Francesca Pasini, A mobile archipelago

Mariella Bettineschi, Corraini Editore, Mantova, 2013

Can you compile the life of an artist in a book? No. You can, however, choose your route, planning a journey among their works, allowing similarities and differences to emerge. Mariella Bettineschi created an archipelago that can be reached from different directions and formed from different territories. At times, you are surrounded by a common sky, but the key that distinguishes her work is the search for new forms, new techniques, and new sensibilities. We find ourselves in front of a necessary eclectic personality, as she herself confirms, “at some point I feel the need to change, to try other roads, it is a kind of calling”. Eclecticism and progressive persistence of language are two sides of the same coin. There is no invention that does not produce a variant, but the temptation to abandon our forms, or the system of representing them, and leaving you captivated by the movability of insights is one of the cornerstones of surprise that everyone expects from art.

Obviously there comes the risk of not be matched with a “signature motif”, an aspect which in recent decades has been articulated in various ways, to create an update of language which, while remaining within its own roots, gives an account of the greater diversity of signs that make up the “signature motif”. Mariella Bettineschi chose a divergent path, deciding to let herself be contaminated by the passion of time in place and went from experiences of dexterity, such as drawing, embroidery, carving, painting, to photographs, installations, image manipulations. And so she created this mobile archipelago, where the orientation is not linear, but intuitable.

For this book, we have put together a journey through her numerous works, choosing a selection without providing a compass. Eventually, however, it became clear that the best way was to be anchored to the years of creation and, I believe, despite its continued hijackings, that an underground but visible bond appears quite clearly, which includes a practice manual and imaginative structure based on dematerialisation produced by light as it appears explicitly in the collection of photographs, 2008-2010, where the printed image is complementary to a blank space that forms part of the same photographic plate. Having established that the book would proceed according to the stages of her life, not only has a link appeared between the various seasons of her creation, but also a narrative suspense that keeps us going from one place to another around this archipelago, giving us a biographical climate and an emotional dimension.

From page to page, each work indicates a time, a place, a search, which then turns into another and, so, page by page the course starts to appear. The fact that it is not completely defined is, on the one hand, the “signature motif” of Mariella’s work. On the other hand, it is the undefinable thing that creates suspense, in the sense that the eye gradually becomes accustomed to changes and insistences. Each group of figures can act as the characters who tell their own story, show temperatures and desires, but also their ability to eclipse them to make way for the image that will come later.

It starts with the ethereal paintings-drawings transcribed in gold on organza cushions, Morbidi (Soft), 1980: animals, faces, writings are settled comfortably upon these tactile, intimate, fragile spaces. They have the flavour of ancient things, unforeseen, that rise up from the drawers, but also a flicker of sensitivity, tenderness, which, in general, creates its own shapes among the folds of existence. It does not impose itself at first sight, this is associated with the intangible dimension of perceptions,
and this is why it is often recognised in small portions of the experience, even when it hits us with grandeur.

Who has not kept an item of clothing, an object, a slantwise-written note which evoked an emotion of love, of pain, of intellectual appeal or of a major political event? And so the Piumari, 1981, behave in this manner, where only points of set gold construct geometries suspended from the feathers which come together inside the organza shell. And another variation occurs in the Carte Ermetiche (Hermetic Papers) 1984, where everything is told in the edges, where growths of materials barely touched by colour condense into a dirty white, as sometimes happens to snow at the side of a road. Elsewhere, the stone, plaster pieces replace the pencil, and trace open figures, imaginary passages or buildings onto paper, Le carte dell’isola (The maps of the island), 1984.

The discourse continues with naturalness, the covenants and differences are understood, but then there is a break that can be the symbol of Mariella’s dowsing passion. A white open book, resting on a music stand placed on an expanse of water. Orfeo (Orpheus): it is a 1981 photograph which tells of a more complex installation, but which takes on a figurative value and becomes an autonomous work. We have chosen it for the cover and for its symbolic value: blank paper which the story can be written on, for the feeling of both light and infinity that water, book, music bring with them. All of Mariella’s work attempts to reach up to the sky to intercept the infinite expanse that visual language can hold. In this direction, Mariella used photography both taken by her or stolen from the Internet. Light, light and yet more light. And this can be seen in Incendiati (Burned, 1996), La vestizione della sposa (The dressing of the bride) and Alla velocità della luce (At the speed of light) both from 1999.

You could finish here.

