A conversation between Francesco Gennari and Mauro Panzera.

M.P. Within your work there has always been a strong reference to the notion of annulment; I believe this is something you can agree with. A series of works were made within this concept over a period of time but which can in some way be regarded as forming a single group; these are works that recover the notion of annulment, but they cross it with the story of death, the story of the act of dying and above all with the act of burying, which is anthropologically something that has always distinguished mankind from non-human beings. I was wandering whether the act of burial, that of digging a hole in order to protect the dead body, was perhaps a founding action of architecture. Right at the start of your career, you produced a work called Microcosmo ('Microcosm'), consisting of a clod of earth entirely lined in gold leaf, and it seems to me that it could be regarded as a materialisation, a formal presentation of that heap of earth evoking burial and hence the beginnings of architecture. What do you have to say about this work which dates from long ago but which I believe marked your development in art?

F.G. Naturally, when you set yourself the objective of redesigning something, you have to put yourself in the best position to observe this something. And if the object of our observation is the entire universe, the sole viewpoint that enables us to observe it is nothingness. This is at once both the sole viewpoint and at the same time the antechamber of the new plan, as it is seen as the absence of spatio-temporal position, and is thus in antithesis to everything that is real, including the most deceptive of its manifestations: the void. It was with this in mind that I produced the work I define before the number zero: Nessun concetto nessuna rappresentazione nessun significato ('No concept no depiction no meaning'). It lies not only outside the spatio-temporal universe, but also before the beginning and after the end of the whole of my itinerary, thus determining two absolute points of view that have enabled me to observe the world before me, and will enable me to look at it after my intervention. The sole liveable experience that has the same characteristics of absoluteness and objectivity is death, understood as the loss of spatio-temporal placement of thought.
Death as tragic event is overcome by a reassuring observation: it is the only possibility of a definitive raising towards order; death offers the sole means of irreversible affirmation. The dream of eternity, linked to the chimera of immortality, is the product of fear, the acceptance of the failure of human metaphysics, the weak thought that masters the real potential of man, the renunciation of oneself.
Man has one certainty: his own death, and this guarantees our affirmation over time and space. I personally would not want to surrender this prerogative.
All of this recurs frequently in my works and in this regard I wish to give you two examples:

1) In Microcosmo ('Microcosm') a clod of earth covered in gold becomes a world and I the creator who selects its inhabitants. This world is soon transformed into a place of death because I have not created a system that can regenerate itself autonomously. In doing this, clearly I have adopted a demiurgic stance and intent, just as the non-continuation towards infinity for the world I have created is reinforced by the fact that everything that lives within it is destined to die. The end of everything is reassuring for me should the project fail, because it is in any case a definitive solution.
2) In Stabilizzato ('Stabilised') instead, the aesthetic of death is the same as that of life: a cypress has been green and elastic for years, but this cypress has been dead for years and its roots have become superfluous. It has found its eternal order without death affecting its appearance.

M.P. I wish to stress an important observation from a formal point of view: gold has since antiquity been a symbol of power but also a symbol of royalty: here a sign of great respect. So wrapping this metaphor of a decaying, dying cosmos is a display that has something sacred about it – from my point of view in a lay sense – but it could also be regarded in a religious sense, a dimension of sacredness associated with this life/death circuit which is the essential question of the human debate.
Can we consider a sculpture? This body, which is pre-formed and in some way surrounded by and presented in gold is itself a three-dimensional object, but although I say 'sculpture', I could equally say 'architecture'; I feel it more as an architectural work than a sculptural one. Or rather, it can be seen as a sculpture but which has within it a structure of thought that is architectural. I affirm and ask this because it is from this that other forms emerged that will probably be catalogued as sculptures but which from my point of view have a very strong architectural component. Thus, since death re-evokes the anthropology and hence a duration of humanity and the thinking of the living, I believe that architecture stands on the threshold, at the start of this story. My impression is that you are trying to recover the whole itinerary of this thinking in a radical manner. That is why I insist on the architecture.

F.G. I feel myself to be an architect three times, in the sense of formal design, in the sense of conceptual design and in the sense of the redesign of the universe surrounding me.

M.P. I am struck by the use you make of the notion of living, crossed with the mathematical calculation of the possibilities. In the series of 'tombs' and 'mausoleums', it is as though you were marking the time of the work. In the sense that this scientific time, in the hand of science as sense, is also a time broadened extensively to the notion of the living, an individual preoccupied with an almost cosmic thought. I feel that this is a contradiction of the real, because on the one hand there is a spasmodic humanisation of the whole, and hence of the living; and on the other, instead, there is a total freezing of the living in the scientific and technological universe. This is a contract that could be noted also in these two souls of the work; its presenting itself which contains and hides. It is probably not the sign of a dialectic; they seem to me to be two arrows going in opposite directions, but it is absolutely necessary to become aware of their cohabitation.

