22 typewriter between 1968 and 1974. In these sheets, numerous themes are worked out by attempting to exhaust all of the typewriter’s functions, over a sequence of pages, so that the series at times resembles a flipbook. Art historian and curator Cornelia Lauf has written of this body of work:
“Vying neck to neck with the Fibonacci research of Mario Merz, the ability to make a bicycle seat into a bull, or ceramic urinal into a sculpture, Mr. Prini has gone one up, and in his utter anonymity, taken on the formulas underlying life itself.”
Celant described Prini’s practice as “A movement which is alive in time, but in exile from the artifact.” This becomes increasingly evident in the works made from the 1980s onwards, mainly on paper, onto which Prini intervenes lightly in pen or pencil, moving as far away as possible away from the production of new objects. It is equally discernible in the re-production of works idealised, but subsequently lost, or never executed, according to the wishes of the artist. This is the case of the series Fogli da un taccuino di legno, begun in 1968 and completed in 1995. Destabilising hierarchies of scale, the artist intervenes on the rough wood with enamel, pencil or gesso, creating rhomboids that simultaneously refer to a form of automatic drawing, and, in the words of Prini himself, the V-neck of a man’s sweater. Later, he increasingly appropriated images, posters, or comic books, as in the 2013 revision of the poster for an important 1995 solo presentation in Strasbourg. Finally, Prini also explored the intangible dimension of sound, culminating in a series of works made in the new millennium for Radio Arte Mobile in Rome.
The two interlocking exhibitions aim to recover the radical, innovative and enduring strength of Prini’s poetics. Alienated from the dynamics of the contemporary art economy by its reluctance to offer either ‘things’ or ‘events,’ it presents itself instead as a live and urgent paradigm of the aesthetic resistance at the root of every expression of the twentieth century avant-garde.
NOT MADE NOT CHOSEN NOT PRESENTED BY STUDIO FOR PROPOSITIONAL CINEMA
Many of the artists chosen by Studio for Propositional Cinema are familiar with Prini’s research, and this has informed their own practice. Josef Strau (b. 1957), for example, in 1993 restaged the photograph used by Prini in the 1971 work Monaco, and Christopher Williams has referenced Prini’s practice in his series of Exakta images, as well as in graphic works including the Model sign on display. In other artists’ work, synergies are implicit but no less relevant. Franz West (1947 - 2012), who met Prini in the early 1990s in Rome later made a small sculpture simply titled Emilio Prini.
The visibility of work and the conditions of its existence within the scenography of the exhibition, a key preoccupation in Arte Povera and Conceptualism, and later Institutional Critique, is palpable in the work of all of artists presented. In some, a further tension exists between the dematerialization of the work and its status as physical support, leading to instances where the physical occupation of volume is disguised through the mimicry of functional surfaces. This is present in Gaylen Gerber’s (1955 -) Support works, where the concept of the monochrome functions in collaborative relation to existing artworks and objects, both negating the reviving them and their authorship. Christopher Williams’s mobile walls, which use sculptural language to operate a particularly photographic reproductive gesture, express similar concerns.
Puppies Puppies (Jade Kuriki Olivo) (b. 1989) work examines the logical extreme of an object’s use value with an urgent political dimension; its production involves the de-commissioning of an active firearm. Cally Spooner’s (b. 1983) Early Research: Method presents a stack of performance scripts held down with paperweights made by casting the artist’s ear. Julia Scher (b. 1954), whose works dealing with surveillance has often operated on the margins of the exhibition context, taking over the surveillance and communication systems of the host institution, utilizes signage to quietly situate the exhibition with The Ecology of Visibility.
Studio for Propositional Cinema’s lexical structure NOT MADE NOT CHOSEN NOT PRESENTED, commissioned for this exhibition, is part of their ongoing project Focal Vocabulary Index. Under the conditions of sale, individual words enter into a co-licensing agreement for which the purchaser becomes a licensee with specific rights to subsequent use of their words within future textual works by the artist. The sale includes both the contract and the offset printing plate used to print it. In this particular work, the redundant space made by the repetition of the word NOT is used to print a new text about the work of Prini, which will also double as the exhibition’s publication.
The critique of language and its means of distribution, its subtle ambiguities and fraudulent neutrality was an innovative strategy pioneered by Emilio Prini and many of his contemporaries. Artistic manifestos, a prerogative of the modern avant-gardes, were critiqued and their pretensions challenged. Josef Strau’s (b. 1957) text “The Non-Productive Attitude” not only subverts the genre of the manifesto but also aligns itself closely to Prini’s position towards artmaking, with Strau writing that “the non-productive attitude should be seen as a refusal of production values, but not as a refusal of expression as such.” Irena Haiduk’s (b. 1982) Decapitation Index, begun in 2011, confounds the objectivity of news reporting, the factuality of art history and the spectacle of tabloid magazines. Emilio Prini, known for his elusiveness, becomes a real-life criminal in Haiduk’s narrative, in which the names of actual Serbian gang members from tabloid news are replaced with those of the artists exhibited in Harald Szeemann’s 1969 Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form.