Marco Meneguzzo

Module and model
In 1999 Loris Cecchini exhibited Assembling Kit Box, made the pre- vious year, at Claudia Gian Ferrari’s gallery in Milan. Its production was unique and moreover it is a work that was destroyed, but it tells us something – possibly in a too explicit and schematic way – about his way of thinking about the reality that surrounds us, or about the world: a model kit, on a one to one scale, with bits of uniform coloured pla- stic, waiting to be separated from their support to become part of a con- struction and of an action (in this case two office chairs, attached to outboard motors and, wearing the supplied helmets, you can set off on a bizarre adventure: Godardian reminiscences perhaps, but not even the artist remembers it any more, and anyway it’s no longer important...). Construction, scale, action, narration, process, modelling, structure, form, pattern, are still – and have always been – the key words of Cec- chini’s work, applied according to the different quantities and various mixes depending on the year and the typologies that he conceived and developed, but which, in that work, are set out as if we found ourselves in front of the contents of a book: as with all contents pages, they are not the book itself but indicate its divisions, it is the same for that work, which is not Cecchini’s most successful (he has never replicated it or taken it up again, and when it was destroyed, he was not overly despe- rate), but that perhaps for that, it reveals what we need to look for in the book of his, by now, twenty years of activity. Thus, in the following paragraphs, these variously arranged words, now concentrated, now di- spersed, perhaps even just suggested or veiled, make up Ariadne’s thin thread that leads to the Minotaur at the centre of the problem, reco- gnising in the Labyrinth of his work shapes that are apparently different and deviant from each other, but were all created according to a plan that only afterwards was revealed to be cohesive.
Cecchini’s sculptural work started with photography and this is not a paradox. We have long been used to the plastic value of photography, of some photography, and not even awarding the Venice Biennale Sculpture prize to the “photographer” couple Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1990 attracted unfavourable comments.
Cecchini’s photos, however, brought with them a strong narrative component; they are not the ca- talogue of nothing, and stage situations that resemble more film stills than a repertoire of shapes.
No casting – this is the title that bring them together, from their start in around 1994-1995, until, at least, 2000 – effectively indicates the presence of characters “taken off the street” and without their knowledge (without being casted, in fact), and the situa- tion that they are placed in assumes a chain of events “before” the scene in which the photograph freezes them, and we expect an “after” deve- loped by the conditions they find themselves in: in other words, the scene that appears before us presumes a story. However this is the first of the sensations and suggestions that are placed before us, Because there is always something striking in the proposed scene: a road accident, characters dressed out of place with the setting; strange helicopters, the presence of rubble, or, going further back, towards his first creations in that sense – from the title of Pause in background – an “out of scale” which clearly places the character in a strange yet familiar scene, that of the domestic universe – a radiator, the edge of the bath, a drainer – that has become gigantic and unrecognisable thanks to the electronic editing work on the photo, that transforms these objects into landscapes, dra- matically shrinking the human figure. In the subsequent works, on the other hand, the objects in the scene are revealed for what they are by vir- tue of something they “lack”: normal colour, the wealth of detail that characterizes every complex object, the strong three dimensionality of the products, their shadows... Here the “normality” of the human beings in the scene is juxtaposed by the abnormality of the landscape and the situations where they find themselves, according to a script that is not theirs, but that the artist builds in a deliberately sketchy way. The evident “falsity” of their story is clearly highlighted and accentuated by the use of photography that in those years, in the mind of someone who had seen a lot of photos, was still (but not for long) the “place of reality”, and that just for this complaint the non-truthfulness of what is before us in an even clearer way. At this point any narrative interest loses its importance, whilst the semantic shift emerges ever more, that linguistic décalage that makes up the real strength of the image and in fact which is the conceptually relevant nucleus – and durable in the be - holder’s imagination – of all this cycle of work. It is the dystonic scale between the figure and object that creates the short circuit that triggers the spark of attention and that also distinguishes it from those artists that in that moment act on the concept of “falseness” of the image – like Thomas Demand – reproducing situations with “particularities in less” or of those characters, like George Segal, where the truthfulness of the objects and the chalky whiteness of the figures, in the same scene, even suggest moral considerations on the deterioration of the human before the object. In Cecchini’s photos there is none of this, if not the evi- dence of a state of fact, that leaves –and arrives – from an objective ob- servation, made up of the elements in the scene, that in this way maintain the degree of conceptualization and of elaboration of the ima- gination more at an elementary than complex level, despite the wealth of elements in view and the narrative possibility of the constructed si- tuation. If, from the narrative point of view, the work is an isolated frag- ment of history (that we do not know and can only imagine) from a perceptual and emotional point of view, it is complete in itself, and al- ways provides the same degree of dimensional displacement, i.e. struc- tural.
