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Americans make more trash that anyone else in the planet, throwing away about 7 pounds per person per day, 365 days a year. Trash has become the most valuable goods to export, which then is sold back to us as products waiting to be trashed again. We are each on track to generate around 100 tons of trash across our lifetime; our American Dream is definitely link to this accumulation of trash. My trips to the landfill in Middlesex County New Jersey made me understand that when there is traffic of garbage trucks going to the landfill it is a sign of people buying, trash is a way to understand our economy. The sweet singing of garbage trucks constantly working every night, the intense squealing of rats enjoying a good leftover meal, the colors of flying plastic bags in a super noisy New York City street, are just some of the inspirations that I collect to create this paintings and pictures.
360° Virtual Tour of Exhibition
by Adrian Dannatt
A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand. Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos, 1947
That not one life shall be destroyed,Or cast as rubbish to the void,When God hath made the pile complete. Tennyson, In Memoriam, 1850
Rubbish, just plain rubbish, nothing but rubbish, such is the summation of the standard philistine view of contemporary art, one which Luca Pizzaroni has brilliantly embodied to the point of exaggeration and thus subverted in his current show.
Just as Piero Manzoni – a fellow Italian conceptual-dandy- took the assumption that most modern art was a piece of shit and made it literal, turned it with his Merda d’Artista into a self-evident truth, likewise Pizzaroni has taken those who trash contemporary work at their word.
Or consider how Picasso, faced with the continual challenge “my child of five could do that”, admitted that it had taken his entire youth to learn to draw like Ingres, and the rest of his life discovering how to draw like a child.
With his latest body of work, Bianco Trash, Pizzaroni has, like an alchemist, made clear how such rubbish can be redeemed and revived as the finest of fine art, yes it is rubbish, quite overtly, but here transformed into the ore of art by his eye.
The two very different elements to this oeuvre, the photographs and the ‘paintings’ absolutely operate in close
relation to each other, without a sense of where this work comes from, literally, we would only be rewarded with half of its resonance.
The work that Pizzaroni has felt himself obliged to undertake amongst the giant refuse heaps of New York and its outlying boroughs is both exploratory and engaged, engage in the French sense of an activity simultaneously intellectual and political, a pursuit typical of this personal project.
Throughout his work Pizzaroni plays with the visual codes, the clues and rewards of such imagery and the larger socio-political implications of what we are shown yet do not always fully understand in its essence, engaging us in an argument, an explication, as much as mere aesthetic presentation.
Pizzaroni works with the objet trouve , the found detail, but always framed and refined by the artist’s eye, achieving a status somewhere between Duchamp’s ‘Readymade’ and Cartier Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’, a sort of ‘readymade moment’ maybe. Thus in his photography throughout the original arena of New York, his chosen subject, his everyday studio for much of his career, Pizzaroni makes us look again and with renewed attention at the ordinary architecture, the simplest sculpture of the streets. This is an actual art of the street (very different to ‘street art’) that would not exist, would not be acknowledged without Pizzaroni’s framing, his cropping and recontextualizing of what otherwise would pass as the mere detritus of poverty.
Pizzaroni has always been consistently attracted to the invention and creativity of the poorest elements of society, letting their quotidian talents speak for themselves at last in the silence of the gallery or pages of a publication, outside the impossible blare, daily mad distraction, of their habitual milieu. This is a true ‘Arte Povera’, one crafted out of a poverty we would rather not see and which we regularly walk past without the slightest hesitation, deliberately blinding ourselves to the reality by which we are always surrounded. Pizzaroni here works as the visual antidote to John Kenneth Galbraith’s justly celebrated ironic essay on how to avoid eye contact, indeed all contact, with the beggars and homeless people we daily encounter, the artist forcing us to acknowledge our usual refusal to “see” what we pass so fast in every street.
Yet once exposed to this aesthetic, to the act of actual ‘close-looking’ it is hard to return to our previous blind complacency.
The theme of trash, refuse, has been a continual leitmotif of his work, and with this series of recent photographs Pizzaroni takes all of these elements back to their origins, to their final home, their ultimate destiny in these vast Valhallas of terminal rejection which are such sites. Here we at last can see just how extensive, exhaustive, is the system of consumption and abandonment which makes us the cycle of our advanced capitalist cultures, just how enormous the waste, in every sense, of our daily machine. In taking on these landfills of leftovers Pizzaroni is both urban explorer, going where none of us would wish to tread, and active anthropologist, systematically exposing and categorizing the chaos and confusion of these giant graveyards of our own generation.
But Pizzaroni is also alive to the strange beauty, the odd romance of these environments, the animals and flowers, the fauna and fertile subsoil of such sites, a subtext of continual life and subversive revival, adventure even, against all the odds.
This sense of grace and elegance inspired by even the most banal flotsam of contemporary life might be compared to the fabled sequence in ‘American beauty’ where we are shown the potential poetry within the simplest gesture of a plastic bag caught floating in the wind. This visual trope, one also to be found in avant-garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky’s ‘Variations’ and the video ‘Incidents’ by artists Igor & Svetlana Kopyatinsky, demonstrates how the human capacity of enchantment can transform the humblest circumstance.
