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NUNZIO PACI - DE SIGNATURA RERUMBy Davide W. Pairone «The wise man can govern and master the star, because the firmament is within him» A room, two narrow, plain, perpendicular corridors, marbles, large theatre drapery coming down from the curved windows. Severe Biedermeier cabinets are hanging along the walls of the Museo delle Cere Anatomiche in Bologna. They are fil ed with objects, “incomprehensible” pieces at first sight, but immediately gifted with a strange familiarity: organs, bones, shredded bodies, wax ghosts reproducing mere life’s mechanics. A macabre and fragmentary sequence, corol ary to Nunzio Paci’s pictorial cycle in 2011 (Rhizoma), representing a turning point in the research of the Bolognese artist as a launching pad towards new experimentations of the sign and the shape.
When the phenomenological look of the artists touches the geometries of the organs and the structures of the living body, he considers them as they are, pure combining, proliferating shapes, and he observes their motion and function principles. An analytical look, which observes the matter while dissecting it: only next, he moves from the phenomenon to the complexity of the symbol and of culture. Anatomy’s fascination is for Paci anything but macabre and funereal: it is, in contrast, exertion and vital tension, muscle tissue and fibers, apparatus, hybrids, grafts, evolution. In il ness, he doesn’t spot the evidence of the inevitable decay and the sign of memento mori, but the fight and the strategy that life itself applies to keep on perpetuating through generations, so that from the dusty rooms of a little but precious museum, new and deep reflections on the living body as first metaphor and origin of any other analogy started.
Theory of the living body: bios, soma, identity, relation For Eco, as it was before for Merleau-Ponty and Husserl, the so called “semantic universals” are basic categories through which human beings understand the world, starting from the presence of their body in space (opposition up-down, left-right, inside-outside) and from the recognizing of the body as presence and evidence of the other. The body is the measure of the cognitive and ethical basic principles and, as Foucault has well shown with the concept of biopolitics, conflicts come from the body and its needs. Politics and knowledge leave distinctive signs on it (clothes, sports, piercings, tattoos, surgery to the extremes of torture, eugenetics and conservation modalities), the bodies delete or show, maim or exhalt, discipline or close themselves according to the cases and the intersection of interests between powers and knowledge. The compresence of the bodies is, for Paci too, the necessary and sometimes painful renounce to solipsism, to the claimed absoluteness of the individual, which in the weaving of the roots becomes rhizome. The anatomy of the bodies becomes then field of investigation of the social body, a large ellipsis which interrogates the concept of identity, relation, bio-cultural hybridity, creolisation. The meeting of heterogeneous elements finds, in the reciprocal necessity of surviving, new paradigms in a process of intervalorisation, seriousely threatened in the global contest: micro and macro conflicts in the last decades have brought to the crisis of the model based on cultural hybridity and maybe, for the same reason, Paci wanted to bring the reflection to a deeper level, precisely biological and therefore pre-cultural. Life, with her raw necessity of self-preservation, includes instead of excluding the comparison and the graft of diversity, coming out of it stronger.
Along the paths of these reflections, Paci met icastic synthesis figures: siamese and cannibals, radical examples of relation and self-sufficiency of the life cycle. Here, the boundary between bodies is reduced until it disappears in a process that sublimates natural cruelty in fertile hugs, inclusions, reciprocal nourishing so that il ness is transformed into regeneration. The subject of the body as a force field and social metaphor is the cipher of many contemporary works, from the body art revolution to the chemical crystalization of corpses destined to public voyeurism by Gunther Von Hagens, but it is in David Cronenberg’s cinema that we can find a precise term of comparison. In the movie Dead Ringers (1988), the Canadian director stages a sort of paranoid dance between two siamese twins, separated at birth, investigating on the complexity of their relationship and the parallel degeneration of their minds and bodies. Generally speaking, Cronenberg’s work is based on subtle and dreadful symmetries, starting from the body to develop into social relations, aiming to show the underlying hysteria and the tendency to violate and overcome alterity. Physiology, anatomy and pathology are therefore embodiment of the mind and curiously enough, today soma (the Greek word for “body”) indicates the nucleus of the neuron, the point where flesh and electricity become thought and for Cronenberg, schizophrenia, paranoia, absence, as in a reversal of the mechanical and positivist determinism of the 19th century. But, if Paci agrees with the film director with the route leading from the fibres to the mind, the results are different: hybrids, siamese and cannibals are signs of life looking for completeness, away then from psychosis and maybe close to the platonic Androgyne myth, present in the Symposium. Hybrid par excellence, the Androgyne comes from the beginning of the times as an ideal regulator, as principle of the vital eros, connecting all what lives, from the human being and his finished and mortal conscience. While minotaurs, centaurs and mermaids talk about craziness – as they belong to the dark bottom of the undistinguished humanity, with their animal and wild nature – the Androgyne and the subtly erotic art by Paci idealize the pantheistic utopia of a bios transcending itself: coming out of its edge (flesh and skin) it finds conciliation in the other, the unending circularity of life, the overcoming of the particular and the access to the Being in its completeness. On the canvasses, the living all meets and permeates: reigns, classes, phyla, vegetables, animals and humans, as to cancel modern taxonomy, which has artificial y separated the continuum of the natural shapes – creating a functional and utilitarian fracture – to reach a superior totality.
