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IMPROBABLE SYMMETRIES OF MARCELLO PIETRANTONI

The principle of symmetry responds to the human desire far order and perhaps better, far completeness. This might be said to hold true not only far geometrica! symmetry, but also far repeating symmetry. As the personality of a person in the sum of its divergent parts, the desire for completeness and totality is a symmetrical one. lt is our desire to rearder the fragments of personality so as to obtain in a metaphorical sense, a closed and determined model. Someone wishing to attempt this operation on himself, will find at best the results incomplete. The clash between these different fragments of personality and the desire to have a fixed, symmetrical shape, is both eternal and insuperable. By means of repetition, the individual escapes from the fear of the new and thus has the illusion of overcomig this fear by escaping from that which is new, in the same way as to escapes from fears of emptiness. lt is far from difficult doing it being only necessary to repeat several standard rules of behaviour in given situations and far these situations, we have the corrisponding modes of behaviour, codified by conventio. The apposite aspiration, that is to say breaking the repeating format responds to the need far smashing each diagram which bars us from the unknown and filling up, moment after moment, the emptiness which haunts us. For a long time symmetry was considered one of the representations of perfect balance. "Symmetry is represented in the ancient myths of the civilized world, the Eden, the perfect situation; Plato tells un that Aristophanes gave symmetry an antropomorphical configuration... " (Bruno D'Amore).

The back and the hips of mankind formed a circle and mam became tao proud of his perfect symmetry. Zeus, irritated by such overpride, cut Man into two halves, turning outwards his face and genitalia, exactly the way they are today. Modern chemistry shows itself as being asymmetrical - and not symmetrical as it was considered far many centuries - the natural condition in which a phenomenon is ar­ ranged. Bruno D'Amore writes "The very symmetry which itself gives us the idea of perfection, may only be seen as a trait-d'union which leads to the mathematical complexity ... of asymmetry". This asymmetry, which seems to become, from this perspective, a potential natural order, instead of being a divine disproportion would become the normal proportion of several phenomena (like chemical phenomena). In this way proportionality, the rules of geometrical symmetry, are linked to artificial phenomena, to the 'contructions' of Man. Several works of Pietrantoni which concern the divine disproportion (De quadam ratione impari pari ac rebus divinis) thus become the secular manifestation of the world's most hidden order, the asymmetrical order. lt is impossible to speak of symmetry without problems of semantics arising. During a meeting regarding similar problems in Venice some years ago (Fondazione Cini) it was observed that "... looking for a common denomination between the concept of symmetry as used in contemporary physics and the same used in normal speech is extremely difficult and seems to be, at first, almos impossible" (Evandro Agazzi). lt is interesting to note the question posed by the same author: why physics call symmetry that way. Jacques Nicolle, during the same meeting in Venice, gave us some useful definitions: "A body is syrnmetrical if it possesses some elements which are rather flat and centred ... A body is asymmetrical if it doesn't possess any symmetrical elements". In this case it is not interesting to talk about symmetrical and asymmetrical bodies, nor is it useful to introduce the late concept of dissymmetry. But it is preferable to refer to symmetrical (and asymmetrical) schemes, as physics are used doing. They also tend to use a sym metry based on concepts of invari­ ancy and on repetition which is "... characterized by the possibility of superimposing one element aver another by means of a movement in time and in space" (Jeanne Hersch). The latter calls "architectural symmetry'' a different symmetrical scheme. Even if, in perspective, scientific and research individualizes natural asymmetries, it is correct to say, like Max Bense, that the symmetries of esthetical processes are improbable symmetries. Having stated in advance the fundamental difference betwee physical and esthetical processes, Bense asserts that the former have a purely regular course, while the latter have symmetrical course. As regards the esthetic processes that he speaks about improbable symmetries. Consequently we may say that natural symmetries have a great probability of coming true.


