by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
The notion of an archive is determined by the act of collection and preservation of the material otherwise at the edge of finding a fate of oblivion. To keep the past documented in the variegated forms of documents underlines the necessity to remember the journey of the past in the present and the meaning it beholds in the future. The exhibition Archivo Massimo by Formafantasma at Galleria Massimo Minini in Brescia, Italy reimagines the gallerist Massimo Minini's private archive to walk the viewers about what entails memory. To draw attention to the palimpsest approach to archive and its making, Minini looks at the comedy These Ghosts, written by Eduardo di Filippo. The phantoms in the theatre inhabit the castles to secretly harbour a proclivity towards dominant architectural forms. The constructive marvels from the pyramids of Egypt, the kouroi statues of Greece, the artistic creations of Phidias, the portraits of the Romans to Albert Speer’s German squadrons, Marcello Piacentini's ethereal reality in the EUR district—reinforce the unflinching presence of antiquity in the current day. As Italy evolves from an artistic cradle to a design haven, the significance to remember the past is equally realised.
The rawness of the archive in terms of a slew of documents include design, fabrics, furniture, photography, artist books, invitations to exhibitions, and posters. This spectrum intrigued Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, designers of the studio Formafantasma, who worked to give Minini's archive a shape of an art exhibition: Archivo Massimo. The act of archiving is thus perceived as a means to transform personal life and professional experiences into tangible and accessible fragments, immune to the eroding effects of time. In an interview with STIR, Minini talks about the inspiration These Ghosts had for the current exhibition, “The fact that they are ghosts is in itself intriguing, the two artists/designers/ghosts suddenly appear a little while ago and immediately cause great attention with their work. Even their very particular way of presenting themselves immediately arouses the attention of their interlocutor. The admixture of art and design is no novelty and has often intrigued famous designers to become artists and many artists to become designers. Our two friends manage to pass from one status to another with great levity and formal gimmicks. They establish an intermediary role between all these interacting worlds with surprising new results.”
The exhibition refrains from analytically reorganising the archival materials or enhancing accessibility to Minini's distinctive style of categorising the documents he has amassed throughout his lifetime. Rather these objects serve as instruments that pay tribute to the archivist and the act of archiving itself. Each piece references the personal and meticulous approach adopted by Minini to assemble and uphold the materials, which collectively narrate the story of an extraordinary life and insatiable curiosity. The objects, crafted from "conservation materials" such as stainless steel and glass, are complemented by surfaces of printed silk designed to showcase the archival materials.
But given the vast scope of the archive, one is curious to know if the difficulties were encountered to lend it a form of an exhibition. Minini confidently declares of facing none of the exertions, rather the overabundance of “works and documents is a strength, not a weakness.” Probing an important archive means having a lot of material available from which to choose and orient the archive in one direction or another. “We have tried to remain objective without favouring one movement over another, one artist over another, one current of thought over another. If we want to find a difficulty it was that of having to exclude from the presentation letters and documents, drawings, postcards, and memorabilia due to the lack of space,” explains Minini.
The documents, letters, photos, and personal belongings of Minini are indeed in dialogue with a monochrome print of the Ophrys apifera, preserved in the form of a herbarium. Commonly known as the bee orchid, this flower can be found in numerous European countries, North Africa, and the Middle East. It is renowned for its evolutionary and survival strategies, such as mimicking the reproductive organs of a bee within the centre of its petals. The salient character of the flower attracts the male insects only to expedite the aid in the pollen's distribution through copulation. Thus, the flower becomes a biological archive of a fading present and an endless symbol of the facility to envision oneself in constant transformation. Towards this end, the exhibition draws parallels between human archiving systems and biological mechanisms of preserving memory and history. It alludes to the universal desire to surpass time and connect with others, employing survival strategies fuelled by patience and love.
Inevitably, inherent to the archive is the politics of erasures, if the exhibition strives to overcome these flaws—a question which lingers close to the minds of the audience. Minini is affirmative of the fact that there are no mistakes; every statement is a concrete fact even if it is wrong. An archive is made up of additions and subtractions, there are things deleted and things added, it is a complex mechanism. Speaking about the final takeaway after watching the exhibition, Minini concludes, “Basically in an archive, there are no works but documents that speak of the formation of the work and the process of its realisation. The conclusion is that there is no conclusion. The process of accumulation of the archive continues without an end and continues to have the possibility of creating works.”
The exhibition Archivo Massimo by Formafantasma runs at Galleria Massimo Minini, Brescia, until July 26, 2023.