07 May – 13 June 2021, Padiglione de l’Esprit Nouveau, Fiera District, Bologna – Piazza della Costituzione 11 Curated by Luca Cerizza
Vincenzo Agnetti next to NEG, 1970
Dedicated to one of the most important artists in Italian art of the second half of the twentieth century, a tireless experimenter in conceptual art, the exhibition Vincenzo Agnetti. NEG: suonare le pause, is built around the rediscovery of a work that has long disappeared and is presented to the public for the first time ever on this occasion.
The NEG was conceived and patented by Agnetti (Milan, 1926-1981) and then built in collaboration with the well-known electronics company Brionvega in 1970. It was used for the realisation of a single work (Vobulazione e Bieloquenza NEG, 1970, in dialogue with Gianni Colombo), and was lost after the artist’s death. It was only in 2019 that the Archivio Vincenzo Agnetti, in collaboration with the company Recipient.cc of Milan, reconstructed it, faithfully following the original patent and using period components.
In the words of the artist, the NEG is a “pause detector”, “a pausometer”, an instrument for making “negative music”. Agnetti has in fact modified a stereophonic record player so that, in the absence of a sound signal, the machine produces a white noise that gives prominence to silence, to pauses in music or speech. A conceptual operation that translates into a sound device, the NEG continued Agnetti’s interest in the machine as an instrument to interrogate the processes of alienation of the technological civilisation of the time, as had already occurred in the famous Macchina drogata (1968). More generally, the NEG is an important, albeit little-known, stage in Agnetti’s reflection on the concept of “negative”, which runs through much of his work, as also demonstrated by his participation in the well-known exhibition Vitalità del negativo, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva (Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, November 1970-January 1971).
Within a brief artistic parabola that essentially runs from 1967 (the year of his return to Italy after a long period of “arte-no” and living and working abroad) to 1981 (the year of his sudden death), the period between the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s is characterised by a focus on the theme of the “negative”. Here converge the inclination for forms of aesthetic rarefaction of a conceptual matrix, the philosophy of the negative of T.W. Adorno, with his critique of the culture industry and the alienation of modern man, and the focus on the word and language, mediated by Ludwig Wittengstein’s analytical philosophy.
La Macchina drogata (1968), an Olivetti calculator in which the number keys no longer perform calculating functions but “write” letters and words, is a critique of language, but also a reinvention of the function or use of a machine to redeem it from its alienating power. The various Libri dimenticati a memoria (1969-70), are large volumes in which the textual part has been removed, leaving an enigmatic void at the centre. The word falls silent, becoming an imaginative possibility, a memory internalised in the viewer’s mind. The Assiomi (1968-77) are black Bakelite squares on which laconic axiomatic phrases are engraved, sometimes accompanied by synthetic graphic motifs derived from the language of geometry and music. With its ability to make the pauses, the silences, the “negative” of a message heard, the NEG stands as a point of connection between Agnetti’s philosophical and aesthetic reflection in this crucial phase of his research and of Italian cultural and political history.
On this basis, the exhibition moves in two directions.
A selection of works chronologically and thematically close to the NEG, and the presentation of archive material, some of which has never been seen before, reconstruct synthetically the context in which the NEG should be placed in the artist’s career. If Libro dimenticato a memoria (1970) gives substance to the silence to which writing and the word are subjected, on the other hand the Assiomi selected for this exhibition seem to refer precisely to the NEG in reiterating the importance of pause and of “forgotten by heart” as recurrent thoughts in this phase of Agnetti’s research.
The work Il Brevetto/NEG (1970) is the result of the act by which the work was patented by a notary (the art collector Paolo Consolandi). As “two operations of equal importance” (Agnetti in a document published in the following pages) Il Brevetto represents the idea that anticipates the realisation. Not only is it a sort of documentation of the work, but it might be read as a critical commentary by Agnetti on the possibilities of the creative process.
Vobulazione e Bieloquienza NEG (1970) was made for the exhibition Telemuseo curated by Tommaso Trini as part of the Eurodomus 3 exhibition at the Milan Triennale (1970). Agnetti and Colombo worked on two different machines and signals. The basic pattern adopted by the former (a white square transmitted on a TV kinescope) was modified through the “Vobulatore”, an electronic instrument by means of which the TV signal can be distorted. Instead, Agnetti used the NEG to reveal the pauses within a text that he himself pronounced and in which the same work and the function of the NEG was explained, in an operation of clear meta-linguistic character.
After this four-handed work, the NEG remained silent. In the years that followed, it was either lost or destroyed – it does not matter. Thanks to its philological reconstruction, it has now come back to life. It therefore seemed interesting to us to bring the NEG back to ‘play’ the silences and pauses in today’s music. For this purpose, a number of musicians from different backgrounds (classical avant-garde, electronic, improvisation, experimental rock) were invited to compose pieces specifically designed to be conceived and performed together with the sound-pause of the NEG. The music of Bellows (Giuseppe Ielasi & Nicola Ratti), Ricciarda Belgiojoso & Walter Prati, Gea Brown Manuele Giannini & Alessandro Bocci (Starfuckers), Alessandra Novaga was recorded in audio and video. Presented as part of the Bolognese exhibition, these performances give sound and image to a fifty-year-long pause that has finally been interrupted.
07 May– 13 June 2021
07 May: 3 pm – 8 pm
08 – 09 May: 10 am – 8 pm
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