C-prints, mounted on aluminium and riddled with bullets
In Observatory, the sky is an imaginary surface representing the limits of the visible — that is, what we are able to know. By intervening in the eternal collective vision of the concept of the after-world, they offer themselves, in the artist’s interpretation, as dramatic living thresholds defending the unfathomable: when challenged, they give a warning that is so violent as to shoot, like a firearm. The impossible shots that pierce the support structure create tiny sculptures that are always different and recall stars: they are the tangible signs with which Pignatelli recounts the dynamics of every creative process, forming an accumulation of individual vitality that, when released — with violence, almost — commits its indelible sign to the substance of the universe.
Impetuous and fantastic, the skies in Observatory seem to be the ethereal response to the worldly — albeit dreamlike — expanse of woods in Fragile: starting another path, they complete it by impressing a personal vision on the collective unconscious that for centuries has grown up around the first dualistic system of the universe.
There are practically no languages in the world in which the word ‘sky’ does not indicate both a physical space and a spiritual phenomenon: in all cultures, both past and present, the sky is what surrounds our planet, comprising also outer space, with its myriads of stars and cosmic events, but it is, in addition, the place where the gods dwell, to which the souls ascend and where our fate is decided. Trees extend their branches towards it, while their roots seek nourishment in the earth — there is an obvious parallel with the form of the human body here. In dictionaries, various meanings are attributed to ‘earth’, ranging from the planet where we live and the material making up its surface to a metaphor for the life cycle of every creature, including fertility, the beginning of life, transformation and decline, and bodily death.
The sky and the earth comprise and contrast the concepts of eternity and mortality: Pignatelli’s language of photographic light is no exception to this ethical perspective, although it focuses, in particular, on the point of intersection with photography — the borderline of the visible. In this sense, the modalities chosen for the representation are decisive. The woods in Fragile are reversed: since they are worldly manifestations, in the artist’s logic they belong to the sphere of what we can no longer observe in our habitual way, but, in order to be perceived again, they need to reawaken our capacity for looking. Here the technique of reversal exalts the symbolic significance of the place: as in fairy tales, the woods call out to us, and they do it in an even more powerful manner thanks to the bright paths that the negative engraves in the shadows. At the same time it is frightening because the more dense and luxuriant it is, the more it dazzles and conceals, giving it a threatening appearance. The mechanism of attraction and repulsion is based on the unknown, on what cannot be grasped or can only be sensed because, in its presence, man is blind.
The same effect of a barrier literally erected to safeguard mystery — or, at least, the mystery we think exists — emerges from the dramatic views of the sky in Osservatorio, which are, however, rendered in positive because the sky neither absorbs nor reflects the light: it is the light. Billowing with clouds and colours that change in a very short space of time, they are conceived — despite their infinite depth — as a dramatic screen precluding us from any hypothesis of truth. They demand to be challenged, and they react by entering into turmoil: they cry out in their fury, as if they were about to explode like a weapon in order to pierce a surface that doesn’t exist, except in our imagination.
The visible, in other words, marks the vertical confines of knowledge; the sky and the earth are the boundaries of the largest possible shot, the limits of what may be probed. Above and below the mind can wander — that is, in the after-world, however this may be interpreted — but not the eye, least of all the photographic one: being reminded of this is, for Pignatelli, a note of humility. What we believe without seeing is faith, whether religious or secular; but, as far as we know, no dogma is better than another, because the ideal cannot be perceptible. Thus these images counter human pride — the most serious of the deadly sins in the Christian tradition — with the efficacy of healthy fear: the atavistic mystery of the woods and the fiery reproach that rends the skies, giving visibility to the bonds imposed on human beings.
Allow me to draw a conclusion from all this: if one were to follow the artist in his reversal of perspective, one would be inclined to say that, with this marking out of boundaries, there is no intention of entering into the usual logic of the supposed vacuity of worldly values. These photos of the earth and the sky could not, in fact, be further from the symbolism of Vanitas paintings, which were conceived with this moralistic message. However, these works do not allude to transience or death; on the contrary, they are extremely vital. Pignatelli seems to be more interested in the inside of boundaries rather than the outside: the real or reverential fear of the unknown, with the corollary that one should give it a wide berth, could be turned into a principle, by virtue of which what materializes, both above and below, is, rather than an insurmountable barrier, a call to concentrate — more and better — on life, which advances in the embrace of extremes.
Paola Bonini (from the essay published on the book Osservatorio 1994-2012)