The two 'contrivances', those artificial phenomena, art and technology, need an elaboration of symmetries wich, even making use of the laws of nature (for example the laws of mechanics) are only functional for art and technology and they are improbable symmetries. But in the artistic field the improbability tends to reach a peak (the probability that the symmetries established in the course of artistic activities will come true in nature, is minimal). The artist makes them possible, constructing and destroying continually the already existing symmetrical models. In this work of construction and destruction, the artist compares himself unavoidably with the natural and probable symmetries. Analyzing ourselves, we discover that between our ego and ourselves exists a permanent conflict between a desire for a symmetrical configuration, of 'bal ance' and an asymmetrical one, of friction. The elaboration of improbable symmetries provokes this conflict or better, on condition that they may be understood, the artistical processes catalyze thls pendular movement between symmetrical and asymmetrical configurations. In other words, their function is also to play a part in the dynamics of doubt. This doubt which may be implied, becomes the stimulus of criticai sense. lt is a potential doubt, not a Carthesian one, which exists till we have no proof of the contrary. But the kind of doubt we are discussing is not only continuous, but also methodological. How does Pietrantoni carry on this elaboration of improbable sym­ metries, how does he insinuate doubt, how does he stimulate this pendularity? His research goes on by means of successive 'discoveries', sometimes 'per absurdum' (by means of a figuration which both exists and doesn't exist) , drawing out object for object from its context. lt may be an architectonic object or not, but this doesn't change the purpose. That is to say: emphasizing research on the symbol, pointing out the vitality of the latter, its independent significance and in the end, reading (and inserting) the sign in a symmetrical order. In other words, the significance of the sign extends beyond its form, with hidden meanings and concidences: the 'case ' reveals itself . The deduction is that the improbable symmetries or better, 'the symmetry', are closely linked to the problems of interpretation and communication. Observing an artistic work, there is an exact instant in which the com­ munication springs up and the interpretation becomes possible. The observer who enjoys the work achieves a kind of transfert and justify the properly use the notion of timing. This notion, says Salomon Resnik " … corresponds to the notion of the exact instant where the communication finds its place and way of being''. Resnik's statement is helpful when he analyzes the relationships existing between communication and interpretation, giving the latter the meaning of negotiation (or even if you want so of exchange), between a spech expressed in some way and its representation. When Pietrantoni designs or when he plans improbable and hidden dimensions of an object which exists historically (for example Villa Allegonda, architectonic object which was constucted in 1927 by Pieter Oud in Holland, but we'll see later on) , he gives an interpretation of known signs of this already realized project in order to indicate the unknovvn signs. He differentiates between an expressed and existing speech and its representation . Man is the creator in the constructions of the improbable symmetries, of the morphologies in which he contructs. From an epistomological point of view, art is an experimental discipline. In it "… [in the experimental disciplines] man can create the studied morphologies or, at least, he can intervene in their creation ..." (René Thom).


Due to the informal style of painting he has adopted for some years, Pietrantoni has intuitively interpreted the possibilities offered by the concept of symmetry. In the beginning of the artistic creation of each sign, he immediately sees its location in a symmetrical order. It is a question of tautological sign, either pictural or architectonic. Or as he himself states: "The tautology respects the sign for what it is, the meaning of the sign is not yours anymore: the only thing that remains is its very vitality". Regarding this meaning of sign, Giorgio Cortenova writes : "A sign arises only and simply in order to be a sign: a message without messages which aren't those of its own existence and inwardness ''. In Pietrantoni the sign also assumes the characteristics of the unity of measure, measure of a dimension which you can't apparently see, has no functional use but, howeve exists. The symmetrical order referred to previously, is the scheme in which each sign in the end will find its point of reference. But the measure, the research of an unknown dimension through that very sign, implies the fact that the latter has a largely autonomous significance. So it is not surprising that Pietrantoni gives a primary importance to the concept of dimension instead of to the concept of space.