Almost in tandem – since 1998 – and with at least a significant ad- mixture and hybridization in the series of No casting – in furniture for stage evidence, of 1998, the minute office furniture served as models for the new cycle – Cecchini was elaborating all those “soft objects” in grey urethane rubber, which are still one of his most successful cycles, and certainly one that has been known internationally since the beginning of the new millennium. Despite the very short memory that plagues Postmodernism, it is impossible not to consider that this typology had- n’t been used in the recent past, and without even resorting to Salvador Dalì – who however had painted his soft watches –, all of a series of works by Claes Oldenburg, created in 1966. featured “softness” applied to the out of scale of a typewriter, of a switch, of a WC... to this ob- jection (because it is an objection we are dealing with and it is useless to deny it: the chronological primacy of a typology is worth something in contemporary art!) Cecchini has repeatedly responded by pointing out that while Oldenburg emphasised gigantism, the “deflating of an object (ethical direction?...), his were 1:1 scale models, and not soft, ra- ther they collapsed under their own weight, by force of gravity. This is all true, but it is necessary to go further, because next to the short me- mory of our times, lurks its complementary feelings: the schematic rou ghness of perception, even a work of art. As actually we do not dwell on the details and concepts that lie behind these details (as opposed to an- cient art where we dwell -and how! – on the pictorial differences bet- ween one of Raphael’s Madonna and one of his students, even though the composition of the scene and colours are absolutely identical), but we rely on the glance that instantly stabilizes to which category the work we have in front of us belongs, the risk is that for all these Stage evidence the only category used to perceiving and appreciate them is that of their softness, of their sagging on themselves, and that therefore in front of this immediate evidence the rest of the thought passes into the back- ground. Instead, as in the No casting series, it is not the first impression that counts, but the emergence of other peculiarities where nothing is as it seems: the non-colour, for example, that neutral grey that doesn’t characterise anything, is an important element, almost as much as – we’ll see later – the action of gravity that makes Cecchini’s objects fold onto themselves. An elementary consequential analysis; the grey is a factor of uniformity, that equates every object under its chromatic, or better non-chromatic cloak; that is, it brings a sort of indifference to the quality of the object, because each one is part of a single category, de- termined by a single common element, the grey non –colour; ergo, the colour serves to cancel the individual characteristics, and restore per- ception towards the single principle that really counts, namely the col- lapsing under the weight of its own body, dragged to the ground by the force of gravity. Like this, grey is a secondary, instrumental element and what is really important is not so much the reproduced object as the ac- tion that causes this. Action means process, but which process can be relevant in this sense, after the apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head? It is pertinent to call to mind the postmodernist tendency of the late 1960s that go under the name of “Antiform”, where shapes arose from the spatial autopositio- ning of the various materials that constituted them – remember for example Robert Morris’s large felt pieces – making use of the mere form of gravity: however he was looking for an objective and finally absolute and thus, perfect shape, whilst in the Stage evidence the shape already existed – that of the reproduced object: a bicycle, an umbrella, a radia- tor, piping, a large door, cinema seats, monitors, cables, pianos and po- tentially everything that surrounds us,- and becomes on the contrary “unshaped” in this process of folding on its own weight. What is the meaning of this real and metaphorical collapse?
When transporting these works to place them in some exhibition, they oppose the resistance of a dead body: they escape from all sides, they no longer have consistency but only weight, they no longer have shape but only encumbrance, and their configuration is a reminiscence, a ghost, and as in a body which when dead no longer has a soul, which has left it, it is the same for these objects, their reproduction in rubber, “no lon- ger has a soul”. Note that the word “soul”, in sculpture, has the precise meaning of that usually metal armour on which the plaster is modelled, and which allows it to support itself: it is the soul of the sculpture, it is its structure. The objects of Stage evidence lack structure, they are like characters whose skeleton has been “filleted”, they are the indication of a lack rather than a presence, and all the formal paraphernalia that ac- companies them is just the shell of what really counts, what makes them live like objects, and this is the object of Cecchini’s research.
Just by thinking of this need, of the constant research into the soul of things, we can understand Cecchini’s next phase, who gradually aban- dons the dangerous success of Stage evidence to juxtapose it with Mo- nologue Patterns, the dwelling modules, now similar to caravans, now to inflatable or transparent architecture, that lay on structurally strong and resistant elements, such as trees, walls, pylons. The feeling is that of a concretion – a cross between the organic and architectonic – that de- velops in an almost parasitic way, taking advantage of the existing ob- ject as would a wasps’ nest or a beehive. The protean capacity of the artist to vary the scale of his operations from microscopic to architec- tonic, shouldn’t fool us: Gulliver always has the same size – the human dimension –whilst the context, now gigantic, now Lilliputian – chan- ges, it tests the ability to adapt that then, on closer inspection, isn’t just an aspect of structural flexibility. Are we dealing with an architectonic utopia? An ecologist’s suggestion? A science-fiction citation? A childish game by an ambitious baron? This probably isn’t the main point (still a false aim in Cecchini’s art): it is not what it seems), even if here, as in all his other cycles, however, the visible formal aspect, is strong enough to induce someone to stop at the surface of the work or, in this case, to linger within the works, rediscovering the ancestral sensation of shelte- ring “inside a shell”. Also here, behind a veil of almost romantic feelings, the problem is structural, and to build without having a real structure, or having an extremely fragile one (see in this regard the transparent coatings of the “caravans” or the aerostatic necessity of the 2004-2006 Blaublobbing), so much as to fear the dissolution from one moment to another.
