Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani's Hong Kong show tackles passage of time
Show is first in city for artist who's been working since the 1960s
At one end of Simon Lee Gallery's main exhibition space is an assemblage of several hundred plaster heads, which, despite their lack of individual identities, represent a core interest in the 50-year career of Claudio Parmiggiani: the notions of antiquity and iconography juxtaposed against the incessant passage of time.
"I have always thought of them as an emblem, vestiges of a lost totality," says the Italian artist, 72, of the centrepiece of his first solo exhibit in Hong Kong. Parmiggiani is attracted to ancient ruins because he sees them as both our present and future. "Ruins means eras, changes, the sediment of time; it means being aware of a lost totality as well as history, and therefore culture," he explains.
Although the world has undergone drastic changes since Parmiggiani began his art practice in the 1960s, he believes the concepts of memory and time have remained unchanged. The artist describes the latter as a material he works with and sculpts on. "It's my belief that living poetry is always the point of reference. Poetry is resistant to time; it's victorious over time," he says.
Comprising a concise but representative mini-survey of Parmiggiani's work, the pieces on view are all untitled and mostly united by the theme of fire. For those in his signature Delocazione series, for example, the artist uses smoke and soot to capture the silhouettes of objects such as curtains and butterflies.
Although they evoke the objects through their absence and function as a kind of memento mori, Parmiggiani doesn't see sadness — and instead perceives them as being "shot through with immense hope". "[There's] tragedy, an awareness of time, weltschmerz — or 'world pain', as they say in German," he says. "I wouldn't call it sadness, but rather, angst. Sadness depresses the imagination; angst lifts it up."
He adds: "We are going through a crisis of expansion of the universe, wars, revolutions [and] human angst. Everything is a consequence of this expansion, of a more vast universe in which God no longer finds the space to stop and take hold."
While he's been regularly associated with the '60s Italian movement of Arte Povera, it's a label that Parmiggiani firmly rejects. "I've never thought that to be an artist it was necessary to belong to a group, to find security in one's thought through group validation. Being in a group adds nothing to the solitude of one's own thought.
"The artist is an exile, and exile is the word that leads to art. Only through exile can art glimpse its deeper, unattainable, far-off lands. An artwork is a solitary, poetic and political act, which above all belongs spiritually to the land of vision — the visionary nature of art."
Simon Lee Gallery, 3/F Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-7pm. Ends August 29. Inquiries: 2801 6252