Dimension here is a measure, a totality of relations between elements constructing the improbable symmetries. Space is violated by means of this sign, a formulation of its contents, a hypothesis is made (sometimes it is also determined). Something is discovered, the fear of emptiness is overcome. The architectonic sign exists from the very moment in which a dimension becomes concrete. For the pictural sign something very similar takes place, here a concept of open sign is used which gives the opportunity of formulating total and potential expressions.
An artistic work, considered as a system of signs, possesses a large potential of information. Each object contains a memory value and symmetry thus may become part of research methodology . An operation enacted on an already existing object, an operation which leads to an artistic work (for example: L'opera fra storia ed apparenza del mondo - Work between history and ap­ pearance of the world , 1978) is a research of improbable symmetries of a known architectonic object, Villa Allegonda. It is an iconic building deriving from the Stijl Movement, built by Oud at Katwijk aan Zee, in the Netherlands, 1927. In this case Oud followed the idea of the painter Kamerling Onnes. For many years, this villa built by Oud has been considered as having a roundish and soft form. In the magazine Lotus, number 16, Pietrantoni read a detailed study of the villa in 1977. Villa Allegonda gives him an idea of strenght and clearness: which are the hidden information and signs in this known architectonic object? What does Villa Allegonda contain in memory? Pietrantoni studies the architectonic improbabilities of the building, the absurd signs of it, not being functional to its potential purpose. Signs which are, however, real as they are, at least, potentially existent. The research is carried on through the means which art has at its disposal. Pietrantoni plans successive modifications of Oud's design. We may see beyond the limitation which the villa at Katwijk aan Zee, being a house, possesses, we go beyond the appearance of the finished architectonic sign. Symmetry considered as the symmetry of the impossible (more seen than constructed, more guessed than designed) is, above all, a working method. This may be said also for another project made by Pietrantoni in 1960, called Archiostra, where the symmetry refers to forms of the genitalia of the two sexes. In a certain way Archiostra is a projecht of "androgynous architecture" where the union between the complimentary opposites wants to reach a cosmic dimension. The impossibility of such a symmetry is not torn away from archetypal individuai humans. "The external and the internal world don't exist for their own sake, but define each other by means of a mutual relationship ..." (Resnik). Internal and external world, their history and appearance exist because of the relationships of the author's self and the external world. It is just here that today the memory of the object reveals what it contains of importance for us. There exists also a primitive self, a possessive self of the loved object. And so our object becomes an extension, an amplification of our self. The latter, which is included, enlarging it in the primitive self of the object, reaches a mysterious dimension; full of coincidences which are apparently unexplainable. On the other hand, concluding with Resnik, self derives from the ancient Celtic word selva...

Although as architecture, the works of Pietrantoni have a separate, non canonical character, we may, however, say that he is interested in observing rather than in constructing architectonic objects. In consideration of which he tends to recover many potential areas such as the rarely studies primary architectonic sign. It is undoubtly correct to consider this kind of research as being of anthropological nature. "... Once we abandon the illusion of communicating through projections, writes Alessandro Mendini while considering the works of Pietrantoni, the area of research is transferred and finds its solution in an apolide world , located somewhere between architecture, art and thought." Coincidences between different fields of research exist, and for Pietrantoni the research, focalizing them, is a methodological constant. He is not only interested in the combined aspects of an event, but also in their less foreseeable and more monstrous aspects. There is a world beyond the example, which is the object of some specific works of Pietrantoni (L'aldilà del caso - Beyond the event, 1978). But his research has not finished with coincidence, in fact Pietrantoni doesn't give up the idea of a constant symmetrical "anchorage ". How does the principle of symmetry work, - the works referring to "beyond the event " hint towards the answer - if we examine the miasma of coincidences which arise from a demonstrated example. One is aware, if one follows Jacques Monod "... that an example interferes in the alterations of the phenomena and that ... each event implies interactions which create alterations in the inside of the components of a system " (Monod) . The same author asserts that the above is not consistent with the idea that "… within the structure of universe, there exist immutable realities". Pietrantoni also asserts the problem of the free will of mankind in front of fate (a fate which is not predetermined, or written, the event).