Thus Pizzaroni crafts artful and inherently aesthetically engaging pictures out of the very places our culture is predicated upon avoiding.
This is not least due to his innate sense of composition, the very balance of the sky and earth, the exactitude of that horizon line in an image such as ‘Surf in the USA’, the pitch of the azure sky in ‘My Gas’.
Indeed gazing into the closer detail of those in themselves closer-cropped photographs in which we are forced to concentrate upon the rubbish in itself, Pizzaroni demonstrates his true mastery of composition. Look at his use of blue in an image like ‘Buy One get one Free’ and you can come to appreciate just how nuanced and perfectly proportioned is this otherwise seemingly artless photograph.
It may seem a preposterous comparison but Pizzaroni has a sense of composition truly worthy of the golden age of Classical painting.
Thus it might be rewarding to compare the aforementioned ‘Buy One Get One Free’ with a painting such as ‘Abduction of the Sabine Women’ (1635) at the Metropolitan in Manhattan, the gathering of the rubbish, the distribution of the varied elements, making so rich an interlocking visual field, balanced, like the Poussin, by the repeating elements of blue, albeit here plastic rather then antique drapery.
Likewise a similar arrangement of strong blue elements in the photograph ‘Summer Styles’ could almost grant an entropic echo of another French Classical painting, ‘Alexander & Porus’ of 1673 by Le Brun. And yes, there is something even possibly Arcadian to that image ‘Manhattan Fill’, where the manicured perfection of an entirely artificial landscape plays within the same long tradition of human ingenuity and imagination, sheer invention, of which Poussin or Le Brun’s imaginary historical landscapes, idealized pastorals, were entirely part.
The disguised reality of this landfill acts as perfect metaphor, symbol, of the role of rubbish within contemporary society, especially within the USA, an entire buried world of rejected refuse, abject filth, on which prosperity and normative civilization is precariously built. Here we witness the reality of our economy of excess within which the consumer is obliged to discard as much as they accept, building a subterranean mountain of packaging and dead product.
In the formulation of Jacques Lacan this is a sort of “return of the Real”, the continually repressed truth of American advanced consumption, these landfills acting as almost a subconscious, a dark memory, a negative of the bright paradise of marketing, advertising and merchandising.
There already exists a small micro-history of trash within modern art, from Kurt Schwitters and his Merzbau to Arman filling a storefront with accumulated rubbish and indeed creating individual works from the dustbins and trash cans of his friends, their discarded daily lives being encased in plexiglass for posterity. This could also be compared to Cesar and John Chamberlain scouring automobile graveyards to create their compressed car sculptures, or the ‘Junk Assemblages’ of West Coast artists in the fifties. One could also cite the performances of Les Levine when he would scatter abandoned papers across empty New York parking lots to create a casual installation, or Damien Hirst’s giant ash tray filled with the cigarette butts of a nightclub. One of the earliest works of the conceptual artist Bernar Venet was a performance ‘dans les detritus’ in which he lay in actual rubbish, burying himself in the ‘poubelles’ of his native Tarson, literally immersed in trash. And in terms of the secret magic, the hidden romance of the dumpster so well captured by Pizzaroni there was a CD made in the early 90s by Kenny Schacter in which he recorded that deafening and inherently American music of the late night garbage truck, issuing it as surely the ultimate soundtrack of New York nightlife.
But in terms of Pizzaroni’s recent paintings taken from trash containers closest comparison might be with Gavin Turk’s series of painted bronze ‘Bin Bag’ sculptures from 2001, whose trompe l’oeil trickery could not disguise the sheer visual pleasure inherent to those black plastic bags, their rich sculptural resonance.
But if these paintings by Pizzaroni can stand comparison with contemporary conceptual practice they also stand within a longer and far more important tradition of high modernist achievement, the abstract canon of the 20th century. Thus they seem absolutely worthy of the ‘Art Brut’ of Dubuffet, the inspired calligraphy of Henri Michaux, the mystic cryptic signage of Jean Fautrier, or the folded canvas patterns of Simon Hantai. Thus Pizzaroni has taken on a daunting artistic heritage, the very formalist challenge of Clement Greenberg in itself, and matched and even outwitted it with the casual beauty of these paintings, all crafted from the humblest sources, the most despised detritus. These paintings achieve their aesthetic triumph through their transformation of the utterly ordinary, the apotheosis of the overlooked, their ambiguous beauty leaving us uncertain of their status, recalling street-rubbings, frottage, woodcuts, prints, linocuts, the static of antique acts of reproduction.
There is a concentration, a consistency to these paintings – whose ‘reading’ is obligatorily linked to the landfill photographs they accompany and accomplish- which is the very essence of the artist’s task, to bring us closer to the physical reality of the world and make us aware of all its possibilities, its potential for redemption and reward, its improbable capacity for transcendence. In the midst of a city storm you lean down closely to the gleaming black sack of rubbish left out stranded in the street and you listen, closely listen, to the sound of the rain beating its tiny, its miniscule tattoo upon the prickling surface, you listen to this very smallest of musics, this most discrete of rhythms, and in itself you perform the act of poetry, the act of art, of being alive, alive to the beauty in the things nobody else could ever care for.