Irrit’actions

Text by Helmut Schneider
Year 1991

On the invitation for the opening of Pino Poggi’s exhibition at Langenfeld/ Rheinland one word is highlighted which does not even exist: Irrit’actions. Is this the work of a vicious gremlin? By no means, this word which does not exist in the dictionary is written correctly – Irrit’actions simply is a neologism specially made up by the artist in order to characterize his works presented at Langenfeld.

Pino Poggi’s word invention is another proof for the correctness of Humpty Dumpty’s theory with regard to the analogy between the inner life of the language and that of a travelling bag. Humpty Dumpty, the proverbial egghead encountered by Alice in the land behind the mirror, claims that when filling a travelling bag with a lot of objects, all are stowed away in a common container, therefore it is also possible to pack two different meanings into one word. Lewis Carroll who, through the mouth of one of his characters reveals the trick which he often applied, regarded this kind of word play as a form of higher nonsense. However James Joyce, Humpty Dumpty’s most intelligent student, found out that subtle games with the language permitted an alienation of the words, thus producing an unexpected meaning.

In our case the two terms “Irritation” and “Action” characterize the point of origin. With their interlocking Irrit’action is produced. The two original meanings crossover in this word and thus it is possible to define a far-reaching horizon. Irrit’action can refer to an action causing uncertainty, to an anxiety pushing for action, to a provocative attitude disrupting the familiar circles, or to an action, producing a reaction. Those who now assume that all these intentional meanings are anchored in Pino Poggi’s clear thinking are indeed assuming correctly.

To begin with, the newly created word has a very practical advantage, Pino Poggi is an artist, who does not like to designate the outcome of his work as a work of art and he does not want it to be mixed up with conventional art. Needless to say that his work is art but this kind of labelling is too common for him and not precise enough. He reacts to incidents occurring in the world and not to those happening in art. His art tracks the present and its problems, untouched by all the aesthetical theories and metatheories which are actively produced by an á la mode philosophy.

Instead of using the encompassing term Art he prefers to use a word which communicates his intentions unmistakeably – to initiate Irrit’actions with his work. Pino Poggi himself, the commuter between art and society, is irritated by the events in in the world, he recognizes the absurdity of human behavioural patterns, in dark moments he even believes in the lemming-like urge of self-destruction of the species seeing itself as creation’s crowning glory. The prognosis, by no means bright, for the future of the Homo sapiens however does not demoralize him at all. He is an optimist and acts. He interferes with arguments that take the shape of art, in discussions. He abandons the ivory tower and walks on the street, not in the capacity of a dealer of illusions, rather as an agent provocateur stirring things with selective Irrit’actions.

Pino Poggi understands his action – that is his philosophical vein – as an offer to perceive the reality, the way it is, and not the way it is presented by the euphemistic perspective of the media. For him (and here he agrees with Piet Mondrian), art is no longer “a surrogate which reconciles human beings with the external world” but more so an invitation to reflect, if the movie in which we are all participating as extras maybe does have the title The wrong life.

He is not an easy artist and his art is not a soft pillow. Here a a troublemaker is at work, who does not want to frighten people, but scare them up from their passivity, who questions supposed certainties, who manages to render conceivable things visible. Thus an eye-opener, no Cassandra, he does not expect the end of the world but he is afraid of Murphy’s law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Consequently the chances of survival are so much higher, the less there is that can go wrong. He is concerned with the reduction of risks, an labourious business that has to start in people’s minds. There pre-fabricated opinions nest, which make an unprejudiced reflection of the actual situation, which is undisputedly dangerous, somewhat difficult.

Big business in the state of California managed to convince the voters that environmental pollution reforms would only result in disadvantages for the population – the majority voted against the ecological rationality. A case which shows how short-term interests can block long-term considerations. A lawyer for the future, Pino Poggi sees himself as a blockade runner. For this reason he calls his art ARTE UTILE, useful art. Useful art does not signify a position contrary to L’Art pour l’art (by the way, this originally referred to an art which refused to be be occupied by extraartistical interests and purposes), useful art is an art, which uses its own content to call attention to the current circumstances and is already moving towards changing these circumstances. Thus, an art which has principles and a perspective which does not advocate itself but things which concern all of us.

In times in which there is so much talk about the autonomy of art, its independency from any determinant instances, it is not at all common that an artist voluntarily abandons the aura of the maker, totaly committed to his art, but sees his product as some kind of service for everybody. Poggi’s futuristic projects from the late sixties already comprised precise solutions for the economical and ecological problems which the advanced European states were (and are) confronted with. Suggestions, which of course never had a chance of being realized. This was not even his intention, he only wanted to create a alternative model, in order to animate and reflect on the existing conditions. His latest project, which deals with waste disposal, assumes that it is feasible. The plan is to deposit the non-recyclable, non-radioactive waste in cavaties, the cross section of which corresponds exactly to the width of the autobahn. The autobahn would run on top and have the function so to speak as the lid of the waste containers. The artist, thus, a representive of the public who formulates concepts without their instruction, but in their interest. Maybe this is not at all uncommon, maybe Pino Poggi only speaks out about the stimulus of artistic activities that are tacitly taken for granted by others, out of fear to otherwise loose their privileged artist status. In the past things used to be different in those days it was an artist’s privilege to draft maxims for general behavior.