In the light of this knowledge, the human predicament would seem to be asymmetrical. An analogous problem may be found in Pietrantoni's routes (De itineribus quae e memoria exierunt, 1978) of forgotten memory. In this case, in a pres ent existence two memories are runnig consecutively, the prenatal one (the past) and the sense of destiny (the future). Researching forgotten routes means examining objects which have characterized those routes. But, above all, a research of the interrelating links between the objects themselves. The objects existing in memory and the coincidences give a sense to the routes ... and they prompt some particular forgotten memory without provoking others. The tragic alteration existing between effects and causes, between psyche and destiny with the relative loads of casual coincidences, was taken up once again by Pietrantoni in 1978, following a route taken by some nomads around a lake. An itinerary characterized by predetermined stages and obligatory rites. In Lago bianco, l'ago nero, (White Lake, Black needle) he faces the unknown, the different. The black needle gives a direction to the routes all around the white lake. The ritual and repeated actions performed by the nomads are a story with a religious character . Pietrantoni reminds us, how this experience assumes a religious significance thanks to the author's encounter with the "totally different" matters, which he has had to take into account.

Basac symmetry, on the one hand the photographs (reasons for the particular route of the nomads, their actions, and so on) and, on the other hand, the designed interpretation (psychical analysis of the causes). Symmetry is linked, here, to the analysis of the profound and knowledge is not power of destiny, but the vital expression of understanding. This confrontation with the diverse , the unknown, is an originai aspect of contemporary culture. Comparing the ritual and repetitive experiences of the nomads with our contemporary person's routes, gives us not only a type of friction, but also the idea of destroyed objects, of events which, after having liberated a high energetic potential, tend to be self-destructive. This is, according to Pietrantoni, the meaning of death in our time. The most important part in the account, that we may consider a mystery play, is expectation. The photographs, Pietrantoni reminds us, are also quotes, but are more exactly associations referring to an event which has already taken place. The design gives an idea of what happened, but doesn't reveal it. For this originates our belief. This expectation puts us into a precarious equilibrium; if the system of universe decays towards chaos, this seems not to be totally incompatible with the other conception of "... a system made up of interacting fields and particles which alter without evolving" (David Layzer) . The black needle doesn't limit itself to marking the relations between the variable elements of the route, but it tends, using once again the definition formulated by Lazer "... to the laws which determine the field of possible ... to [the] bonds which may become initial conditions, limiting conditions and symmetrical conditions".

With the exception of expectation, history has no leading roles. Pietrantoni elaborates improbable symmetries, violating the route of the nomads, their black needle goes mad. The direction of the black needle is our profound self, we our­selves are turning all around the lake, make the necessary ... and ritual steps. How is it possible to disorganise so much order? This is a question Pietrantoni has already asked himself in his series of work about the divine disproportion, of which we have already spoken. Whilst nothing is stated here, a ritual question is posed: this 'disorganization', this contraction, this expansion - all of them unforeseeable - which are their forms in contradiction to time, how can they be located in our route which, without our interference, is determined by the coincidences of the event? In other words, what are the limitations on our liberty and where are the borders of our survival delineated around the white lake? Observing architecture more than constructing it, corresponds to a methodological choice. It may be a scream, a cry in the desert, but this is the only possible manner when plannig means recovering the improbable, mysterious and unknown schemes of the project. Pietrantoni wants to dislodge and to point out the mystery hidden in planning. His research is also ar­ chaeological, the archaeology of the hidden sign. The object of the analysis is to discover relations between a world of artificial reality (a technique) and a cerebral world, relations between the history and the appearance of the world. In the first case we have the work of Pietrantoni dating between 1971-1974 (L'architettura disegnata nello spazio della psiche - Designed architecture in the space of the psyche). In the second case we have two works: one is Archiostra and the other one "the manomissions" effectuated on Villa Allegonda. This alienation between the elements of the relation, between real (historic) image and virtual image of the world are, after all, the alienations which preside over the dynamic definition of the individual. The unknown dimensions of an original, given project and its unknown planes, is emphasized by Pietrantoni in his improbable projects. These planes are, as a matter of fact, symmetrical planes.