But we have to go back and reenter into suspense before guessing Orpheus’s announcement. We cross obscure, enigmatic landscapes where glass, paper, pigment, stones and wood evoke nocturnal worlds composed of floating contours, sometimes illuminated, maybe passable, but not really inhabitable, Erma, 1983. And what could be behind that shiny darkness? The Tesori (Treasures), 1985, are fragile, transparent papers such as those that are normally used to design structures, treated with tar, turpentine and gold dust, and undergo the fire test. Take the form of an archaic, undefinable material which brings to mind the “Triumph of Agilulf”, which marked the turning point in the history of art of the Middle Ages by introducing the concept of nomadic art, which followed the incursions and invasions of the so-called barbarians, because it came from the borders of the Roman Empire, and barbarian means foreigner in Ancient Greek.

Mariella Bettineschi’s Tesori push the imagination towards a primitive time that we have mythologised as the intersection from which forms arose, but instead she obtains it from paper, which is the universal symbol of drawing and writing, and therefore, the need to tell stories. And on each page, the Tesori dissolve, and the material is stretched; mountainous skylines, flashes of fireworks, stars that pierce the dark sky, and streams of ice that block out the peaks all appear between the tar and the pigments. 1986 end with the works Verso la costellazione dei leopardi (Towards the constellation of leopards).

In 1987, the images alternate with more decisions, differences and quotes from beloved masters: there is emotion for Alberto Burri in Artigli (Claws), 1987, where the tar-coated plates are assembled together, revealing the cuts of the surfaces, while the needles pierce the frame. In the monochrome Piano di fuga (Flight plan), 1989, however, we can spot a dedication to Lucio Fontana, his toy theatres. She then moves towards a more abstract passion; more rigid, geometric black and white compositions in 1990 or in the “two-dimensional sculptures” Rifugio impossibile (Impossible refuge), where the framework generates an internal base as in bas-relief, or in Sequenza dell’inganno (Sequence of deception) where shaped wood, painted in acrylic yellow, creates half-columns.

A steel compass rose standing on a two-metre stem and photographed by the sea is called Angolo di elevazione (Elevation angle), 1990. It warns us that something is about to happen, and the change initially seems to be contiguous. Dondoli (Swings) is a small collection of marble sculptures that features the swing as the primary figure, but everything changes upon turning the page. A brass plate appears into which the figure of a gleaming dress is carved, La vestizione dell’angelo (The dressing of the angel), 1996. The process is spectacularly reversed in the two-dimensional paintings, here brass gives both background and body to the dress, the carving becomes autonomous and combines shape and
background in full relief. And then the dress separates, it becomes a pattern cut on glass surfaces, juxtaposed with each other as if they are dancing, before assuming the shape of a gown with pleats, bodice, and neckline. Each part is individual, but they are distributed in sequence as if the shining path that is always linked with angels appeared from this disarticulation. And here begins the collection of clothes made from various materials: living bodies, undefined, beauty and geometry. They are synthetic, but extremely expressive signs. Clothing are shapes that we wear, something that changes constantly, even in a metaphorical sense. There is a special tenderness to these shapes, with respect the aspiration to beauty and in the pure geometric outlines of these clothes, we recognise a completeness and an assimilation that is precisely that of a line, an object, a place, a figure from everyday life that transports us into the imagination.

A similar thing happens to images printed on acetate or Plexiglas, where unrecognisable vases or lamps become one with the light they give off. They evoke the intimacy and celebration of a home, where the inhabitants themselves are incorporated into the light. Sometimes cinema provokes this emotion, Hitchcock comes to mind because the enigma hovers between these visions (Sovraesposti), 1997. And so we come to those sequences of light that I described earlier, following the intuition that I had read in the image of the white book on the music stand in the middle of the sea (Orfeo), Incendiati (Burnt), Apparizioni(Apparitions), Alla velocità della luce (At the speed of light). They are instant fragments that focus the light in its elusiveness: sometimes they leave trails reminiscent of a brush, sometimes they fix the moment in which they take the form of sparks from a firework, or the flickering flame of a candle, but also the shapeless and humid streaks of light that appear on a street at night, while driving.

But there is also the miracle of a double glowing ring which covers and illuminates a palm tree by the water, p. 130. Mariella saw it and then created it with technique; it is fuzzy and imprecise, as if it were done freehand, and it becomes a symbol of the desire to give light through art and life.

