The Visible and the Invisible of Pignotti

The caress of the eye on the skin is excessively sweet
...a shiver of pleasure.


G. Bataille

At the end of the 1970s, Lamberto Pignotti started a series of works called Visibile-Invisibile, aimed ay continuing the experience of his previous series, titled De-composizione (De-composition). The works of both series are characterized by images taken from illustrated magazines and elaborated upon using accurate abrasions, sails and paintings, and commented phrases by the author. The commentary in the series Visibile/Invisibile is often reduced to the simple indication of the title. The operation of re-signification of the images, which is the main plot of Pignotti's oeuvre, is reduced to the bone. Elaborate collages are longer necessary: what characterises the production of these years by the Florentine poet is synthesis. Therefore, the operation presented in this series of works should be considered with attention because, in itself, it expresses something peculiar, statutory and that seems to assert itself to Pignotti as necessary. In other words, we are facing the core of his artistic production.
The bare simplicity of the works in the series Visibile/Invisibile preserve all the fundamental visual themes of Pignotti's oeuvre. The selected images are excerpts of illustrated magazines, in particular fashion magazines. That is to say, from magazines that dominated the publishing market during the 80s, asserted themselves on manly levels, and contributed to the constitution of advanced consumerist society subjugated by images of fetish good-commodity. Pignotti identifies with extreme lucidity the image of the female body as the nucleus of the system need-fulfilling purchase that exploits the erotic desire of the buyer.
Faithful to the militant approach of visual poetry, the choice of images is never accidental and insists in the transformation of the images in the advertisements, which have always been the favourite material of exploration, erosion and subversion by the poetic-visual vanguard.
The inevitable choice of the female icon as a fetish that condenses in itself all the possible images of desire is logically developed in a poetry that Pignotti had expressed recently in his eloquent essay:Marchio & Femmina. La donna inventata dalla pubblicita' (Brand & Woman. The woman invented by the advertisements)(Vallecchi 1978).
In this sense one might say that the series Visibile/Invisibile constitutes the consequent militant action of this essay. The female body, visible in the advertising page, transmits the invisible advertised message in itself. Pignotti reveals with his operation is the perverse tendency to create artificial needs, inherent in the propaganda logic. This is the first meaning, ascribable in the historical and "traditional" interpretation of visual poetry as a semiologic guerrilla, which can be extracted from the series Visibile/Invisibile.
It is more appropriate that certain words should be whispered concerning the erotic aspect of Pignotti’s oeuvre found in these series of works, in my opinion, as its most complete and pure form. I believe that the continuous, nearly obsessive presence of the female image in Pignotti's oeuvres could not pass unnoticed to anybody. The female body always plays a central role in his work. This body does is not a vehicle for the advertised message, as I have preciously mentioned, but is in itself the object of erotic desire. It is the erotic desire of the artist, as a solitary man who caresses the icons that he extract with the point of his cutter, and that of the audience, whose gaze caresses those same images.
In his early collages Pignotti uses figures of women half-naked and alluring, provocative women in black lingerie that appear from behind a screen of cut letters. Images that emanate a clear sexual message and that inevitably produce fantasies of unexpected carnal intercourses.
Memory runs as fast to Adventure of a reader of Calvino... All this has much in common with the poetic creation and intellectual work. There are that hide, reveal and tickle the ears and words that make us blush or upset us. There are words that stimulate the eye and make the erotic experience possible.
In the series that is here examined, the female presence is reduced to the face, characterized by red and half-closed lips. Faces in which the eyes stand out by emanating direct gazes, alluring and sly. And also when the figure is entire, the poses of the flexuous and soft body emanate sensuality. However, what makes these images erotic, what eradicates them from their advertising function, is the exploration made by the poet. The erasure or abrasion of a part of the image, clean, flat and absolutely identical to itself, so dear to the imagery diffused by advertisements and fashion, make the desire of the observer emerge. The missing particular, the defect inserted forcedly in the image humanizes it and makes it erotic. Pignotti, with a simple gesture succeeds to insert the dialectics of desire, of the perennial research of the missing object in an image that is artificially constructed in order to eliminate any possible defect or flaw. The erotic aspect, although not much investigated, has a disruptive and subversive value that is functional to the poetic and politic strategy of visual poetry.
Traditionally, the linguistic dichotomy produced by visual poetry has been emphasised by exalting its function as a subversive of the message conveyed by mass-media, and consequently by privileging its political side, that has been pursed and abundantly analysed according to the indication of the poets themselves. As a consequence, visual poetry has been taken back in the ambit of poetry of pure language from which with great difficulty the whole movement has tended to liberate. The visual aspect that emerges from the analysis of eroticism expressed in Pignotti's work leads in the direction of the visual analysis that is often underestimated. Eroticism is based on vision. Eros begins from the gaze and is the encounter of gazes. As a consequence, it is not accidental that the entire series is identifiable by referring to the possible/impossible vision of the object of desire. The eye must have is pleasure, people say, by forgetting that sometimes the pleasure arises from the edge of a lace rather than from the direct view of sex. However, fact was recognized by painting and raised the veil as its topos. One should remember Zeuxis and Parrhasius's apologue in order to measure its importance. It is understood that the veil is the purest form of the possible/impossible vision exerted by painting. As Blaine (Marseillaise visual poet) suggests, one could re-write history of art as a history of drapery. Under the veil, the drape in all its shapes reveals and exalts the lack inherent in the desiring body.
In this way the intervention of "re-veiling" practiced by Pignotti on the series of the oeuvres Visibile/Invisibile discloses its profound meaning: in the erotic discourse stands the truth of these works.
The choice of the existing underlying message in the vision is therefore an operation that aims at opening a profound meditation about desire in the audience. Desire should be interpreted as a fundamental expression of the being and that is systematically manipulated and subdued to the logics of the market. What is highlighted, thanks to the images taken from advertisement publications, is precisely what is systematically denied: the human being does not live by material needs but of desire that can exist only in absence.
Only a creative act can subvert this logic and make the falsity emerge. In this way the artistic operation frees subversive energy and connotes itself as an ethical as well as political act. In other words, it is an act that allows us to suitably manage our freedom in respect to the other and allows us to evaluate the morality of a practice, that of commoditization of desire. The simple act of scratching a sleek image reveals itself to be a profound philosophical meditation. It seems evident to me that the reference to Merleau-Ponty’s posthumous oeuvre goes far beyond the choice of the title made by Pignotti. We should remember that which the French philosopher argued regarding paintings: they do nothing but activate and mobilize the doubt intrinsic to the natural gaze.
In other words, the perceived world is polymorphic, an indefinite creation. "The being is what necessitates from us an act of creation in order to experience it". Thanks to its creation (to the creative act), something of the being can be liberated and testify its presence to us without ever becoming an object.
Pignotti's actions trace the line between our perception and reality. Merleau-Ponty should therefore be connected to the meditations on eroticism, and in particular about the eye that have been developed by Georges Bataille. Just to think of the incipit of his famous novel The Solar Anus: "It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form".

(Translated by Simone Brioni)