The scalpel of Cartesian reason deeply carved the cultural tissue of the West: in the medieval world of symbols and analogies, the explanation to phenomena was deduced from similarities and qualities, in an uninterrupted universal order, guaranteed by the divine world. In the terminology itself flourished during the centuries, we find traces of that system, made of Aemulatio, Amicitia, Concertus, Consonantia, Continuum, Convenientia, Proportio, Similitudo, Simpatia among the things of the world. Only with Humanism, though, the man and the language begin to manifest as exceptions and fractures in the natural continuum, as places where the nature becomes aware of itself. Not for this, centuries of alchemies and proto-sciences have passed uselessly and today more than ever a qualitative knowledge of the world is required as a solution to the anti-human blackmail of the exact sciences, as vanishing point opposite to the pure quantitative, calculative and instrumental reason.
Some medieval and renaissance speculations, although generated on an intuitive and approximate level, still find today echoes and highlightings in the official science and in the col ective immaginary. Thanks to genetics, we know today that every cell of an organism contains a series of information (DNA), defining its genesis, development, finalities, functioning, destiny. In the deep nucleus of the matter, there is therefore a sign, a clot of molecules which takes a shape, the double helix, and preserves the possibility of an interpretation. The theory of signatures, which finds its legacy in modern genetics, originates in archaic times, when magic, science, philosophy, intertwined to a point where they mixed up completely in the laboratories of astronomers, doctors, pioneers and charlatans. Since the second century with Galenus to the sixteenth with Paracelsus, the idea that the matter was marked, furrowed by ciphers and revealing signs, was making its own way in the West. Since, scalpels and microscopes haven’t stopped carving, sectioning and reading the body of the nature.
Animal and vegetal physiology, fibres, nerves, bones, matter are the composing elements used by Nunzio Paci, stripped modules and torn symmetries, grafting one onto another, taken with strength from the prescientific imaginary by the pioneers of anatomy and pathology from the ceroplastics tradition which, right in the influence of the Bolognese university where Gaetano Zumbo also studied, counts masters as Giuseppe Astorri and Cesare Bettini. In Nunzio Paci’s work, so, different authorities, kinships, affinities converge, which resolve in a look that’s pre and postscientific at the same time, looking for the codes hidden in the body of the world and of the secret language in which the book of the nature is written. In its turn, the look produces signs, multiplying connections and amplifying the book with new pages. It is not a case that the basic structure of Paci’s bold representations is almost a standard: a mixing of matter, a pictorial parchment as a page torn from an incunabulum or an antique codex – a codified system of shared knowledge – while the reduced range of colours and the graphic synthesis evoke printings, carvings, monotypes. Another basic characteristics is the rigid division of all the exhibited works between a superior and an inferior level, continuously reversing into one another. So, sometimes Paci’s creatures plunge their legs and roots into the air, their skulls, chests and leaves into the soil, as it really happens in the strange nature around us, when organisms breath earth and water. And as it used to happen in ancient legends, narrating of grotesque plants born from animals planted as legumes – in the Chinese T’ang Annals the procedure: «if you plant the navel of a sheep and wet it with water, a plant wil come out, which gives as fruit little lambs. It wil sprout while it thunders».
The evolution tracing the adaptation of the organs, developing gil s, hol ow bones, feathers, horns and the endless, extravagant changing sequence of physiologies keeps affirming pure life as principle first of ethics becoming esthetics, in Paci as in the thousands branches of naturalism in art. Graphic and pictorial shape of a thought, the cycle exhibited in De Signatura Rerum invokes the conciliation of conflicts and has nothing bloody in it: what dies is compensated cyclically by what feeds itself and grows. The totemic impact of the paintings is based on this ancestral assumption. Material image of a thought as the mandala – which is a visualization of the universe in formation – or the totem which, in the rite, materializes the essence and the concept, the entire vision of the world shared by the community. In this way, the symmetries and the balances of the elements develop horizontally or vertical y in function of the visual impact but before that, as a consequence, as internal coherence of the pantheism and of Paci’s vitalism. The living matter is marked at a microscopic and macroscopic level and the harmony of the figurative structures helps to underline the harmony of the entire life cycle, the superior and hard truth that, changing the prospective, shows il ness, degeneration and death as gemmations of life. The ultra-human joy accompanying this awareness is a vision by Zarathustra – «I became all summer and summer’s noon» – a man who despises conventional values and invites to hug life itself, with its thorns and loneliness, its broken bones and wounds. A man who invites us: «On the tree of the future, we build our nests. Eagles wil bring us food in their nibs».

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