Another detachment.

Light does not come through more pictures, but instead with sculptures made from Plexiglas with geometric designs printed on them. They are chasing each other in a circle attached to the wall. The shadows and drawings create a three-dimensional world where this imaginary geometry projects itself creating a circuit that can metaphorically remember the intricacies of the brain, which presides over images, thoughts, emotions and movements. Despite being a closed ellipse, it has no rigidity due to the transparency of the Plexiglas, and the mobility of the drawings provoke continuous variations depending on the viewpoint. It’s called La costellazione del disegno interno (The constellation of the inner drawing), 2003, and the continuous interplay between the circular disk of Plexiglas and drawings leads us to imagine worlds that are contained within the mind, and which with the mind we can see moving around in space.

The journey becomes Voyager, 2005, the title taking us into something that has certainly marked the last century, the moon landing, and which Mariella translates into a wide sequence of signs and shapes, as if science were too large, and needs more space in order to draw closer to it. Other discs (this time coloured) invade the wall. They are attached at right angles, as if they were coming off the wall, and speak to us of the infinite, of its unfailing perception, and also of the need to interpret the riddle of the world where men, women, stars and satellites live and look: La teoria delle sfere (The theory of the spheres), 2003.

A burst of light explodes directly into architecture, everything seems to run, but we can’t understand where, Voyager, 2006. This opens the chapter of L’era successiva (The next era), 2008-2013. This is a long narrative. It starts with the photo of the big NASA machine-bell engine SS ME (Space Shuttle Main Engine): the photo is reversed almost represent to the “sky” that sits above daily life, now even more linked to skyrocketing technology. And from here it goes to doubled photographs, where half of the glass plate is white, as if it were impossible to close the borders and, therefore, the need to envisage a further space for the impression of an image that is not yet visible. Images of war, overturned threatening aircraft, flights of missiles, landscapes that are familiar but not identifiable, forests suffused with mist, ponds… and in all of them, discs of light emerge or hide, alluding to the metaphysical and the hypothesis of worlds yet to be discovered. But these figures also feature famous portraits from the history of art where the eyes were duplicated: four eyes interacting with white space, below, warning us of a further light with which we need to equip ourselves to meet the future, but also to bring the past to a present that lives not only from certainties, but from a blank space so as to continue to write and design.

And here the book of Orpheus returns.

The strain of inventing the system to photograph the future appears in the last landscapes that are invaded by sudden lights without a predetermined origin. Here Mariella changed the present into what she sees using technique like a paintbrush, so she returns to her attraction to manuality that we saw at the beginning. And a continuous interplay between the circular disk of Plexiglas and drawings leads us to imagine worlds that are contained within the mind, and which with the mind we can see moving around in space.

The strain of inventing the system to photograph the future appears in the last landscapes that are invaded by sudden lights without a predetermined origin. Here Mariella changed the present into what she sees using technique like a paintbrush, so she returns to her attraction to manuality that we saw at the beginning. And here at the end, the chapter closes with an image of a cone of light on a blue-black nighttime background, matched to the image of the nuclear shuttle.

Is the book finished? No.

The Progetto per laboratorio tessile (Project for a textile workshop, 1995), opens the section of the drawings that accompanied Mariella’s life and work. Seeing a hand holding a pole from which nebulous objects are hanging, how can we not think about Piumari? Or to the spaces in which Mariella steered to capture lights and shapes? Leaving what can be seen hovering corresponds after all to that line (bar) that runs through the territories of the archipelago. While the hand is the other polarity in
terms of Mariella’s work. The numerous drawings, from which we have drawn this concluding section, speak to us passionately of her never-ending eclectic aspiration. We find many ideas of the images that we have seen. Both the suspense and the journey continue; with paper, the physicality that is often
unsatisfied with charcoal becomes free, but it incorporates stones, various materials that are both anonymous and taken from everyday life. Sometimes the designs take shape through carving books, sometimes they tell stories about her love life. So they live in the diverse flora and fauna that make up the archipelago in which Mariella Bettineschi’s eclectic attitude grows.

They are all pervaded by an independence that is the focal point of each piece of art.

Perhaps another book would be necessary to navigate between the archipelago’s land and the sky, where the drawings on one hand make up part of the humus of the “ground,” but on the other are the “fruits” of a vegetation of visions, notes, biographical notes, and flashes of intuition.

Here is Mariella’s hand.