“Originality is a false problem (…).” These words introduce the note in the journal that collects my conversations with Stefano Arienti on his Sicilian project “Mano d’Oro” – Golden Hand – at the Francesco Pantaleone Contemporary Art Gallery in Palermo, a work to approach and discover an artist and a man whose entire life has been devoted to freedom and simplicity of thought. It is not possible to talk about Arienti’s work without bearing in mind that the total absence of “cultural snobbery” is the generative matrix of his entire production.
His artistic experience is a clear example of politics made of “minimal gestures” to demonstrate that it is possible to make art by mixing an array of elements, images and objects derived from cultural contexts that are different, without any intellectual imposition.
What makes the difference is the sensitivity of the artist’s proposal and even more so his ability to transform elements of popular culture into cultivated art simply by rethinking their function with consequences that are at times subversive.
In 1985, on the occasion of his first collective exhibition at Brown Boveri in Milan, Arienti chose to use the mold on the walls of the abandoned factory as an artistic act, enveloping it with colored plasters. This simple yet powerful act aimed at highlighting the signs of time, making them stand out to become something tangible and hence cruel.
Since then, the manipulation of everyday items has been Arienti’s “craft” to rethink things as ever-changing objects, carriers of meanings that are never identical, where creativity and will challenge everything that seems to be already settled and taken for granted.
In this sense, “Mano d’Oro” is deeply thought out in Arienti’s own manner; it is also a sort of turning point, a retrospective exhibition in a city like Palermo, both dramatic and contradictory at the same time, an observation point from where Arienti has chosen to look back though remaining focused on the present.
The techniques and medium are those that the artist has been using ever since the eighties: what changes is the relationship with the image. The subject remains the same, but the technique changes. This approach allows Arienti to say “new things” about his personal vision of contemporary culture, often violent and glaring, yet subjugated by the reckless overlapping of images, thus becoming impossible to interpret and hence devoid of any value.
Accustomed as we are to the wild flow of visual stimuli, Arienti forces us to be disciplined in our observation; he invites us to seize those “minimal gestures” hidden in the artist’s actions, pervading materials and shapes and revisiting their sense and awareness.
“Mano d’Oro” plays with serial images to rethink collective imagination through an elegant blend of relations that intersect references and new projections: puzzles, plasticine, erasures, tunnels, and series of books unleash a massive proliferation of images, a compressed body of knowledge where everyone can find their own area of interest.
Despite the variety of his individual works, Arienti chooses to be consistent with his work, leaving interpretation open and free.
The huge archive of the intellect is regenerated every time perhaps through that “derailing” that Corrado Levi considered to be the prerequisite for change, crossing the limit that makes the act of creation intense, procreative and rigorous.
Stefano Arienti is explicit in his tribute to Van Gogh whom he feels close to, especially with regard to that peaceful and never melancholic rural world they share, which brings back to mind childhood memories, memories of the countryside marked by the time of nature, and a calm yet now faded presence.
His large works on dust-proof canvas with refined paintings in gold are intense, as are his multiple replicas/icons of the Dutch master that are repeated in series as they were levels of a video game in which it is easy to get lost, drawn by the color that changes from box to box, erasing the memory of the original.
“Mano d’Oro” is also a reflection on the role of money in art, the trace of which is the gold that returns insistently in many works and is closely linked to connotations of a social and economic nature in which merit is emptied of value, which becomes functional solely to commodification.
It is a reflection on globalization that is not merely cultural leveling. It is worse: it is a loss of identity and skill to the benefit of possession that is no longer intellectual, but rather material. It is an accumulation that becomes waste, a dwindling of energies and an ephemeral race toward nothing, in life and in art.
Since nothing original can be done or said anymore, there is nothing better than reusing what already exists by changing its connotations. The “minimal gesture” which is repetitive, obsessive, yet also reassuring and discreet, thus becomes salvific. It is a mechanical and deliberate virtuosity that reveals the inexhaustible semantic possibilities of “reuse,” almost as if it had its own mysterious magical powers.