Approximately two thousand years ago Horaz – not a Genoan like Poggi but after all an Italian as well- determined in his Ars poetica the fact of being useful (“prodesse”) as one of the main features of the poetic arts – to entertain (“delectare”) being the other. Art is above all “utile” because it reminds one of suitable things to cope with in life.This shows that the consideration that art belongs to the means of subsistence is rather old. Of recent date is the conviction that art can be a medium necessary to survive in times of crisis. And who would deny that we are witnesses of global crises. For Pino Poggi it is self-evident that that is the way it is.

This now raises the question if art probably overdoes itself and to what extent it is authorized to do so at all. The answer is firstly that art has never overdone itself so far – no matter what it has undertaken up to now, and secondly that art always authorizes itself by what it is doing. For long enough it has proved its qualification for an ideological indoctrination, in the same way it is absolutely capable of taking over the role of the informer. Due to the fact that the social imagination has a tendency towards zero (marginal remainders are still existing in the carnival processions) the horizons of the highly imaginative individual widen. Of course Pino Poggi profits from this circumstance as he possesses a rare resource. Politics is caught up in factual constraints, economy embellishes the consequential costs of its housekeeping, technology still covers up the risks of progress – in this situation the possible development of an anticipatory imagination of the artist logically obtains a higher importance.

Even before Johannes Kepler started to deal with the subject, on which orbits the planets might be moving (and it took quite a long time for him to find out) the problem had already been solved: the celestial bodies move on an elliptical orbit. This is undoubtedly evidenced by the alignment of the angelic choirs on Jacopo Tintoretto’s Paradise in the Doge’s palace at Venice. This is the classic example for the ability of visual thinking, to answer questions in anticipation, questions scientific thought has not yet asked. An ability based in its nature to concretize everything, always.. The scientific thinking indeed uses pictures as well, with a heuristic intention, as a tool for problem solving. The visual thinking however comes to fruition in pictures. It operates by all means with concepts but does not argue on a conceptual level. It turns a concept of which one cannot quite get an idea (what do performance data reveal about the real danger of the greenhouse effect?) into a presentation which takes into consideration the human horizon of experience.

From time immemorial the misunderstanding is rampant that art reproduces and copies the reality, even-though it is yet obvious that it reproduces its own reality, parallel to the actual reality. The mime performing mimesis on stage does not imitate the character being personated, he creates it by his performance. That is why he is called an impersonator and not an imitator. Similar to an actor in the part of Prospero on a naked stage who produces a wild island in the heads of this audience with his media of art (in Shakespeare’s poor theatre he had no other choice), an artist also renders the non perceivable perceivable – coherences which lie beyond the immediate experience experienced. Everybody knows what an ozone hole is and the way it looks, namely like a computer graphic which unfortunately does not communicate anything about the effects, which the degradation of the shield high above our planet will have down here. At least it is possible to recognize that there is something where there used to be nothing. But it can also happen that visible things – in the case of Tschernobyl, the burst reactor shell – does not allow any conclusion with regard to the arisen danger as caesium is just as invisible as the hormone in veal. Our imagination is permanently overextended (what does the deforesting of the tropical forest somewhere far away bother us?) but the intuition solidifies that we live in a society which no longer rules the risks. Exactly these risks, which we are not in a position to evaluate correctly, as there exists no corresponding sensual experience. It is here at the sensible lack of possibilities to perceive risks directly that Pino Poggi comes into play. He does not present an allegory of the risk society, he creates an Irrit’action which – for a better understanding – uses the tale of Damocles, who was the Sicilian courtier whose food stuck in his throat as soon as he noticed that a sword, hang-up on a horsehair, was floating above the table. The precarious situation Damocles was then exposed to (is the hair strong enough or not?) corresponds to our situation today – that is the issue Poggi wants to point out to. In order to render this obvious without any kind of doubt he turns the danger into a physical experience.

If you go through the Damocles tunnel, past the swords which are already rammed into the floor, constantly trying to escape the spiky ends of the swords which are still stuck into the ceiling by doing a slalom race, you experience very tightly what it means to be exposed to a risk. And if the shock therapy was successful, then the mirror at the end of the tunnel will reflect a face in which the suspicion flashed up for a moment that Damocles’ decision to no longer test the load capacity of the horse’s hair was a rather reasonable decision. The sense of the Irrit’action is nothing else.

In the Japanese Zen practice the moment in which experience turns into recognition is called satori. It is rationally hard to explain what happens here. Poggi does not pursue this, he is free of mystical moods, he explicitly trusts in the rational skills of the observer, who becomes a participant, as he is an optimist (as already said). An Irrit’action is an offer for a dialogue but also for a contradiction. He is not a preacher which does not mean that he works without deeper meaning, and he delivers the message that there is always an alternative. “Too late” the ugly letters made of concrete announce (they are implanted into the ground like a malignant cancer), there is no reason to give up, the delicate little plant will surely thrust it´s way through the heavy tar: this is said by “Hope“. In one case, however, there is no alternative and this is in the case of emergency which is freedom. This is how I cut war books… is an object where the harmless juxtaposition of a bread slicer and a kitchen table points out to the horrible events, which will make this idyll to the scene for a massacre, but here the victims of the carnage are the hidden persuaders to war. This is how I cut war books is a declaration of war addressed to war – for every anthology of prose glorifying war here is a razor sharp counterargument in a literal sense. 

An utopia according to the latest events. There is no such reality having room for the utopia (otherwise it would not be called: nowhere), but in every utopia there is sufficient room for a reality beyond the real reality. There, on a hill nearby the ocean, it will surely be possible to find the Epitaph telling the wanderer coincidentally passing by the dunes that a happy human being is burried at this place.

And maybe this place does really exist.

Somewhere.

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