F.G. The possibility of reading the work in different ways is not a faculty of the critic but a consequence of the ambiguous structure present within it. It marks a series of labyrinths in which a number of routes do not always lead to the same results. Indeed, the strictly formal aesthetic co-penetrates with the conceptual aesthetic, giving rise to a formula that can be resolved more easily through intuition than reason. Paradoxically, reason cannot resolve that which it has itself built. Reality proposes innumerable possibilities, and metaphysics has the duty of summarising them until a single, absolute solution is attained. Ambiguous structuring is antithetical to the concept of a single vision and it is for this very reason that it has the prerogative to give birth to it, to the point of bringing about the end of relativism; reality contracts without return.
For instance, let us take Mausoleo per un verme ('Mausoleum for a worm') as an example: I built an object made of sugar and meringues, which might be a cake or architecture according to the viewpoint. This object contains the body of a dead worm, so it is a tomb; this worm decomposes and so transforms itself. In the photographs I took during the night, one can see that numerous cockroaches fed off this sugar tomb. A place of death has generated a solution for the continuation of life.
I could go on with the aim of providing indications of use for gleaning the ultimate meaning of the work in question, but this is impossible in that the work has innumerable ultimate meanings as it is structurally ambiguous. Only when the infinite resolves itself in singleness does ambiguity take on the appearance of that which can be most defined. All the solutions are gathered in a single vision and the transmigration from the one to the other is the ultimate meaning of my works. This for me is metaphysics.

M.P. An observation might be this: there is an absolute need to feel the drama taking place within; the drama interpreted by the work. It is the title, the word itself that must convey this sensibility; it is calling the work 'Mausoleum' that has to trigger...

F.G. the titles have two functions: a secondary one which is to communicate the initial intent of the work, and a primary one which is that of the aesthetic starting point. When I think of a title, I do so with the awareness that the work begins with it. As yet it has no form, but the concepts have already begun to interact.

M.P. But in these two mausoleums for a worm, which I see made of wood, I also see that there are some signs attracting the attention of the spectator, who asks himself some questions and addresses them vis à vis the mausoleum: hence an interrogation on the relationship between earth and sky, universe and 'terrestrialness', because the signs in general come from the sky or speak of the sky; or they might be mysterious symbolisms, but always a symbolism of a sacred universe. Do these signs appearing on these mausoleums follow this direction or do they have a different intent, a totally closed one that cannot therefore not be disputed?

F.G. Indeed there are esoteric symbols in the mausoleums that hold a dialogue with the geometries of the universe, and it is no coincidence that they are located between the sky and the earth, with the lifeless body of the worms buried in the sugar beneath them and the celestial vault above. They contain the enigma and the solution. I cannot say any more about it.

M.P. The work you presented in Rome for the Intorno a Borromini ('Around Borromini') exhibition instead lies outside this series of works; is this work about an extension of this sculptural and architectural thinking or not?

F.G. The work presented for the Intorno a Borromini exhibition is called Autoritratto metafisicamente ambiguo ('Metaphysically ambiguous self-portrait'), and we may talk about architecture of the personality when discussing it. My intention was to depict myself setting aside my physical nature almost completely, and so seek to show my inner nature, including that part which not even I know; hence the inevitable definition of ambiguous.
The work consists of a mixture of cement, grit, oxides and cocoa; within, there is a polystyrene cube standing on seven cream puffs, and set below a visible symbol derived from the numeric calculations in relation to my name and a series of measurements of my face. This symbol holds a dialogue with the universe of the inner nature as it does too with the external celestial one. I have three certainties: the infinite around me, myself, my death. This work is dedicated to the second of these.

M.P. I say again: your work requires a double reading. Because the outside receives its meaning from what happens within; if your reading does not consider these two moments, there cannot be a correct reading. What is true is for the series of mausoleums is true also for this Autoritratto metafisicamente ambiguo: a double spiritual reading is needed, an evidence but also a secrecy. Thus, this last work we were talking about, Autoritratto metafisicamente ambiguo, maintains this double spiritual dimension, one of evidence but also of secrecy, one of an off-limits area that is merely discerned. These signs on the surface of this "self-portrait" speak the same language as the signs in the mausoleum, and naturally they mean something else but they are nevertheless identifying devices. And like all identifying devices, they must be decrypted in order to enter a tradition of esoteric readings, and this can also be generated in these works belonging to you.
The interesting thing is also this: if spirituality is this doubleness, this double reading of the work, then the theme of death is one of the most spiritual of all themes. So, why do you feel an urgency of a spiritual theme such as death in your (our) time? Is there a judgement hidden behind this? I want to give you an objective sign: in one of your first artistic pronouncements, a text that read Nessun concetto nessuna rappresentazione nessun significato ('No concept no depiction no meaning'), the work was initially constituted of mobile letters clearly from a cemetery. In art I believe that there are no coincidences; these are presences from a distance are signs that have to indicate a direction, a predisposition for a theme. So I believe that this is truly a highly intense point in your artistic thought and deed. I would like to talk more broadly about this, and go beyond a reading of the works.