lt is a symmetry which is not geometrical, and necessarily not repetitive. lt is a symmetry, as they say in mathematics, which doesn't know the existence of the distinctive signs of left and right (Alberta De Flora). The definitive writer on the problems of symmetry Hermann Weyl, says that the origin of the distinction between right and left since the symmetry of Kant, has had a combinatorial character. The signs which Pietrantoni adds to the original plan, distorting it and changing it into a system of signs - a new autonomous work with its own meaning - do not increase the quantity of potential information of the originai plan, but they contain more of the hidden information which exists in the memory of the object. Also death, or better, the sense of death, is an effective mode of comparison, unit of measure. Between the memory of the objects created in the past and their present progressive destructibility, Pietrantoni transfers the measure, exactly, in terms of the sense of death. The death of these objects is not only their physical destruction (the fact that first they become wrecks and then dust), but their condemnation to a total and spatial incommunicability, as Pietrantoni himself asserts. In some works (Le stanze della coscienza - The rooms of consciousness, 1976) Pietrantoni, paraphrasing Baudelaire with regard to Poe, is the artist of nerves and still something more. In these rooms of consciousness, Pietrantoni evokes atmospheres and he seems to remember, with Max Bense "... this destructibility, besides being something different, is something more than transiency, there is a certain sense of change". Bense, stating in advance that we live in a world in which we have a science like nuclear physics, has linked this destructibility to the sense of death. In Eureka, Bense says that Poe writes : " In the original unity of the primary object, we can find the origin of all things together with the predisposition of their unavoidable destructibility". In Pietrantoni's works what is unavoidable for Poe, becomes a potential verificable event. Being an artist he investigates the forms clearly: "Beauty is the product of reason and calculation" (Baudelaire). Projecting and designing some objects is a way of seeking again one's own identity, or in other words, discovering perhaps what we like or what we don't know. In the 15 Oggetti per architettura separata (15 Objecs for separated architecture) 1974-1975, Pietrantoni reproposes the dilemma existing between seeing and making architecture. But here seeing architecture - projecting it - is not a research on the sign, on something which is not inside the person who is projecting it, but it is looking inside oneself, analyzing oneself in the depth during the construction of the design. The design in the 15 objects (some of them realized afterwards) is a mode of self-analysis. Pietrantoni calls those objects "totem", as they haven't got any spatial references. In his whole work there exists one plan. Even between 1957 and 1962, when his painting was near the informal (in this case it was called post-informal painting), he always wanted to give a structure to his works . He tried to see the pictural sign included in an exact model, a symmetrical system. This latter style, more than a chronological problem, defined the post-informal character of his painting belonging to that period. Those paintings were also more informal in the strict sense, given that in this style these worries were less felt. The desire for construction, the desire to project, of discovering something hidden while planning ... all this was present in Pietrantoni as well as the need for analyzing the relationships of materials in terms of language. Relationships existing between material and form, between one type of material and another. In fact the analysis of these relationships gave way to the research, creating a system of signs (a work), inserting each sign in an, after all, abstract system, known by intuition. The informal painter Georges Mathieu expressed in a manner not unlike Pietrantoni: "During all times, the decline of a culture has revealed itself as going through three phases: sclerosis, pomposity and, in the end, dissolution of the forms ...". These three stages, sclerosis, pomposity and dissolution of the forms, have often been brought together by Pietrantoni in a play which stands somewhere between the macabre and the chronicle. It is, however, a simultaneous play and not only when we refer to Pietrantoni's post-informal period, but also during the different successive periods. As regards the sign, Mathieu indicates the sequence: stile – academy - baroque - destruction. But even Pietrantoni 's intervention in this process of destruction of the sign, is enacted in order to be able to reveal the hidden potentialities of the area of the sign which has not yet been explored. Pierre Restany writes: "Pietrantoni's combine-drawings represent a short­hand account which has not been used, because it is not functional ...". In Pietrantoni's play the mutual exchange goes on until it reaches the limits of destruction of the Other (the audience). That is why the artist is able to instil death in such a subtle way. Death is the input as well as the unspoken of his play. The play, " … that is enjoyment plus libido, has not been considerd as being objectively tragic by Pietrantoni. It becomes tragic when the interlocutor, the Other, the audience, is absent . The story, like in Lago bianco l'ago nero (White lake, black needle) has no protagonists or, at least, in a metaphorical sense. It has no interlocutors. The absence of the Other drives the black needle crazy and it makes us effect to circulate all around the white lake. The only tangible protagonist, even if we don't know (yet?) his characteristic signs, is expectation. Looking for the hidden signs of a plan, in the manner of Pietrantoni, is a noble but useless attempt to fill up the time and the space of this expectation. It is the attempt to recognize the Other, to rediscover ourselves thanks to the rediscovery of the Other. "La vie n'est là que pour mémoire" writes Maurice Roche and Pietrantoni believes in the chance and in the memory of the objects. Their measurement, the measurement of the relations between one object and another, between the objects and us, leads to the identification of the original dimension of space and time in our time. "We - Pietrantoni states - tend to rediscover this expectation, the big light of which we don't know what is behind". Pietrantoni is antihumanist, "… he is this in a very proud manner, like Nietzsche, whose tragic play excludes each possibility of a dialectic between the serious and the non serious ..." (Restany).