At this point, all Cecchini’s route we have analysed so far, seems to move decisively towards the definition of “structure”: of course, the critical reading that he gives here intends to highlight this part of his work, perhaps leaving to individual emotion the perception and the sensation of individual works, or single details that don’t belong to this concep- tual and ideal mainstream that has been identified, but the more the work of the Lombard-Tuscan-Berlin artist develops through time, the more evident is the urgency to discover the internal structure of things within their shell, so much so that with the modular installations – such as Morphing wave (2005-2007), Cloudless (2006-2008), Floating Crystals (2007-2008), Steelorbitalcocoons (2007-2009) – every iconic residue les- sens, whilst the structural research grows, through the use of three di- mensional modular construction models.
Understanding the structure as a module removes Ceccchini’s work – all his work, even the iconic – from every superficially pop environ- ment, to replace it in a territory that goes from the minimal to the programmed to real architecture itself: his research, the design and the use of a module, i.e. a simple – the simplest possible element, beyond which it can no longer be simplified – with which to build objects, or, rather, to make potentially unlimited organisms grow, means clarifying to oneself and clearly indicating to others, the real nature of one’s own work, that atomic nucleus that in a flash makes everything achieved up to now slide in front of us. Everything revolves around the structure of things, and each structure revolves around a modular element that al- lows it to exist. But Cecchini does more. His attention to modularity isn’t limited to the classical plastic modularity, experimented from Bauhaus to today (but perhaps also by Seurat to today: what is the point of colour if not the module of painting?...), but extends his interest to include mode- lization within modularity, and vice versa. Modalization, understood as a cognitive process aimed at the systematic creation of a small se- mantic universe with the purpose of defining of an event, isn’t itself an aesthetic process, and usually does not fall into the interests of the lan- guage of art as much as it falls into those disciplines – from physics to economics – that need to standardize phenomena, but the fascination, aroused by the possibility, or also just by the logical system within which any object of event can be placed, is such that the attempt to transfer a spacial module into a more complex system is a challenge that an artist accepts and looks for, with a clear and hitherto unprece- dented awareness. With Crystal Engineering (2009), that after two years became The developed seed, (from the significant subtitle of organizing a system that can continuously construct itself, with Waterbones (2013) and other variations on the same modular theme, Cecchini introduces the element of “time” into that of “space”, through the visible concept of “process”. Even so called “Processual Art” is a great conceptual whole which is by now established in artistic language (even if not so immediately visible, as the examples of pro- cessularity can formalise works which are very different from each other), but the quality of the “process” put in place can take on diffe- rent values and meanings, that essentially go from the reverberated processuality on the ar- tist – through the work where I see the action of the man artist – to a processuality where the artist is absent, or only minimally present,
as a demiurge who “gives the La”, who starts up the process then re- treats to contemplate the ever changing – and unpredictable, even for him, result of his work. Cecchini belongs to this last category, to this last typology of artist. It is no accident that, observing his last works, the word that immediately and intuitively comes to mind is “growth”, much more than “construction”: growth is an organic process, regula- ted by stronger laws than those of constructed rationality, you grow a plant, you build a house...this is the difference between an animate and inanimate being, and the animate being means “becoming”. That is why the process put in place in the latest works of Cecchini is a tem- poral process quite different from the one, although existing, that is im- plicit in every construction (in fact, building a house is also a temporal process), because the intrinsic becoming of these structures is an orga- nic, molecular, becoming, which has its own life, and not simply mo- dular. How has he reached this result, that in the moment in which he manages to grow his structures autonomously, he theoretically reaches one of the various “zero degrees” of art, one where the figure of the ar- tist is no longer necessary to create the work? With a little, big artifice, which allows the combination of modules to move themselves – that is to grow- in many directions, but not in all, or rather with some li- mitations given their initial structure. It is enough to just offset the screw connections, which join one thing to another, by a few degrees to impose a new direction, a line-force of development in space. It is just this, together with the polished shape of the steel, to streamline, the dynamic element, the “life of the shape” that Cecchini has im- pressed as his seal on every single element of these latest works.
A few days ago, Loris confided to me that he had bought a microscope: “I don’t know yet what I’ll do with it, what will come out... but so- mething will happen...”.

© Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro 2014