F.G. The 'text' Nessun concetto nessuna rappresentazione nessun significato ('No concept no depiction no meaning') is of fundamental importance; it enabled me from the outset to locate myself in an area of total absoluteness that was so complete that it is in my point of view outside the concept of contemporariness and of art itself. It is the mental condition before thinking; it thus completes in itself, and indeed the title of the work and its linguistic enunciation are the same thing and there is no conceptual shift between them. In this work, any sort of architecture, be it formal or conceptual, is absent, because it comes before it and after it, and thus any relationship with the contingent is absent.

M.P. An assumption of this work is also a thinking of time as absolute circularity. And the theme of death fits in well in this position with respect to time.

F.G. The work lies at the point where life and death are in substance the same thing, in that both take on the characteristics of infinity. Speaking of death is therefore correct but at this point merely accessory. The circularity bears with it the concept of repetition and hence of movement, of an itinerary. This contradicts what is my final objective, the reaching of a definitive crystallisation excluding any possibility of movement. The Eternal return scoffs at entropy but what sense is there if there is no more entropy?

M.P. Thinking of death but also thinking of the act of celebration; as though for you art had a priestly function. The circularity of time means not taking the time of consumption seriously, nor the passing of the days or the ageing of the body: it is not this time that interests you because this would still be psychological. Instead, your extreme, objective distance implicates a circularity in time and hence also a certain fixing of it.

F.G. There are antique works that are still topical by definition because of how they were conceived, for the problems they resolve or simply present, and there are also works that are important today but which have within their DNA the germs of emptying, because their strength comes not from themselves but from the outside, from the context, from the society present at the moment of the creation; unfortunately, however, the context changes and this can result in a loss of meaning for the work, making it become a simple souvenir of a part era. I move within the framework of the first category. A fixed work cannot be the child of the period in which it was conceived, because it has infinite mothers and thus none. The concept of contemporariness is distracting and illusory. I believe that a just finished work must immediately confront itself with its history and do this alone.

M.P. Also because you introduce mathematical calculation as meaning for your planning and mathematics is another knowledge which potentially has always appeared in it: there's this aspiration towards an "since the outset" and in some way also towards an "for ever". These are the two theoretical places of the reflection on time.

F.G. Where a more complex formal planning emerges, the reference to the world of numbers is immediate. The mausoleums, for example, are formally the product of the numeric relationships that acquire a double value:
symbolic, in the repetition of certain numbers, of their multiples, in the product of their division, in the direct relationship determined with the letters of the alphabet;
geometric, where the numbers produce forms. It would be possible to translate the aesthetic of a mausoleum into a book of numbers in the hope one day of finding that formula, that starting point that rationalises everything.

M.P. Microcosmo led to the production of a tomb, which has so far gone through four different formulations, and which has maintained the external form of a cube. We tend to associate the cube with a minimalist visual culture, or to an emergence of geometry. The importance Sol LeWitt had accorded the square is well-known: it is the form that expresses least and touches least the universe of emotions. Then it goes in the direction of – I'm not sure whether of objectivity – but certainly of distance and coldness. I suspect, however, that this reference to minimalism is not very interesting for you, but because there is any antagonism on your part to the minimal, but because I suspect that behind it is another way of thinking, a way of thinking that comes from another region.

F.G. The relationships between things always determine a geometry: the stars between themselves, the earth around the sun, the organic structure of an animal. I am interested in the works always holding a dialogue with the geometries of the universe around them. They must interact with the stars, although remaining well anchored to the earth. All this does not only constitute the purpose of the work, but also the initial outlook that produced it; the metaphysics is realised here but by looking over there. The awareness of both the dimensions generates a finished work. In Poco piu' di una semisfera ('Little more than a half-sphere'), the rotation of the earth, perceptible to us thanks to the warmth and rising of the sun, is instead described by the flight of an African coleopteron, tied to a thread in turn tied to the top of a pyramid. The coleopteron touches the infinite points within this geometric form, and when the thread (between one and 50 metres) reaches its maximum extension, the flight describes a curve that is the vision of the solar rise and fall, the vision of the celestial vault, but also the possibility of designing an architecture in relation to the length of the thread that can, in dimensions, be compared to the greatest architecture of antiquity.

M.P. So you attribute a function to art, you place it on the level of sacredness; art must speak not only to the essence of man, but must speak also with a voice always to the essence of man. Art is the maximum value, for which it is worth betting the work of a lifetime.

F.G. Yes, although sometimes I am saddened by this pursuit of fixedness, living every day on a planet in constant movement.