On one hand, we have the fear provoked by taking part in a reality which gives us the illusion of escaping from the destruction of things by petrifying them at a certain moment. In this way the illusion is to render static a process which is essentially dynamic and which tends towards dissolution. On the other hand, each researcher, each criticai spirit, is surprised to discover every hidden potentiality, the "secret language" of signs , things, objects of which we only know the more functional aspects . Pietrantoni is in balance between these two attitudes, he has the sense of humour typical for a great conjurer, even if he is sceptical towards his tricks as he knows what kind of tricks they are. But he also knows that he does them well and that play is unavoidable. Tricks, artificial symmetries, which are logica! but end their life only being functional, but also displacing tricks, made on purpose. He takes every painting out of its frame, each work out of its usual environment, the sign - a pictural and architectonic one - out of the primary plan. Having accomplished this operation, Pietrantoni wants to focalize each possible existence of the sign, each improbable symmetry of the plan. Besides the tricks of the conjurer and the artist, there are also tricks of history, in other words, their documentation. In the Schede d'archivio (Archives filing cards) are casual documents put together and inserted without any order in the text. It seems to be a diabolical counterpoint, without any logical sense (at least apparently!) for a finished work (apparently?) inserted with a cold lucidity. The archives filing cards are also a way of satyrizing on the indipendent value of the sign, on its presumed and intrinsic vitality, on the "found objects ". The filing cards are a report of fragments of petrified reality. If they have a logic, it is only a reflectd one. They are cold celestial bodies without any light of their own, without any form of organic life on them. Their reflected life receives illumination from any other external body. Their movements follow, however, certain rules and they have an orbit. The case which determines the finding again of the documents of petrified reality, is the case of the same law which prescribes the world 's order. They are "cases" of which Pietrantoni invites us to seek the coincidences, the beyond of the chance, the motivation for the ritual route and for the circuit. The filing cards considerd as being an eventual witness of historical reality, are improbable documents, unusual symmetries. They are invitations given by Pietrantoni to us to take part in the huge process of projecting.

Franco Torriani, 1979

English version: Francine Sohier and Andrew Cohen